I don’t surf, but still I tell the man with the surf shirt that I do.
“You surf, really?” he asks, his eyes lighting up.
I smile, it is an old joke, this. One I have trotted out many times. “The internet,” I reply. “I surf the internet.”
He laughs and I squint at the surfer on his blue t-shirt. “What does Toes on the Nose mean?”
“It’s like when you hang ten or hang five.” I give him a blank stare and he repositions himself, as if walking up a surfboard. “When you hang ten, you stand at the front of your board with both feet and when you hang five, you have one foot on the nose.”
I nod. “Those are great chairs.”
“Adirondacks.” He waves over another guy. “Tony will tell you about them.”
“An adirondack chair,” Tony says. “Except we use aerospace screws at our shop. We buy them in mass, at eight cents a pop.”
“Today is our last day. We are closing up.”
“The economy. That is why the chair is so reduced. I am just an apprentice here, but I enjoy it. I am 51 years old and I’m going back to marketing.” He goes on to tell me his work history, of putting in dozens of applications for skilled and unskilled craftman jobs.
I look around, at a loss. “God bless you,” I finally say.
“He has.” And he nods his head and there is nothing I can add. I buy two chairs and arrange to have them delivered.
An hour later, I am standing in a restaurant. An elderly man labors behind me at the buffet. A faded Marine Corps tattoo runs the length of his left arm. An Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in silhouette.
“I’m active-duty Navy,” I tell him.
He looks at me firmly. “Ah, Navy.”
“You were at Chosin?” I point to his hat, his cover.
“Yep. Three months.”
“Got pushed off. I was part of the Seventh.” He rattles off a company name and something else, a battalion, brigade, which I immediately forget. “There are not a lot of us left. I used to go meet ‘em all. Now it is expensive and we don’t get together.”
“Can I take I picture of your hat, sir?”
He nods and I snap the photo and thank him. I move forward in the line and when it comes to pay, I buy his lunch. I am not a thief. I will not steal a picture of a man’s hat and his story without paying for it. Least of all, for a hero. He tries to give me money, but I refuse.
I see him later and he grins at me like I am a fellow warrior. “Thanks, brother,” he tells me quietly. So quietly, I wonder if he really called me brother. “For lunch.”
“Sir, thank you,” is all I can say.