Just another workday for nation's veterans

MIKE ROYKO

November 13, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO

The phone jarred me awake. The familiar voice on the other end said: "Hey, grab your socks, fall out on the road, let's celebrate."

Slats, what are you talking about?

"It's our day. We're being honored."

For what?

"It's Veterans Day, don't you know? So you're a veteran and I'm a veteran, let's do something."

But it is a workday. I have to work and you have to work.

"We can call in sick."

Can't do that. Not while this nation is engaged in a fierce global economic war. We did not fight to end godless communism only to become slothful and be defeated by the yen and the mark.

"Yeah, I guess you're right. But it don't seem right."

What don't?

"This is a holiday. Veterans Day. So you got politicians and bureaucrats and payrollers all over the country taking off from work. You got school kids getting the day off. You got bankers going out to their golf courses. You got millions of people knocking off for the day. And I'll bet that there ain't more than 1 or 2 percent of them who are veterans. But here we are, a couple of veterans, and we got to work. Is that fair?"

If you want fairness in your life, get instant replay.

"I'll bet that if you could check it out, you'd find out that on Veterans Day, most veterans are working, except for the guys on pensions, and most of the people who are getting the day off from work ain't veterans. So what kind of way is that to honor veterans? I go to work to earn money so I can pay taxes to pay their salary so they can honor me by staying home and sleeping late."

Well, if it will make you happy, I'll salute you and you salute me, then we can both go earn a living.

"No, I think we ought to change the way Veterans Day is celebrated."

What do you have in mind?

"I say that the only people who get the day off should be veterans. Everybody else goes to work. If they want a holiday, they can have College Deferment Day, or My Daddy the Senator Had Clout Day, or I Had a Bad Knee Day, or Me and Dan Quayle Protected Indiana Day."

That sounds reasonable. And the rest of us would go off and have parades?

"Those who want parades can have parades. Personally, I hated marching when I was in, so why should I march now? Besides, whenever I see a bunch of wrinkled geezers in their veterans' hats hoofing down the street, wheezing and their joints crackling, I say, 'Do I look like that?' and I get depressed. No, we ought to have other options for celebrating and honoring ourselves.

Such as?

"Poker."

Poker?

"Yeah. Five-stud, five-draw, seven-stud, nothing wild. But you can check and raise."

You want to celebrate by playing poker?

"That's right. Remember, everybody couldn't be a hero. And everybody couldn't be in combat. But one thing just about everybody did was play poker."

I'm told the Vietnam vets weren't poker enthusiasts.

"Then they can smoke grass. And instead of a poker table, we pull two or three footlockers together. And we get a quart of tequila and pass it around."

I didn't know you liked tequila.

"I hate it. But I learned a trick from a buck sergeant from Texas. He'd pass tequila around, and pretty soon everybody in the game was too loaded to notice that when he dealt five-card stud, he'd deal himself six cards. He got away with it, too, until he got wounded."

In combat?

"No, a couple of us spotted the trick and dropped him into a latrine."

Latrine. I have not heard the word in many years.

"Yeah, and that gives me another idea for the holiday. Anybody who ain't a veteran gets caught taking the day off, they have to do latrine duty. And when they finish that, they got to go listen to a VD lecture from a chaplain. With those color slides where it looks like it went through a meat grinder."

Please, not before breakfast. So we will play poker, and that's it? That's our celebration?

"Of course not. We go out and get something to eat. Maybe some Spam or my favorite, a plate of SOS -- stuff on a shingle, we used to call it. Then we go to an off-limits bar."

There are no off-limits bars anymore. In today's nonjudgmental society, almost nothing is off-limits. What used to be off-limits is now on cable TV.

"You're right. OK, we go to some bar that's so raunchy and sleazy -- in other words, a really great joint -- that it ought to be off-limits. Then we spot these dollies giving us the eye and we saunter over, really suave-like, and we offer them a carton of PX cigarettes, a box of PX chocolate bars, a couple of tubes of PX toothpaste, a box of . . ."

Wait a minute, you are not going to find any American female persons who will be impressed by that sort of merchandise.

"Well, I'm hoping some of them will volunteer out of a sense of patriotic duty. But just in case, we'll ask if they take credit cards."

Why don't we wait until this evening and rent "Sands of Iwo Jima" with John Wayne?

"Like last year, huh?"

And the year before.

"Not even one hand of poker?"

OK, one hand.

"Good. I'll bring the tequila."

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