Eastside Guy, featured in Brainstorm Magazine
This month I had planned to write about more of the foolishness going on at Portland’s City Hall. I had planned to write about Commissioner Sam Adam’s shameless quest for publicity, which went so far as to have his jaw surgery televised on the local news, as he tries to claw above a miserable forty six percent voter recognition, in the shadow of Tom Potter’s 70 percent. I had planned to write about the city’s “peak oil” taskforce, which has somehow become convinced that the end of gasoline will be the end of the automobile and that Exxon Mobil will simply shut their doors when the oil runs out. I had planned to write about Randy Leonard’s plan to end graffiti vandalism by using a sudafed approach to the city’s spray paint cans, until he found out that taggers also employ felt markers, shoe polish and rocks off the very ground to ply their trade.
I had planned to write about all these things, and more, until I spent an hour with some real people this morning.
It was in an auto dealer’s waiting facility out on 122nd Ave. I had taken my car in for servicing and, as was my custom, I strolled out into the dealer’s showroom. I was admiring a beautifully restored model T delivery truck when a gentlemen approached me.
“They wanted me to buy that thing,” he told me. He was an older guy, about five foot four and almost as wide as he was tall. He was clad in well worn overalls and was wearing a ball cap. He had a twinkling eye and a bright smile. “I used to work with a lot of car dealers”, he continued. “They thought I should buy this for advertising.”
“What did you do?” I inquired.
“I used to drive cars up to Seattle to the used car dealers up there,” he continued. “I had twenty guys working for me at one time.”
We looked over the model T. He commented on the hand crank starting system and we both agreed that it was beautifully restored. When we went back to the waiting area, I sat down next to an older woman and settled into a golf magazine.
“Do you want me to get you a cup of coffee Mama?”, my new friend asked the woman beside me. She frowned. “No,” she said. “That coffee you made this morning was so strong you could walk on it.”
Now I understood. She was his wife. He was the Papa.
Papa looked at me, directly. “I only put in two scoops,” he protested. “She’s always saying I put in more than two scoops, but I never do.”
At that point, I felt the better part of valor was to maintain strict neutrality. I just chuckled and went back to my magazine.
About that time, we were joined by another gentleman. He was a big man, over six feet, balding with a thick, red walrus moustache. The local news was running on the TV hung on the opposite wall.
“I hope my car don’t need brakes,” Papa said. “We just got our new cable bill and it went up to almost sixty bucks.”
“Yeah,” I jumped in. “Mine just went way up too.”
“I’ve got satellite,” the big man said. “I really like it.”
“Every time I turn around that darn cable goes up,” Pappa said. “I think I’m going go down there on Sandy and have a talk with those guys.”
Mama rolled her eyes. “They ain’t gonna do nothing,” she said.
“Yeah, good luck with that,” the big man said. “They’ve got a monopoly.”
I commented that somebody, the city council, the PDC, the county”¦ somebody ought to be looking out for us on cable bills.
“I suppose you could put up an old fashioned receiver,” Papa said.
“You mean an antenna on your house?” I asked. “An old fashioned antenna?”
“Yeah,” Papa replied. “Like we used to have.”
“Well heck,” the big man said. “You would only get 2, 6, 8, 10 and 12. That would be like the old days all right.”
“You can get 32,” Mama said. “32 and 49.”
“The satellite is great,” the big man said. “Except sometimes when it rains really hard. When it rains really hard we lose it for a minute or two sometimes.”
“But you gotta pay extra for the local channels,” Mama observed.
We turned our attention to the local news. The reporter was talking about how Multnomah County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts had given his departing chief of staff a thirty five thousand dollar severance payment.
Mama shook her head. “I thought Lonnie was better than that.”
“They’re politicians,” the big man laughed. “They come in all nice and polished up, but”¦ ”
I chuckled. I didn’t tell them that I had run for office.
The news on the TV turned to national. A missing boy scout in North Carolina had just been found in the woods, alive, an hour and a half earlier.
“Thank the Lord they found that boy,” Mama said.
“Yep,” said the big man. “I thought for sure he was some cougar’s dinner.”
The news turned to the big, pet food recall.
“I think that’s what took Missy,” Mama said. Her eyes were tearing.
“Did you lose a dog?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mama replied. “Misty. She was a Yorky. Just up and died. I think it had to have been the food.”
“I’m so sorry,” I replied. “It is so hard to loose a pet. Every time I lose one I say “˜no more’. And then I get lonely.”
“Well, we still have Honey,” Mama said. “She’s a Yorky too. They get to be part of the family, you know?”
We were in the process of agreeing that pets were part of the family and that most utility companies were scoundrels when I overhead Papa telling the big man about his past.
“I went into the service in ’42,” I heard him say. “I was in from’42 to ’45.”
Papa had served in the Second World War. I was surprised. He didn’t look that old.
“What did you do in the service,” the big man asked Papa.
“I was a paratrooper,” Papa said. “I was in the 82nd airborne.”
As a student of history, Papa had caught my attention. I got out of my chair an walked over to him so I could hear more.
I hesitated briefly, I didn’t want to embarrass him. But finally I asked “Did you jump on D-Day?”
“No,” Papa replied. “But we jumped into Belgium when the 101st got surrounded.”
In my mind I recognized the history. That would have been during Field Marshall Montgomery’s misbegotten operation known as “Market Garden”. A terrible failure which had been approved by Eisenhower and had been immortalized by Cornelius Ryan’s book “A Bride Too Far” and the movie by the same name.
“That’s was during Montgomery’s foul up,” I declared.
“Yeah,” the big man chimed in. “Operation Market Garden.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Papa said. “But only twelve of us come out.”
Papa didn’t say, and I didn’t ask, how many “came in” but I figured it had to be about one hundred, give or take.
“They was shooting anti-aircraft guns at us while we were floating down in our parachutes,” Papa said. “My lieutenant got killed, my sergeant got killed, my best buddy got killed. Hell, almost everybody got killed. My buddy was an Indian. We was good friends We used to do everything together.”
“I got hit with shrapnel in my forehead,” Papa continued. “But it didn’t really penetrate. I wiped my forehead and saw all the blood but the shrapnel just kinda brushed out. It didn’t really penetrate.”
I was about to ask Papa if he had received the Purple Heart, or any other citations when my service advisor, Brian, came into the waiting room and put his hand on my shoulder.
“You’re all set,” he told me.
“I’ll be right behind you,” I replied.
As I turned toward Papa, I thought of my father, who had spent the war running a supply depot in Calcutta, India for the Army Air Corps. I thought of my uncle, Phil, who had donned a civil defense tin helmet seven nights a week and surveyed the skies over Portland watching for Japanese bombers. I thought of my father’s friend, Howard, who hard been severely wounded serving with Merrill’s Marauders in Indo-China.
When I extended my hand to him Papa seemed surprised.
“I want to shake your hand,” I said, “and thank you for what you did for all of us. God bless you.”
Aside from the brightness of his eyes I didn’t give Papa a chance to respond. I turned on my heel and left the waiting room.
When I met Brian at the counter I said “That old guy was in the 82nd airborne in WWII. He was one of twelve survivors to come out of a major battle.”
Brian’s eyes widened and we both shook our heads. Neither of us could imagine it.
So, as I say, I was going to write about Portland politicians and politics. I was, that is, until I spent an hour with Mama, Papa and the Big Guy. And it was then I realized that Dave Lister, Tom Potter, Sam Adams, Randy Leonard and the lot of them don’t equal one fraction of one Papa.
Papa jumped into anti-aircraft fire with his Lieutenant, Sergeant and best friend who were all killed. Papa came back to America and lived an honorable, hard working life taking care of his family and paying his taxes.
Papa doesn’t come to city council meetings, attend neighborhood forums or comment on political internet sites. Papa just wants to have more than a handful of television channels for less than sixty bucks and hopes his brake job won’t be more than three hundred.
Papa doesn’t begrudge us the shrapnel in his head because “it didn’t really penetrate”.
I think Mama and Papa are the folks we should be looking out for.
But what the heck do I know? I’m just an Eastside Guy.