Thursday, February 3, 2011


This guy was really making me work for this 30 bucks. It was a $150 helmet I got when I picked up my Vespa – the girl that sold it to me gave me two helmets, a chain lock, a cover, and I was selling off the residual stuff on Craigslist to help recoup some of the top dollar money I had paid for the thing.

The guy was calling me every two minutes, he was only 8 blocks away, but it seemed when I said “take a right,” he would go left. He was getting all turned around - not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I reminded myself to be kind, and on the 5th incoming call, he said he was on my corner.

When I walked outside he was standing next to his bike, an old beat up Honda. He couldn’t have been older than 25 - looking from side to side - he seemed very disoriented. Dressed in full Army fatigues, apparently coming from someplace much further than Queens.

“Sorry, you seemed to get pretty lost on the way here,” I said, trying to break the odd silence. He was half inspecting the helmet, and flinching at sounds that the rest of us wouldn’t think twice about; the slamming of a car door, a neighbor calling to someone across the way. “Is it for you,” I tried again. He was muttering, “It’s O.K, O.K.,” I didn’t know if he was referring to his getting lost, the condition of the helmet, or simply comforting himself.

I asked him where he’d come from, Queens, East New York, Staten Island, he mustered a quiet response, “...back from Afghanistan.” He snapped out of his vacant stare, and reached for the 30 bucks he had neatly folded in his pocket.

“Is it for your girlfriend,” I longed to bring up a comforting notion. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “She must be happy you’re back safe 'n' sound,” I took the 30 from his hand, he hadn’t quite passed it to me. “don’t have a girl, in case I get one…,” his voice trailed off. I tried to engage him in a conversation about his bike, but it seemed like he couldn’t hear me, some kid had popped his gum and he was trying to recompose himself. “Late now,” he said in another sentence fragment, pushing the helmet under the netting on the passenger seat where a girlfriend would go.

“Hey,” I yelled over the sound of his engine, “lemme tell ya how to get back,” but he jerked forward onto Henry Street and disappeared into the hot August sun. I realized I didn’t know where “back” was, but I knew it would only a matter of time before he would be deployed again, shipped off at a moment’s notice to only God knows where.

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