Monday, April 24, 2006


When Ed returned to Philadelphia he used his G.I. benefits to return to college. Both of us were busy and we saw each other about every two or three weeks. It seems as if he was doing fine, though he was drinking more than usual. Our trip to Washington was the longest time we had spent together in ages.

It was shortly after this that he borrowed his father`s car and drove up to my house in the northeast part of the city. Ed seemed happy. He had sold much of the grass to friends, a little at a time, to help himself financially and said he was doing well in school.

Ed pulled something from his shirt pocket and handed it to me; it was the paper that came with his monthly check from the government. I was surprised at the amount he was getting and looked it over carefully. It seems as if there was a bookeeping mistake, Ed was receiving benefits as if he was married and had two kids. I asked him how long he had been getting this larger amount and he replied, since the beginning of last semester. I said “Ed, have you called them, tried to straighten this out?”

“Naw, why should I? I`ll let them catch their mistakes. The hell with `em.”

“I don`t know, Ed. Once they catch it, you`re gonna have to pay all that money back. And I don`t know about penalties or how much time you`ll get to pay it back.”

“Well, Vince, I`m not goin` to worry about it. I`m doing good, have enough money that I don`t have to work. I`ll just leave it alone.”

Ed offered me ten dollars that he had borrowed, then asked if I had anything to drink stronger than beer. I poured us two glasses of jug burgundy and he drank his quickly, saying he had to go.

The next time I saw him was many weeks later. On the way home from a night class I stopped at the old neighborhood bar. All the boys were there, playing the bowling machine. Ed was sitting by himself, not in the game. I said Hi to him and bought us a drink, a beer for me and a vodka and ice for him. Ed was obviously drinking heavily, slurring his words. Not falling down drunk, but sad, within himself.

I asked him what was happenin`, he replied “I`m not in school anymore. The government caught their mistake. I can`t receive any cash benefits `til I`ve repaid what I owe them.”

“Aw, man, I`m sorry. I told you that might happen.”

Ed glanced at me, then seemed to focus past my shoulder. “That`s real helpful. Thanks for bringin` it back up.”

I didn`t know what to say, told him I`d be around if he wanted to talk. He nodded, finished his drink. I patted him on the shoulder, said my goodbyes to everyone and went home to my family.

It was shortly after this that Ed went to the West Coast, visiting some friends of ours. I heard nothing from him for months, then he was back home in Philadelphia, living with his parents. I stopped there to see him and was stunned by how he looked. His body was bloated, face puffy and red. We grabbed a beer and sat on his front steps.

“Ed, man, you don`t look well. You`ve been sick?”

He lit a cigarette, then replied “Yea, out on the Coast; guess I was drinkin` too much. I felt a lot of pain in my sides, like near the kidneys? I couldn`t piss, just kept swelling up. Finally, Jack took me to the V.A. hospital out there. It seems like my liver is going.”

I lit a cigarette myself, shook my head. "Aw, man, what did the Docs say?”

“Well, there was this one young Doc, a nice guy. He got me on the right meds, got me stabilized. When I was getting discharged he stopped to see me. He asked if I smoked grass, I told him yes. He was really serious, said to me to smoke all the grass I wanted but to stop drinking. Otherwise I`d be dead in a couple of years.”

"Ed, I`m really sorry, But what are you doin` with that beer then?”

“Just beer, Vince. No hard stuff.”

“You gonna be able to do that Ed?”

Ed took a swig from his can, “Fuck it. I don`t really give a damn.”

I looked at Ed, asked if he had been over to see any of the guys in the old neighborhood. “Naw, I`ve been hangin` around here. There`s a bar down by the El, at Cambria. A lot of vets hang out there. I feel comfortable there.”

“Are you drinking a lot there Ed?”

For the first time he looked me squarely in the eye. “Vince, I appreciate your concern, but this is none of your business. I gotta take care of myself.”

I nodded, finished my beer and went inside to say goodbye to Ed`s parents. Coming back outside, I gave Ed a hug, told him to call me and drove home.