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Story Time With Hank | Uncle Pete the Samaritan

autumn leaves
Hank Henry

Happy (almost) December, ladies and gentlemen. May there be a crisp twenty in the linty pocket of a jacket-you-haven’t-worn-in-a-year-or-two of your life.

I meant to have a very special surprise for you today: the first ever audio Story Time.

I secretly recorded a conversation with my Uncle Pete and intended to throw it up here for your enjoyment—he wouldn’t mind, probably—but one technical snafu after another has made that dream impossible. And by that, I mean I lost the necessary USB cord. So I’ve transcribed it for you instead, and it’s a wall-of-text as usual.

Allow me to briefly set the scene: Picture me sitting on a deck on an autumn afternoon with a man in his middle forties. This man is my uncle, kind of. He was my uncle. He was married to my mother’s sister for something like eight years, but it didn’t work out and they got divorced, ten, fifteen years ago. He still shows up on holidays. So it’s Thanksgiving and here we are, my ex-uncle and I, on my grandparents’ deck with drinking hot ciders spiked with bourbon, and my aunt and her new husband and the rest of my family inside.

What follows is mostly my uncle monologue-ing, but sometimes I intrude, as well. Such interruptions are in brackets and kept to a minimum. Here goes:

***

I was having a drink over at Marlow’s the other week, maybe two weeks ago. Did I ever take you to Marlow’s?

[No.]

Well, good. I don’t know why I would. It’s a terrible place. But it’s close by the house.

Anyway, I’m at Marlow’s, alone, but not in like a depressing way. Just taking a load off. You know they got these Half-Off…what’s the word, not domestic…import. They got these Half-Off Import Wednesdays, so I was doing that, drinking Heinekens like James Bond. You know Bond drinks Heinekens now? About time he pulled his head out of his ass and started drinking beer, in my opinion. What the hell is a martini, anyway? Really. I honestly don’t know.

[Five minutes of me explaining martinis to him.]

Huh. Well that doesn’t sound so bad, I guess. I don’t know what vermouth is, though. But still, I’ll take a beer, you know?

[So you were at Marlow’s?]

Right, yeah, over at Marlow’s, at a table by myself. Facing the door so I can watch the weirdos come in. Just killing off an evening.

So I’m into maybe my second, third beer when the door opens. Everybody glances over that way, the way people do in a place does a lot of repeat business, I guess, and they see this guy standing there and they all just stop. Stop talking, stop drinking, stop everything. And they stare.

This guy standing in the door, he’s a soldier, you know, an army man, in his whatever. His uniform. The camo kind. They got a name for ’em, but I can’t think of it. Anyway, he’s standing there, frozen to the spot by all these people looking dead at him.

Then someone at the bar says, “Hey, killer,” all cold, you know? “Hey, killer.” That’s what he says.

And someone else says, “Hey, let me ask you, what’s the best way to get rid of a blood stain?”

And someone else just yells, “Murderer!” Not so creative, but it does the job. Suddenly they’re all going at it.

“Baby killer!” “Butcher!” “Monster!” “Kill any babies recently?”

And this soldier, he’s just standing there, taking it, looking like that Indian fella what cries when you throw a can in the river, except he’s a goddamn American, so he’s not actually crying. But he looks real sad.

At this point, I’ve had enough. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. So I stand up and I say, “Hey! What’s the matter with all of you? You know what this man’s been through? You know the things he’s seen? Guy’s a hero. Anybody he killed had it coming.”

I said exactly that to ’em, and they all got real quiet. Like maybe I got through to ’em a little bit. So I turned to the soldier, and I say to him, “Let me get you a beer,” and he just shakes his head, says no, he doesn’t think that’s such a good idea. And maybe he’s right. So I say, “Hell, I’m not staying here either,” and we both walk out.

Outside, I shake his hand and tell him my name and he tells me his. Danny.

I say, “Danny, were you headed from here?” He says he doesn’t know.

“You headed home?” I ask him.

All a sudden, he gets all squirrely, you know, all quiet and looking anywhere except at me, and I have a whatchamacallit, an epiphany: This guy’s one of those homeless war vets Dr. Oz and those folks are always going on about. I always figured that was all bullshit, you know? I mean how’s that happen, right? But here one is, right in front of me. All he’s got in the whole world is an ugly outfit and a whole mess of bad memories.

So I say, kind of like it’s no big deal, you know—I don’t want to hurt the guy’s pride any—I say, “Hey, here’s a thought. I’ve got beer at my place. More than I know what to do with. What do you say you come help me with that, and if it gets late, well hell, I’ve got a couch you can crash on.”

And this guy…you should have seen the look on his face. I mean, you really should have seen it. I don’t know that I can even…I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a man so grateful. I guess never. But he’s playing it cool too, so he just shrugs and says sure and I drive him out to my place.

And we drink and we chat into the small hours. He doesn’t want to talk about the war, and Lord knows I don’t want to force him so we talk about other things. Sports, mainly. And movies. Women some, but I get the feeling that’s a raw spot with him, so I let it go.

Anyway, it get’s late, and we get tired, so I get the guy some blankets and set him up on the sofa for the night. I go to my bedroom and fall into bed and that’s that. Out like a light. Sweet dreams ’til morning.

So ten AM rolls around. I wake up, do my jumping jacks, head downstairs.

Now, I’ve completely forgotten about my house-guest. Not a thought in my mind. I’m walking downstairs naked as a jaybird, my dong all out in the open and bouncing around like a kid on Christmas morning. Don’t look at me like that, I’m just telling it to you like it happened.

Anyway, I’m coming downstairs and my wang is flapping around every which way. And I step into the living room. And guess what?

Well, I remember about the guy sleeping on my couch, that’s for sure. Not cause he got a free show, though. Uh-uh. Fucker’s not there any more. Already left. And not only is he not there, but two of my three couch cushions aren’t there either. He took ’em. Left me the one in the middle.

I walk around the house. Maybe he’s still there, right? Wrong. No guy, no cushions. Gone.

So I do some asking around the neighborhood later on, looking to track this guy down and get my stuff back, you know? I ask a guy, “Hey, you know anything about a homeless war vet walking around in his Army gear, maybe has two cushions with him?” And I describe him, yay-high, dark hair, whatever. Like there’s more than one GI Joe wandering around the neighborhood with the better part of a couch.

“Sounds like Danny,” the guy says.

I’m all excited. “Yeah,” I say. “You know him?”

Well, shit yeah he knows him. Everybody around here knows him. Or knows of him, anyway.

Seems Danny’s kind of a local celebrity. He had himself a wife once, and a little girl, but then they disappeared. He reported it, cops looked into it, nothing happened.

Except then some hiker found the bodies.

Everybody figures Danny did it, but nobody can prove it. Car’s clean, house is clean. Too clean, you know? But you can’t arrest a guy for being tidy.

So he’s free to go, living in the same house, getting weirder by the day, like he’s snapped or something. Took to wearing Army gear, walking the streets late at night. Throwing rocks at birds.

Anyway, he lives two blocks down from me, but fuck, I’m not crazy. A man only needs one cushion.

***

Hank Henry went to Chuck E. Cheese one time with his uncle. He played skee ball and his uncle swore at him when he rolled a ball for only ten points. He wanted to pool their tickets and get a paddle ball. They did, but the elastic broke almost immediately. Hank’s uncle bought him an Icee instead. Share your own mundane childhood stories, or your concerns about illegal surveillance, at [email protected]

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