Friday, November 11, 2011

Eddie And Shakes

Facility Picture
With our gratitude to all who served - C & P

It would be hard to imagine a bus shelter that offered less protection against the weather: open to the wind, with only a thin sheet of plexiglas in the center. On a bitter, rainy day, it was almost useless. The wind and rain howled in one door, swirled around, and blew out the other. If you faced into the corner and timed it right, you could usually manage to light a cigarette. With a little luck and care, you could keep it lit. So much for shelter.

You could always tell if Eddie was drunk. If he was sober, he pushed his wheelchair forward with his arms; if not, he kicked it backwards with his one leg. He was sober today.

"What's up, man?"

"Hey, Eddie. How's it hanging?"

"Straight down with a fuckin' icicle on it. I'm freezing my nuts off. Ya got a cigarette?"

"Fuck you, Eddie. I know you've got your own."

I reached into my coat pocket. He flashed me a big grin

"Yeah, but yours are better."

Shakes held up two bony fingers and tapped his lips twice. Presumably, he could speak, though I never heard him do it. He looked at me inquiringly. I nodded, stuck two cigarettes in my mouth, and lit them. I handed one to Shakes. I passed the pack and lighter to Eddie.

"Thanks, man."

"No problem."


You never really get to know people like Eddie and Shakes, though everyone seems to know them. You learn their names by osmosis: a part of city lore. We certainly were never introduced. For all I know, his name wasn't even Eddie. For all I know, he just answered to that: Crazy Eddie. I just called him Eddie, though. He never seemed all that crazy to me, just a bit lost.

He was a strange mix of soldier and hippie. The back of his wheelchair was covered with an incongruous assortment of bumper stickers: a pot leaf next to an American eagle next to a POW-MIA next to a Santana logo. One announced that he was firmly pro-tits. A small American flag flew on one side: an orange bicycle flag on the other.

I imagine he was in his thirties, though the years had not been kind. If he was not homeless, he was nearly so. He seemed fairly healthy, though, thanks to the local VA. He never asked for money, only cigarettes and, I guess, a friendly face and a bit of companionship. You never really get to know people like Eddie.

About Shakes I can tell you even less. Tall and painfully thin, he had a constant tremor: sometimes better, sometimes worse, but never absent. He startled easily and never spoke. I sometimes saw Eddie without Shakes but never Shakes without Eddie. I had the clear impression that they knew each other from the hospital, not the service, though I can't say why. Shakes had a searching look in his eye, as if he were forever on the verge of speaking.

One day, I can't say exactly when, was the last time I ever saw them. They were there, then they were gone.


It's an accident of history, I suppose. Most of the veterans I have known served during peacetime. They tell their stories with a smile: of boot camp, war games, and shore leave. It all has the ring of a hunter back from safari. That's all right. You don't blame a fireman if there are no fires on his watch. He was there; he was ready; he served. That counts.

The combat veterans I've known were different. None of them ever told stories about their service. Not to me, anyway. I imagine the actual experience is horrific. The only story I recall is my Uncle Joe telling me of a Christmas Mass celebrated on the hood of a Jeep, somewhere in Germany or France: a tiny bit of heaven in the midst of hell. Other than that, they locked their memories away as best they could.

I suppose some people just can't do that.

If you can get to a parade this year, go. Salute the living; remember the dead. In this season of Thanksgiving, give thanks. But remember, when the parades are over, to say a special prayer for Eddie and Shakes, who made the ultimate sacrifice, too.

Just not all at once.

Respectfully Yours,



Suldog said...

As with your Thanksgiving piece, this is another of my favorites of yours. Well done, as always, my swell pal.

ds said...

Thank you.

lime said...

very well said. indeed there are many who gave the ultimate sacrifice in very small increments over such a long period of time. we owe them far better than they got.

Hilary said...

Beautiful, my friend. You remind us to remember those who may need it most of all. War robs our heroes of both body and soul. Thanks for this repost (it is a repost, isn't it?).

Buck said...

What Jim said.

My father flew in B-17s over Der Vaterland during Big Bang II. He NEVER talked about his experiences during that time until he was literally on his deathbed... or close to it, measured in weeks. The last time I visited with him before he died we sat out in his garage, smoked cigarettes (against my step-mother's and his doctor's orders), got gloriously drunk (again, against orders), and he told me stories I WISH I could have recorded. But I'm glad I heard them, at least, and he was glad to tell them... at that point. I miss the Old Guy, especially today.

Cricket said...

Hilary - Yes, a repost. I've done that a lot lately. It's a rut I'd like to get out of, but some are, if nothing else, worth retelling I hope. We do that in real life, I suppose... "Hey, tell the one about..."

Buck - Why not record them? Write them up as best you can and blog them, or just save them for your children and grandchildren?

If they aren't exact, that's all right. I write about my grandparents as best as I remember them. Honestly, I don't always know if my memories are exact. Have I compressed several conversations into one? Is my Thanksgiving reminiscence a mix of every Thanksgiving? I do the best I can, but I'd be the first to admit that memory is a funny thing. Still, I think the words I've given them are true to who they were, if nothing else.

I read "When I Was Eight." It was a fine piece of writing. I'm sure you could do these stories justice.

Buck said...

Buck - Why not record them?

Two reasons. (1) The garage event was about 25 years ago. (2) The operative words in my comment were "gloriously drunk." I might could write those stories IF I could remember them and do them the justice they deserve. I fear I'm lacking in both areas, Cricket, but I certainly appreciate your thoughts in this space.

CiCi said...

Lots of Eddies and Shakes hanging around and mostly left alone and forgotten. Nice day to put this post up. Hope you are having a day of remembering and a day to remember.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for remembering those for whom war never really ends. My husband served in Viet Nam and he Just because those who served may not be able to speak of it, doesn't mean we should allow their service to be ignored or forgotten.

to lime, well said.

Lemon Stand said...

Thank You. Amazing post.

Unknown said...

Well this is my first stop by your blog and I "shall return" What an exceptional and very different tribute to our veterans. I also read you Thanksgivig Comes First---I need to reread that when I have more time...

silly rabbit said...

I recall this one clearly, it is one of my very favorite of your posts. Its easy not to look closely at the Eddies in our midst. What we should be doing is thanking them and shaking their hands.

Heidi Olivia Tan said...

"...they locked their memories away as best they could."
Great post. Well done.

Clare Dunn said...

I am in awe of your writing. Every story touches me, that is true, but your way of 'speaking' is so comfortable to read that I get lost in it.

xoxoxo, cd

Tabor said...

Congrats on your POTW. Good and thoughtful read.