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Obscured American: Vern the Vietnam Vet

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Looking for Vern for over a week, I finally found him in the Friendly Lounge. Vivacious Kelly was bartending. Overhearing Vern say how he had to take his helmet off because of the letters "VC," Kelly looked perplexed, "Why?"

"Because VC stands for Viet Cong," Vern clarified.

"Viet Com?"

When you're young and beautiful, you can say just about anything and people will find it delightful, but perhaps I'm just revealing my old fart mind set. Yes, Kelly, VC stands for Viet dot com. Actually, it means venereal coconut.

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Down the bar, ex roofer Angelo jumped in a few times to thank Vern for his service, while Tony the cook stewed over his boss while scratching lottery tickets.

Italian Felix sometimes refers to Vern as "the angry black man," but I've seen no evidence of it. Sipping his red wine, he's always soft spoken and smiling. What's even more ironic is Felix was known in his younger days for getting into fights. Vern and Felix live in the same old folks' home, where the sex life is much less dormant than you'd think. "Women there don't have to worry about getting pregnant," Felix explained. "You should go down there and get some action."

Vern had a different take, "Older women need to regain dignity and understand where the limits are." OK, then, let's hear more from the 70-year-old:

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My father was a grease monkey. He got up in the wee hours of the morning and I had to cook his breakfast. When my father died in 1970, they replaced him with three men.

My mother came from a farm. She wanted to be a dietitian, but she was fortunate enough to become a wire technician for GE.

My mother converted us to Catholicism, so I've been a Catholic for most of my life.

I have five siblings, but one died at birth.

I'd go online and look at the house where I was born and raised, and it's all boarded up!

I was blessed with good neighbors. The Taylors and Caseys would have us over. I mean, my family couldn't afford a record player or TV, but the Caseys would invite us over to watch television, and we would go in our underwear or whatever. It was nice. Their house is boarded up too. They're dead now.

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They educated us on how to be above what most people thought what African Americans were, or are, in society. I had a good upbringing. My aunt taught me how to set a table, and what fork, what knife and what spoon to use.

I was drafted. I just turned twenty. Women always bring me the bad news. My sister grabbed the mail that day and she came to me. This was in August. I had enrolled at Penn State and wanted to be an architect. I only had a month to go before I'd be in school.

They drafted a lot of African Americans from Philadelphia. You had to fill out all of these crazy papers and whatnot. They examined you and so forth. So yes, you're inducted! Ha ha!

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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