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sixteen dollars

(old veteran, san francisco, 4/18/07)

 

he's pushing a tall square cart down the sidewalk. he looks through me, and i smile unobserved for a breath along my way.

 

"come over here son" he says looking away. i return.

 

his name is william "from carolina."

 

says "i just got out of the VA hospital and could use a place to stay." been sleeping in doorways on market street. "could use a hood too" something warm for my head.

 

he lost his hotel room while he was in the hospital. he's waiting for the first of may; to get his $900 labor union retirement check and then he'll get a new place; pay for the whole month. he'll have $250 left over to live; after the $650 he pays with his senior discount.

 

77 years old he says, like it's news to him.

 

his oldest brother was 77 when he died. william is the yougest of four brothers and the only one left. the only one of the family left. "lord will take me when he chooses."

 

all the brothers volunteered for the army and went to war. william had to wait until he was old enough. he joined when he turned seventeen; to support his mom. she got $16 dollars for each of her sons each month they fought. $64 for all of them.

 

for william, nearly one dollar paid per year of rearing. for his older brothers less.

 

he tells me of his one older brother who reenlisted for a second tour and was "blown to pieces" straight away. william was given a pistol and sent home with the casket and an order that it not be opened.

 

william got out better. a bullet in the leg. still walks with a limp and often a cane. but he walks.

 

"doctors said i'd never walk again. but i prayed."

  

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Taken on April 18, 2007