Old guy, short and almost perfectly spherical, climbs onto a stool with some difficulty, orders a Miller, looks around. The bar’s quiet. A hole in the wall with a chatty bar tender and almost everybody who sits at the counter is over sixty. Regulars go all around the bar before taking a seat, shaking hands, trading hellos.
This old guy seems a little too feeble for such rigors and so, rather than going around to dish greetings, he stays put, posted on a stool by the door, and receives them. Folks all stop on their way out the door to shake his hand, say hello.
He purses his lips and is always the first one to turn away after saying goodbye. Looks around at people he might talk to. You’re not one of them.
Eventually its just you and the mostly-toothless septuagenarian. Both just looking around. Drinking.
You start conversation by asking about the tattoo on his forearm. He tells you he was in the Marine Corp back in the fifties. Fought in Korea. Really cold, he says. Nobody talks about how cold it was. That he got frostbite in his foot. Still hurts now and then but not so bad.
“Do you think it was easier or harder to be a Marine back then than it is today?”
“Oh,” he says, dismissing the question with a wave. Stupid question. “I coudn’a done what they do today. It was s lot easier. Even just the equipment they have to carry around now. A hundred pounds on your back during combat?” He shakes his head and looks into his beer. “I can’t even imagine.”
And the weapons, he says.
“Now they got these fully-automatic rifles — we had the M1. You know what the M1 is? Semi-automatic, eight rounds, and they put a bayonet on the end of it.”
You can’t decipher his attitude here.
He sips his drink. Shrugs and sets it down. “It was dependable, though. The M1. It might seem inferior today but…it hit what you were aiming for.”
“What’d you do after the war?”
He smiles. “Got married. I was twenty. Got married, had a kid, started working at X.”
“Auto company. Big one. Worked there for 30 years.”
“Building cars. Did that in the Marines, too. Little bit.”
“Did they treat you well?”
“The auto company.”
“No.” He lifts his beer for another sip. Dour punctuation. “They went bankrupt in the early ’90s. Kept it a secret from all of us. Lost my pension. Didn’t even get my last paycheck.”