Of the 2.7 million Americans who served in the Vietnam war, 304,000 were wounded in action, and 75,000 were disabled. Of the casualties listed on The Wall, approximately 1,300 remain missing in action.
Fighting Men paid the greatest toll in Vietnam, America’s longest war, as in other wars of our nation. Too few know of the tremendous sacrifice Native Americans have made in defense of our common homeland.
The stories of Vietnam veterans coming home reveal how bitterly divided the country was. Some veterans were belittled by people who referred to them as ‘baby-killers’ or ‘crazy Vietnam vets.’ It was common that even family and friends did not want to talk about the war with them, and when they did, they brought it up in a very negative manner. Some veterans feel they were stereotyped during and after the war, especially the stereotype concerning drugs and alcohol. However, some veterans feel that the Vietnam veteran’s image has improved throughout the years because the veterans took care of each other (i.e. building the Wall). Many veterans experienced guilt and other hardships after returning home from Vietnam.
Let me tell you story of my friend that none bother to talk to him. I felt sad because the most possession he valued is his dog tag. He only told me that people called him Corporal.
Corporal is a homeless man that lives on the streets of L.A. With his long snaggly hair, his tangled beard, his many layers of clothing underneath a green army jacket and dirt smeared on his face it’s difficult to tell how old he is or what he really looks like. His eyes are perpetually caught in an upward stare as though he were looking for passing airplanes or focused on his frontal lobe. He pushes a shopping cart stuffed with black garbage bags containing God knows what and around the garbage bags are crushed soda and beer cans which he relentlessly collects to support his meager lifestyle.
Corporal stops at every trash can and garbage dumpster he passes and rifles through them. He invariably comes up with a can or bottle and occasionally other worthwhile items. As he goes through a dumpster behind an apartment building he finds a three foot leather shoelace. He tugs on it to make sure it’s sturdy, tosses it into his shopping cart, then really starts to dig for cans and bottles. He comes up with several and pitches them into the cart. A voice hollers out from one of the apartment windows.
“Shut up with those Goddamn cans already!”
Corporal freezes. He looks like he’s going to say something, but nothing comes out. He slowly sets the bottles he’s holding into the cart. There’s a still a little noise.
A voice from another window screams out, “No, you shut up, ya moron!
“Hey! Fuck you!”
Corporal pushes his cart up the driveway.
Yet another voice. “No, both of you!”
Sarah Pelosi, a thin, bespectacled woman of forty with slightly crazy long brown hair, sits at her kitchen table alone. She is wearing a navy blue business suit and unenthusiastically drinks herbal tea from a “LA Clippers” mug. An uneaten piece of toast grows cold on a plate before her.
At the can and bottle collection area in back of Ralph’s Market on Sunset and Western, Corporal stands in line behind many other ragged, dirty, homeless people awaiting his turn to exchange his cans for cash. Walking down the line holding a notebook is Sarah. She works for the Department Of Health and Welfare and is attempting to get some of these homeless people to come into the office and receive counseling. She is consistently ignored by one and all and is becoming visibly distressed. When she gets to Corporal at the end of the line, she perfunctorily asks his name. Corporal attempts to answer and begins to stutter and screw up his face, blinking hard, unable to get any words out. The sight of him in such agony causes Sarah even more consternation. Corporal finally gets out that he doesn’t know his name. This really gets to Sarah. She asks Corporal if she can buy him lunch and he cautiously agrees.
Sarah and Corporal go to the McDonald’s on the corner. She asks him many questions about himself and with great difficulty he answers that he doesn’t know any of the answers. He remembers being in a hospital with a head wound and one day he was released. That was about twenty years ago. Beyond that all he knows is living on the streets. He lifts up his hair and reveals a deep scar on the side of his forehead. Sarah offers to drive him back to her place in West Hollywood so that he can take a shower, but he declines. He’s got to keep an eye on his shopping cart or someone will steal it. Sarah writes her address on the back of her business card and gives it to him. He painfully thanks her for lunch, shakes her hand and pushes his cart away down Western Ave. Sarah watches him go, a sad look in her eyes.
Sarah gets back to the office of The Department Of Health and Welfare. She sits at her desk with a vacant stare. Her supervisor comes up and wants to know how many homeless people she got to come in for their benefits. None, she replies. Not even one? Sarah shakes her head. Her supervisor suggests that going out on the streets and dealing with these people may not be the right assignment for her. Sarah doesn’t know how to answer because it’s probably the truth. Her supervisor leaves and Sarahl looks down at her dirt smeared hand.
It is late at night and Corporal crouches in the doorway of The Broadway rug store on Sunset and Wilcox, his shopping cart wedged into the doorway beside him. He is covered by a tattered green army sleeping back. He pulls his hand out of the sleeping bag and he’s holding Sarah’s business card. He looks at it closely. Corporal pushes his cart up Curson Street and passes many Orthodox Jews with their long beards and black hats. None of them take any notice of him. He arrives at a nice, old apartment building with four units, shrubs surrounding it and a wooden bench built into the front of the building abutting the sidewalk. Corporal looks at the Sarah’s business card and the address written on the back is the same as the one on the front of the building. He steps up to the door of the ground floor apartment (the one with the bench attached to it) and hesitantly rings the bell. No answer. He frowns and sits down on the bench. The wooden slats of the bench seat teeter totter squeaking loudly and smacking the concrete edge on the other side. Corporal is startled, then sits quietly and waits.
Sarah turns off Melrose onto Curson in her little white Toyota (with Green Peace, “Save The Whales” and Mondale/Ferraro bumper stickers) looking very depressed. As she pulls up in front of her building she sees Corporal sitting on the bench. A smile crosses her face. Sarah parks her car in back, then walks around to the front. When Corporal sees her he smiles too and tries to say something, but no words will come out. Sarah suggests that they put his shopping cart into her garage where no one will take it, then invites him inside.
Sarah’s apartment is pretty messy with stacks of National Geographics, pieces of fabric hanging from the walls with Guatemalan prints, beads covering the doorway to the kitchen. Every bit of space seems to be used up. There is a day glo poster on one wall from the Filmore West announcing “Moby Grape and Big Brother And The Holding Company.” Corporal stands at the very center of the living room with his hands flat against his sides looking very uncomfortable and out of place. Sarah goes to her linen closet and gets two big towels. She gives him the towels, tells him the bathroom is at the end of the hall and if he’ll toss out his clothes she’ll wash them. Corporal does as he’s instructed. From the crack in the bathroom door the army coat comes out, then a dirty flannel shirt, then a filthy t shirt, then another t shirt, then another shirt, then another t shirt, then a ragged thermal undershirt, then a severely worn pair of black work pants, then a pair of nearly white blue jeans, then a holey, horrible pair of underwear, then five pairs of socks, and finally a torn pair of black Converse all star gym shoes. Sarah looks at the massive pile of soiled, smelly clothes and winces. She goes to the kitchen and returns a moment later wearing a pair of rubber gloves. She picks up the clothes and holding them as far away from her contorted face as possible, takes them to the washing machine. She pours in a cup of detergent, thinks for a second, then adds another cup, then some bleach and fabric softener for good measure. She turns on the washer and from the other side of the wall she hears Corporal let out a shriek. His shower water has gone ice cold. She quickly turns off the washer and hollers back that she’s sorry.
Sarahl begins to prepare dinner. Corporal comes out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and he’s actually quite slim and not bad looking. Carol gives him a bathrobe to put on, tells him dinner is being made and turns on the washer.
They have dinner and since Corporal has such difficulty speaking and can’t answer any of Sarah’s questions about himself because he can’t remember,Sarah does most of the talking. She tells him of her lonely childhood in the Philippinest, leading into her lonely college life which leads naturally into her lonely adult life. Corporal listens intently and nods frequently indicating that he’s paying attention. Sarah can’t believe how much she’s talked throughout the meal, more than she’s ever spoken to any man. corporal seems interested and perfectly willing to hear more. The buzzer on the dryer goes off and Sarah takes out his freshly washed clothes. Their hands meet as she hands him his clothing. Corporal thanks her for dinner and washing his clothes. They look into each other’s eyes and Sarah is about to say something, but doesn’t. Corporal heads back to the bathroom to dress. As he’s about to leave he thanks her once again and she tells him to please stop by anytime he wants, she’ll be happy to wash his clothes and make him dinner. They both smile and he leaves. A few moments later she hears the squeaky wheels of his shopping cart clattering past on the sidewalk. Sarah smiles again.
Corporal comes over to Sarahl’s apartment for dinner and a shower everyday for the next three days. Each time it is very pleasant. Sarah talks and corporal listens.
As Sarah drives home from work the next day she has an expectant look on her face. She pulls up to her building and sees the vacant bench. Her expression alters to one of disappointment. Sarah eats dinner alone, the look of disappointment lingering on her face.
Corporal nestles in a doorway in his sleeping bag. He looks like he’s asleep, but then his hand comes up out of the sleeping bag and in it is Sarah’s business card.
It’s night and Corporal stands on the sidewalk in front of Sarah’s building. He looks at the card, then looks at her building. He takes a step up to her door, then stops, afraid to go any further. Finally, his resolve gone, he drops onto the bench which squeaks and snaps upward.
Sarah lies in bed and her eyes open. There is a look of expectation on her face. She gets up, crosses her living room, pulls back the curtains and sees Corporal sitting on the bench. She smiles happily and taps on the window. Corporal turns around, sees her and he too smiles. Sarah opens the door and when he steps up she throws her arms around him and hugs him tightly. Slowly he brings his arms up around her. She takes his hand and leads him down the hall to the bedroom.
As they lie in bed, both with satisfied, happy, sleepy expressions, Sarah decides that she will call him Tom for lack of anything better. “W why T Tom?” he stutters. Sarah is a little embarrassed but explains that she found an alley cat when she was little and named it Tom. This amuses Corporal and he grins. Soon they both fall in each other’s arms. Corporal bolts awake in the middle of the night, covered with sweat, frightened by a nightmare. He is breathing rapidly and doesn’t know where he is. Sarah reaches up and touches his back and he recoils. Sarah asks what his nightmare was about, but he can’t remember. Corporal gets out of bed, puts on his clothes and says he’s got to go. Sarah wants to know why he can’t stay the night and he says he just can’t. She asks will he come back again? He nods yes. Sarah follows him to the door and as he’s about to leave she reaches into a drawer and hands him a key to her apartment. She says, “Now you’re not homeless.” Corporal is very moved. They kiss passionately, then look into each other’s eyes. “Bye, Tom. When will I see you again?” “T tomorrow. B bye, Sa-Sarah.” He leaves. Sarah goes back to bed with a little grin sticking to the side of her mouth. As she lies back down she can hear the squeaky wheels of his shopping cart rattling up the sidewalk. She shakes her head in amazement at herself and sighs happily.
Corporal gets to the end of the street and stops. He rifles through his shopping cart until he comes up with a long leather shoelace. He threads it through the key, ties a knot and puts it around his neck. “I I’m n not h homeless anymore.” Engraved in the side of the key is Sarah’s address 13030. He watches the key bounce against his chest as he walks, which is why he doesn’t see the car that comes racing up the street, goes through a stop sign and plows right into him. Empty beer cans go clattering up the street in all directions.
A doctor looks down and turns on a little flashlight. He pulls up one of Corporal’s eyelids and beams the light directly into his eye. The pupil contracts. He moves the light away and the pupil dilates. The doctor nods. He then cracks a glass ampule and holds it under Corporal’s nose. Corporal’s eyes flutter, then open. He’s awake and conscious.
“Where am I?” asks Corporal without any trace of a stutter.
“You’re in the hospital,” answers the doctor.
“I mean, what country?”
“What country?” repeats the doctor incredulously.
“America. What country did you think you were in?”
“Viet Nam. I guess I got medevacked out.”
“You got hit by a car,” states the doctor flatly. “In Los Angeles. That’s where you are.”
Corporal is now very confused. “What? I don’t remember that. I remember being at the firebase at La Chau Four and being shelled, and that’s it.”
“What year do you think it is?”
“1971,” states Corporal without hesitation.
The doctor shakes his head in amazement. “Something’s definitely wrong here because it’s not 1971. It’s 1991.”
Corporal’s eyes go wide with shock. “1991? Is this some kind of joke?”
“I’m afraid not. Do you know what your name is?”
“Of course. Tom Hawkins. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” explains the doctor, “you were brought in without any I.D. at all. I thought maybe you had amnesia, considering you thought it was 1971.”
“1991? That would make me fourty two years old.”
“If you shave that beard off you’ll look forty two. Right now you look sixty two.”
Corporal or Tom as the case may be, reaches up and grabs his beard. He seems utterly surprised to find it there and as he tugs on it he clearly realizes that this is not a joke.
“Then I must’ve had amnesia since 1971 ’cause I don’t remember anything after the shelling in Viet Nam.”
“Do you remember where you live?”
Lewis nods. “Sure. 24770 Harrison Street in Barstow.”
“Do you have any relatives there?”
“Yeah. My mother and my father and my wife.”
Tom Hawkins is told he can leave the hospital. He is given his clothes by a nurse and he is confused by the amount of them. “Did I have a suitcase for these other things?”
“No,” says the nurse. “You wearing them all.”
He puts on the blue jeans and a t shirt and puts the rest into a plastic grocery bag. He asks to borrow a scissors and a razor and shaves off his beard. Underneath he is a reasonably handsome man.
At the front desk as he signs his release form he is given a manilla envelope with his belongings inside. He opens it and finds a key attached to a leather shoelace, two dollars and some change.
The nurse shrugs.
“Well what the hell have I been doing for the last twenty years?”
“From the way you were dressed it looked like you lived out on the streets.”
Tom leaves the hospital in a state of great confusion.
Outside it’s a strange new world. The cars all look futuristic to him, particularly the new low slung, fastback vans. He passes a group of long hair rockers and that kind of makes sense. “Hippies,” he mumbles to himself, “I wonder what they’re rebelling against?” He asks a woman at a busstop bench, “Are we in a war?”
She looks at him askance. “The war’s over.”
“I know, I fought in it.”
She looks incredulous. “You fought in the Persian Gulf? You’re too old.”
Tom shakes his head. “The Persian Gulf?”
He keeps walking and passes a group of kids with green, blue and red hair. Things have definitely changed.
Tom finally sticks out his thumb and hitch hikes east out of town. He gets picked up by an Air Force officer in uniform that’s driving back to Las Vegas where he’s stationed. Tom explains his plight of being unable to remember anything. The officer says, “what’dya want to know?”
“Well, the last President I remember is Nixon. He lost the election?”
“No, he resigned. He got caught in a scandal called Watergate. Then came President Ford.”
Tom is blown away. “Henry Ford was President?”
“No, Gerald Ford. He was Vice President. Nobody voted for him. Then came Jimmy Carter.”
“Jimmy? Was he ten years old?”
“No, he was a southern peanut farmer. Then came Ronald Reagan.”
“The actor? Don’t tell me, next came Lassie.”
“Now it’s Bush and Quayle.”
“Sounds like a brand of bourbon.”
“Take my word for it, buddy, you didn’t miss much.”
Tom reaches down to the key hanging around his neck and furrows his brow.
Sarah sits at her desk at work with a silly grin plastered to her face. She glances up at the clock frequently. The woman at the desk beside her leans over and whispers.
“I know what that look means,” and raises her eyebrows in an insinuating gesture.
Sarah looks at her and acts innocent. “What?”
“Don’t kid me, honey. I’ve felt that way before. Not since I’ve been married, but I still remember. Meeting him tonight?”
Sarah nods and smiles.
“Lucky girl. Enjoy it while it lasts ’cause nothing does.”
The woman beside her makes a face that says, “Oh, sure.”
Sarah looks up at the clock. The work day won’t end.
Tom is dropped off in Barstow in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It doesn’t look a hell of a lot different than when he left it. There are a few strip malls and more fast food joints, but that’s the only difference. He walks out to the edge of town to a small house and knocks on the door. A middle aged Latino man answers the door.
Tom isn’t sure how to proceed. “Um… What happened to the Hawkins.”
“Mr and Mrs Hawkins? They lived here since the fifties.”
“Oh, the older couple. They died before we moved in.”
Tom is shocked. “Died? How?”
The Latino man shrugs. “A car crash, maybe. I’m not sure.”
“Do the Taylors still live next door?”
He shakes his head. “Nope. The Rameriz family lives there.”
“Thank you,” says Tom quietly and walks away.
Tom gets to Harrison Street and stops at another little house marked 24770. He girds himself for whatever comes next, steps up to the door and knocks. A moment later the door is answered by a plump, middle aged woman. She looks at Tom and is about to say something when her eyes go wide with horror, her face drains of all it’s color and her mouth drops open.
“Jesus Christ!” she croaks, “Tom??!!” and collapses in a dead faint.
Tom stands in the doorway looking totally helpless.
It’s just getting dark as Sarah pulls off of Melrose onto Curson, her silly little grin still lurking at the edge of her mouth. She has gotten her hair cut and looks pretty good. As she nears her apartment building she sees someone seated on the bench. Her grin blossoms into a full blown smile. As she gets closer she sees that it is an Orthodox Jewish man sitting and talking to a young Jewish boy. Her smile fades away.
She gets inside, shrugs and waves her hands. “It’s okay. He never shows up this early anyway.”
Sarah sets about fixing dinner. As she works her silly little grin returns.
Tom sits at the kitchen table with the wide eyed, plump, middle aged woman. Her name is LISA. There is a bottle of scotch sitting between them and each has a glass in their hand. She is looking at Tom and can’t stop shaking her head.
“I don’t understand,” Lisa says. “I thought you must’ve been killed somehow. I drove to the hospital to pick you up the day you were released and when I got there you were gone. They said you’d just been sitting and waiting and the next thing they looked up and you weren’t there. Where did you go?”
Tom shakes his head and shrugs. “I don’t know. I can’t remember anything that’s happened since then. I woke up in the hospital this morning and I thought it was the next day, except I had a beard down to my chest. I still can’t believe I’m forty two years old.”
“You’re not. Your birthday was last week. You’re forty three.”
“Great! In my head I’m twenty two.”
“In my head I’m seventeen. Time’s a dirty, rotten son of a bitch.”
They both smile rather sadly and take big swallows of their drinks. Lisa looks deeply into Tom’s eyes.
“I missed you so much I didn’t know what to do.”
“Well, what did you do?”
“I waited, for over a year. The Veteran’s Administration never heard a thing, Missing Persons never heard a thing, nobody ever heard a thing.”
“Then what happened?”
She raises her hands in an apologetic gesture. “Lew, I was twenty years old. My husband left after four months of marriage to go fight in a war, then came home wounded, then disappeared off the face of the Earth. Waiting a year all alone to a twenty year old is forever. The Veteran’s Administration said it took seven years for you to be officially pronounced dead. Seven years seemed like eternity…”
“So… I got remarried.”
Tom looks very shocked. He takes a big gulp of scotch and pours himself another. Lisa finishes hers and he refills her glass, too.
Lisa goes on. “Remember Artsee?”
Tom nods. “Sure. He was a great basketball player. The best in the school. That’s who you married?”
Lisa nods. “It was pretty good for a while, too. We have a son.”
“You do?” Lisa nods again. “Well, where’s Artsee?”
“He left. He had a lot of trouble settling down after college. You know, the ex sports star syndrome. Nothing was ever as good as the good old days in high school and college. He hated every job he had, he started to drink all the time and finally, one day about three years ago, he just up and left. I wasn’t sorry to see him go.”
“Where’s your son?”
“Jerry ran away when he was seventeen. He’s in a rock band in L.A. I hear from him now and then when he needs money. His hair is green.”
“I think I saw him today when I got out of the hospital.”
Lisa shakes her head. “A lot of kids have green hair now.”
They both look down at the table, then sip their drinks. They’re both getting a little looped.
Lisa looks up at Tom. “How do I look to you?”
“You look the same.”
Lisa lets out a laugh. “Oh, right. When I was twenty I weighed a hundred and ten pounds and my hair was curly. I don’t look the same.”
Tom peers into her eyes. “Your eyes look the same. That’s all I ever looked at anyway. How do I look?”
“You? You look good. You could use a haircut and a change of clothes, but you look okay. Older. It’s becoming on you, like it is with most men. Age makes men look distinguished and women look like hags.”
“You don’t look like a hag, Lisa.”
Lisa finishes her drink. “Pour me another one, would you? A couple more and maybe I’ll feel like the girl you left behind.”
Tom fills her glass, then his own.
Sarah sits at the dinner table alone. The table is set for two. Uneaten chicken breasts sit on both plates. Nearly burnt out candles sputter at the center of the table. “It’s A Beautiful Day” sings “White Bird” on the record player. Sarah looks sadly toward the front window, then back down at her plate. Finally, she stands, blows out the candles and picks up the two plates. She takes them into the kitchen and dumps the chicken into the trash. She sets the plates on the counter and lowers her head. After a moment she straightens up, takes a deep breath and goes to the bedroom. She climbs into bed, turns off the light and buries her face in the pillow. A quiet, desperate, smothered sob is heard.
Tom and Lisa drunkenly stagger into the bedroom with their arms around each other. They both get undressed by the light of the bright desert moon shining through the window.
Lisa says, “Don’t look.”
Tom turns around and finishes undressing. He hears Lisa get into bed, then turns and does the same. The key hangs from the leather shoelace around his neck. Lisa reaches out and takes hold of it.
“What’s this key to?” she asks.
Tom shakes his head. “I don’t know. It’s the only possession I had.” He takes the key back from her and looks down at it. 13030. “It means something, I know it does. I just don’t remember what.”
Lisa rolls over on top of Tom, puts her face to his and kisses him. They kiss for a long moment, then she pulls her face away. She look at him with a knowing gaze.
“There’s someone else.”
Tom is baffled. “There is?”
Lisa nods. “You’re in love.”
Lisa nods again. “That’s what the key means. It’s the key to her house.”
“How do you know? I don’t remember any other woman.”
“I just know.”
Tom starts to get mad. “But I can’t remember, Goddamnit! I can’t remember anything! It’s like someone stole half my brain!” He grabs the sides of his head and pushes hard.
Lisa reaches out and runs her fingers tenderly along Tom’ cheek. “It’s okay. Calm down. It’s all right. Sleep with me tonight and hold me. Let’s both try to believe that we’re twenty years old again. That all the bad things that’ve happened never happened. Let’s just pretend.”
Tom and Lisa takes each other in their arms and hold tight. corporal eyes open and glance down at the key hanging around his neck.
Lisa wakes up in the morning and rubs her aching head. She sticks her tongue out and makes a disgusted face at the taste in her mouth. She opens her eyes and looks over at the other side of the bed. The blanket and sheet are all bunched up and the bed is empty.
Lisa steps into the kitchen and finds corporal sitting at the kitchen table, the bottle of scotch before him empty. His eyes are bleary and he’s a little drunk.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
Tom sighs deeply. “I had a terrible dream and I can remember every detail of it. I was sitting on this hill in Viet Nam and shells were just pouring in blowing the whole world to hell. All of my friends were screaming and running in all directions and one by one they all got blown to pieces. Parts of their bodies came flying past me and there was nothing I could do to help any of them.” He finishes drinking the little bit of scotch left in the bottom of his glass and winces.
Lisa goes to the refrigerator and takes out eggs and milk and bacon. She begins to prepare breakfast. Without turning around she says, “You’re leaving, right?”
“I have to.”
“Let me make you breakfast. Do you have any money?”
Tom reaches into his pocket and removes the two crinkled dollars and change. “A little.”
Lisa cracks the eggs into a bowl. “I’ll give you some. You’ll need it.”
“You don’t have to do that. I’m sure you need your money.”
“I work down at the grocery store. I do all right. I’ll give you enough to get by on for a little while, then you’re on your own.”
Lisa turns and looks at him.
“You were my first love, Tom. I’ll never forget that.”
Sarah comes into work looking very sad. She sits down at her desk and stares vacantly into the distance. The woman at the desk beside her glances over at her and shakes her head.
“Stood you up, huh?”
“Leave me alone.”
“Men are all bastards. Take my word for it.”
Sarah grabs her bag and notebook and rushes away from her desk. On the way to the door she encounters her supervisor.
“Leaving a little early, aren’t you? What about yesterday’s reports?”
“I’ll get them done.”
“You don’t look too good to me, Sarah. I’m not so sure you should be doing field work.”
“Then relieve me, but don’t bug me about it, okay?”
“Okay. All right. My goodness. I’ve never seen you like this.”
Sarah dashes out the door. When she’s out in her car by herself she gets furious. “Goddamn him! How could he do this to me? I felt so sure. I thought I knew.”
Finally, she starts the car and drives away.
Sarah’s car turns left off Sunset onto Vine heading east. As she passes the Greyhound bus station on DeLongpre a bus is just unloading. Among the passengers is Corporal, looking bleary eyed and a little drunk. He reaches into his pocket and takes out a pint of scotch, goes to take a drink and it’s empty. He throws it in the trash and heads across the street.
Tom the Corporal looks at the key hanging from his neck, then cranes his head around looking in all directions. He shrugs and shakes his head.
“Nothing looks familiar.”
He rubs the back of his aching head and goes into a liquor store.
Sarah drives from one recycling center to another, walking along the lines of homeless people. They’re really a sorry sight. At first she attempts to ask about Corporals whereabouts, but her description sounds like every man in line, not to mention that everyone she’s asking is insane.
By dusk she has made no headway at all and is more depressed than she’s ever been. She’s stony eyed as she drives home to her desolately empty house.
Tom the Corporal checks into the Hollywood Bowl Motel. He has a quart bottle of liquor in a brown paper bag, a garbage bag of clothes and $47.00.
He walks down to his room, through the courtyard area, and passes a young, attractive white girl in a halter top with a tattoo on her shoulder and a big black eye. In one of the rooms a big beatbox is booming. Little black kids run after each other, screaming.
Tom sits in the ratty little room on the holey bedspread and drinks his booze from a plastic cup. There are a thousand sounds: from the beatbox to the nearby Hollywood Freeway, to sex in the next room.
Corporal shakes his head. “Where am I?”
Sarah is taken off field work and stays in the office. She retreats further into herself than she was before. She doesn’t speak to any of her co workers and they give her funny looks. Sarah doesn’t care. Her heart is broken.
Corporal walks the streets of Hollywood in search of a sign, the key hanging around his neck, a black bag over his shoulder. He is systematically checking all of the thirteen hundred blocks. He stops and stares at all the buildings marked 13030, but none of them rings any bells.
He begins wearing all his clothes again and his beard grows longer. He’s always looking around, scrutinizing everything intensely and drinking.
Tom hangs out in the parking lot of The Pavillion Market on Melrose. His eyes dart back and forth. The Mexican store employed shopping cart wranglers push a line of fifty carts into the market. As soon as they’re inside Tom makes his move. He dashes between two cars where a tipped over shopping cart reposes. He straightens it up and quickly pushes it away. As he gets a building between him and the market he sighs and wipes his brow.
The squeaky wheels of the shopping cart glide along the slick gray and white speckled surface of The Walk Of Fame on Vine. The shopping cart is now full of black garbage bags and smashed cans.
He is Corporal digging garbage again.
Sarah talks to her mom on the phone. She wonders what it would be like coming home, just the two of them living in the house.
“Two single old ladies,” jokes her mother. doesn’t take it as a joke. She can see it all too clearly.
Tom aka Corporal stands in line at the bottle and can redemption area behind Ralph’s. A woman walks along the line of bag people holding a notebook. She steps up to Corporal and hands him a card from The Department Of Health And Welfare.
Something rings in his head. He’s seen that card before. He turns it over and nothing is written on the back.
Corporal enters the building of The Department Of Health And Welfare. He speaks to a receptionist, is made to wait, then is shown to a case worker.
She sees Corporal and gasps.
Tom is shocked. “What? What’s wrong?”
Sarah’s shock turns to astonishment. “You don’t stutter.”
Sarah looks at him for a very long moment. Corporal doesn’t know what’s going on.
“My name’s Hawkins. tom Hawkins. Have we met?”
Sarah’s heart sinks into her stomach. “I’m not sure. Don’t you remember?”
“I have a lot of trouble with my memory. I used to have amnesia. We might’ve met.”
Corporal fills out the forms as best he can without having an address and Sarah stares at him in disbelief. He stands to leave and puts out his grimy hand. Sarah slowly takes it and they shake.
Corporal smiles. “Nice to meet you…” he glances down at her nameplate, “…Miss Pelosi.”
Sarah can’t talk.
Corporal leaves without a backward glance.
Sarah looks down at her dirt smeared hand.
It’s night and Corporal is asleep in the doorway of The Broadway rug store wrapped in a blanket, his shopping cart wedged beside him. He is having a nightmare. We can hear the sound of shells whistling in and exploding. With each explosion Corporal recoils and writhes. Finally he bolts awake in a sweat.
The moon is full as Corporal pushes his shopping cart up the thirteen hundred block of Spaulding, then down the thirteen hundred block of Genesee, then up the thirteen hundred block of Sierra Bonita. Nothing means anything. Nothing looks familiar. It’s making him crazy.
Finally, he’s worn out. He stops at a bench and sits down.
The bench squeaks as it teeter totters and the other end snaps up and smacks the plaster edge.
corporal’s eyes widen in recognition.
Sarah lies in bed, her face on the pillow. The noise wakes her up. Her eyes open and blink.
corporal reaches into his shirt and pulls out the key. He slowly turns his head and looks at the building behind him. The address is 13030. He stands and goes up the steps to the apartment door. He takes the key from around his neck and holds it out to the lock on the door.
The key slides into the lock.
Corporal smiles in awe. He turns the key and the tumblers unlock. He turns the doorknob and opens the door.
There stands Sarah in her nightgown lit by the moon. Her eyes are wide and there’s a breathless, hopeful smile on her face.
Corporal’s face fills with recognition. “Sarah.”
They run into each other’s arms and hold each other tight.