Just Another Day on the Job

Two veterans come to a conclusion

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: July 27, 2008

Just Another Day on the Job

Early autumn evening, 1976 ... and Adolfo was leaving his office at the usual time, 6:00 pm, after more than nine hours on the job. Being careful to turn off his electric typewriter, turn on his beeper, and check his answering machine for missed messages, Adolfo was satisfied he had not left anything pending.

He liked his job, and felt that putting in eight to 10 hours days, six days a week was what had made his small business a success. "Goodnight, Mr. Gallegos," his secretary said as she left the office behind him.

"Goodnight, Francis," he replied, as she hurried to a waiting car.

He had over 25 employees working for him, and he provided well for them as far as pay and benefits. In return, they all worked hard for him, and business was good and prosperous.

He was able to buy a fine house, marry his college sweetheart, and provide for his two children well.

He smartly invested, and was assured of financial security for the rest of his life. He was an active donor in community organizations and events, and he was well admired and respected in his community. He had loyal and successful friends.

At age 28, Adolfo Gallegos had "made it," in the world. He was a success story at a young age.

"Goodnight, Mr. Gallegos ... watch your step," the security guard said cheerfully as Adolfo walked out of the front door of his office building.

"Goodnight, Manfredo, see you tomorrow. Say hello to your wife for me," Adolfo said as he waited out front for his wife to pick him up.

"Will do, Mr. Gallegos ... here ... it's a little chilly ... let me help you with your coat", Manfredo offered.

"No ... it's OK. I rather like the cool weather, but thanks," Adolfo answered, keeping his coat folded over his arm.

In about 10 minutes, Adolfo's beautiful wife Madeline, a successful attorney, thanks to Adolfo's pressing her to go to college, soon arrived to pick him up.

Kissing him softly as he got into the car, Madeline smiled and asked "So, how was your day, babe? You hungry?" Her perfume smelled perfect and brought a smile to Adolfo's face.

"Ah, you know ... work, work, work ... that's me. I am a bit hungry. Where are the kids?" He replied.

"Oh ... they went to a movie with some friends and their parents, so we're alone till at least 8:30, and you're all mine!" she teased, "Where do you want to go to eat?"

"You know, pizza and a beer sound pretty good, what do you think?" He asked.

"Sounds good to me. Let's go, baby!" Madeline replied as they drove to a nearby pizza restaurant.

As they walked up to the front door of the restaurant, they were approached by a homeless man. He wore tattered clothes, was unbathed, and smelled badly. "Got any change to spare, mister? I haven't eaten in a couple of days," he said. He smelled lightly of alcohol, and while not intoxicated, it was obvious that he had been drinking.

"Maybe. Will you spend my money on food or on alcohol? And what, may I ask, keeps you from finding a job so you won't have to lower yourself to beg?" Adolfo asked, reaching into his pocket.

"Hey, c'mon, man, give me a break. I just got back from Viet Nam. I had it pretty rough, you know," the homeless man said. "You probably don't know what it would be like to go to war ... you don't know what I had to go through," he protested, still standing around, waiting for a hand out.

"Do you have your sight?" Adolfo asked.

"Yes, of course," the homeless man replied.

"I don't ... I'm blind," Adolfo said.

"Do you have 2 good legs to walk on?" Adolfo asked.

"Yes, yes," the homeless man replied, becoming impatient.

"I don't ... I lost my right leg below the knee," Adolfo said calmly.

"Are you a minority?" Adolfo asked.

"No," replied the homeless man, "I'm an American, born and bred!"

"So am I." Adolfo replied, "But I'm a Mexican~American ... a CHICANO ... born here but not really accepted by white America ... my grandparents were from Mexico, but because I don't speak Spanish very well, I'm not that really welcomed in Mexico...so it sucks for me on two fronts," he said.

"Did you get wounded, or suffer any brain damage?" Adolfo asked.

The homeless guy replied "No! I never got wounded, I can see, I can walk, my brain's OK, I'm white, and I can scratch my ass, mister. Why do you keep asking me these stupid questions? It's not worth it telling you my troubles. I'm a war veteran, can't you understand? I was in Viet Nam! I can't make it out here anymore! It's been almost five years since I got backwhy else would I be begging? Can't you see I need help? What's your story?".

Smiling calmly, Adolfo asked Madeline to go inside the restaurant and secure a table for all three of them. "Are you sure?" she asked, a smile beginning to cross her face, as the homeless man looked on in curiosity.

"Yes," Adolfo asked, and Madeline walked inside smiling, as if she had done this before.

Leaning on his cane, Adolfo outstretched his hand towards the homeless man, and said "Help me to that bench by the front door and let's sit down for a moment. I've been here many times, so I know that there's one there," the blind man said to the homeless man, as they walked over to the bench and sat down.

"Hey, man. I meant no disrespect. I just need a couple of bucks to get through the night. I'm a Viet Nam War Veteran ... and times are tough for guys like me ... know what I mean?" the homeless guy said.

"Yes I do," Adolfo said, "I know EXACTLY what you mean."

Becoming annoyed, the homeless man asked "Oh yeah? How?", he almost screamed in exasperation, "You don't look like you've EVER had any hard times, buddy...how do you know what I mean?"

"Because I'M a Viet Nam Veteran. Got drafted right out of high school in 1966, and went straight into the shit in early 1967. I spent 15 months in combat with the Army. I was a paratrooper. Was in a lot of battles, and got wounded three times, but they kept me there, saying that my wounds were just minor. Then, we got ambushed and overrun one night during the monsoon season, rain so thick, we couldn't see three feet in front of us. We lost more than half our men. They simply overpowered us with rockets, grenades, mortars, and small arms fire, outnumbering us by five to one. I was hurt pretty bad, but I managed to drag a buddy about a half mile to a river, where we floated about two miles south till we were found at daybreak. He died, but I made it. I lost my sight, my right leg below the knee, I had to get a steel plate in my head after they took the bullet out of my head, and I laid in an Army hospital for six months before they sent me home. The buddy of mine who died had made me promise I would go to college with him when we got back. After months of therapy, getting fitted with an artificial leg, and learning how to walk and talk again, learning how to get around as a blind man. I went to college on the G.I Bill. Knowing that my buddy and any other veteran who died in Viet Nam had dreams of what they would and could do once they got back, I felt I owed it to them to follow my dreams in their honor, and I refused to give up on them or myself.

"It took me almost 10 years, but I made it, and I never begged for a damn thing. I never lowered myself into begging, quitting, or acting like the World owed me a living just because I went to Viet Nam and got all shot up. They offered me help, and I took it ... all of it!"

Adolf stopped momentarily as he wiped his moist eyes. The homeless man was speechless, and impressed! Adolf reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, handing it to the man.

"I own a warehouse storage, moving, and trucking business. Doing pretty good, too. Instead of giving some change that you're begging for, I'm going to buy you dinner tonight, and then I'm going to offer you a job at my business. If you're anything of the veteran you say you are, you'll get off your ass and do something for yourself besides feel sorry for yourself and beg. I did, and so can you! C'mon, I'm hungry ... help me inside." Unknown to Adolfo, the man was now tearful, and felt ashamed of himself as he helped Adolfo in the door.

"Good evening, Mr. Gallegos. Your wife is waiting for you at your regular table," a waitress said as they entered. Adolfo was able to traverse the small restaurant unassisted with his cane, finding his usual table without much trouble.

"Well, about time, where's your friend?" Madeline asked, noting that Adolfo had walked in alone.

"I thought he was right behind me," Adolf said, sounding surprised. "I didn't even get his name."

As the waitress came to take their order, Adolf asked her, "That guy that walked in with mewhere did he go?"

"Oh, after he helped you in the door and I told you that your wife was waiting for you, he approached me to politely excuse himself and asked that I tell you thank you, he's sorry he embarrassed you, he has your card, and he will see you first thing tomorrow morning after he gets himself cleaned up, then he left. Funny, he's been hanging around outside for weeks panhandling until we close, but he's gone now," the waitress said. She smiled and walked away after taking their order.

"What was that all about, Adolfo?", Madeline asked, as the waitress returned, bringing Adolfo a cold beer and putting his hand around it for his convenience.

"Just another day on the job, baby," Adolfo smiled to himself, as he took a deep drink of his cold beer, "Just another day on the job..."

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
This is another story from the upcoming book "When Vatos Locos Walked the Earth" by Frankie Firme.
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