Late Spring Cleaning of Brain Detritus

          Costumes.  People who dig themselves a nice comfortable rut and then walk that rut for the remainder of their days.  Committing crimes, and by crimes I mean things the perpetrator—rather than society—believes to be wrong.  Which leads to a tipping point and voila, "I'm a criminal; this is my costume".

          I knew a guy who claimed he had PTSD (which he called 'battle fatigue') which he said he "got" when serving as an apprentice seaman aboard a ship in the Gulf of Tonkin.  Once, he detailed the traumatic hours his vessel took and returned fire, his fall down a gangway ladder and his feelings of extreme stress caused by an inability to see what was going on since he was below decks the entire time performing duties, listening to the barrage.

          From earlier conversations, I knew he had been drafted into the Navy in 1967, at nineteen, and I was also aware—but chose to never mention—that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (whether real or fabricated, it matters not) was in 1964.

          I'll refer to this storyteller by name from here-on because Billy doesn't "go on the web or do any of that smarty phone stuff" and even if his girlfriend reads this to him he could brook no argument with me, because it's all the truth.  Or at least these are facts as he believed he understood them and as he related them to others.  Which is the same.  Except it isn't, is it?

          Bill—now a 66-year old hippy—may have real memories of, and honestly think he was present at, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.  It doesn't matter that he wasn't; his brain thinks he was.  The same brain that doesn't think he's a hippy anymore.  He admits he was, "kind-of a wild child and maybe 'the hippy label' could have applied in the 70's."  But that was, "in his youth" and, "not who he was anymore".

          The reason I say Billy is, was, and-forever-will-be a hippy is because he wears the costume.  His black shoulder-blade length hair is never out of a braided pony tail.  A bandanna of some kind is worn as well at times.  He dies his thick beard black to match his hair, and every day—without exception (summer or winter)—these are the clothes he wears:  black leather biker's boots, black Carhartt pants, and a black leather vest with small lapel pins which signify his Vietnam service, support of POW/MIA, etc.  He not-only looks like Tommy Chong but his vocal pace and tone sounds almost the same as the character from the movies (a peppering of far-out's, his dude's are long and filled with too many U's just like his way too-many man's are heavy on the A's).

          The only stories Billy seems to enjoy recounting are those that involve drugs.  After a few weeks, one gets weary of yet another version of:  when he almost got busted; when he had taken too much; or when he did something stupid because he didn't want to get busted or had taken too much.

          On more than a couple of occasions, I witnessed strangers approach Billy in restaurants or on the street and ask if they could buy drugs.  He always politely informed them he "wasn't carrying" (had nothing to sell).  Because of the numerous prescription drugs he had to take, now, Billy only smoked an occasional joint.  None-the-less his costume still acted like a placard (Get Your Illegal Substances Here!).  He refused to take the sign off even though he was no longer in-business because, although it looked like a costume to others; to him, it was a uniform.  He had worn it his entire adult life, it was the foundation for all his memories, and he hadn't chosen retirement...his doctor explained the facts to him and he chose life.

          Billy had been arrested a few times: loitering, vagrancy, possession, public intoxication, failure to appear, etc; and—each time—he had spent a few days, weeks, or months in jail.

          I asked what he thought about living the type of life that always carried with it a potential for incarceration.

          He replied, "It was no different than gettin' drafted.  I was sent to war; no choice.  I did what my country asked; I served.  When the cops rousted me, or I got busted for somethin', it wasn't no different.  The Navy and the Man: even though they both made me go and do, places and things I didn't plan-on or wanna-do, they both still gave me three-hots-and-a-cot, free medical and dental care, and there was always someone to talk to until my time was up."

          I asked why Billy had never been dissuaded by the illegality.

          He said, "The law is wrong, man.  There's nothin' wrong with takin' drugs.  What anyone on this planet wants to put in their bodies is their business.  Drugs are illegal because the government needs to keep the military-corporate-industrial-police state funded.  It's OK if you take prescriptions from your doctor; it's not OK if you grow your own.  No taxes.  Less jobs for the masses.  The day they make every drug legal is the day that tens of millions of police, lawyers, jail guards, border guards, pharmacists, doctors, and prescription drug manufacturers go on unemployment."     

          Billy may be retarded (that was the medical term his VA psychiatrist used: minor retardation) but it was self-induced.  Decades of illegal drugs had killed more brain cells than he could spare.  But he was still savvy enough to put some cogent thoughts together once in a while.  And that was entertaining to witness.

          Since it is not in my nature to drive a point home at the expense of common decency, I didn't ask Billy to enlighten me as to how he thought his body's organs had gotten into their current state of imminent failure.  It may have been one way to refute his "nothin-wrong-with-drugs" claim.  But, I suspect, he would have blamed his terrible health on agent orange or paraquat or MK-ULTRA and never on the misdeeds he inflicted on his own body, which was all "his business" until it was time to die.  Then he went to the VA.  The government now keeps him alive with taxpayer dollars.

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