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The Traveling Vietnam Vet: A Journal Entry
The following is a direct transcription of a journal entry I wrote about an instance I saw earlier this year involving two intoxicated guys who boarded the Metra I was on, and their unusual interactions with the people in the car in which I happened to be. Just thought it was amusing enough to share with HubPages.
On the train headed back home for Spring Break, two men got on the train at around Norwood Park, one with a black cap on which read “This is who I am” in all capital white letters, the other wearing a green cap, thin-framed glasses, artistic yet scuzzy goatee and bugged out eyes. The one with the black cap on looked like an old Mick Jagger and wore sunglasses. His friend looked younger, probably mid thirties. Both sat down at the front of the car on the right side of the car while I sat nearer the back on the other side.
“So where we goin' again?” the older one asked his friend across from him, who sat next to a guy around my age, facing away from the window behind the two as they faced the center of the train.
“Just a few stops,” the younger one replied, raspy voice nearly matching his elder.
I can't recall every bit of their dialogue, but the younger of the two drank from a tall silver can, the same drink I saw a sleeping drunk woman spill on the El that same week.
The two talked about where they were headed, both speaking loudly to attract attention from everyone in the car.
“How are you ladies doing?” the older asked a group of college girls on the seats beside his. They ignored him, and it was clear to me at that point that he was either drunk or stone, but since his friend was still drinking something—alcoholic or not—I guessed he was the former. “Call me Johnny Steamer.”
His friend laughed. “Okay, Johnny Steamer, take it easy.”
“I am Johnny Steamer,” the older guy kept saying, chuckling clumsily. He turned to the woman sitting behind him, who was pretty, which in this situation was unfortunate for her. “How you doin'?”
The girl ignored him, no surprise.
“So who here is a Cubs fan?” the younger asked the whole car. He looked over at his friend, snapped his fingers at him as he wouldn't turn from the girl, still staring. “Hey! You! Johnny Steamer!”
Johnny turned back. “What?”
“Leave the poor girl alone, man.”
“What? I'm just talkin' to her.”
“So who here is a Cubs fan?”
They both peered around the car, no one responding.
“Oh, come on,” the younger moaned.
“So,” the older began, slurring, “how come you get to tell me what to do?”
“'Cause you're fucked up. I'm pretty good right now.”
“And you get pretty women too, not gonna lie. Except this one.”
The girls across the aisle turned in wonderment.
“I know, man,” the friend said. “I do pretty well.”
“Did you serve?” the older asked someone, but I couldn't tell who it was. “Did you serve, sir?”
“You shut the hell up!” The rowdiness of Steamer began to put me on edge. I enjoyed it though, a little amusement.
A couple teenagers, guys, started laughing a few seats back. Steamer turned to face them.
“What are you smilin' about?” he asked them, intimidatingly.
The two said nothing.
“My friend won't hurt anyone,” the younger explained. “He's just a talker.”
The kid still sitting between them after a few stops got talked to for a minute by the younger one. The kid was reading a Lamborghini mag.
“Aw, man,” the younger said.“It pains me to see you reading that shit. Lamborghinis are terrible compared to a Porsche,”--at this point I'd confused “a Porsche” with “abortion”--“Lamborghini got nothing on a Porsche.”
The kid said something back softly.
“What do you like? A lamborghini or a Porsche?” I was still confused, thinking he was asking the kid if he preferred cars over abortions. In his state of mind, it wasn't impossible. “Are you a fan of a Lamborghini or a Porsche?”
The kid eventually rose up and moved to the seat across with the girls.
“Aw man! Can't believe you like Lambos, man. Porsches are where it's at.”
A little while later, Steamer, who still went by that name, turned back to the girl behind him, grinning creepily, staring, and asked, “You see what's on the back of my hat?” He turned away to show her. Then back. “What's it say?”
The girl murmured an answer.
“Come on, man,” the other intervened, “leave the girl alone, man.”
The older turned back so I could read the “This is who I am” on the cap. Then he said to his friend, “Sorry, but I'd rather talk to her, dude. She's a lot better looking than you.”
“Yeah, really,” the girl said.
“Hey, man,” the friend said. “Look at you, man.You're no masterpiece to look at, either.”
“Oh, what?” Steamer asked.
“You're like a three-dollar pork roast.”
“Yeah, well you're...”
“See, you took too long, man. You need to come up with shit faster or you fuck it up. I'm like a...twenty-eight-dollar pork roast.”
“Yeah, well, you're more like a...twenty-eight-dollar pork roast.”
The two guys cracked up again behind them.
“Oh, so now you're throwing my own back at me now, huh.”
Steamer faced the girl again. “You know that band?” Referring to his cap.
“Yeah,” the friend said. “He was in that band.”
“Haven't heard of it?”
The girl shook her head. “No.”
“So she hasn't heard of it, hardly anyone has.”
“It's a good band.”
“Have you heard of Jared Leto? The actor, singer?” the younger asked the girl.
“No,” the girl replied.
“Oh, come on. You're in love with Jared Leto.” He faced away.“ I guess she doesn't know Jared, okay.”
“I was in 'Nam,” Steamer told the girl, having mentioned it earlier to another man on the train. “You know, in 'Nam, I killed two people.” He said this with a vague sadness, yet a cold pride in there somewhere.
The girl, again, stayed silent.
“It's no lie,” Steamer's friend said. “He took a hit.”
“Yep. I got hit. You know, in 'Nam, I had to kill a whole family too.” He said it coldly, but like it was a kind of baggage he felt inclined to release in his drunken pride.
People on the train appeared restless, even more so than they were before, shifting in their seats and looking away. A husband eyed his wife a couple seats in front of me worryingly.
“I have the staples in my head from getting shot.” Steamer took his cap off.
“Yeah, he got shot in the head, got some brain damage, coulda died,” his friend vouched for him.
Steamer fingered his curly blond hair, the back of his head, trying to pull back the strands to reveal something, but I could hardly see any scar, any wound healed from my seat.
A somberness spread in the car, as the only noise was the uneven ridges being passed by the train cruising on the track. I could tell this was what Steamer wanted, his way to finally be taken seriously. Yet he still managed to flirt with the girl and I was getting closer to my stop.
“Can I ask you something, without it being personal?” Steamer asked the girl calmly.
His friend chuckled. “Of course it's going to be personal if you ask that.”
“How old are you?”
“She's my age,” the younger said.
“Seventeen,” the girl answered shyly.
Both guys paused, mouths dropping.
Steamer still went for it. “When will you be eighteen?”
“Now that's too personal,” the friend said. “You just crossed over the line, man.”
"Yeah," the girl agreed.
At this point, the announcement came over the speakers, “Next stop: Fox River Grove” and I realized I'd missed Barrington. So I called my father and got off at Fox River. Thankfully my father understood when he picked me up and I told him what had happened.