Veteran of Life

“Look at that guy over there.”


“Him, the one sitting on his front porch across the street watching the world go by.”

“Yeah, what about him?”

“Promise you'll kill me if I ever sink so low.”

“Have some respect.”

“Why? He's just sitting there, watching whatever's so interesting about this slow suburban street. I bet he doesn't even know we're sitting across the street from him. Doesn't he have a hobby or something? Somewhere to go? People to talk to?”

“You should still respect him. Think about how long he's been alive. He must be five times our age.”

“Just because he's old doesn't mean he ever did anything with his life. Maybe he was always a wage worker who was destined to raise a family, watch his kids move out and then sit on his porch all day until he dies.”

“Yeah. . . but maybe he was in World War II and received a silver star for valor in battle when he ran into artillery fire to save three fellow enlisted men and his lieutenant. Maybe he was an officer and won the congressional medal of honor for ordering a troop movement in France on D-Day that saved the whole operation. After the war he could have gone to Korea where he worked under General MacArthur behind enemy lines. After retiring from the Army, perhaps he decided to travel around the world. Since he was already in Asia, he traveled to Japan and stayed with an old veteran friend who fell in love with a Japanese student, then he traveled to Hong Kong to observe the Chinese – British culture clash. After his exploits in Asia, he felt the need to shoot a gun again and journeyed to Africa to hunt wild game. There he shot an elephant and crafted piano keys from its tusks.”

“That's sick, man.”

“Well, I don't know. Ok, after killing his first tiger and watching it writhe around on the ground, he lost his desire to kill because it reminded him too much of the wars. He had a friend ship him a professional quality camera and took up photography. He ended his trip after a year and a half, shooting over 250 different species of animals and countless different birds.”

“So where does he go now? When does he have a family?”

“Well, at this point he's still only 28. He's got quite a few years left.”

“Ok, ok. Go on.”

“All right. He leaves Africa for Italy, where he does the normal tourist thing. He also checks out the final resting place of an Italian buddy of his who dies on the wrong side of the war. His cousin, who lives in Sicily, tells him that his photographs are really good and he should go to France and find a job. He thinks about this seriously because his money is running low, but he wants to make a pilgrimage to Berlin to see, first-hand, the destruction of the bombing raids. When he gets there he finds the city in ruins and its population starving. He becomes so depressed he spends half of his last 200 dollars on a plane ticket to Paris.”

“So he becomes a photographer and gets to kick it with models?”

“Yeah, but the business is too superficial for him and he only stays long enough to make enough money for a ticket back to the U.S. Once he arrives he lives with his parents in Chicago and gets a job with the Tribune.”

“What about his family?”

“Oh yeah, one of the models he shot in Paris kept in touch and comes to visit him.”

“And he's living with his parents?”

“Oh, no. He has his own apartment now. Anyway, she comes to visit and they fall in love right away.”

“Does she look good?”

“She's a model, fool. Perfect figure, long brown hair and eyes like emeralds, ok?”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Good. So they get married, settle down and send five kids through college. Now he sits on his porch and watches the world go by.”

“Wow, is all that true?”

“Nah, it's bullshit, but it could be true.”

“So you don't know what he did with his life?”

“I never said that. He was a radar operator in Hawaii and never saw action. (He was in the states during Pearl Harbor.) After the war he came home to marry his sweetheart, become a city planner for the city of San Francisco and have a dozen kids.”

“A dozen?”

“Well, three really, but that doesn't mean his life's not important or that he never did anything. For him, his life was and is a wonderful string of exhilarating experiences, and that's all anyone's life is, really.”

“Interesting thought. I wonder what he's thinking about right now.”

“Maybe he's wondering what we'll do with our lives.”

“Yeah, or maybe he's thinking, 'Don't those kids have something better to do than sit on their porch and watch the world go by?'”