Why do you do it, man? Are you some kind of war junkie?
I’ve been asked this question many times in my life. And do you know what I say? Nothing. I won’t say a goddamn word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it.
They won’t understand that it’s about getting the front-row veterans parking spot in the Lowe’s parking lot so you can go inside and walk around aimlessly for hours only to walk back out with a $139 DeWalt power sander that you really didn’t need in the first place. It’s about waking up in an alcoholic blur at the crack of noon every Veterans Day and getting up to secure your spot in line to get some free baby back ribs at Chili’s. It’s about getting to publicly shame a 16-year-old fast-food worker the other 364 days out of the year because their particular chain doesn’t offer 10% off to veterans for that cheeseburger you’re really craving.
They won’t understand that it’s about getting to wear a vaguely threatening moto shirt from one of the 12,567 military apparel companies — something that probably says, “If you go down on my flag, I’ll go down on your ass” — while I’m buying scratch-offs at the gas station with all the extra money I get from my 10% disability rating for tinnitus.
They won’t understand that being a veteran is a great topic of conversation when I’m hitting on women at my hometown bar. I often confuse my prior military service with being a personality trait, plus I’m 70 pounds overweight and prediabetic, so letting some cigarette-smoking divorcée named “Paula” know that I did war 15 years ago is a great way to make her think she’s about to go home with a bona fide Rambo.
They won’t understand that I need to bring my emotional support alligator on this Delta Airlines flight from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh because the war was traumatizing and makes me sad, so this alligator is the only thing that’s going to prevent me from freaking out and trying to open the cabin door at 10,000 feet. Then, when they send the police on board to escort me off the plane after I’ve made a scene about them not allowing an alligator on their plane, I’ll have to scream, “I’M A VETERAN! YOU CAN’T TREAT ME THIS WAY! I’M GOING TO PUT YOU ON YOUTUBE! AHHH! AHHH! AHHH!”
They won’t understand how much of a badass I am for having served and the immense amount of love I have for my country and its communal traditions. Things like Independence Day fireworks celebrations, when I hang up a sign telling all my neighbors that they shouldn’t have fun around me and do the one thing that all Americans enjoy together regardless of political affiliation, economic status, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and geographical location. My prior service is now your inconvenience.
And that’s it. That’s all it is.
I love you,
Jack Manford Mandaville I
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 print edition of The Forward Observer, a special publication from Coffee or Die Magazine, in the Dear Jack column.