At the VA Canteen, American Lake, Tacoma, WA
I keep a Moleskin© journal for observations & thoughts while I visit the Canteen at American Lake in Tacoma, WA while I wait for my various appointments. The antics and characters I see are a motley assortment of old soldiers from every branch of service & a few old Merchant Marines from WW II. I try to listen to their banter and sometimes ask to sit with them to hear what they have to say. I don’t have to prompt them, you can’t stop them. They seem needy and lonely and love to tell their stories. Especially when I tell them I have been collecting stories from the Spanish-American War to the present. There will be a few of them in the blog when I get to that time in my history.
An aside: My wife was once sitting outside smoking her cigarette was approached by two old gentlemen who began talking to her. Suddenly one of them asked her “Have you ever met a Merchant Marine Captain”? and pointed to his pal. Laughter from all.
These writings are some of the more poignant of my observations. A lot of the old men just come here to the Canteen to hang out and tell stories seeking company or solace, recognition. I know a few of them that I have been in various clinics with. Chuck who is homeless and disabled has a job cleaning tables and dumping trash cans. He is in my diabetes group. Walks around with a spiffy tie and a squirt bottle of cleaning fluid dangling from his back pocket. When our group meets one of us has to go get him as he is sortta’ shy. Then there is John who is severely disabled. He was in a class with me called “Living well with chronic disabilities”. I got to meet his wife, Posey. He has braces on his hands, arms, neck, legs and other parts. Pushing his walker. I like these two for despite their infirmaries they manage to laugh at the world and themselves. My kind of comrades.
These are directly from my journal and will be changed only for clarity.
May 2010 ¶Grey beards all. Forlorn and lonely. No longer the tramp of booted feet or voices raised in cadence call & refrain. Hugging their paper cups of cooling bitter coffee. Outside they smoke solitary, eyes watering in the sunlight, eyes watching warily everything & everyone. Talking to anyone that will pretend to listen to their complaints and infirmaries. They were once young & strong now old and broken, beat down.
January 2013 ¶Icy roads slippery this morning, glad for the six cement blocks in the truck bed. Here for a blood draw and peeing in a plastic bottle. The waiting room this snowy day subdued and morose as we wait for our number to be called. The TV flickers in the storm.
October 2013 ¶At the VA Canteen once again today. Waiting for the dermatologist. The itching is now keeping me awake in my nightly fitful sleeping. I awake some mornings with bloody fingers, sheets & blankets. ¶The visions of the drive and this day enrapturing me and my wonky mind. Fall has arrived w/a torrent of leaves. Covering the roads, stopping drains, creating vast lakes of murky water. The leaves abound w/the colors of autumn, curbs, & sidewalks strewn with gold & browns. A feast for the eyes as crows caper about outside the Canteen begging bits & pieces from old vets snacks.
January 2014 ¶At the VA Canteen this morning early, 8 AM & I’m still sleepy only four hours last night. The Canteen, institutional beige w/30 or so tables. Only about three tables have more than one old vet. There are six of us solitaires. Today this seems to be the saddest place I have ever visited. Old men & a few women, sitting solitary. A lonely prayer over their plastic plates of sour SOS on biscuits or over easy eggs w/the obligatory hash browns or grits. They are all living solitary inside their heads stuffed full of PTSD memories, flash backs tempered a bit by time. Still jerking awake in the darkness of their sweating nights dreams. Her at the VA Hospital trying to find silence & solace w/doctors, nurses & drugs. I suppose I am one of them, too.
And so it goes…