by Vince Nakovics
My hand, rolled up resting on the bar, the other on his shoulder, I wonder what he thinks. I’m sure he feels obligated to hear me out, so I start my story:
“Rode hard and put away wet is what a cowboy would tell you, Youngblood. As I got older I got slower, you have to face it sooner or later. You youngbloods have better training then when I started and we were considered special then. It has taken a toll, but I am still here and many of them aren’t. Tenacity, devotion, stamina, they count for something too and that is something a good many of them just don’t have today, when the chips are down. Their faith, their devotion waivers and then they fall.
I can recount every bruising and injury except for that one time I was talking to my friend, “my friend” just like we are now and he cold-cocked me. Split my skull when I hit a railing, it surely did. Taught me a valuable lesson; the meaning of ‘big feet, bad breath, nice to nice.’ What the heck is that, right? Those are words of wisdom from the bar, as told by Big John.
Big John was a big man; he liked his drink and knew my older brother. I would listen to him recount how my older brother kicked his ass some sixteen years past. I was only one year old at the time. Now Big John, call him John or Big John, but if you wanted a challenge you would make the mistake of calling him BJ, it would get ugly at that point. I digress, Big John would tell the story with one hand curled into a fist, which looked about the size of an oversized softball resting on the bar, his weight on the back leg and his forward leg slightly bent. His other hand grasping my shoulder, his grip tightening as the story unfolded for the twentieth time that year. You just never knew about Big John, he bought a beer so you were kind of obligated in his mind to talk to him and most people complied. Me, I was just a kid who had the misfortune of having had the brother who kicked Big John’s ass royally and he never forgot it. It was a matter of when he was going to wallop me during one of these reminisces. If I could see it coming I figured I could out duck it. Lucky me, turning my head the moment Big John decided to slam his ham hock sized hand up alongside my head.
I woke up in the emergency room, four stitches and my skull was cracked a bit from hitting the railing when I went down.
“Big feet, bad breath” were the last words I remember before being hit. The lesson here, if you’re going to play in the big leagues be ready, you have no friends, but it is still nice to be nice.
Two years later I joined the US Navy. I was recruited for special ops right out of boot camp. My Company Commander thought I had the proper aptitude for special work the Military needed to perform from time to time. My lessons from the bar paid off.
You keep looking at my face so I will tell you; a piece of Constantine wire was stuck on my face for a week before I made my way back to a hospital to have it removed. I was left with this wickedly jagged line from my right jaw across the bridge of my nose up to my hairline. It certainly made me look dangerous and scary. I remember taking a shower onboard an Aircraft Carrier and a few guys came in and stopped dead in their tracks. Naturally, I asked them if they were meat gazing, they got all embarrassed and left. It took about 30 seconds for the rumors about the scars on my body to spread fore and aft. I don’t think there was a single man aboard who didn’t hear something about me after that and there are about six thousand people aboard one of those big babies. The scar or scars that are the scariest are probably the ones on my stomach. There are six of them, they thought they were going to disembowel me, almost did too. The cuts were stitched up in the back country with Frankenstein stitches, rough looking. By the time I got back to civilization I had gotten used to them.
The one that hurts me the most though is the small one above my left eye. It is hardly noticeable unless you look real close and no one has done that for twenty-two years now. My then wife threw a coffee cup at me, thinking I was an intruder. I knew then and there it was time for me to go, to become the faceless warrior that they warned me about, to live not in the shadows, but a place that resembles a black hole, that sucks your being down it. I digress.
You can tell when you have arrived Youngblood, remember the bar I was telling you about? Even guys like Big John don’t approach me anymore. When you look like they put you in a meat grinder and the grinder choked up, people give you space, even those annoying little bastards that always seem to start crap and are never around to finish it.
I have reached the point where I know it is time for me to go; I am past the return on investment for the military. I am not old really, and still in good shape, but they aren’t doing those kinds of missions anymore and I don’t see myself fitting in anywhere else. I have become obsolete. Obsolete.
Some kid questioned what I was doing in the “Special Forces” bar the other night. He was drunk, probably more curious rather than looking to tango, but he persisted. He braced me hard; I tried to be nice, just to be nice. He wouldn’t have it, so I made him hear, “Big Feet, Bad Breath, Nice to be Nice” before I put his lights out. Of course, this resulted in his mates needing to release their testosterone and things got out of hand from there. I got sent to the Brig and six of them went to the hospital.
They gave me the speech yesterday. I will be retired by the end of the week they told me. It was time for me to go. Go fucking where? Home they said, I laughed in their faces. Home! Home disappeared the day I stepped into the black hole. My wife, my parents, brothers, and sisters have died while I was away. Their children only know of me by the old stories and most of them aren’t very flattering. I am leaving my home at the end of the week. That isn’t very much time to get my shit in order. Twenty-four years and poof, out the door, and it is hitting me in the ass on the way out. I find that just low.
I am powerless to stop this and I am feeling rejected, anxious, frustrated, disappointed, lonely, hurt and humiliated all at the same time. Shoot, I might even be a little depressed by it all. Tossed aside because they don’t have a place for me, those who I thought had my back, don’t.”
Youngblood looks at my hand on his shoulder and I smile.
“Maybe, just maybe they are afraid of what might come from me. You would think keeping me around would be a better option, easier to keep an eye on. But then who wants to look at me. Maybe, they are pushing their inadequacies away. Maybe I am not the one with wounds so deep they can’t go away.
There is no end in my near future, not to worry, that isn’t my way, Youngblood. That is what they are hoping. They did send me to a head quack last month and he was scratching his military ass when I got done messing with him. So maybe, just maybe, my scars aren’t so bad after all. I can live with mine and even be proud of them. Maybe those who sent me to do those daring and adventurous things are now just too old and scared to face what they asked of me. Maybe I look bad, but I don’t feel bad inside. Maybe they do and they don’t have anywhere to go.”
Youngblood looked nervous; I would be too, as he asked; “So was it worth having big feet and bad breath?”
“You know Youngblood, it was; it was what I was made to be, long before I joined the Navy. Remember; ‘Big Feet, Bad Breath, don’t forget, Nice to be Nice’. So long Youngblood, good luck, time for me to weigh anchor, set sail to another port.