He was referring to the $199 price tag on a guitar displayed near the front of the store. “200 bucks for some old piece of something that ain’t worth the wood it’s made with.”
“Well,” Jacob responded, “Don’t buy it then.”
“Man, I won’t. On my money, I don’t got it to waste on junk like that,” Jimmy nodded back toward the guitar, having walked to the store counter, where Jacob was.
“Junk? That’s a great guitar. Plus you get Veteran’s assistance from the government. I’m practically paying that guitar if you buy it,” Jacob joked.
“Man, friggin’ I couldn’t pay for no guitar with government money. Barely afford to live, between that and Social Security. Government’s a friggin’ joke, man. Give the best years of my friggin’ life fighting for this country, get all jacked up, and all I have to show for it is bad dreams and a few friggin’ hundred bucks a month.”
“But you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did the right thing,” Jacob joked, the dream comment registering and drawing him back into his unconscious world of pastel floating marshmallows and dying friends. Little things like that triggered Jacob’s thoughts, because he would think, I’m having recurring battle nightmares, like some crazy shellshocked pot-smoking veteran, and maybe I’ll end up like him – because everyone, Jacob included, figured Jimmy was nuts. At least Jimmy had an excuse. Jacob worried more now, because unlike Jimmy his dreams were created solely from the recesses of his unconscious imagination and maybe a couple of war movies.
“Yeah, did the right thing, I can that, I can say that.”
“So you have recurring battle nightmares, like memories from war and stuff?” Jacob asked, hesitating.
“Yeah, man, stuff like guys getting shot next to me, getting blown up, friggin’ all their skin melting off their bones. Jacked up stuff, man.”
Jimmy’s candor surprised Jacob.
“Sucks, man,” Jacob offered.
That ended their talk about battle dreams, silence ensuing.
“Well, man, I gotta follow the salad trail,” Jimmy finally broke in, after a minute or two.
“You ever gonna kick that junk?” Jacob asked. They had had this conversation before.
“No need, man. Just livin’ and tryin’ to get through. Don’t hurt nobody. I figure I deserve some kinda friggin’ break, after the friggin’ life I’ve lived through.”
Jacob knew some about Jimmy’s life, but not much, because war wounds were the part he didn’t mind talking about. Personal history, about his family – that was locked down. Jimmy kept it safer than the red tool box. Jacob knew almost nothing about it. And he probed those areas with caution, trying to draw out a little more here and there, with Jimmy never letting him in too deep. The man needed Jesus, Jacob knew. He had told Jimmy so. Jimmy laughed him off in that wheezy way he would laugh – “Heh, heh, heh” – saying, “I ain’t needed religion this far. Just give me some rest and some shade an’ a smoke. I’m an old man now.”
“You know what my answer to you is Jimmy.”
“Ah, I know, I know. Man, religion’s an alright thing, I mean, man, I knew so many friggin’ religious dudes in ‘Nam. Y’all are alright, I know that. But I’m too damned old man, too damned old.”
“You’re not too old, Jimmy. I’ll pray for you, my friend.”
“Man, that’s a good thing for you to do for me. I know you’re a good man, friggin’ don’t come much better.”
“Jimmy, I’m jacked up too, believe me. Ask my wife.”
At that they both laughed, Jimmy wheezing his wheezy laugh.
“Well, Jacob, I’m friggin’ out of here,” Jimmy said, not letting Jacob continue his spiel, “Gotta get on it. I know you don’t approve, but there’s worse things and I don’t hurt nobody.”
“Except when you drive that cart under the influence.”
They both laughed again (and Jacob prayed for Jimmy as he walked out the door).