"Why'd you join the Army?" I asked Dan when we first met. We were in Texas and I was responsible for orienting him to the base.
"I didn't like the hats they wore in the Navy," he said.
"Why did you join?" he asked.
"Okay, your reason was better than mine."
We were watching M*A*S*H. Hot Lips' dog got killed. She was crying. So were we.
"Stupid dog," said Hot Lips.
"Stupid dog," Dan said.
"Stupid dog," I said.
It was Thanksgiving. We were sharing an apartment off base.
"Do you really think we should give the turkey carcass to your puppy?" I asked.
"Sure," said Dan. "He'll love it."
Ten minutes later we were cleaning up dog vomit.
"Why'd you get a damn beagle anyway?" I asked. "And why'd you name him Sooner?"
"I know. I should have called him 'the Littlest Angel.'"
"Fucking kill me," I said.
"Do you ever miss the Army?" I asked him. We were living in Seattle. I topped off his daiquiri glass from the pitcher we'd made out of the berries in our back yard.
"Never," he said.
"Not even color guard? Not even when we got to wear those cool, shiny helmets?"
"That sucked," Dan said.
"Remember when Top said we were going to get court-martialed for ragging on the President and we gave him a copy of the First Amendment?"
"That was hilarious," Dan said.
"ALS?" I said. "You've got ALS? Like Lou Gehrig?"
"Yeah," said Dan. "Like Lou Gehrig."
"Shit," I said.
"Thanks for coming to see me," said Dan. He still lived in Seattle, I lived in Minneapolis.
"What kind of nightmare is this?" Dan asked.
"It's winter in Minnesota. A fucking wonderland."
"This is worse than the Army."
"Nothing's that bad."
"Why did I come visit in February?" he asked.
"Plane tickets are cheaper?" I suggested.
"I wonder why," he said. "My damn hands don't work. Zip up my jacket."
"What's it worth to you?" I asked.
"What's it worth to keep me from telling your wife you were picking on a cripple?" he asked.
"What's that song?" I asked. My middle son and I were in Portland, staying with Dan, his wife, and their kids.
"Johnny Cash's version of 'The Mercy Seat,'" said Dan.
"It's haunting," I said.
"Try listening to it when you're dying," said Dan. He laughed.
"Hey, I'll see you in a few months. I've got business in Portland," I said.
"Perfect," he said. "Maybe the Packers will be playing. We can catch the game on TV."
"Yeah, whatever," I said.
"Nobody loves the Packers like I do," he said. "Except maybe your wife. Hey, did I tell you they sent me an autographed ball and a bunch of other stuff? Somebody wrote them and said I was a fan. They must have felt sorry for me."
"That was awfully decent of them," I said.
"I felt like I was stealing from the Make-A-Wish Foundation," said Dan.
"I'm sorry," said Dan's wife. "He's gone."