Today, while helping clean up from an insane Labor Day weekend at the casino (yes, I work at a casino), my eyes rested on a middle aged man sitting alone at a slot machine. His attention was so engrossed in the game that he didn’t notice his presence had stopped me dead in my tracks. He carried a little weight around the middle. His hair was scruffy and unkemptly stuffed under a cap. Tattoos covered his arms. They matched his heavy metal Full Throttle (Yes, the Full Throttle Saloon that is only open during the Sturgis bike rally) tee-shirt. He could have been any rough riding tough biker. I couldn’t have told him from another- except the fact that this man sitting before me was no rough riding biker. He was a retired Navy veteran- A seabee in fact. And for the first time in a long time I was caught off guard.
Working in the casino, I have met plenty of former service members. They come in all shapes and sizes. If you take a moment, they have some pretty amazing stories to tell. But, this one man nearly brought me to tears. The stark juxtaposition of his Full Throttle shirt and the emblazoned gold emblem of the Navy’s Seabees brought home a reality that even I had compartmentalized. There in one bundle was the life of a United States Sailor and the life of an average every day American man. The disconnect boggled my mind.
But it doesn’t stop there. How many times have I looked at the patriotic pictures of service men and women on the walls of my news feed and forgot that the Sailor or Soldier pictured was more than just a service member? How many times have I overlooked the fact that the 19, 20 or 27 year old portrayed lives a dual life- one in fatigues and one outside of them? -That he has hopes and dreams, as well as frustrations, heart aches, and a determination to make something of himself.How many times have I simply overlooked that fact?
There are even days with Popeye that the disconnect happens. Only it happens in reverse. There are days when I am with him and he is just my Popeye; the guy that loves his Star Craft games, who sends me ghost stories from Unsolved Mysteries, who lets me rant on and on about political psycho babble. He’s the guy that holds my hand, who tells me that despite what I think I am not chunky, and who tells me a hundred times a day how much he loves me. When I am with him I honestly can forget. In his presence he is just my Popeye. But in the world there is that disconnect. To the world he is just Popeye- the sailor man.