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Marc Dion
Marc Dion
20 Oct 2014
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Coming Home a Hero

Comment

About a mile from where I sit, writing this column, a couple days ago, the police arrested a young man in the parking lot of a dollar store. He had 10 grams of heroin down the back of his pants.

To be specific, and according to the police report, the heroin was "wedged between his buttocks."

Police report language, like the language of medieval theologians, is refined to a purposeful point. It strives not for beauty but for exactitude that can be used on the day of judgment.

I know the neighborhood where the guy got popped with the dope in his pants.

Maybe six months ago, I covered the funeral of a 21-year-old man from that neighborhood. That young man was killed in Afghanistan, the place where they grow the good dope.

The guy with the dope down his pants never got off the block, though he no doubt enjoyed a notoriety there, a bit of fear from the neighborhood's honest folks and some outright worship from many of the neighborhood's kids, some of whom may be taking a soldier's oath in a few years.

And there's no shortage of guys from those neighborhoods in Afghanistan right now. Iraq, too. The poor always produce a good share of soldiers.

I work at a midsize daily newspaper. I've already written four stories about military funerals, and of course, I've written hundreds of stories about dope, about dope kept down the pants, in the shoes, in the baby's diaper, wherever you can hide little presents from Afghanistan.

And already the two stories are starting to blend, or maybe they're crashing into each other, but the stories about Iraq and Afghanistan vets selling or using, back in the old neighborhood, are becoming more frequent.

That hero business isn't a bad business, but parades break up and everybody has to go home.

Your time in the service counts as seniority time if you get on the police force, but the police are laying off; it counts with the post office, but they're laying off; it counts in city, county or state government, but they're laying off.

The dope business is always hiring, jail and handguns guaranteeing a need for new salespeople every day.

I love the men and women who join the military, particularly the ones from poor neighborhoods.

Even if one takes the line that they are only peasants fighting their masters' wars, I've never seen one go off without a thrust-out chest, a smile, a little bit of 'hood defiance. You have to be poor to throw your life away in one careless, grinning gesture. It's the fast-going minute of strength the poor get to balance against the rich man's carefully plotted old age of leather chairs and slowly, ever-so-slowly declining health.

Out on the corner, on the street the parades don't use, it's a little bit of Afghani dope in the veins, a lot of confidence in the smile, a few weeks of basic training, an air base in Germany, a few years in the joint, a dusty road near Baghdad, a minute of heroin or heroism, a little cash in the pocket, a little ribbon on your chest.

A little time to live before your late 60s, when unlike most rich people, you die.

It is my misfortune to have known many petty criminals and many soldiers, and while their ideals are miles apart, they are often born on the same block, smoke the same brand of cigarettes, favor the same grammar, sport the same tattoos, like the same thunderous rap music, and leave the same girls and babies behind when it is time to go where the government tells them to go.

The comparison is, of course, civic blasphemy. Heroes are heroes, and guys slinging dope are guys slinging dope. To say anything else is to besmirch all the yellow ribbons tied around all the old oak trees.

But I hope everybody's time goes easy, whether it's two years in the Marines or 10 years in the can.

And I hope that, when you get back to the old neighborhood, you find a job that doesn't involve little packages from Afghanistan or Mexico or Colombia.

And I hope the people who chew the nation's destiny like a fat dog chews a fat bone will send us the jobs we need to make the rest of our lives count.

To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features y other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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