A true story from San Francisco on March 12, 2013

A Man Named Ed

by Nia Simone

I parked my car on Scott at Chestnut and fed the meter.

A man approached up Scott and touched his fleece sweater. “It’s a bit cold out today, don’t you think?” said the man whose name I later learned was Ed.

“Not for me,” I said, touching my sweater. “Because instead of that newfangled material you have there, I have real wool. From Ireland.”

Ed approached and touched my sleeve in wonder. “That’s a really good sweater.”

Then he asked me if I was a certain age, about 18 years younger than my actual age, and when I told him my real age, of course he protested that it was impossible. But then he shifted to the main point, which was to ask me to guess his age.

“Fifty-six,” I said.

He said, “Come on. Try again. Really try.”

“Fifty-seven,” I said. I didn’t want to guess 60, because I thought he probably was 60, and it’s always nice for someone to guess just a little bit younger, at least.

“Eighty-eight,” he said, with obvious and well-deserved pride.

After much debate and marveling, I had to accept he knew his age and we moved on.

“The problem with being 88,” he said, “is that most of your friends are dead.”

“I understand that,” I said. “But you are still here and you just met me. And I’m really glad about that. How have you done so well?”

“I was never the strongest and never the weakest,” he said, pressing his hand to his trim chest. “I was a pilot in World War II. I flew planes off an aircraft carrier. In the Pacific theater.”

“My dad was a pilot in World War II,” I said.

“Army or Navy?”

“Army,” I said.

“The B24 or the B17?”

“The B24 over Germany, then an instructor after completing his tour, in a B29, stationed back in Texas.”

“He’s lucky he’s not dead.”

“He is,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” Ed said.

“In 2000. After the war, my dad counted every moment as borrowed time.”

“So do I!” he said, looking startled. “So do I. Now, my doctor made me go to the VA,” he waved in the direction of the Presidio, “because he wanted me to have a connection there in case something happens to Medicare. The doctors there said of all the World War II vets who saw combat, only 10% are still alive. And furthermore, you guys are dying at the rate of 1000 per day.”

“Why did he have to tell you that?” I said, horrified.

“I don’t know, but I said, ‘You aren’t my doctor anymore.’”

“Good.”

“I already know this. Of my squadron, only two are still alive, me and one other, and he is on dialysis.”

I shook my head, not knowing what to say.

“But it’s nice to meet you,” he said, “and that’s a nice sweater.” And off he went, with a jaunty stride, up Chestnut Street and into the Bank of America.

The grounds of the Presidio, San Francisco
The grounds of the Presidio, San Francisco