“How did you find this place?” Asked Joe.
He had just walked up to me on the patio at the coffeeshop. It was in the same way that puts people from the city on the defensive. What was this guy selling? I heard myself ask silently.
But he wasn’t selling anything. He was just being sociable.
You know: Sociable? Normal human compulsion? Traditionally?
“You look former military,” he said to me. Many people make this mistake. I briefly flirted with joining the service when I was 20 or so. I decided against it because they threatened me with a fate worse than dying from schrapnel in a maggot-infested jungle.
They threatened to turn me into an accountant.
That’s a story for another time.
Anyway, Joe retired from the Army, like his father before him. He had spent 26 years there. He started with the ASA, some intellgience branch that no one talks much about. Then he moved to being a Green Beret. His hitch lasted through ‘Nam. He survived bladder cancer he said resulted from Agent Orange. He had no regrets. He did his job.
When he was released in ’72 he made his way back to San Francisco where he had a then-new Firebird waiting for him–one he had bought for cash thanks to backpay: Back combat pay. He wanted to get the hell out of San Francisco as quickly as possible.
He picked a spot on the map. He wanted to see what that car could do. He decided to drive to Bisbee, which he remembered from the time he had been stationed at Ft. Hauchuca “for about a minute”.
When he got to Bisbee he dropped into the St. Elmo’s bar, still wearing his dress gray-greens. He walked in and a cop, a miner, and a hippie chick turned their heads to look at him. He took a seat at the bar. The hippie chick walked over to him, kissed him on the cheek, then said “Welcome Home”.
In San Francisco, they had spat at him.
“I’ll never leave here” says Joe.