War and peace and people
By Siamak Vossoughi
November 25, 2002
My cousin Farhad was telling me, he would deliver bread to a place out on
Geary and each morning he would say hello to a fellow there drinking his coffee and
talk a little about how their favorite baseball team, the Giants, did the night before.
The fellow had told him his whole life story once, how he had grown up in the neighborhood
and gone to Vietnam and come back and opened up some auto-body shops and now he fixed
up cars for his friends.
After September 11, 2001, the fellow had stopped speaking to him.
My cousin laughed as he told me and I laughed too because it was too sad when somebody
looked at you and thought that one of the things that you were interested in was
killing people. But it had burned my cousin up at the time. The thing he hadn't understood
was that when the fellow told him about having served in Vietnam, he hadn't said
it like it was something that he was necessarily proud of or a believer in. He had
said it like it was something that was a lousy experience.
( It had burned my cousin up though.)
Farhad would come into the place and the fellow wouldn't even look at him. My cousin
had been angry about it for a while and then one day he had just decided that he
wasn't going to let it bother him.
"What are you going to do when somebody looks at you as though you're angry
at Americans?" he said. "You're going to start becoming angry at Americans."
"That's right," I said. "You can't win a game like that. All you can
do is not play."
My cousin nodded. "But then one day something funny happened," he said.
One day my cousin came into the place and he completely forgot. He completely forgot
that the fellow had stopped talking to him. He came in and it was the day after the
Giants had come back and won a game in the ninth and my cousin said to the fellow,
"Good game last night, huh?"
The fellow looked at him. "Are you from the Middle East?" he said.
"Yes," my cousin said. "I am from Iran."
"How old are you?" "Twenty-three."
"Do you know how old I was when I was sent to Vietnam?" the fellow said.
"No," my cousin said.
"I was nineteen," the fellow said. "Do you know what I knew about
the world at that age?"
"Nothing. I knew nothing about the world at that age. But I was sent. And now
the whole thing starts up again, and apparently I am expected to go on speaking to
all of the people I was speaking to before."
"I have not done anything to you," my cousin said.
"Of course you didn't," the fellow said. "Do you think I had done
something when I was nineteen?"
"No," my cousin said.
"That's right," he said. "I hadn't done anything either. I hadn't
done anything to anybody. But I was treated like I had. I was treated like I had
done something terrible."
"Well," my cousin said. "I am sorry for that."
"I am sorry too," the fellow said.
"But do you think I would have made it if I'd stayed thinking like that? Do
you think I would've made it out alive if I'd kept thinking like that?"
"No," my cousin said.
"That's right," he said. "I wouldn't have. I would've still been there.
So who do you think that meant had done something terrible?"
"That's right. The Vietnamese. And now the whole thing starts up again, and
so it starts up again in me, and then it's either hate whoever it was that put me
there or whoever it is we're fighting now, and I can't hate who it was that put me
there because I have to have a country. I have to have at least that. So we can talk
about the Giants
all you want when there's nothing going on. We can talk about anything when there's
nothing going on. But when it starts up in me, I have to take a different approach.
I have to fight it again because that's what got me out last time. It's the only
way I can do it. If there was some other way, I would take it. But there's none that
I've been able to find. When there's peace we can talk about the Giants all day long.
But I have to have a country, and this is the only way I know how."
My cousin didn't say anything. He didn't feel angry at the fellow. He felt angry
at something but it wasn't the fellow in the cafe. It didn't make sense that he and
the fellow should stop talking about the Giants, but it didn't make sense as much
as some other things didn't make sense. The fellow stood up and walked out of the
place. My cousin watched him walk out and down the street.
"All I could think about," my cousin said "was how lucky I've been
to have not been in any wars."
"Yes," I said, because as he was telling it, that was all I could think
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