Living with PTSD One Day at a Time – a book review

If combat or abuse of any kind, mental or physical, has traumatized you, I’m suggesting you read this memoir, even if it is the only one you real in your life. If you hate to read, then listen to the audiobook. Geeze, no excuses! You may also want to read this memoir if you know someone with PTSD. Then, you may understand what life is like for them.

At first, I was going to title this review Traumatized in Nairobi. After I was halfway through Meyli Chapin’s memoir Terrorist Attack Girl, I have done little but think of what I’d write in this review. I woke up thinking about it. I thought about her story while exercising. And I think about it before I sleep and when I’m sleeping. The only time I didn’t think about it was when I was reading.

While reading her memoir, I virtually joined Meyli in her hotel room in Nairobi. Apparently, I wasn’t there, but my mind didn’t know that.

Her terror and fear became my terror and fear. When she talked about not wanting her little brother to know what was happening to her, that terrorists might murder her, I cried and laughed. When the two guys that probably were Navy Seals knocked on her door 17 hours into the attack on that hotel, I laughed again.

Meyli divided her story between brief scenes in the hotel room (regular print) and scenes taking place after the attack (ATA): in the US Consulate in Kenya and back in the states (italicized print). I think this was a stroke of genius, sharing the trauma of that terrorist attack and what happened to her later when she thought the nightmare was over, often on the same page. And every ATA scene mirrors what I’ve experienced with fucking PTSD in the last 55 years, helping me make sense of what happened to me back then.

To survive ATA, Meyli is learning, as I did, how to manage her PTSD so it doesn’t eat her, and I suspect she may learn to live one day at a time, too, if she hasn’t already.

Terrorist Attack Girl

Meyli, back in the 1970s after I graduated college with a BA in journalism, I was still drinking heavily. One afternoon, I sat on the floor in my living room with the barrel of a loaded sniper rifle in my mouth, ready to pull the trigger to end it all. I did not know what fucking PTSD was and what was happening to me. It was a desperate attempt to get rid of that never ending nightmare.

I snipped off the safety getting ready to fire and looked out the screen door one last time to see a teenager wearing headsets dancing as he moved down the sidewalk. That image stopped me from squeezing the trigger.

I thought, Dear God, if I do this, I might miss that kind of happy moment. So, instead, I learned to live one day at a time and bless each day as I turned off the lights, only to thank God when I woke up to a new dawn to live another one. Thanks to that dancing teen on that sidewalk, I have experienced many great days with laughter in them. The drinking didn’t help. In fact, the booze made the fucking PTSD worse, so I stopped in 1982, and became a vegan. Also, I now belong to two PTSD support groups that Meetup each week, through the VA.

As a former US Marine and combat veteran living with fucking PTSD since 1966, I could easily have written a book about Chapin’s memoir, but I did not want to turn this review into a story about me. The fucking PTSD still lurks waiting to pounce if triggered, along with the loaded pump shotgun I keep by my bed. Without that weapon, I touch each night before I turn out the lights. I couldn’t sleep. As it is, I think this review may be too long.

Meyli’s memoir taught me that the fucking PTSD I’ve lived with for so long isn’t my fault. That revelation lifted a heavy burden weighted by guilt off my mind. Somehow, I feel lighter, almost floating through each day.

But I’m still living one day at a time. Thank you for sharing that slice of your life with the world, Meyli.

NOTE: Amazon rejected this review the first time I submitted it, because I used the word fucking one time as an adjective describing what that acronym means to me. Once I removed that word, Amazon accepted the review without any other changes.

As you may have noticed here on my Blog, I added more fucking PTSDs to make up for that example of legal corporate censorship by an app programed to reject the use of certain words.

Managing my PTSD started with Poetry

“The term posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become a household name since its first appearance in 1980 in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-lll) published by the American Psychiatric Association, In the collective mind, this diagnosis is associated with the legacy of the Vietnam War disaster. Earlier conflicts had given birth to terms, such as “soldier’s heart, ” “shell shock,” and “war neurosis.” The latter diagnosis was equivalent to the névrose de guerre and Kriegsneurose of French and German scientific literature. This article describes how the immediate and chronic consequences of psychological trauma made their way into medical literature, and how concepts of diagnosis and treatment evolved over time.”  – US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

Then the VA’s National Center for PTSD was created in 1989 by an act of Congress.

Even most of the Hollywood movies that deal with PTSD didn’t start to come out until the 21st century.

What about Life with PTSD?

I didn’t know what was going on about PTSD in the 1980s. I was too busy teaching in a community based public school district 1975 – 2005, often working 60 to 100 hours a week.  If I wasn’t teaching, I was planning lessons, calling parents, and correcting the school work my students turned in.

During those years, the PTSD was still managing my life in devious ways, playing a role in my first two divorces.

Maybe it was a survival mechanism that kicked in that stopped me from drinking too much booze on a daily basis and often being hung over the next day before I started drinking again. I crossed that threshold in 1982, the year I stopped drinking booze of all kinds and drastically changed my lifestyle from fast-food and alcohol to become a vegan.

Thirty-nine years later, I’m still a vegan and haven’t been drunk once.

During that drastic lifestyle transition in 1982 where I lost 60 pounds and turned orange from drinking too much  organic carrot juice, I was working days and earning an MFA in writing nights and summers.

The summer of 1982, I took a poetry workshop and most of the poems I wrote that year explored the  mental and physical damage caused by war.

This post is the first of many. I am going to dust off those decades old poems, update and revise them, and publish them here on my Soulful Veteran Blog.

Chocolate in the Mud by Lloyd Lofthouse

Dark is better
Magic black
Spiritual money
Treat yourself to a truffle
Buy a bon-bon

Discovered in the rain forests
Two thousand years ago
Maya and Aztec royalty
Drank it frothy
Spicy and bitter

Mom baked
Chocolate cakes
Along with pecan
Chocolate chip cookies
Heating the savory
Kitchen scented air

Hanging around like a puppy
Scraping the frosting bowl clean
Licking the spatula
Was more fun than playing
Front yard pirates

Rainy days still trigger
Left over memories
Of that long ago kitchen
Bringing desire
A craving for something creamy and dark
Like a chocolate fudge Sunday
Smearing lips with sticky
Lip clinging excellent mud

When I was a U.S. Marine
No longer a child
It rained hundreds of inches in Vietnam.
Slogging in from a recon patrol or ambush
Surviving another day after too many close calls
With mucky fudge clinging to our weapons

That mud was a reminder of younger days
Raised in a country
Where pampered children
May be a protected alien species
Living a fantasy life filled with
Chocolate treats

Today, when some turn eighteen
They join the military like I did
Take the Loyalty Oath
Washington was the first to take
Before shipping out to Iraq and Afghanistan

Will those troops dream of chocolate in the bloody Sand Box?

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran,

retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

Did Sarah Palin really blame President Obama for her son’s PTSD?

I’m thinking that Sarah Palin, like Trump, has a serious case of runaway motor mouth without brakes, because she acts like the dumb blond stereotype, and she isn’t even a blond.

What am I talking about?

Well, “Sarah Palin’s freestyle performance earlier this week during her endorsement of Donald Trump for president drew plenty of attention. But what is drawing the ire of some vets are her comments appearing to blame President Barack Obama for her son’s PTSD, which led to his arrest for domestic violence on Jan. 18.” – Foreign Policy’s morning situation report.

Uh, Track Palin was an Army reservist who performed a tour of duty in Iraq in 2008, and Barack Obama wasn’t sworn in as president for his first term until January 20, 2009.

Besides being a loud mouth and a billionaire, who is the man Sarah endorsed for president? Donald Trump currently holds the title as the biggest liar ever according to fact check sites.

  1. has crowned Trump the King of Whoppers.  said, “It’s been a banner year for political whoppers — and for one teller of tall tales in particular: Donald Trump.

“In the 12 years of’s existence, we’ve never seen his match.

“He stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims, but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong.”

  1. awarded Trumps’ statement the “2015 Lie of the Year” for only being totally correct in his claims and statements 1% of the time.

I think it is time to link Sarah Palin to the definition of a dumb blonde: “a blond-haired woman perceived in a stereotypical way as being attractive but unintelligent,” and The Urban Dictionary says, a dumb blond is “A person who can’t really do anything right.”

To discover who is really responsible for Track Palin’s PTSD, Sarah Palin would have to answer who started the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — hint, it wasn’t President Obama?

Sarah Palin would also have to answer what incident took place in New York City that caused the deaths of several thousand noncombatants that led to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — hint, it wasn’t something President Obama did, because the war in Afghanistan started on October 7, 2001 and the Iraq War started on March 20, 2003. I wonder if Sara Palin knows who the president was on those two dates.

By the way, while serving in the U.S. Marines, I returned home from Vietnam in 1966 with a serious case of PTSD, and I have never battered anyone like Sarah Palin’s son, Track Palin, allegedly did to his girlfriend while waving around an AR-15. –

In addition, according to an Op-Ed piece on, “The link between combat and civilian violence isn’t only anecdotal. Research has found a link between the after-effects of combat service and increased violence. At the Department of Veterans Affairs website, experts explore the available data. A study comparing post-9/11 veterans with the general public found that rates of violence among members of the general public that experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were at about 7.5 percent. Among veterans, the rates ranged from 8.6 to 19.5 percent. … Another study from the mid-1980s looked at violence rates among veterans of the Vietnam War. Among those veterans, one-third of those who suffered from PTSD exhibited “intimate partner violence” — aka domestic violence — versus 13.5 percent among those who didn’t have PTSD.” says, “It’s important to note that Track Palin likely had several other of those factors. He was divorced in 2012. He is still in his 20s. He served on active duty. The data suggest that, even without PTSD, his experiences and circumstances might lead him to antisocial or violent behavior. (Track was also involved in a notorious 2014 brawl involving several members of the family.)”

I think it is time to stop using the term dumb blond as a stereotype for an attractive but unintelligent woman who can’t do anything right, and all dumb blond jokes must be revised, and here are the first two revisions.

  1. What does a Sarah Palin do when her computer freezes?
  2. She sticks it in the microwave!
  3. Why are there six bullet holes in Sarah Palins mirror?
  4. Because she tried to kill herself.


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, journalist and award winning author.

His second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

Promo Image with Cover Awards

Where to Buy

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

Discovering Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs with my ears

I can’t remember when I paid $3 at Half Price Books for an audio book of Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. You see, I enjoy reading. That’s why I buy books—audio and the old fashioned kind on paper—and DVD’s of films and TV series faster than I watch or read/listen to them, and they are all around me in the study where I write.  They are also books in storage under the house. I think I’ll have to live another thousand years to read them all—as long as I don’t buy more.

In an attempt to read faster, I started reading with my ears when I’m in the car on the way to the farmer’s market, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. And I drive in the slow lane to gain more listening time.

The reason I am now a fan of Winspear’s work, and specifically Maisie Dobbs, the main character in eleven of the author’s twelve novels, is because Maisie has a serious and convincing case of PTSD, and I came home in 1966 from Vietnam with PTSD.

As I wrote this post, I visited the author’s website, and saw that Pardonable Lies is the 3rd novel in the Maisie Dobbs series, and I smiled, because that means I have ten more to read—hopefully with my ears since I’m reading about four or five audio books to every tree book.

This is where I copy and paste from Winspear’s page on The World of Maisie Dobbs: “The period of time from the mid-1900’s until the 1930’s was a time of unprecedented change in Britain. The devastation of The Great War, mass emigration to America and Canada, rapid social changes—not least votes for women—to be followed by the Roaring Twenties, the General Strike and the Depression. It was a time of burgeoning artistic expression, with the movements that we now know as Art Nouveau and Art Deco demonstrating a dramatic departure from the Victorian age.

“The Great War demanded that there was hardly a field of endeavor left untouched by a woman’s hand, so that men could be released for the battlefield. The first women joined the police force, they worked in construction, on the trains and buses, on the land and in all manner of military support roles. The made munitions and they worked close to the front lines as nurses, ambulance drivers; as intelligence agents and code-breakers. And after the war, it was these same remarkable women who, more often than not, faced a life alone, for the men they might have married had been lost to war.

“It was also during these first decades of the century that scientific methods of detection were being rapidly developed. From medicine to international travel to the study of the human mind, all benefited from a time that was both terrifyingly painful in terms of the cost to human life, and yet demonstrated a hunger for innovation and a fascination with the avant-garde.

“It is in this world that Maisie Dobbs came of age.”


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

Low Def Cover 8 on January 20

This is a love story that might cost the lovers everything—even their lives.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

Unwanted Heroes – Part 4/4

 3:  The Daily Grind


The scream is loud and piercing.

I am in the storeroom in the back and immediately run to the front of the coffee shop, where San Francisco Financial District’s finest are packed around tables steamy cups in hand. Passing the big freezer, I rip open the door and grab a blue ice block fearing burning coffee is hideously scarring someone’s unblemished skin. With great concern for my customers and an inevitable impending lawsuit, I think, Not on my bloody shift!

“Fuck man! You’ve spilled your coffee on my papers. You clumsy asshole! I’ve gotta submit this today. My professor will kill me!”

Oh no. A law student!

“I’m so sorry. I tripped on the strap of her Timbuk2 bag,” the middle-aged businessman replies, pointing to the adjacent table. “At least it missed your laptop.”

Oh no, an optimist!

“If you’d spilled it on my laptop, I’d have sued your ass.”

Assault with a deadly drink … graduating this fall; no doubt plotting to make partner next year!

“Well, I’m glad it missed … oh, wow, is that the new MacBook?”

This man clearly has attention issues.

“Yes, a spanking new one! Look, I’ve gotta finish these corrections.” She picks up the soggy pages. “Just move on.”

But the guy just can’t. Then his tone shifts. “Why did you print it out if you’re still editing? A waste of trees, don’t you think?”

“It’s easier to spot…” She glares, ready to pronounce the death penalty. “What the fuck do you care? I’m trying to…”

This is my cue. I am the barista: a master of the mocha, a connoisseur of the cappuccino. Well, that’s my pick-up line. With careful delivery, I believe it sounds sexy, like a hairstylist, a DJ or an open-heart surgeon. I know from experience—I brew coffee at the corner coffee shop on Mission Street isn’t likely to elicit the coveted phone number.

But for now, I play mediator. The law student accepts wet napkins to clean up the mess and the sympathy of Tabitha. I escort the man to a vacant table on the other side of the coffee shop as far as possible from the threat of litigation. Both receive complimentary drinks, and soon the buzz of many conversations restores normalcy.

The law student stops me when I pass her table. “You’re alright for a Brit, Scarecrow.”

Scarecrow is a nickname that seems to follow me. I am reasonably tall, five-nine I think, thin, and with hair that refuses to be subdued by even a highly disciplining gel. About five minutes after grooming, I am left with, on a good day, the controlled scarecrow effect. I automatically move my hand to flatten the offending spikes and she laughs.

“You look fine.” She giggles.

“And you’re alright too.” I mumble, flattered to get her attention. “At least for a law student.”

Our café borders the financial district and the Embarcadero as well as some law and business schools. This prime location attracts refugees from the intensely caffeinated work culture by day and draws an eclectic crowd in the early evening when The Daily Grind transforms into an intimate wine bar. We also serve tourists who have lost their way to the nearby Ferry Building and the attractions of the Embarcadero.

Like all coffee shops, our weekday has its ebbs and flows. The morning is a madhouse as no self-respecting San Franciscan can possibly begin the day without their caffeine fix. By seven in the morning the line snakes outside our shop. With regulars, I try to remember their usual orders; a good memory ensures that loose change finds its way into the tip jar. If I can’t recall what they drink, I make an educated guess and am rarely far off. Even then, I apologize and explain how I evidently confused them with an actor, singer, sportsman or politician. Compliments generate tips just as effectively as a good memory.

As the day wears on and eventually draws to a close, we place aromatic candles on the tables; vigorously air out the place to lessen the robust coffee aroma and turn on carefully placed spotlights to highlight the heavy, oak wine racks lining the walls. Polished wineglasses take prominence over coffee mugs while jazz plays softly in the background.

The crowd changes, at least in its intent. Tired businessmen and women seek a ritual to cleanse themselves of the workday stress. Couples huddle in the corners wondering over a deep-red Merlot if the person facing them might just be the one. Life is a Cabernet, my friend, and a soul mate is waiting to be found.

It’s a job, a good one, and it pays for my other life. You see, I’m not only a barista. I’m a writer. A well-worn book about famous writers who spent time in San Francisco sits by my bed. I’ve walked in their footsteps, frequented their coffeehouses and wine bars, and opened my Mac in search of the same inspiration.

One day soon, I’ll be a famous author. Someone once defined an author as a writer who never gave up. I’m far from famous, but I’m also far from giving up. Like others of my tribe, I’ve saved the rejection letters—evidence of the emotional scars that all wannabe authors bear.

Let me show you my world: the parallel realities of the barista and the writer, the highs and lows of an aspiring artist, the pitfalls that await a lonely young man with much to give. But first, let me introduce you to San Francisco, the greatest city in the world.

Yeah, I grew up in London with fog rolling off the Thames, but I do not recall locals stopping to admire it. Other cities share similar traits to San Francisco: Rome has hills; London has immigrants and culture, and Paris the artistic mystique. But San Francisco has all of this and it is not thrown in your face. It just is.

I lean over the rails on the Embarcadero and stare out at the looming Bay Bridge, gray and partially veiled by early-morning mist. Next to me stands a metal woman eighteen feet high—a creation welded from hundreds of recycled pieces of junk. She holds hands with a child about eight feet tall and together they stare out to sea.

The metal woman lacks the elegance of the Statue of Liberty. That is what makes San Francisco special. It works without pretentiousness. I am told that the metal mother and child stand at the annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock desert. Fire courses through her body and out of her hand into the child.

We could do with a fire right now. I shiver as I watch wisps of cloud hover above the water. It is very early and I must open the coffee shop. Despite the cold, I love this hour of the day when the city slumbers but is not asleep. It is simply preparing for the onslaught.  In two hours, tens of thousands of people will spew out of the BART and MUNI public transport tunnels. Others will stubbornly drive in searching for elusive and pricey parking spaces. The more enlightened drivers have recruited passengers from the casual carpool pickup points scattered around the bay thereby paying less for the bridge tolls and utilizing the carpool lanes. The passengers, for their part, get a free ride into town.

Walking down Mission Street, I see Clarence, a huge African American dressed in a shiny black suit. I cannot tell if he is awake behind those big black sunglasses until he raises his saxophone to salute me. The shiny instrument gleams, even in our fog-filled streets, and Clarence lets rip a short riff to announce the barista has arrived!

Clarence customarily stakes his position in the early morning. There are more street musicians than ever these days and, with only a few prime spots, Clarence must claim his territory. But at this time of day, he plays only for me and I feel like a king. Clarence knows I do not have spare change to throw in his open sax case—perhaps he would feel insulted if I did.

Later, around 9.30, when the herd is safely corralled into their office cubicles and Clarence’s muscles are aching; he will come and rest in The Daily Grind. When I think Mr. Tzu, the owner, is not looking, I leave a cup of coffee on Clarence’s table. I used to mutter under my breath that some jerk had changed his order after I had already poured his cup and there is no point wasting it. After about the fortieth time, I figured Clarence had picked up on my ruse so I just place the steaming cup on his table without a word.

No thanks, but I know the gesture is appreciated just as I appreciate Clarence playing for me as I pass him in the early morning. He will sit for an hour or so then slowly move off. I know little of Clarence, but he is part of my life—another strand that weaves this urban tapestry called San Francisco.

Two weeks ago, a bunch of students entered The Daily Grind and their clothes were covered with ‘New Orleans’ insignia. They were excited and boisterous as they passed Clarence at his regular table. From the way Clarence eyed them, I thought that their intrusion annoyed him, but I was wrong.

“Hey! What’s with th’ shirts? What y’all doing with New Orleans?”

A young woman, blond, thin and tanned, excitedly explained how they’d just come back from a week helping rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina. “You should’ve seen the damage that hurricane did,” she said.

“Ain’t no hurricane did that, gal,” Clarence replied with a growl. “Weren’t no nat’ral disaster. Don’t let ’em bull ya’. The hurricane would’a done some damage, but if those levees had held, if those bastards had built ’em like they should, well, ain’t no one have died there. My grandma’s house waz swept away. Broke her, it did. Such a proud w’man.”

Clarence rose and moved heavily to the door but then turned. We all watched. He spoke now in a softer tone. “But I thank y’all for going down there t’help. It’s import’nt y’all show ya’ care, that some’n shows they care.”

We saw his tears as he walked out the door and left behind a heavy wake of silence. I could not stop myself. I nodded to Tabitha to cover for me and followed him out of the café.

He stood on the corner of Mission and Spear caressing his saxophone and let rip the most beautiful, soulful jazz I have ever heard. He was not playing for me that time; he was not even playing for San Francisco. I could almost see his tune rolling out of the bay along with the fog making its way to the Gulf Coast.

When he finished, I approached unsure what to say. We stared at each other.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

I had spoken with Mr. Tzu, that day. I had an idea and from that week, every Friday at lunchtime, Clarence played in The Daily Grind to a packed audience. Big jars were scattered around the tables with labels: All Proceeds to New Orleans Relief Projects and as the music touched our customer’s souls, the jars filled, because San Francisco has a heart, and that heart was bleeding for a sister on the Gulf Coast.

Return to Unwanted Heroes – Part 3 or start with Part 1


You may buy Unwanted Heroes at

Growing up in London, Alon Shalev has been a political activist since his early teens. He strives through his writing to highlight social and political injustice and to inspire action for change.

Moving to Israel, he helped establish a kibbutz where he lived for 20 years and served in the Israeli army.

Shalev then moved to the San Francisco Bay area and fell hopelessly in love with this unique city. Being new to the US, however, he was shocked to see so many war veterans on the streets. He regularly volunteers at initiatives such as Project Homeless Connect and the San Francisco Food Bank where he meets and talks with war veterans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Follow”.

Unwanted Heroes – Part 2/4

1:  The Disappearance of Mr. Tzu

Monday mornings are tough at the best of times. The Financial District of San Francisco swarms with people craving their caffeine turbo charged as they transition from weekend wildness to the cubical and office. The line for coffee snakes out of The Daily Grind onto Spear Street and I, the barista, marshal my staff to satisfy the needs of my newly adopted city.

Nothing can stop me as steam rises from the Beast, our espresso machine, which hisses and whistles as I concoct cappuccino, mochaccino, latte, espresso, nonfat, low fat, decaf, skinny. I am focused. Nothing can take me out of the groove as I serve the suits, the ripped jeans, the police uniforms.

Police Uniforms? One is a huge ruddy-faced officer while the other is smaller, mustached and maybe Hispanic. I’m still too new in the US to accurately place the myriad of people who make up the melting pot of San Francisco. But I do notice that the smaller officer wears wraparounds even inside our coffee shop.

“Are you the barista?”

“Yes sir. My name’s Will … Will Taylor. What can I get for you?” What are the customers thinking? What did he do? He made such a nice latte. Who would have thought?

“Good morning, Will. I’m Captain O’Connor and this is Sergeant Mendez. We’re SFPD.” Two badges flash against the fluorescent lights held in front of the midnight-blue uniforms. “We’d like to talk to you about your employer, Mr. Tzu.”

“Now?” I glance at the line then my watch. It is a few minutes to nine o’clock and the rush is almost over.

“Can we move this away from the counter, gentlemen, and maybe give me just five minutes here?” My tone is a mix of impatience and a fear of authority—especially in a land I am not used to. “Why don’t you sit over at that vacant table, and I’ll bring you coffee?”

As I continue to work our espresso machine, I recall a conversation on Saturday with Tabitha. Tabs was due to replace me for the afternoon shift but, as she often did, she came in early to hang out, as the weekends are pretty quiet.

Tabitha was my first true friend after I arrived in the US, and we have remained close since. She is young, thin and has a tendency to wear body-clinging clothes that appear to have shrunk several times over. Her mousey blond hair is straight and looks fashionably neglected. She has piercings everywhere. Tabitha can be dead cool or apple pie fresh; apparently, it is somehow related to the moon’s cycle.

“Hey Hemingway,” she said with a chirp.

When we first met, I made the mistake of trying to impress upon her my desire to become a famous writer with a Hemingway quote. I’m pretty sure she uses the nickname as a token of affection.

Tabitha is supposed to be an art student. She is enrolled at the nearby Academy of Art, although she seems to attend with varying degrees of intensity. She never likes to discuss her art or her studies and I have learned to avoid the topic.

Our relationship is purely platonic. She’s been to my apartment a few times for dinner and a movie. Twice she slept over as it was late; yet there was no suggestion of anything sexual. She could be my little sister—I always wanted a younger sibling to bully.

On Saturday, I had been cleaning the Beast, which our boss demands must sparkle and purr. Mr. Tzu was apparently one of the first to import such a fine espresso machine from Europe and was extremely proud of it.

“The Beast looks good,” Tabitha said, patting the metallic giant. “You take good care of …” Her voice had faded.

I stopped cleaning the machine and turned to her. “What’s up, Tabs?”

“Tzu chewed me out the other day.” Her voice quivered, and she played with a hanging lock of hair. “He was brutal.”

Though Mr. Tzu is my boss, I know little about him. When he saw that I could not only function as barista but also as shift manager, he had me running the opposite shifts to him.

An elderly Asian American, Mr. Tzu is nearing retirement. He’s prompt, quiet and formal. Although there is a high staff turnover, I’ve never heard of someone being yelled at or fired acrimoniously. Tzu provides health benefits, not a given in this line of work, and we enjoy the informal work environment and compensation.

“What did you do wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing really.” Her tone was sulky, bottom lip pouting. “I hadn’t cleaned the Beast properly in his eyes.”

“He is very protective of it,” I replied, trying a sympathetic approach.

“The coffee machine wasn’t the reason!” Tabitha snapped. “He was really pissed, Will. There’s something going on.”

I pause, puzzled by her response. “I’m sorry he got mad, but what do you mean?”

“Well, you know. He’s married and has kids somewhere. I’ve never had a meaningful conversation with him, but I sense something is eating at him—something serious.”

“Hmm.” I had nothing else to say.

I hadn’t given it any more thought. My shift finished and I spent the rest of the weekend writing vigorously on my laptop. In fact, this whole scene had slipped my mind until now when the police entered the coffee shop.

Low Res Finished Cover on November 14

“Again, I’m Captain O’Connor.” A thick hand is extended and soon crushes mine. “We’re here about Mr. Tzu.”

“Why? What’s happened?” I sip a glass of water I have with me.

“He’s disappeared, Will. No one has seen him since Thursday. What can you tell us about your boss?”

“Not a lot. I’m curious. A grown man disappears for a few days and the police are already involved?”

“Listen, kid,” replies Captain O’Connor, a big muscular fellow with an imposing mustache and balding head. “San Francisco might seem like a big city to an outsider like yourself—an Englishman no? But we still have neighborhoods, communities, and we still look out for each other. Mr. Tzu is known around these parts and there’s a history. Let’s just say that this isn’t the first time, okay? Now please, tell us what you know about your boss.”

I shrug. “Probably less than you. When he hired me, he was looking to reduce his hours. He’s getting old; probably thinking about slowing down. I’ve considerable experience as both a barista and sommelier, and I studied business for a while in college. I really don’t know him. Once he saw that I’m competent, he pretty much has had me working the opposite shift to him.”

I sip more water and try to think of something else. “There’s a Mrs. Tzu and kids, grown up I think, but I’m not sure how close the family is or where the kids live.” Both O’Connor and Mendez display bored expressions, and I say, “I’m not telling you anything new, am I?”

“No, you’re not,” replies O’Connor. “Think of something that might be relevant to his disappearance. How’s business? Any problems come to mind?”

“I think business is pretty steady,” I say. “But I don’t see the books, so I can’t be certain.”

“What else is sold here, kid?” The second cop, Mendez, leans in and speaks quietly, his voice a fair James Cagney. “Anything, you know, on the side?”

I stare at him for a few moments wondering if he’s joking, but he just stares back blankly awaiting my answer. Mendez, in contrast to his partner, is a small, dark man with jet-black, greased-back hair and sunglasses. We’re a month into a gray San Francisco winter and he’s still sporting sunglasses—indoors. His badge, on the other hand, is extremely shiny and glints when it catches the café’s ceiling lights.

“What do you mean?” It’s about all my brain can muster.

“Drugs, gambling, numbers, you know?” Mendez no doubt reels off such a list a few times a day.

“None of that stuff.” Is he joking?

The Hispanic cop wiggles his nose as if trying to pick up a scent. “You said that he has you working the opposite shifts to himself, correct? Ever thought he did this on purpose?” He stares at me over his steaming coffee cup. There is some froth on his dark mustache. “Perhaps he’s keeping you away from something?”

“Of course not,” I answer. “I told you he’s just slowing down and feels he can trust me.”

“Yes, you did.” He takes another calculated sip of coffee. More foam beds down in his moustache. “Any of the staff mentioned someone coming into the coffee shop and arguing with him? Or have any of them argued with him?”

I glance at Tabitha thinking about her argument with Mr. Tzu over the Beast but shake my head. “No, not that I know of.”

“Anyone fired recently?” Mendez is certainly persistent. “Perhaps someone left feeling like he screwed ’em?”

I’m really no help. “Maybe you should talk with the other employees,” I say. “I need to get back to work. Do you have any more questions?”

“Not for now.” O’Connor says handing over a business card. “If anything comes to mind, call us.”

As the captain walks out the door, his partner leans back in still holding his coffee cup. His James Cagney tone is little more than a whisper.

“Keep an eye on the girl.” His eyes flash toward Tabitha. “We know about their argument, and we know you didn’t tell us. It’s all about the espresso machine. If it ain’t treated right, we can tell.” He taps his nose with a thick, gold-ringed finger. “The customer always knows.”

Continued on February 19, 2013 in Unwanted Heroes – Part 3 or return to Part 1


Growing up in London, Alon Shalev has been a political activist since his early teens. He strives through his writing to highlight social and political injustice and to inspire action for change.

Moving to Israel, he helped establish a kibbutz where he lived for 20 years and served in the Israeli army.

Shalev then moved to the San Francisco Bay area and fell hopelessly in love with this unique city. Being new to the US, however, he was shocked to see so many war veterans on the streets. He regularly volunteers at initiatives such as Project Homeless Connect and the San Francisco Food Bank where he meets and talks with war veterans.

You may buy Unwanted Heroes at

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Follow”.

Casualties of the Mind (part 3 of 3)

For those fifteen years, I didn’t talk about the war. During the day, I didn’t think about it either. However, at night, every sound was the enemy coming for my family and me. I’d wake sweating and grab the eight-inch knife I slept with, and there was a loaded revolver under the bed.  Then in 1981, I was working toward a MFA in writing and proposed an individual graduate project where I would write about my experiences from Vietnam.

It took six months to get beyond page forty in that manuscript, which was my first day in Vietnam. The Ph.D. with the major in English literature finally gave me an ultimatum, and I opened up. On page 41, I scrambled down a net and boarded a landing craft that carried me to the beach in Chu Lai.

Did that breakthrough help me sleep through the night?  No.  I still wake up listening to every sound.

If the crickets around the house stop chirping, I open my eyes and listen.  You see, the crickets have become my first line of defense—my trip flare.  Before bedtime, I check all the doors and windows to make sure they are locked. I still keep an eight-inch knife close and a twelve-gauge pump shotgun one-step from where I struggle to sleep. I’ve lived with this combat in my head for forty-four years so far.

When my VA shrink told me a few years ago that I had to lock my weapons up so no one would get hurt, I stopped going to counseling. Even in the US, the odds of becoming a victim of violent crime are one in four according to statistics and the last piece I read said the odds are getting worse. When the real beast comes, I have to be ready, because we live in a combat zone.

Return to Casualties of the Mind, Part 2 or start with Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”