A Vietnam Veteran

I went to the 7-Elevan on Woodbridge Avenue to pick up my food grade gypsum for my tofu project. Amazon said it’s going to deliver on Saturday, but it arrives one day sooner. Also the wall clock stopped ticking and I had to order a wall clock too. Amazon gives you a six number code to access its bright yellow locker–it’s so bright that you don’t even need to have an eyesight to see it. I used to be able to remember a random number with a little bit of effort, but not anymore. However there’s no need to despair. I discovered that one can weave a little story from the number and it’s not that difficult to do. If one can just transfer each number to a symbol or an action: 8 can be either ate (the sound) or dumbbell (the shape); 6 can be a kettle (the shape) or a hexagon or a six-pack. 1 looks similar to I. 4 is dead or death in many Asian languages. 5 is a hand with five fingers. 188154 can be a little strange tale like “I ate a dumbbell and I found my hand dead.”

The package is unnecessarily large with two little items in it. So I took the items out, folded the boxes, threw the inflated plastic away. Two guys were sitting not far away from the entrance of the store, where there’s a recess area with several chairs–the perfect place for a little gathering. I didn’t see them at first, but then one of them started to speak to me, “Are you Korean?” I’m quite tall for an Asian and this is the usual question I get since Koreans are arguably the tallest in East Asia, although I have to say this theory cannot be applied to the younger generation who are much taller in many countries. I was not in the mood for talk, so I said “no”. The guy speaking to me was holding a 7-Elevan paper cup with a yellow bottom. Coffee was long gone and the empty cup was used as a prop to give occasional emphasis to his talk.

I told myself if he insisted on knowing where I am from, I will say I am a Mongolian, which is so rare and so fascinating. And I am not really lying since my father’s family was from Mongolia hundreds of years ago. However he’s not interested in that, but rather he started to talk, non-stop.

At first I couldn’t make out what he’s talking about since he has a little accent–probably Brooklyn or Jersey Shore. I can never tell. Then I got used to his talking and started to understand what he was saying. He was working in some kind of factory in Ford, which is a tiny town right next to Edison. I guessed Henry Ford came to Edison Township after Thomas Edison died and bought a big chunk of land around this area, and somehow managed to get a tiny little town named after himself. Anyway, the old guy–I think he is definitely older than 60, but I am not so sure–said the guys are lazy and nobody is doing any work. “We need to get our act together. Nobody knows what he’s doing. That’s the problem of this country. All those protests. What are they protesting about? They say they are not against the society or against the police. If so, why do they walk into the police line? If you don’t want to confront a lion, don’t walk up to a lion.” Then he looked at me, thought for a second, and said, “like Tiger, right? If you don’t want to confront a tiger, stay away from the tiger?” I guessed that he thought as an Asian I would understand a tiger much better than I would understand a lion. That’s considerate.

“Is there going to be a war in South China Sea?” He asked, but nobody answered. Then he went on, “I was in Vietnam and it aren’t pretty. The problem is people who want the war don’t go fight it, and people who don’t want the war have to go fight it. I was there. Whatever they said about Vietnam, that’s just talking. When you are there, it felt so different. It’s nasty. You really are going to die. That’s nasty.” I thought to myself that if he caught up with the tail of Vietnam war when he’s 18, he would be a little over 60 right now.

“Don’t drink. I used to drink and then one day I stopped. I told myself that if I drink because I have a problem, then drinking add a problem to it, right? You have one problem, and you take to the bottle. The next thing you know, you’ve got two problems. Scott Fitzgerald drinks. I mean he got talent. He could have been a better writer if he aren’t drinking.” I listened but I couldn’t agree with him on this. Drinking is a double edged sward to writers. Probably Scott can’t write without drinking, which is both an enabler and a destroyer.

He must have a lot of stories to tell. What did he see in Vietnam? I’ve never made a friend outside of my own circle. How limited I am and how un-diversified my life is. I mean one would think living in America, one would have a lot of opportunities to step out of one’s own narrow realm. That’s an idealistic thought. For whatever reason, most people don’t, me included.

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