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GUNS /John A. Miller WHEN HENRY TEETER FIRST arrived in Santa Monica the only thing he wanted to do was sit on the seawaU at the very end of WUshire Boulevard and watch the sunset. At several times during his pUgrimage he thought he might never get to the West Coast and so, once there, was content merely to sit quietly for a time. After seven days of heading due west from North Carolina he had turned south at Needles on the advice of a filling station attendant who thought that Henry's old Chevrolet might have an easier go of it approaching the Pacific coast from the southeast. From Blythe to Brawley he skirted the Chocolate Mountains and kept a weather eye on the Chevy's temperature gauge. At Saltón City he stopped to ponder the prehistoric Saltón Sea and encountered an Airstream encampment of ancient Germans turning nut-brown in a wasteland as far removed from the Schwarzwald as the dark side of the moon. "You are a soldier, ja?" one of the old men asked him. Henry smUed and nodded. "Used to be," he said. "You are welcome to stay and have dinner with us," the old man said. In the distance the low cliffs of the Orocopia Mountains hung over the brackish water of the Saltón Sea Uke a beetling, Astrolopithedne brow. The old man swept his arm in a wide arc encompassing the entire group. "We have aU come here to die in the sun." The Chevrolet was knocking badly by the time Henry wound his way through Palm Springs and Riverside, and on into Los Angeles proper. In Santa Monica he parked near City HaU and walked across the Coast Highway to the seawaU. The broad sidewalk was Uned with towering palms and old people sitting on benches. The women wore broad-brimmed straw hats held on with diaphanous kerchiefs and the men wore basebaU caps puUed low over spotted foreheads. Palsied hands gripped walkers, and fearful, busy eyes watched every passerby. Henry smUed at the old woman sitting closest to where he stood. "My daughter's a lawyer," the woman said quite out of the blue, nodding energeticaUy, "in Century City." Henry rented a smaU, one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica and traded the Chevrolet even up for a 1969 Triumph BonneviUe 36 · The Missouri Review motorcycle. Without consciously making a decision to do so he let his hair and beard grow, puUing his hair back into a ponytaU when it was long enough. He would examine himself with wonder in the mirror every morning, his appearance extraordinary for one who had Uved with a GI haircut for almost fifty years. Although his beard was flecked with gray his hair grew thick and sensuous, as if making up for lost time. Henry was deUghted with what he saw and started each day with a laugh, so taken was he with freedom. "Why bother to come out here?" The young doctor, an internal medicine resident on rotation to the VA hospital from UCLA, examined Henry skepticaUy from behind the safety of the metal cUpboard he was holding. "Weren't you getting adequate treatment back in North Carolina?" Henry smUed. "They told me I could go to any VA hospital I wanted," he said. "That's not what I asked," the doctor said, annoyed. "Why did you bother to come all the way out to CaUfornia? Surely your doctors must have told you the extent of your condition." Henry nodded but did not speak. "WeU," the doctor said, suddenly flipping Henry's file shut and standing up, "don't be surprised if the care you receive here isn't quite to your liking. This area is full of veterans, aU of whom are clamoring for attention at this faciüty." The doctor scribbled a prescription and handed it brusquely to Henry. "When these no longer work you'll have to be hospitalized. My advice is to return to North CaroUna as quickly as you possibly can," he said. "Fuck you," Henry muttered quietly as soon as the young man had left the examining room. Santa Monica was vaguely troubUng to Henry, a...


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