Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Disabled Patriotic Veterans

Now that the local newspaper has exposed The Disabled Patriotic Veterans of Distinguished Foreign Service to America (DFVDFSA) as a scam, and Walmart forbade them ever to set up their table of suckers sold for their benefit, we can only look back and celebrate their presence for those brief months.

They're gone now but not forgotten. I can still see them in my mind's eye: The various articles of slouchy clothes, the ratty camouflage, faded Doors T-shirts, patriotic caps burdened by trinkets and buttons everywhere, and of course the handlebar moustaches. They'd show up, and if you were lucky enough to get there early, you'd see the heartrending ceremony of unpacking the six inch flag and its wooden base, and proudly saluting as they erected it on the table. Then it was on to the cash drawer and the all-necessary priming of the tip jar with about 20 bucks.

The Disabled Patriotic Veterans of Distinguished Foreign Service to America.  Every word is important. They're disabled, or presumably serve others somewhere who are. They're patriotic, as we've seen them show their little flag all due deference. They're veterans who've performed service in the foreign fields, which has been distinguished. These weren't just desk jobs, supply guys, logistical staff, officers, or base personnel. This was distinguished service, meaning it was extraordinary. And America, that's a word that packs a punch!

All that time, there in the stifling heat of a Walmart entrance, they kept a brave vigil, testifying to their great sacrifice and sacrificing still, that with each sucker sold perhaps they could make a few cents over cost, to support themselves, not to mention those, their brethren, somewhere, the ones who are actually disabled and in dire need.

And you have to hand it to them, they had a great sales pitch to go along with their physical presentation. "No one gave us a parade, at least buy a sucker." And ,"We gave our lives for your freedom, buy a sucker already." But even with that there were plenty of people who acted like they didn't see them and would press into Walmart without stopping. Which is both bad and good. Bad, because those people are miserable, sons-of-bitchin' ingrates. But good, because it feeds into the DFVDFSA's complex that nobody appreciates them, giving them the resolve to double down on the guilt-inducing slogans.

I asked this one guy -- who asked me if I'd ever served, to which I had to go into my normal spiel about being eligible yet drawing high lottery numbers in the draft -- what the average gift for a sucker is. He said it was a measly buck. A dollar?! Crap, the suckers are about a dime to buy, so that's not much of a profit when you factor in the table, the flag, the stickers, and the sheer amount of time it takes to set up out there -- not to mention the heat! -- and time is money.

But what about the upper stratosphere of donations? We've all heard of the stranger who shows up at the Salvation Army bucket every year and puts in a 1609 gold doubloon worth a million dollars. No, he hasn't been here, but of course we'd love to have him stop by. The upper stratosphere, as it turns out, isn't very high. A few people have put in $20, and a few of those make the added gesture of not even taking the sucker!

Then, what is the most memorable thing that's happened to you out here? I asked. He thought it over and was visibly moved. His voice starting to break -- which he brought back quickly to normal -- he told me about an old guy who lives at a nursing home. OK? This stuff really happens. The nursing home (assisted living facility, I should say) brings them out in vans.

One time the old guy saw the sucker stand and decided next time he'd do something special. So he put on his World War II uniform and came out. He stood about 20 feet away. The DPVDFSA rep stood near the table. The older gentleman walked straight toward him. People parted. The old man, his hand feeble beyond belief, and shaking like a leaf as a consequence, lifted his hand and saluted. The other returned the gesture. That was a beautiful moment. It was a meeting of generations, from one who probably did get a parade to one who didn't. As if to say, "You're all right, and your suckers ain't half bad either, and thank you for your service." He put in $10, took the sucker, and signed the rep's hat. I saw the faded signature, clearly the scrawl of an old-timer, someone very old.

Other than that, I have a clear memory of the naked girl tattoo on the guy's arm.

Now, though, it's all gone. The DPVDFSA appears to be no more, exposed by an ungrateful newspaper as a scam. And our opportunity to give them what they deserve as disabled patriotic veterans has now sadly passed.

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