Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign
Sitting there by the left turn line
Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
One leg missing, both hands free.
No one's paying much mind to him
The V.A. budget's stretched so thin.
And there's more comin' home from the Mideast war.
We can't make it here anymore. — James McMurtry
A rainy fall day in Memphis, dreary and gray and drizzly. I've got to drive around downtown and run some errands at lunch. I stop at a red light at Union and Third. On a nearby bench sits a man with his T-shirt pulled over his head. He's wet and no doubt miserable, and no one can see his face. Just another "bum." A lost ball in life's high weeds. What are you gonna do? WWJD? I dunno. I've got errands to run. As I pull away, he has his hand extended, his face still hidden, his story a mystery.
I pull into a fast-food joint near Danny Thomas. Sitting on the curb is a man with maybe four teeth in his head. He has the look of a crazy person. He's wet and sitting in a puddle, talking to people as they pull up to the microphone to place their orders. Most people ignore him.
He's not really talking. He's chanting, "Chaaaannnggge," drawing out the word like a mantra. "Chaaaannnnggge."
"What's your story," I ask.
"I got no money, no place to live, and I'm wet. What do you think?" The guy is fairly well-spoken. He doesn't seem crazy, just resigned to his misery. He says he's a vet, and he doesn't have his "meds," and he's living in shelters and on the street. I give him a buck. He says, "Thank you, sir," then sits back down on the wet curb.
"Chaaannngggge," he chants.
I drive the wet streets, listening to the lady on NPR talk about the trillion-dollar federal bailout of our banks and investment firms. This massive infusion of funds is meant to save our economy, she says. We have to rescue the credit markets. Meanwhile, the poor and hungry walk the streets of Memphis, no change in sight — and the only thing trickling down is the rain.
With apologies to Scott MacKenzie: If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear ... some comfortable clothes — at least, if you're trying to get there from Memphis ...