|The man has been to the office three times before. He comes wearing a black jacket with black trousers and tops this regular uniform off with the same white hat. I try to place the hat. It is not a Bermuda straw hat; it is more of a Bing Crosby hat fraternity boys and John Belushi wore a few decades ago.
When he comes, he sits and talks to my boss for an hour, sometimes longer. He is pining for my job, a counseling job that I put in a resignation notice a week ago.
Today he comes in wearing his uniform and I think, why do you need to bring your Asian woman friend every time? If you get the job, will she help you carry the dozen or so boxes from the installation’s post office during a mail run? Will she help you counsel the soldiers who’ve just returned from battle? And will she continue to wear the same off white jeans she wears when she accompanies you to the office? Will she, I think? Maybe she will, but with a lot of complaining in her native tongue.
I smile and think about Hemingway’s short story The Tradesman’s Return. It’s a ten page story in which Hemingway uses the word nigger forty-seven times and the word boogie once. I smile even more because one day someone will tell me my count was one or two niggers short.
I am single-covered, the only one in the office. In the conference room I have a Riverside County Sheriff recruiter extolling the merits of working for his department to our transitioning soldiers. In our main office, I have soldiers walking in needing our services. I ask the Johnny Cash want to be whom I find behind the receptionist’s counter with his back turned to me if I can help him? Still staring down at whatever he finds amusing and not looking at me he says, “I’m looking for Dr. Jack.” I answer, “He’s not here.” With a raised tone of voice he says, “Where is he!” I reply, “Ask him yourself,” and walk out of our main office to the conference room to facilitate the sheriff’s presentation.
Sitting back down and listening to the Riverside County Sheriff talk about salary and the guns they use, I think since working here, only once have I had such a negative experience. One time I was giving a Pre-Separation briefing to a Sergeant Major and his wife. When I got done with the mandatory briefing the wife said, “Yes ma-sah.” It would have been nice had the briefing gone off as the other hundreds had gone, but it did not. The woman was from the south and she felt the need to let more than her dialect show that she was from the south. Maybe she was upset because I could talk. Or maybe she was upset because she was exceedingly fat? Who knows? On that one, I turned the other cheek and pretended I did not hear her. I told myself then, you just started working here, let it go, the next time, blank it.
This job like the many other counseling jobs I have held is just a job. I deal with people who bring in all kinds of issues. If I can help a few of them while also making a little money I guess that is the best I or anyone else can hope for. In a way, the people that one meets in a Monday through Friday grind are not that different from the stereotyped characters one finds in a Hemingway or Faulkner tale. The only drawback is, on these real life characters, you cannot just close the book or put them on a shelf. You have to read them now.
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