What’s the Public’s Image of PTSD?

Are we all crazy?  Does PTSD ever go away? I’m sure that most members of the US military have a much better understanding of PTSD than the general public.

There are currently about 1.4 million active troops serving in the U.S. military and 21.5 million military veterans. But the U.S. population has more than 317 million people. That means 0.44% are serving in the active military and 6.7% are veterans leaving 93.15% of the population mostly clueless.

So, where does the general population acquire its perception of PTSD?

To answer that, we must ask how many Hollywood movies have painted a positive picture of combat veterans compared to movies that show veterans as angry, violent, dangerous drug users and/or alcoholics (mostly brought on by PTSD).

Three Vietnam Veterans have run for President of the United States—all three lost. One was a Republican and two were Democrats.

Al Gore served in Vietnam as a reporter/journalist for five months. He was stationed with the 20th Engineer Brigade in Bien Hoa and was a journalist with The Castle Courier. He received an honorable discharge from the Army in May 1971.

Gore said, “I don’t pretend that my own military experience matches in any way what others here have been through … I didn’t do the most, or run the gravest danger. But I was proud to wear my country’s uniform. And my own experiences gave me strong beliefs about America’s obligation to keep our national defenses strong.”

John Kerry reported for duty at Coastal Squadron 1 in Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam on November 17, 1968. In his role as an officer in charge of swift boats, Kerry led five-man crews on a number of patrols into enemy-controlled areas.

John McCain requested a combat assignment, and was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal flying A-4 Skyhawks. His combat duty began when he was thirty, in mid-1967.

John McCain became a prisoner of war on October 26, 1967. He was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam when his aircraft was shot down by a missile over Hanoi.

What is your opinion about the public image of combat veterans? Do you think these three men lost the White House because of that image?

Discover A Prisoner of War for Life

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

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller 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 fighting for the other side.

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

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Unwanted Heroes – Part 4/4

 3:  The Daily Grind

AHHHH!

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

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You may buy Unwanted Heroes at Amazon.com

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

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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 Amazon.com

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