The Cap'n

Ryck Neube

On the Street you hear about folks. Streeters will warn, will compare, will tantalize. When one of their own is exceptional, they boast about him/her as if they are a favorite child.

I heard about the Cap’n for years, Not one bad word. That was the first thing that struck me. Precious few of us aren’t spat upon behind our someone. The streeters I interviewed universally loved the dude. Those streeters who’d toured Nam were especially enamored of the Cap’n. They called him "the goods."

Elmore bummed a smoke from me. "Hey, the Cap’n got out. He’s over `hind the IGA. You oughta check him out. He’s telling his stories."

The man’s rep drew me like a magnet. My cast-iron curiosity is like that. The odd attracts me.

The Cap’n held court in a wheelchair parked inside the ruin of a tar paper garage behind the supermarket. Nobody had mentioned the wheelchair, but I wasn’t surprised. Hollywood might fetch John Wayne and Chuck Norris home hale and hearty, but real people usually paid a blood-price in war.

Astonished by his appearance, I couldn’t help but gape. I joined the other listeners, staying on the fringe. The cynic’s slice of my mind waited to pounce upon his first mistake. The urge to expose his lies tightened my throat.

Yet, I lent him my ear.

I saw the oily contrails of Phantoms as they arrived to napalm Charlie. I heard thumping Hueys coming toward our LZ. I tasted the bile of fear as we crawled away from snipers. My feet peeled like a banana from the constant wet. My back ached from the weight of the insane pack Command required me to hump. Supermarket customers glanced in our direction and I knew they’d toss a grenade if I gave them half a chance.

His words became a time machine.

Growing up in an age of TV and special effects, I’d never been exposed to a storyteller of his calibre. As a writer I felt tempted to chuck my typewriter into the Ohio river. Paper words could not begin to match the power and glory of his spoken word.

Strangest of all, Cap’n was a dwarf. He’d no more served in Nam than I’d flown a starship.

"Ya musta dropped this," I said after he finished, picking up the folded fiver I’d dropped beside his chair. It was simpler that way, less like charity and its unintentional contumely.

Later, I’d ask Three Finger Kevin about the Cap’n. Having lost flesh and soul at Hue, I thought he could give me an insight. "Like aincha pissed about him stealing yer...war?"

"Mannnn, it don’t mean nuttin’. Besides, he’s the goods." Who am I to argue?

1998 Syd Weedon.
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