Supporting the troops: soundbytes or action?
Anyone who knows me that if I am in town, I play pool with my dad…religiously. But last weekend I had a life changing experience. While my Dad and I were wrapping up our last game (and I did win last week, by the way) a White guy stumbles up to me with a beer in his hand (who we will call Dave) whose breath reeks of alcohol, spiked hair, plaid shorts, and flip flops. Through stuttering and some mumbling, Dave tells me that he always wanted to play pool with someone from Detroit.
Politely, I try to decline Dave and tell him that I am about to go leave. For some reason, Dave doesn’t quite understand what I am saying and I get the sense he is going to be heart broken if I don’t play pool with him. So I tell my Dad to pay for the time and tell the cashier to restart the time.
Dave was born and raised in Southfield, MI, a suburb that borders Detroit and his game is nine-ball and as I rack the balls, Dave reveals that he just got back from Iraq. He tells me about the horrors of war and how I should never ever join the army. Dave needs to vent more than anything so I listen as he says, “Man I would rather cut grass than scissors than go back over there. It’s like we’re sitting ducks just driving around waiting to get blown up…It’s nothing like the movies.” As we play, I am entranced at Dave’s anguish and misery, thinking to myself, “Dave will never be the same as a result of this war.”
And the reason why Dave couldn’t quite hear what I wa saying is because his eardrums were blown out. As a result, Dave has to focus on reading lips to carry on a conversation.
He told me that his mother and girlfriend hates that he drinks so much, “But I have to drink to forget all the shit I saw. I am talking about walking over dead women and kids but you gotta stay focused on getting home.”
By this point, we are finishing up the game and at a complete loss for words, I thank Dave again for his service and I offer him a drink. Right then, the bartender comes up to us and tells Dave that he never sold him the Labatt beer in his hand. I tried to cool the situation down and tell the bartender that I would pay for the beer. Apparently, Dave brough the beer with him which is a big deal that could cause any establishment to lose their liquor license. The bartender was understandably upset and abruptly tells Dave that he should leave. I wanted to tell the bartender to cut Dave some slack because he was a veteran but the situation already passed the reasoning phase.
As I go to pay for our time, Dave asks me to give him a ride to downtown Royal Oak, about a 10 minute ride from where we were. I forgot to mention that Dave walked to the pool hall from a nearby hospital and even if he did have a car, he was in no position to drive. Against my better judgment I agree to take Dave and as we are driving, I find out that Dave has a three year old son and I want Dave to get the help he needs to be a good father to his boy but I get the hint that dave is tired of being preached to. Before long, I dropped off Dave and he was so thankful that you would have thought I gave him a million dollars. It’s amazing what a little kindness can do.
The only thing I can remember thinking is that Dave put his life on the line so that I could play pool with my Dad every Saturday. Our veterans don’t get nearly the respect they deserve and while many of us disagree with the decisions of the civilian leadership that led us into war, our veterans don’t deserve that disdain. And when I think about homeless Veterans, the mismanagement at Walter Reed, and the vital need for mental health services, I want all of us to really go out of our way to honor our troops through our actions, not our sound bytes.
Stay up fam,