Sean of the South: Morning at an American Hotel

By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South

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Morning. My hotel lobby is crowded. It’s breakfast time.

Sean Dietrich (Photo courtesy of seandietrich.com)

It’s the time of day when guests come out of rooms with messy hair, slippers, and wrinkled clothes. They weave their way down the halls to the Bunn coffee machines like the walking dead.

I eat processed stuff “looking like scrambled eggs” and sausages labeled “100% real meat”.

There is an old man in the queue who uses a mechanical wheelchair. He wears a green cap with “Vietnam” printed on the front.

He can’t reach the serving spoon from the buffet because his wheelchair is too low.

Behind him in line is a boy. The kid has red hair and freckles. He is full of face and friendly.

“Here,” said the boy, “leave me alone.”

The child uses the serving spoon to place the aberration “egg” on the old man’s plate. The old man thanks him.

“What else do you want on your plate?” Junior asks.

The old man said, “Oh, don’t worry about me, I can help myself.”

“I don’t mind. I’ll help you.”

The old man just smiled at the child. This man is perfectly capable of fixing his own dish, but sometimes an act of service is not about the served.

“Okay,” said the old man.

The boy shows the sausage. “Do you want some of that stuff?”

“Yes please.”

“How much would you like?” »

“I will say ‘when’.”

The boy wrinkles his face. “When?”

“That’s what people say when they’ve had enough of a good thing.”

The boy still does not understand. “They say ‘when’?”

“It’s true.”

The boy starts making the fake meat patties until the old man says, “When.”

“Would you like an apple or a banana?” said the boy.

The old man shakes his head. “Only the fruit I eat comes in a wine glass. But I’m going to have orange juice.

The boy pulls out a plastic cup from a pile. He fills it from Star-Trek’s juice dispenser.

“How about some bread?” asks the kid.

“A bagel. And I want it toasted.

The boy fetches a bagel from the acrylic bread box. Then he delicately splits the bagel with his bare hands. He manhandles the bagel like a kid playing with Play Dough.

“Don’t worry,” said the kid. “I washed my hands.”

“How reassuring.”

The waiter places the mangled bagel halves into the conveyor toaster oven. A marvelous machine. As they wait for the toast, the kid speaks. “Were you at war?

“Yes.”

“Vietnam War ?”

“Uh-huh.”

“It was hard ?”

“Well, that certainly wasn’t sweet.”

The boy smiled politely. He realizes that he has asked for too much. His parents raised him not to sound. So he is silent.

The old man breaks the awkward silence. “Tell me how old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

The old man nods. “I was six years older than you when I went there.”

“In Vietnam ?”

“Cambodia.”

“Did you fight?”

“Yes.”

The boy says nothing.

“But people don’t understand,” said the old man. “Most people think we all carried guns and patrolled the jungle, and got shot. But it wasn’t like that for everyone. Some of us saw fights. Some did not.

“Did you see any fighting?

“I did it.”

“What did all the other people do?”

“Six out of seven guys in Vietnam served in bases or worked in intelligence. Some were stationed in Germany, Japan or here in America. They were cooks, typists, drivers, paper couriers and REMF.

“What is an REMF?”

“No matter.”

The man’s bagel is ready. Its slices fall from the chute of the conveyor toaster. A marvelous machine.

“What I mean is,” the old man said, “everyone was important in Vietnam. The soldiers who carried the equipment in the back allowed us to take hot showers. The guys who brought food and beer kept us alive.

“Did you drink beer there?”

“Oh yes.”

“I bet you were happy to come home.”

The old man nods. “Yes.”

“Did you hurt yourself there?”

“I did it.”

The boy is silent. Then he says, “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

The child uses the free tongs to place the bagel on the man’s plate. He carries the old man’s plate and orange juice to a table in the dining room.

The old man follows, whirring in his wheelchair. The child asks if the old man needs anything else. The old man tells him that he is fine from here.

The child smiles. He presents his young hand like that of an adult. Good manners.

The old man shakes the boy’s hand and says, “Thank you for your help today, son.”

“No, sir,” the kid said sincerely. “Thank you for your service.”

When.

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