I was waiting in a Wendy’s drive-thru lane looking through my wallet. I was hoping I could afford a single with cheese; it’s near the end of the hottest July on record, and I’m trying to stretch my monthly pension check to cover the ungodly electric bill [air conditioning] that’s sure to come in the first week of August. I didn’t see him coming.
“Hey big man.”
“I’ve got two silver stars,” this man says; he’s dressed in a beige t-shirt, clean jeans; he’s seemingly well groomed, but his eyes look lost — desperate.
“You a vet?”
I study the man. He looks younger than me; maybe fifteen years separate us. He’s holding on to a Wendy’s bag. “What war?” I ask.
“I’ve got two silver stars,” he says again.
“You saw combat?”
The man looks towards St. James Cemetery. “I sleep in those woods.”
“Listen,” I begin to say, knowing I have enough money for two singles with cheese. “I’ll buy you a burger … that’s all I can afford.”
“Already got me a burger, I need something to drink.”
“They’ll give you some water.”
“Come on big man.”
Before I continue the debate, the man turned his attention to the car idling behind me. “I've got two silver stars,” I heard him say.
I sensed a debate within myself. My instincts told me the man was mentally ill; my compassion seemed ashamed of me. I pulled out of the drive thru without placing an order; I was no longer hungry.
Yesterday the House of Representatives voted 308-114 to pass an almost $59 billion measure to fund the additional 30,000 troops President Obama has ordered deployed in Afghanistan. The bill includes $33.5 billion for the additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and other Pentagon operational expenses; $5.1 billion goes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund; $6.2 billion goes for State Department aid programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Haiti; and $13.4 billion in benefits goes for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The United States is poised to spend over a trillion dollars for a war that’s become a quagmire — a killing field.
What does it take? How does one infuse common sense into the minds of those we elect to lead us? When will that man I encountered in a Wendy’s drive thru lane have enough to eat — receive proper treatment?
Today the weather is pleasant — cooler. I’m still worrying how I’m going to pay for my coming electric bill. I now know what war that man is a victim of.
photo from Tom Stone's photo essay: American Poverty, now renamed "American Outsiders"