A hard cold rain is falling. The bistro is almost empty. I’m up front reading the paper waiting for customers.
The door swings open. I feel a blast of cold wet air hit my face. A young man, about twenty one, walks in.
“Are you open?” he asks.
“Yes we are.” I reply hopefully.
“Do you have a vegetarian menu?
“Well not specifically but we have pasta and I’m sure we can make you something. What kind of vegetarian are you?” I reply.
“I’m not vegetarian. My date is.” he answers.
“Do you know if she can eat fish or dairy? It would help if I knew.”
“I don’t know her that well.”
“Ah a blind date?” I say smiling.
“Yeah I just got back from boot camp and a friend of mine set up the date. I saw a picture. She’s really pretty.” he says.
“I’m sure she is.”
“But her girlfriend called and told me she was vegetarian. I have no idea how where to take her.” he says nervously.
Oh man if this kid was in boot camp he hasn’t been with a girl in months. He needs help.
“Well bring her here. I’ll take care of you myself and make sure it works out.” I offer.
“Thank you sir.” he says relieved.
Kids are calling me “sir” now.
As I take down his info I ask him where he completed boot camp.
“Parris Island” he announces proudly.
“Ah the Marines.”
“Yes sir. If your gonna sign up – sign up with the best.” he says
“Semper Fi to that.” I reply.
That elicits a big smile.
This is a really nice kid. He has an easy going manner and an innocent face. I’m feeling rather paternal. I want to make his evening go smoothly.
“Ok sir you’re all set. See you at eight o’clock.” I say
He thanks me, shakes my hand, and leaves. As he walks into the rain my stomach twists into a knot.
I realize he is probably going to Iraq.
Horrible images of this kid screaming in pain or lying dead in a dusty road fill my head. I shake my head to clear it.
I try and reassure myself. Statistically I know this kid will probably walk away from his military career with a few tattoos and even more bad drinking stories. That’s cold comfort. I knew this kid for only a moment. Imagine how his mother feels. For the first time I realized on a gut level how young most of our soldiers are. From my perspective they’re children.
I find myself worrying about this kid. Will he be ok? Will he be scared? Will he have the things he needs to survive?
I read in the paper today that during a “town meeting” morale talk in Iraq some servicemen laced into the Secretary of Defense. The asked him why there wasn’t enough body armor to go around. Why their vehicles lacked adequate protection.
Taken aback Rumsfeld stated “You go to war with the army you have. Not the army you wish you have.”
If I was at that town meeting that answer would have pissed me off. Then again my relationship with authority has always been tenuous at best. I’m sure it pissed off the parents of a lot of servicemen and women.
Rumsfeld never saw combat. Neither will his children. If my Marine was his grandson he might be singing a different tune.
Now I am not gonna get into whether the war in Iraq is right or wrong. Sometimes war is necessary. Sometimes it isn’t. I’m only a waiter. What do I know? But one thing is certain. War is not measured in territory gained or causes won. It is measured in blood spilt; limbs shattered, and lives prematurely ended. Meeting this kid tonight brought that reality home.
Eight o’clock comes and goes and no young Marine. Maybe his date went south. Maybe he thought my place was too expensive. That’s too bad. I wanted to pull out my waiter charm, flatter his girlfriend, and help him get laid. Hey – it’s my way to support the troops.
As I walk to my car I think about that young man. I hope he’ll be all right. I hope he comes home.
Semper Fi kid.