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St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
April 02
chief instigator
don't tread on me
I'm not dead yet


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AUGUST 10, 2010 3:01AM

I Hate The Concrete

Rate: 29 Flag

"I hate Minneapolis."

We were waiting to catch the light rail, this man and I. He was wearing a red and white baseball team shirt, and a matching cap and shorts. I don't follow baseball, so I didn't recognize the team affiliation. Or maybe there was no affiliation. He was angry; angry with an entire city and probably its suburbs and perhaps St. Paul and its suburbs as well. Maybe even the whole greater thirteen-county metropolitan area. Possibly his anger was limitless. I just did not want to be a part of it in any capacity. It was a hot August evening and I did not have the energy to deal with anything more than getting from work to home. I did not want to be engaged. 

"I hate Minneapolis. I hate the airport. I hate the malls. I hate the stores. I hate the big government building downtown. I hate the concrete."

He hated the concrete. This man had serious issues, even with the very surface upon which he walked. 

"Got a big new government building downtown, but they can't gimme my money. Big new building. I served as a soldier for seventeen years, and they still won't gimme my money."

I stared straight ahead. He sat two seats away from me. I wasn't afraid, but I did not want to get pulled into the field of his paranoid vision, either. He wasn't asking for handouts. He wasn't drunk. Some inner energy drove his monologue, and it had nothing to do with me, or with anything else in his immediate vicinity. Who knows when his senses had been overtaken by obsession, or why.  

"Seventeen years as a soldier. Overseas in Desert Storm. And they won't give a soldier no money. Goddamn new government building downtown. Seventeen years. I hate the light rail train, too. Thing won't let me on if I don't run fast enough. Just like the government. I been running after them for seventeen years."

He had a point there. I had been left behind by conductors when my hand was a mere second from touching the door.  But I didn't hate them. They were only concerned with making the trains run on time.

No, those conductors were sadistic bastards.

The cadence of his speech changed, the patterns becoming more rote, the timbre of his voice decreasing in richness, edging towards monotony.

"Seventeen years. Not anyone else on this platform can say they gave seventeen years as a soldier for their country and didn't get no money for it."

He was right. I was the only other person on the platform. I had not served seventeen years as a soldier. I had not served as a soldier at all.

He did not look at all like the other homeless people I had encountered. He was clean, as were his clothes. His face was freshly shaven and his hair neatly trimmed. I stole a glance at his hands. Blameless fingernails. Perhaps he was not homeless after all. Maybe he had a place to go to when he got off at one of the light rail stops.

But where? And what then?

"And I been trying to get them to gimme my money."

His soliloquy was winding down now. It needed a fresh audience. The train came, on time as always, and I got on. Other people got off. He stayed on the platform.

"I hate Minneapolis."  




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This story makes me terribly sad. You've told it beautifully. R.
At least, where he was, he had an audience...someone to listen. I feel that ultimately.. that's what he really wants.. someone to just... listen.
I hate concrete too. Touching.
This speaks to me. Sometimes I do not want to be pulled into other people's chaos. But I am fascinated by it anyway. People are so complicated. You've painted a vivid picture. _r
Nothing but sadness from me.
I didn't know Norm Coleman was this upset after losing to Al Franken.
How incredibly sad. Beautifully shared.
You pulled me aboard and kept me there. Rated.
You pulled me aboard and kept me there. Rated.
You pulled me aboard and kept me there. Rated.
One of the walking wounded from Desert Storm? PTSS at the least, psychosis perhaps and a variety of others ails all together. I do not doubt for one moment that has been abandoned by his government. Unfortunately sad, scary but true.
Sometimes just sending it out into the ether seems the thing to do and hope someone or some entity hears your plea. Obviously he was left with only that as a last ditch alternative.
It does run to Elk River now, you know.
How do we react to someone we meet who is so obviously pained by their experience? I don't have the answers, but if that number grows and we are bombarded by this lack of care for our service men and women, we will have to collectively act on their behalf, one is too many, two and so on, until we are silent supporters of the government and not the men and women who have fought, suffered and died to keep it for us. R
I hate Minneapolis for him. This would be funny, were it not so sad.
Well told. Makes me glad - and guilty -to live in the country.
He might be one of the millions of Vets who are homeless. He may have PTSS and they refuse to acknowledge it and give him benefits. He may just be another mentally disturbed person who this country throws out into the streets. He may be just having a bad day!
"inner energy drove his monologue."

This is very observant, and now I know why I talk to myself.
I thought about this all day... the sign of an excellent piece of writing.
I love the way you wound this. I hate Minneapolis for him too. And concrete.
Leah, a terribly sad story. I can't say I did it justice.

askme, yes. Someone to listen. What we all need.

Bonnie, you are so right about the assumptions we make.

rita, concrete is hard.

Joan, thank you. I had a hard time and am still thinking about the inadequacy of any kind of response in this situation. The man was really so much in his own world that I don't know if anything more than listening was warranted. Still . . .

Lezlie, yes.

Sheepdog, thanks for stopping by.

anna1liese, inexpressibly sad. I hope I caught some of the sorrow.

Jonathan, thank you.

Scarlett, this man told the truth from the standpoint of one who has suffered enormously. I grieved for his losses all day today - could not get them out of my mind.

Linnn, yes. I believe he was at the point where the response was not as important as was the sending of the message.

Daniel, I didn't know that.

Sheila, I have the same fear - that we are not doing right by those who gave so much and are now suffering. That is one great issue I believe we will see exploding in our faces soon.

Kathy, a story I can't get out of my mind.

Fay, I hate Minneapolis for him, too.

kateasley, I think this man's story in extremely important and urgent. He told it in his own idiom, but that doesn't mean we can avoid listening.

Muse, thank you.
scanner, you are right: we just do not know.

Abby, I talk to myself, too.

Joan, I am honored.

gail, thank you, and me too.
Your post reminded me of my younger days riding the Toronto subway. In those days I internalized everything, had no filter dividing myself from the pain of others. I was like a sponge. Once someone jumped into the tracks. I didn't see it but was devastated for days ... Like Joan I thought of this post throughout the day.
Thanks for humanizing this story.
Scarlett, what a horrible experience that must have been for you. Boundaries have always been a problem for me as well. But for some reason this man's plight resonated for me, and still does, far more than when I wrote the piece last night. I'm glad his story came through .
You wrote his heart-wrenching tale so well..."running after them for seventeen years." So many veterans are stories of tragedy, not glory, -R-
You know how during rush hours the Minneapolitans who don't get seats anchor themselves as close as possible to the train doors no matter how much empty space there is farther back in the train so if you want to get on just a few stops after the beginning of the route you have to shove your way through a stony crowd just to get on board? That experience makes me sound just exactly like that guy some days and I've never been in the service. (I've even been known to look people right in the eye while trying to get on the train. For you ferriners, that just isn't done here. )

The VA is about 7 stops south of the Goddamn new government building downtown (built sometime in the 1960's or '70's, wasn't it?), maybe he was on his way there and was waiting for the after-work rush to clear. I'm guessing he was an outstater having some bureaucratic problem, some sincerely helpful soul (and there are many) at the VA suggested he'd be better off leaving his car there and taking the train downtown to deal with whatever it was and he didn't get the response he wanted.

Yeah, I'm reading too much into it and not considering the pain you clearly saw in this man but I've worked at the Minneapolis VA, had a brother and have known others who worked the system up one side and down the other (and made any normally decent person feel sorry for them while they did it,) and I've known way too many people who live a minute or more outside the beltway and think the city is the deepest pit of hell that exists for the sole purpose of making their lives unfamiliar and inconvenient. (I'm not as nice as you are, either.)

Just another POV. But you wrote yours beautifully.
Doireann, I'm pleased you liked this. Yes, no glory in this picture.

nerd cred: Any of the possibilities you put forth are credible. I don't know anything about the man. And clearly, his POV was beyond my understanding during this very brief encounter. As scanner said, maybe he was just having a bad day.
tomreedtoon, this man embodied the kind of collateral damage of that war that Bush, Cheney et al. will never acknowledge having created. My encounter with him was a genuine wake-up call. I don't know how many of the people who visit Open Salon are "elitist literati." Perhaps I fall into that category myself. I do know that this encounter was galvanizing for me. It touched me powerfully. I hope that in some small way this post will help others wake up and pay attention to the very evils you mentioned. I hope it is a start.
Mark, you are right - I think our most primal emotional need is to have someone who will listen to us. That's why we seek out friends, strangers, bartenders, hairdressers, shrinks, God . . .

And don't get it either about crossing the river.