A (Job) Seeker Gets Lost in the Crowd

By Jesse Sunenblick

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint…” — Psalm 22:14

“Oh, Lord,” said Roy, “I really need a job, so I can get back my wife, because right now her parents are not liking my financial situation. It’s a problem. She’s back in Japan. Going on a year now.

“She doesn’t like this type of shit,” Roy said, indicating the protestors. “The fact that I’m spending money and not looking for work. There’s a lot of Americans who are in financial trouble right now. But you know women. They say different things different days. She said she’d divorce me if I came here today. But I had to. Bush is propping up his whole campaign on 9/11. It ain’t right, and I’m desperate.”

Where did you come from, Roy? Amidst the Veterans For Peace, who headed up the rally for peace, already by noon hundreds of thousands strong, there you were suddenly by my shoulder. POW shirt and jean shorts and camouflaged shoes, and a total lostness in your eyes, Roy, and I thought, maybe here is a war veteran from Iraq who will tell me what it’s really like over there, like the Marine who’d told me earlier about losing 18 fellow grunts in the battle for Nasiriyah as his colonel lay under their humvee, crying, and their A-10 air support accidentally blitzed a company of Marines for an hour, killing many of them, until soldiers stood atop their vehicles waving American flags.

But then, Roy, you said something like, “I’m not in the Army, I’m in community college, in Pennsylvania. I just wanted people to see this shirt,” and you began to talk about your wife.

Huh, Roy? There was something so sweet and lost about you being here among the veterans, maybe because it seemed like you wanted people to think you were a veteran. The crowd was chanting, “No More Bush.” Roy sort of whispered it. “Wow!” he said a couple of blocks later, “It’s Madison Square Garden!” Later, when we passed Macy’s, a store he’d heard of but never seen, he smiled gigantically as we walked down one of what he called the “fantastic streets.”

“What’s life like here? I think I could do well for myself here,” said Roy.

Life here is hard, Roy, stay put in Pennsylvania. We were quiet for awhile. Roy doing miniature circles and handing me his placard from time to time so that he could take pictures. He told me how we got Israel wrong, how Israel stole all our “info.” “How do you think Israel got nuclear weapons? They stole it from us. We’re in Iraq because of oil, Israel, and Halliburton.

“Israel’s got a mighty army. They defeated half the world at one point. I can’t remember — you probably remember, right?”

Huh, Roy?

“I was working for myself,” said Roy. “Subcontracting carpentry work from a contractor with a growing business. But after 9/11, his business slowed, and then mine slowed. The wife, we went to Japan. What a mistake! I lived with her father, in his corporate apartment in Tokyo. I liked him. I don’t think he likes me. It’s all success over there. You’re an outcast if you don’t wear a suit and tie. Worse, the Japanese don’t show emotion. My wife shows no emotion. It’s a problem. Oh, I need a job!”

“Do you think you’ll ever see her again, Roy?”

He looked poised to answer that when a bearded man thrust flyers at us, advertising an anti-Bush rally scheduled to happen in front of the Garden, simultaneous with Bush’s acceptance speech.

“Thursday at the Garden,” the man said to us.

“Is it legal?” asked Roy.

“Yeah, we have a permit.” The man was walking away.

“I understand Americans are losing their freedoms, is that true?” Roy called out after him.

“I think so,” the man called back. Roy had nothing else to say on the matter.

When we finished marching at Union Square, I asked Roy if he wanted to go to Central Park, where impromptu demonstrations were expected.

“Is it legal? Will I get arrested?” Roy asked. Clearly this was something he could not afford to have happen to him.

“I’m not sure,” I said. Again I asked him if he ever expected to see his wife again.

“She’ll come back,” he finally said. “She really likes it over here. I’m not worried. She says things, but that’s just women. They change their minds daily. Oh, it’ll work out. Things always work out somehow…”

A throng of reporters dashed by but we couldn’t see who they were following. Then, from the middle of them, up popped Jesse Jackson, maybe 10 feet from us, atop a stoop at Union Square, with a bullhorn in his hand.

“Jesse! Jesse!” Roy shouted. Jesse Jackson spoke. About all the usual things. When he finished, I went up to him and tried to get a comment. When I turned around, Roy was gone. As you came you went, Roy. Bless you.

Jesse Sunenblick writes for Columbia Journalism Review.

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