Joe, 64 years old, fought in Vietnam for two years, 1967-68. He was there for the Tet Offensive. "My father fought in World War I and World War II, and four of my brothers were in the service. I was a baseball prospect, you know. After high school, I had sixty scholarship offers."
"Six?!" I interrupted him.
"Sixty! You must have been great!"
"I was. I was a catcher, and I hit .400 in high school. I could probably make it as a professional, but my father said, 'We have a war now,' so I enlisted. I didn't know what I was doing. I had a small life. We were into bebop and Elvis, and next thing I knew, I was killing people. Your people!" And Joe started to cry. "The government put us into this terrible situation. All of a sudden, we were there. Our first day, we saw two American corpses, and they had their genitals cut off and stuffed into their mouths."
"What?! I've never heard of anything like that."
"But that's what we saw. And now, I'm thinking I'm not sure who did this. I'm thinking maybe it's our own government that did this, to get us riled up. They did it so we would hate the Vietnamese."
It wasn't all heavy, our conversation. Before this photo, Joe joked that maybe I was his bastard son, and that's why our heads are clumped together, to show the similarity of our faces. Looking at the image in the view finder, Joe and I were awestruck by how much we resembled each other.
Riverside used to have 22 bars, but now there are only seven. We were sitting in a Portuguese joint, RaceTrack 75 Sports Bar, on Pavilion Avenue. Two televisions at the back showed Portuguese programs, the two at the front had on ESPN and ESPN2. Each noon, the bar owner picks Joe up at his house and brings him here, then takes him home at around 6PM. Joe drinks roughly $20 a day, which amount to 8 bottles of Bud, though usually somebody would buy him another bottle or two, or three. Joe has liver cancer. Seven years ago, a doctor said he had six months to live.
The owner's wife, Teresa, is the bartender. A few minutes after six, she said, "Joe, you have to go now. My husband is driving you home!"
"But I'm sitting here, talking to my new friend!"
"You have to go, Joe. It's time!" Then, to me, "If I don't stop him, he'll just keep going."
Without the ride, Joe would not be able to get home by himself.