Former U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Andrew Maldive—a veteran of three combat rotations in Vietnam with two Purple Hearts—went from one subject to another, depending upon where he happened to find himself at any particular moment. He was oblivious to the busy clerk in that cell phone store on Houston Street, who was trying to get my mobile hooked up to the AT&T system, and the clerk was equally oblivious to the talkative Corporal. Only in New York.
One minute Corporal Maldive referred to me as Colonel. Or Sir. The next he called me Frank. Or Elaine. He slurred his words, and reminded me of my uncle, who was always genial when drunk and a nasty pain in the ass when sober. The sort of alcoholic that you end up telling for Christ’s sake, Alec, go get yourself a drink because you’re driving me crazy.
Corporal Maldive’s was a rapid-fire and rambling narrative that went from Bravo Company slogging through the jungles in Vietnam and Cambodia with leeches and rotting wet boots and evac helicopters and stinking body bags to the restaurants in Little Italy, only a few blocks away.
“But you live in the Italy across the Atlantic? Yeah? You like it?”
I replied yes, very much so.
“I like it too, man. I love the food.”
I asked the Corporal if he minded if I took his picture. “No, that’s fine,” he said. “But the question I have for you, Colonel, with all due respect, sir, is may I take yours?”