The bum by the dumpster scratched his butt and then scratched his nose. His face was wrinkled with life lines, love lines, and all of the lines of a life well lived. He did not regret his place in society here, nearly at the end of his life. People (those who walked by with noses screwed up in judgement) did not understand that his alcoholism was truly for medicinal purposes. It eased the pain, the emotional pain of a man who had seen too much in his life, who had experienced things that those people would only visit in movies or newspapers.
Yet, he did not regret a moment of it.
His life now was a convenient vacation, bit of a dirty one, but a vacation none the less. Better yet, this was his retirement and those who disapproved, well, could just go on disapproving. He lived here just like they did, was a part of the community just like they were, and did not depend on anyone to help him out. He enjoyed sleeping in the woods that surrounded the town, he enjoyed the generosity of Curtis (although he never asked, or God forbid, begged), and he was quite content to drink his social security check while lazing away the warm (or freezing) afternoon next to the dumpster.
He did try to work once when Curtis decided he could improve the bum's life with the satisfaction of a paycheck. What Curtis did not consider was the possibility that work did not fit into his lifestyle…that work made retirement less, well, retire-ful. He worked most of his life and now he wanted a good long break. A break long enough to last until the Long Break. For some reason, people didn’t equate his retirement with those who scrimped and saved their entire life. To him, it was very much the same. He just took fewer baths and began drinking earlier in the day.
Don’t for a minute think that the bum didn’t understand that he made people uncomfortable. That was why he stayed behind the store to enjoy his afternoon. The cars on the streets and in the parking lots made him feel edgy anyhow. Too much noise for a proper retirement.
He reached into his pocket this fine chilly afternoon and pulled out his most precious items, very nearly his only possessions. He held up a picture of a little boy, which he had accidently bent during a bar fight 10 years ago. He had his ass whooped during that fight near the pool tables, but it was nothing compared to the beat down he gave the same man in the parking lot that same evening when he realized that the picture had been bent during the fight. His temper had been a problem then.
There was also a bullet in his hand, a bullet with all of the indications that it has been fired. That bullet had once been a part of his brain; thankfully, a part that could be repaired with little consequence to his daily functioning. He had spent weeks in that army hospital on all sorts of pills. A very nice nurse, Marda (a strange name to him), took care of his bandages and moved his legs in a bicycle fashion to keep his circulation good. Marda was quite beautiful and was in love with a soldier on the front lines. She had pictures to show too. They became fast friends.
Quite often Marda would bring him an extra dessert or an extra roll with his dinner. After he left they exchanged letters. One day Marda’s letters stopped. He later heard from another wounded soldier who had been treated at that same hospital that Marda’s love had been killed in a skirmish near the Mekong Delta. Lovers disappeared quite often during the war both in Vietnam and at home. His disappeared at home.