Old Jake was begging for coins on a cold December day in Worcester when we walked past him. He was the token veteran in town—a man who fought his battles in Vietnam but never could get the sound of gunfire out of his head. Nowadays he spent all the money he scrounged at the Red Baron Pub, buying a seventy-five cent draft, looking sadly around at the other patrons who ignored him, then scurried out of the bar like a mouse annoyance at a palace.
As I strolled by him with my disillusioned friend Rat-Boy; I suddenly noticed Old Jake on the corner of Main and Front Street —doing his usual routine of asking for a handout. He said that La Drang really did a number on his head and if we could show some “respect” for a man that “saw body parts fly like matchsticks” he would be extremely grateful. Rat-Man looked at him in disgust, took his hand out of his pocket and proceeded to slap Old Jake in the face. “I’m not here to give hand-outs,” he told him then haughtily walked away.
“What the fuck did you do that for?” I asked Rat-Boy, searching for a reason for this violent act.
“No reason” he said. “I’m just sick of the beggars, whiners and all that call themselves the maladjusted crowd.
I looked back at Old Jake. He was crying into an old towel he would wrap around his neck to stay warm. He was having a hard time getting up and failed to regain his balance.
Everyone just ignored him, another inconvenience during the Christmas rush.
I left him there and joined Rat-Boy into the Tavern.