Gump and Co. Chapter 5
After a little bit on the train, the feller’s candle burnt out, an after he coughs for a while, it seem like he has dozed off. An so we rode on in the dark with the wheels clackin an the boxcar swayin an rockin, an finally Wanda done put her head in my lap an gone to sleep. Me, though, I stayed up for a while, wonderin how in hell I am always gettin myself into these kinds of fixes. Everthin I touch, it seems, turns directly to shit. Literally.
Next mornin there is a faint little light comin in through the doors of the boxcar, an the feller in the corner begins to stir an starts coughin again.
“Hey,” he says, “why don’t you open the doors a little an get us some fresh air?”
I gone over an opened the door about a foot or so. We is passin by houses an some dingy ole buildins, an everthin is gray an cold, cept for a few little Christmas decorations on people’s doors.
“Where we headed?” I ast.
“Near as I can figger, Washington, D.C.,” the feller say.
“Hell, I been there,” I says.
“That a fact.”
“Yup, long time ago. I went to see the President.”
“The United States.”
“What, was there a parade or somethin?”
“Nah, it wadn’t no parade. I went to his house.”
“Yeah, I bet that pig of yours flew over it, too.”
“Huh? Wanda don’t fly.”
“I know,” he says.
I turned aroun to look at him, an there is somethin terribly familiar about the feller’s eyes, though his face is covered with a black beard an he is wearin a ole hobo-lookin hat.
“Say,” I ast, “what’s your name, anyhow?”
“What’s it to ya?”
“Well, you look sort of like somebody I knowed once, that’s all.”
“A feller from the army. Way back in Vietnam.”
“What’d you say your name was again?”
“Yeah? I knew a Gump one time. What’s your first name?”
“Oh, shit!” the feller says, an he thows his arms up over his face. “I might of known it!”
“Well, who in hell are you?” I ast.
“Goodgodamighty, Forrest, don’t you recognize me?”
I crawled across the straw an got up real close to his face.
“No, I reckon you don’t. I wouldn’t expect you to – I’ve kinda gone down recently,” he says in between coughs.
“Lieutenant Dan!” I shouted, an grapped him by the shoulders. But when I looked into his eyes, they is a awful sort of milky white, like he can’t see or somethin.
“Lieutenant Dan – what has happened to you?” I says. “Your eyes…”
“I’m mostly about half blind now, Forrest.”
“Well, it’s a lot of things,” he says. An when I get a better look, it is really terrible. He is thin as a rail an dressed in rags. The little stumps where his legs was are pitiful lookin, an his teeth are bad.
“I suppose it’s all that stuff from Vietnam catchin up with me,” he says. “You know, it wasn’t just my legs that was shot – it was all up in my chest an stomach, too. I reckon after a while it caught up with me. Say – what’s that smell? Is that you? You smell like shit!”
“Yeah, I know,” I says. “An it is a long story.”
Well, Lieutenant Dan begun to cough again so hard I laid him down an gone over to my side of the boxcar, thinkin it might be my smell that was makin him do it. I just couldn’t believe it! He looked like a ghost, an I am wonderin how he wound up in such sorry shape, especially after all the money he got from our srimpin bidness, but I figger there is time to ast about that later. In a little bit, he stop coughin an dozed off again, an I am settin there with Wanda, wonderin what is gonna happen to us all.
About a hour to two later, the train slowed down. Lieutenant Dan starts coughin again, so I reckon he is awake.
“All right, now, Forrest,” he says, “we gotta get off of here before the train comes to a full stop, else they will call the police on us and put us in jail.”
I looked out the crack in the doors, an we is comin into a big ole railroad yard with a bunch of rusty freight cars an junk an ole cabooses, an a lot of trash an garbage blowin in the cold wind.
“This is the Union Station,” Dan says. “They have remodeled it just for us.”
Just then, the train come to a stop an then begun to back up slowly.
“Okay, Forrest, now’s our chance,” Dan says. “Open that door and let’s get out of here.”
I thowed open the doors an jumped out. Ole Wanda is standin there with her snout pokin out of the boxcar, an I runned up beside her an grapped her by the ear an pulled her down. She let out a big “oink” when she hit the ground. Next, I runned up to where Dan was settin, right behin her in the boxcar door, an grapped him by the shoulders an set him down easy as I could. He was carryin his artificial legs with him, but they was pretty scuffed up an dirty.
“Let’s crawl under that freight over there before the engine comes by an they see us,” Dan says. So that’s what we did. Finally we has arrived in our nation’s capitol.
It is freezin cold an the wind is whippin up around us, an there are little snowflakes in the air.
“Forrest, I hate to tell you this, but I think you gotta get cleaned up before we go out an take in the sights,” Dan says. “I saw a pretty big mud puddle back there, if you know what I mean.”
So, while Dan strapped on his artificial legs, I gone over to the mud puddle an took off my clothes an got in an tried to rinse off as much pig shit as I could. Wadn’t easy, cause it had mostly dried by now, specially in my hair, but somehow I did it, an after that, I washed my clothes an put em back on. It was not the most pleasant experience of my career. When I was finished Wanda took a turn hersef, figgerin, I spose, she was not gonna be outdone.
“Let’s walk on up to the station,” Dan says. “Least it’s warm in there and you can dry out.”
“What about Wanda?” I ast.
“I been thinkin about that,” he says. “Here’s what we do.”
While I am takin my bath, Dan has found a ole piece of rope, an when Wanda got through with hers, he ties it around her neck for a leash. He has also picked up a long stick, an when he takes Wanda’s leash in his hand an walks behin her with the stick, tappin it on the ground, damn if he don’t look like a blind man on the street! Well, sort of, anyhow.
“We’ll see how this works,” he says. “You let me do the talking.”
So we gone on into the Union Station, which is filled with all sorts of fancy-lookin people, most of who is lookin right at us.
I looked down on a empty bench an there is a copy of The Washington Post, all messed up, but somebody done turned to a page inside that says:
Idiot Causes Noxious Blast in West Virginia
I just couldn’t help but read it:
Longtime Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia said he has “seen some shit in his lifetime,” but nothing to compare with the humiliating experience he underwent in the small mining village of Coalville yesterday.
Byrd, a staunch supporter of businesses small and large in his native state, was standing on a speakers’ platform with a dozen other luminaries, including representatives of the U.S. Army and the federal EPA, when a terrible methane gas explosion tore through the town, covering everything and everyone in sight with an unsightly patina of swine manure.
The explosion apparently was set off when a certified idiot, later identified as Forrest Gump, of no fixed address, failed to properly attend a cutoff valve in a plant that received federal funds to convert pig manure into energy.
Police Chief Harley Smathers described the scene this way: “Well, I cain’t hardly describe it at all. I mean, they was all them important people standin there up on the stage. And after it happened, ain’t none of them said nothin for a moment or two, I reckon they was just too startled or something. Then the ladies, they begun to holler and cuss, and the men, they begun to sort of flinch around an mutter – look like the Swamp Thing character on TV. After a while, they must of figgered who the culprit was – this Gump feller, I guess – an organized a posse of sorts to run him down.
“We chased after him for a while till he took into Mud Bottom Swamp. Apparently he had a accomplice with him, big ole fat feller disguised as a pig or somethin. We lost him there after dark. Legend around here is, don’t go into Mud Bottom Swamp at night. No matter who’s in there.”
“You got any money?” Dan ast.
“Bout ten or fifteen dollars,” I says. “How bout you?”
“Well, maybe we can get some breakfast,” I says.
“Hell,” Dan says. “I sure wish we had enough to go to the oyster bar. Man, what I wouldn’t give for a dozen oysters on the half shell right now. Served up over crushed ice, with one of them little crystal bowls for sauce on the side – lemons and Tabasco and some Worcestershire an horseradish.”
“Well,” I says, “I reckon we could do that.” Matter of fact, I know I ain’t got much cash on me, but what the hell. I remember ole Lieutenant Dan in Vietnam, always talkin about how much he liked raw oysters. I figger, bad off as he is now, why not?
Ole Dan, he is so excited he is about to bust, an his legs begun to clatter as we go down the hallways.
“Assateague or Chincoteague oysters,” he says, “don’t matter which. Even good ole Chesapeake Bay oysters’ll do! Hell, mysef, I prefer the Pacific Coast variety – Puget Sound salties, or some of the Oregon State breeds. Or, then, down from the Gulf Coast, where you come from – Bon Secour or Heron Bay oysters, or over at Apalachicola, Florida, they used to have some delicious mollusks!”
Dan was kinda gettin beside hissef, an I think his mouth was waterin as we walked across a great big marble-floored hall toward where the signs say Restaurant an Oyster Bar. But just afore we go inside it, a policeman come up an order us to halt.
“What you clowns think you’re doin?” he ast.
“Gettin our breakfast,” says Dan.
“That so?” says the policeman. “An what’s that hog doin here?”
“That is a licensed seein-eye hog,” Dan says. “Can’t you see I’m blind?”
The cop be lookin at Dan pretty hard in the face, an finally he say, “Well, you look kinda blind, but we can’t let no hog inside the Union Station. It’s against the rules.”
“I tole you, this is a seein-eye hog. It’s perfectly legal,” Dan says.
“Yeah, well, I heard of seein-eye dogs. But ain’t no such thing as a seein-eye hog,” say the cop.
“Yeah,” say Dan. “Well, I am livin proof that there is – ain’t that right, Wanda?” He reach down an patted Wanda on the head, an she give out a single loud grunt.
“So you say,” the policeman answers, “but I ain’t never heard of any such thing. Besides, I think you better show me your driver’s licenses. You fellers look kinda suspicious.”
“Driver’s licenses!” Dan shouts. “What kind of people would give a driver’s license to a blind man?”
The cop, he thinks a minute, an pointin his thumb at me, says, “Yeah, maybe you’re right – but what about him?”
“Him!” Dan shouts. “Why he’s a certified idiot. You want him drivin around in your city?”
“Yeah, well, how come he’s all wet?”
“On account of he fell down in a big mud puddle outside the station here. What kind of people are you, allowin such mud puddles? Why, I think you oughta be sued or somethin.”
The cop be scratchin his head now, an I guess tryin to figger out how to deal with this situation without makin hissef look like a fool.
“Well, all this may be so,” he says, “but if he’s a idiot, what’s he doin here? Looks like maybe we oughta lock him up or somethin.”
“It’s his hog,” Dan answers. “He is the best seein-eye hog trainer in the world. He might not be smart, but it’s one thing he can do. Hogs are smarter than dogs – most of em even smarter than people. But they need a good trainer.”
At this, Wanda give out another big grunt an then peed right on the nice marble floor.
“All right – that’s it!” the cop holler. “I don’t care what you say! You bozos are outta here!”
He grapped Dan an me by the collars an start draggin us to the doors. In the confusion, Dan done dropped Wanda’s leash, an by the time the cop turn aroun to see where she was, he suddenly got a real funny look on his face. Wanda is back about twenty yards behin, lookin at the cop with them squinty little yeller eyes of hers, an she is pawin the marble an gruntin an snortin to beat the band. Then, without no further warnin, she done charged across the floor straight at us, but Dan an me, we knew who she’s aimin at, an so does the cop.
“Oh, my Lord! Oh, my Lord!” he shouts an takes off runnin fast as he can. I let Wanda chase after him for a moment or two an then called her back. Last we see of that cop, he is headed for the Washington Monument. Dan picks up the end of Wanda’s leash again, an we walked on out the door of the Union Station an onto the street, with Dan tappin the ground with his stick.
“Sometimes a man gotta stand up for his rights,” he says.
I ast Dan what we gonna do next, an he say we need to go on down to Lafayette Park, across from the White House, account of it is the prettiest piece of public property in the town, an is also the main place in the city where they let folks like us camp out an do our thing.
“All we gotta do is get us a sign,” Dan says. “Then we become legitimate protesters, an ain’t nothin nobody can do to us. We can live there long as we want.”
“What kinda sign?”
“Don’t matter, long as it is against whatever the President stands for.”
“What is that?” I ast.
“We’ll think of something.”
So that’s what we did. I found a big ole piece of cardboard, an we spent twenty-five cents on a red crayon, an Dan tole me what to write on the sign.
“Vietnam Veterans Against the War,” he say.
“But the war’s over.”
“Not for us it ain’t.”
“Yeah, but it’s been ten years…”
“Screw it, Forrest, we’ll tell em we been here all that time.”
Anyhow, we gone on down to Lafayette Park across from the White House. They was all sorts of protesters there, an bums an beggars, too. They all gots signs, an some are hollerin across the street an a lot have got little tents or cardboard boxes to live in. They is a fountain in the middle, where they get their water from, an two or three times a day everbody get together an pool their money an send out for some cheap sambwiches an soup.
Dan an me, we set up our operation on a corner of the park, an somebody tole us where a appliance store was so that we can get a couple of refrigerator cartons that afternoon, which will be our homes. One of the fellers say it is a lot better now that wintertime has come, account of when it is halfway warm, the Park Service turns on the sprinkler system deliberately in the middle of the night, to drive us away. Lafayette Park is kinda different than the last time I was here – or at least the President’s house was. Now they has got a big iron fence around it an concrete posts ever few feet, an a bunch of armed guards pacin back an forth. It is like the President don’t want nobody to come see him.
Anyhow, Dan an me commenced to beggin from the passersby, but ain’t too many people interested. End of the day, we has made about three bucks. I am beginnin to get worried about Dan, account of all his coughin an how thin he is an all, an I remembered how back when we come home from Vietnam he had gone on up to the Walter Reed Hospital an they fixed him up.
“I don’t want no more of that place, Forrest. They done fixed me up once, an look where it got me.”
“But, Dan,” I says, “ain’t no reason for you to be sufferin. You still a young man.”
“Young, hell! I’m a walkin corpse – Can’t you see that, you idiot?”
I tried, but there wadn’t no talkin him out of it – He just wadn’t goin to the Walter Reed Hospital. That night we was in our boxes, an things was pretty dark an quiet in the Lafayette Park. We was gonna get a crate for Wanda, too, but I decided she could sleep with Dan, account of she might help keep him warm.
“Forrest,” Dan says after a while, “I know you think I must of stolen the money from the srimp bidness, don’t you?”
“I dunno, Dan. I mean, that’s what some other people say.”
“Well, I didn’t. Wadn’t none there to steal when I left.”
“What about drivin off in the big car with the girl?” I ast. I just had to ast it.
“That wasn’t nothin. That was the last money I had in the bank. I just figured what the hell, ya know. If I’m gonna be broke, I might as well go out in style.”
“Then what happened, Dan? I mean, we had a lot of money in that bidness. Where’d it go?”
“Tribble,” he says.
“Yeah, that sombitch run off with it. I mean, he must have, cause he was the only one who could have. He had all the accounts an all, an after your mama died, he was runnin the whole show. One day he says to everybody that there ain’t enough money to meet the payroll this week, but to stick around an there will be, an the next week, that sombitch is gone!”
“I can’t believe it. Why, Mister Tribble was honest as the day is long!”
“Yeah – a chessman. I reckon you might believe so. But I think he’s a crook. You know, Forrest, you got some good sides to you, but your main problem is, you trust everybody. You don’t think there are people out there who are gonna screw you any chance they get. They take one look at you, an they say ‘sucker.’ An your big dumb ass don’t know the difference. You treat everybody like they are your friend. It ain’t that way in the world, Forrest. A lot of people ain’t your friend. They are just lookin at you the way a banker looks at somebody comes in for a loan – How I’m gonna fleece this rube? That’s the way it is, Forrest. That’s the way it is.”
Then Dan, he commenced to start coughin again, an finally he gone on to sleep. I got my head out of the icebox crate, an the sky have cleared an it is cold an still, an the stars are all shinin, an I am just about asleep when they is like a warm mist come above me an all of a sudden, there is Jenny, sort of smilin an lookin at me!
“Well, you sure did it this time, didn’t you?”
“Yup, I reckon I did.”
“You had it right in your hand, didn’t you? And then you get so excited about the ceremony that you forget to release the pressure valve – and look what happens.”
“And what about little Forrest? How’s he gonna take this?”
“Well, I can imagine,” Jenny says, “that he’s gonna be real disappointed. After all, all that stuff was his idea in the first place.”
“So don’t you think you ought to tell him? After all, he was gonna come up there and spend Christmas with you, right?”
“It’s what I was gonna do tomorrow. It ain’t like I have had much time.”
“Yeah, well, I think you better get it done.”
I could tell she was sort of mad, an I wadn’t feelin too good about things mysef.
“I guess I done made a fool of mysef again, huh?”
“Well, let me say this, you was a sight, runnin across those fields covered in pig shit, bein chased by that mob an all them hogs, too.”
“Yup, I spose I was, but you know, I kinda figgered you might of been able to help me out there a little – You know what I mean?”
“Forrest,” she says, “it wadn’t my turn to watch after you.”
An then the mist sort of dissolved an I was lookin at the sky again, an a big ole silver cloud sailed across the stars, an the last thing I remember was Wanda done give out a big ole grunt from Dan’s icebox carton.
Next mornin, I got up early an found a pay phone an called Mrs. Curran’s number. Little Forrest had already gone off to school, but I tole her what had happened. She seemed kinda confused by it all, an so I said I would call again that night.
When I get back to Lafayette Park, I seen Lieutenant Dan in some kinda argument with a man in a marine’s uniform. I couldn’t hear what they was sayin, but I figgered it was a argument because Dan was givin the man the finger an the man was givin the finger back. When I get up to our boxes, Dan sees me an says to the feller, “and if you don’t like it, my friend Forrest, here, will whip you ass!”
The marine turn around an look at me, up an down, an all of a sudden he gets a sort of shit-eatin smile on his face, an I can see he has got picket teeth in front an he is a officer an is carryin a briefcase.
“I am Colonel Oliver North,” he says to me, “and who are you, gonna whip my ass?”
“My name is Forrest Gump, an I don’t know nothin about this ass-whippin bidness, but if Lieutenant Dan say to do it, that’s good enough for me.”
Colonel North sort of size me up, an then gets a look on his face kinda like a lightbulb went off inside his head. He is all spit-an-polish from shoes to hat, an on his uniform he is wearin about a dozen rows of ribbons.
“Gump? Say, you ain’t the Gump won a Congressional Medal of Honor over at Vietnam?”
“That’s him,” says Dan. An Wanda, who is still inside her box, give out a big ole grunt.
“What the hell was that?” Colonel North asts. “That’s Wanda,” I say.
“You fellers got a girl in that carton?” says the colonel. “Wanda’s a pig,” I say.
“Yeah, I don’t doubt it, hangin out with a couple of slackers like you. How come you against the war?”
“Cause it’s easier to be against somethin that don’t exist, you dummy,” Dan answers.
Colonel North scratches his chin for a second, then nods. “Yeah, I can see your point about that, I guess. Say, listen, Gump, what’s a guy like you who has won the Congressional Medal of Honor doin here actin like a hobo, anyway?”
I started to tell him about the pig farm an all, but I figgered it might sound strange, so I just said, “I got in a bidness venture that went sour.”
“Why, you oughta have stayed in the army,” the colonel says. “I mean, here you are a big war hero. You gotta have some sense.”
An then the colonel, he gets this real odd look in his eyes, an squints off in the distance for a minute, toward the White House, an when he turns back, he says, “Look here, Gump, I might be able to use a guy like you. There is something I’m involved with in which your talents could be very useful. You got time to come over across the street an hear me out?”
I looked at Dan, but he just nodded, an so the colonel an me, that’s what we did.