Sidewalk Ghosts / “Yuwipi Is My Religion.”

“you’ve got to have respect for other people.”

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“Are you a veteran!” he asked (it is not a mistake I use ! instead of ?). The question came at me as sharp as a bullet. No, I did not serve, I was between the draft and did not volunteer, I replied. He looked away as if disgusted. Left me carrying a set of mixed feelings. My chest tightened as thoughts ranging from inadequacy to defensiveness tensed me up.

“Why!” he again blasted at me. Trying to gain his trust I opened up, I was young, If I knew then what I know now, a may have enlisted.

“Are you f*#*ing stupid!” he slammed back at me as he got my face. Realizing there was no way I could get in his head, and wanting to settle things down a bit, I looked him in the eyes. “I’m speechless, there is no way I can understand what you went through.” He stepped back, “your, f*#ing* right!”

I was thinking, “it’s over, we’re done, he is out of the game. I pushed him too far.”

But there was still a draw I could not escape. I needed to know more. So I decided to risk asking another question, “will you let me interview you, you have a lot to share?” He shook his head away, “I have nothing to say!”

Off to the side was Antoinette. Who witnessing the whole exchange had been observing silently; and somehow, I think even monitored the situation. In a soft and sincere voice, she contributed to the scene, “I think you have a lot of wisdom to share, you should do it.” But again, Kevin declined. “Wisdom, right! I’ve got nothing to share!”

Once more he took control of the moment and shifted to testing me with an endless barrage of questions: California history, military facts, asked if he could have my camera. I answered all to the best of my ability and held my ground.

We went at it for about thirty minute, and as we did the mood slowly changed to a more relaxed pace. Could it have been that The Colonel was beginning to let me in to his world?

It began with simple exposures. Stating with a cracked a smile“ I’m part Sioux Indian and part Irish, watch out!” By that point, we were one hour into our chat. Then the lightening struck. “Want to see my office?” he asked.

“Sure,”I replied.

I followed him through the Laundromat as he let me know that, up until a few days prior, he worked as security for the business. “I was told my services are no longer needed,” he accused.

We walked through the facility; there were about ten people at various stations, all in different stages of their cleaning rituals, and all seemed to know the Colonel. The guy was a serious extrovert, complimented everyone with innumerable words as he flirted with the women. None looked away. Everyone engaged as if they had personal history. Even two or three customers came up to trust him with service questions. It was obvious that he was no stranger and confirmed to me his past employment.

We continued our travel through the store and ended up in the parking lot at the rear of the building, a situation where I found myself standing alone with him at the back door. His demeanor had changed. With arms to the sky, he exclaimed, “here it is!”

“You’ve got great air circulation and lots of elbow room. Great office!” I expressed. He looked at me and laughed.

Squatting by the door, he grabbed a bagged bottle and took a drink. After sitting silently for a moment taking in the sky, he stood up, “look up there, you can see Jupiter.” With one eye on him, one eye at the sky and my feet readied to take me through the door, I looked up and acknowledged his sighting.

Back at me as if weighing me up, his eye-line shifted, “what do you want to know? and promise you will not make me look like a jerk!” I gave him my word, “there is no way you can look like a jerk, you have a lot of wisdom to share. The only jerks are the one’s who judge you.”

“I used to be a terrible person, but as I get older, I have grown.” He was very specific about the word grown. I once again tried to empathize, “I understand, life has a way of changing us.” I am rebuked, “no I have grown!” He smiled again.

It was not all intense topics with The Colonel. He told me of his four marriages, loss of a home in the 1995 Northridge earthquake, and of his trials growing up. Some items were very dark, others on the lighter side.

It was then that it struck me, even though he had a very difficult life, his was a proud Veteran, a loyal American and very serious about his country and fellow servicemen and women.

I wish I could write the solemn words he entrusted to me. But in honor to him I will tell you only this in regard to Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Boal: He had great depth and a history that deserved him his vices. True, at times he alarmed me, yet at others, with suppressed tears in his eyes, he also moved me.

Ninety minutes into our time together we returned to the front of the building for a photo session, if that is what we can call it. Really, he stood for a couple of minutes, lit a cigarette and signed off.

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The last lesson in military respect came as we concluded our evening. A man walked up as he took pause from his laundry duties.“ Are you a veteran?” he inquired of The Colonel.

“Vietnam,” Kevin replied.

The man went on to state his service, and even though he did not see front line, he shared, “I was scared shitless.” The Lieutenant Colonel immediately reached out his hand, and over a firm handshake, “welcome home!” They both welled up, but as fast a their tears tried to break free, they quickly hid their emotions.

A reminder to us all, as have several of the past stories shared by our servicemen and women, there is one thing we need always to do, tell them, thank you, and welcome home!

Kevin’s wisdom, “you’ve got to have respect for other people.”

In expected rough and direct form, the Colonel left me with a challenge:

“Yuwipi  is my religion.” I looked it up. If you are interested in Sioux culture and faith, research it, very interesting.

Talk tomorrow my good friends,

Richard

Readers, if you are returning, so nice to be with you again. If you are new, looking forward to getting to know you.

To all: please commentlike, and forward. Every engagement goes a long way toward connecting us; as together, we grow a movement that betters the way we view and treat one another.

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