There isn’t much to do in a waiting room except wait. Which is what I was doing last week at the VA at Jefferson Barracks. I go there twice a year for an exam and get my meds from them. Yes, I was in the Army but you don’t have to thank me for my service. It was their idea.
So on this day there was just one other guy in the waiting room. Him and me and 22 empty chairs, plus a TV set at one end with a cooking show. (How many vets want to watch a cooking show? Just wondering.) So this guy was somewhere between 60 and 75 I guess, had a bushy white beard, lots of hair on top of his head, and a friendly face. He held a plastic bag that contained 3 or 4 round things. My guess is that it was fruit, like plums or apricots. I knew it wasn’t golf balls.
My appointment had been for 10:00, but I was still sitting there at 10:45, so I was rather desperate for some relief from the boredom. That’s when I noticed his shoes. Red Crocs.
“I like your shoes,” I said. That’s an easy way to start off a conversation. Guaranteed to get some kind of response, usually something in the way of “Yeah, they’re comfortable” or “I got ‘em on sale” or just a simple “Thanks,” which usually ends the conversation.Not on this day. My bearded friend was delighted to talk about his Crocs. The following conversation is guaranteed authentic. I used my “Recorded” app on my iPhone.
He said, “They look just like house shoes, complete house shoes with the heel back there and everything. The ones for the winter time don’t have holes in them, but they’re lined. Some people in life, and you know these people, their feet don’t hardly get cold.
But these are house shoes, and you can wear a pair of socks with them.. they’re plenty roomy.
“Do you wear these all the time? Or do you wear other shoes?” I said.
“I only wear these.” He got up from his chair, crossed the room, and sat next to me, so I could get a really good look at his Crocs. “If I went to church, I’d wear ‘em to church. You can get ‘em in so many colors. Nowadays, most of ‘em at church, don’t even care how you dress, as long as you show up. You know, these kids.” He took one of his shoes off, handed it to me. “You can give ‘em away to the homeless as a last minute pair of shoes.”
I held his shoe, by the heel. “How many pairs do you have?” I said.
“I’ve got a total of three pair. A winter pair at home. Another pair like this that are dark blue. Just three pair. You can buy ‘em online. But for the first time you’re better off if you go to the mall. That way you can find out if you really like ‘em.”
He gave me directions to the nearest mall. I’d never heard of it. Then a VA tech came in, talked to my friend about his meds, and said he’d have to go down to the pharmacy to get them. So I could feel our conversation coming to an end.
As he started to leave, I said. “Nice talking to you.” He stopped and said the same.
“What’s your name?” I said.
“Where did you serve?”
In a matter-of-fact voice, he said, “I was in Viet Nam. 1968. Mobile river marine force. On a boat, with the Navy. We were in the Army, but the Navy transported us up and down the river, to get to where we needed to get to.” He checked the contents of his bag. “I was only there a year. Half of ’68 and half of ’69. But I did my part and I left.”
I wasn’t sure whether to ask my next question, but I did anyway. “You come out okay?”
“Yes,” he said, again as though he were talking about what he had for breakfast. “Well, kind of okay. Agent orange, of course. Agent orange has some effect on your body, it shows up later. Sometimes lots later. Well, they’re the boss, so what you say doesn’t mean anything. I guess I’m doing okay.”
He took a step towards me and I thought he was going to talk about his health. I was wrong. He said, ‘One big change I’d like to see in this system, make an agreement with Walgreens to be able to walk into Walgreens, show ‘em your ID, and get your prescription there, and paid for by the people here.”
“Good idea,” I said. And I meant it.
He smiled, waved. “Have a good rest of the day.” And he left the room in his red Crocs.