by Jerry Guarino
Tony waited for his
girlfriend Angela at the table where they first
met. He had his Earl Grey tea and scone and a
raspberry yogurt and muffin for Angela. She
walked in promptly at 9am. Hi Tony,
she said and they kissed.
Hi girl. They sat next to each other,
holding hands and going over their schedules.
Im in the library until lunch time.
What about you? she asked.
Sociology at Zellerbach. I have to come up
with a social justice project, but Im not
sure what to do, said Tony.
Angela thought while eating yogurt. You
were in the military. Why dont you do
something with veterans?
Hmm. Maybe. Any ideas? Tony dipped
his scone in the tea and waited for Angela. She
was the creative thinker.
Well, theres a lot of homeless on
Shattuck. Ill bet some of them are veterans.
You could meet with them and find out how their
Tony made a couple of notes and rubbed his face.
OK, but this has to be more than a survey.
I have to contribute something. What could I do
Angela paused and thought while eating. Dont
they have veterans benefits?
Yeah. But if theyre homeless, they
probably dont know how to use them. They
can get health care at the clinic downtown for
free; maybe they need help with that. Tony
doodled on his pad, sketching a route from the
park to the clinic. I guess I could help
them with the paperwork and bring them to the
clinic for a checkup.
Angela smiled. Thats my guy. Why dont
I do the paperwork while you meet and talk with
Tony smiled, realizing how lucky he was to have
Angela in his life. Oh, youre the
best. Where would I be without you?
Angela beamed. The contented couple finished
eating, and then went their separate ways to
Tony found a half dozen
homeless veterans and brought donuts and coffee.
Guys, I know life hasnt been fair to
you since service. Id like to see if I
could help you get some health care.
Joe, a short, thin man in dirty jeans and a plaid
shirt took coffee and a donut. And why
should you care man?
Tony continued handing out coffee. Im
an Army vet myself. But I was lucky enough to
wind up here, pointing to the university
sign. I just want to give back. Tony
could sense that trust was the first order.
Listen, it wouldnt hurt to get
checked out at the clinic. Veterans can get that
free and Ill do the paperwork for you.
Another man spoke up. So you dont get
paid or anything?
Tony knew the men were skeptical. Ill
be honest. Its for a class, but that doesnt
mean I dont care. Im not here to
change your life, just get you some help. Get you
some medicine if you need it.
The six ate donuts and drank coffee, mumbling
softly so he couldnt hear. Tony waited
patiently, hoping they wouldnt bail on him.
So no money? said one.
Tony wasnt sure what they were asking.
No, Im not getting any money for this,
just class credit.
No I mean you arent giving us any
money? said the man.
Tony realized that these guys needed more than a
checkup. All right. Tell you what. If you
go with me to the clinic, Ill give you each
Twenty five said another, sensing
Tony knew he had to cut this off. OK,
twenty five, but you have to promise to take any
medicine they give you. The men looked at
each other and agreed. Tony had his project
He arranged to take the men to the clinic. Angela
joined him to fill out forms while Tony gave each
man a sandwich and some juice. After all the men
had been seen, the doctor met with Angela.
Im sorry to tell you this. I cant
discuss their medical conditions with you.
Privacy laws. But I can tell you that Sam may
have a serious illness. We are giving the other
men medicine and they should come back next month.
We do appreciate you bringing them in. Sam should
go to the veterans hospital in Oakland for more
Angela wasnt sure what to say. Thank
you doc, realizing that Tony may have taken
on more than he could handle. She pulled him
aside and told him what the doctor said. Tony
thought this would be something he could handle
in town, not expecting to get involved with
serious illnesses. He hugged Angela and prepared
to tell the men.
Guys, lets go over to the park and
I want to thank you for coming down today.
The doctor says that Sam needs to have a follow
up visit to the veterans hospital in
Oakland. The rest of you can take the medicines
and come back for a follow up visit next month.
What about our money? said one of the
I have your money here, said Tony. As
he handed out the bills, he hoped they would be
spending it on food, but realized that wasnt
likely. As he gave out the money, each man took
off, leaving Sam alone with Tony and Angela.
Sam was the first one to speak. What did
the doctor say was wrong with me?
Angela was tearing up. Tony tried to explain.
Sam, they cant tell us about your
health. There are privacy laws. Thats why
they want you to go to the veterans
hospital for tests; I can help you get there.
I feel all right. Why dont you just
give me my money?
Yes, here you go. But I really think we
need to go to Oakland. Tony could sense Sams
Maybe later. Sam took the bills and
Angela took Tonys hand as they walked back
to campus. What do you think is wrong with
I dont know dear, but what can we do?
A month later, Tony and
Angela escorted the guys to the clinic for their
follow up visit. Everyone was there except Sam.
Wheres Sam? he asked the others.
Heads shaking, none of them had seen Sam in the
last week. He must have moved out of the
park, said Joe.
Can you show us where he slept?
I guess we could for a finders fee,
Tony checked his wallet. Im tapped
out man. All I have is ten dollars.
Deal! Joe reached out for the bill
and started walking to the park; Tony and Angela
Sams tent was right under this tree,
said Joe, pointing to a narrow dark underbrush.
You go first honey, said Angela.
Sam. You in here? Tony called. No
Tony walked in a little further and saw a large
lump under a blanket. Tony nudged it with his
hand, but it didnt move. He pulled the
blanket back gently and saw Sam lying there with
bugs crawling around him.
Oh God. Angela. Call 911. Tony felt
for a pulse and listened for breathing.
Sam was just barely breathing with a slow and
As the ambulance arrived and took Sam away, Tony
held Angela close to him as they cried. I
should have paid more attention. They
followed the ambulance to the hospital and waited
hours for some news. Finally, one of the doctors
came out and saw them.
Are you related to Sam Kowalski, the man
who came in this morning?
Tony stepped up and replied. No but were
concerned about him. Is he going to be all right?
Well, he should be some time, but we had to
amputate one of his legs; it was seriously
infected. He really should have been seen months
ago, but that happens sometime with the homeless.
They dont like hospitals.
Tony and Angela cried as the doctor walked off.
It wasnt your fault Tony said
Angela. It wasnt anyones fault.
I could have done more dear. I could have