• He’ll go out the way he came in— standing up

    by Erika Fiske

    Jai and Buddy are quite the pair. Both old, one on oxygen, one having trouble getting up after a cold, wet night–and sometimes falling over as he walks.

    They’ve been living together by the lake across the street from Window on the Bay for many years. I heard there was an old dog limping around this area that might be put down this week, so I sought him out on this sunny Wednesday morning.

    I found his owner, Jai, standing by a tall tree–actually leaning into it, as if part of that tree. Jai gave his age as “older than dirt,” but actually he’s 65. From the moment he spoke, I felt I was listening to one of those old wise men high on some secluded mountain range.

    And standing just a few feet away was Buddy, a 16-year-old Staffordshire American Pitbull. He looked well cared for, although he was tilting a little to one side. Buddy was wearing a nice red coat.

    As I talked with Jai, Buddy walked and limped back and forth, here and there, looking up at me, looking off at the geese, surveying his kingdom and all its animals. I’m not sure how much he could see.

    Buddy doesn’t know he’ll be gone tomorrow. He’s going to be put down at a veterinarian’s office, with Jai by his side. “But why?” I asked, remembering a cat I had put down in my arms because of a spinal tumor, and how many years it took me to get over that decision.

    I tried to talk Jai out of his plans, but he wouldn’t budge.

    “I was the first thing he saw and I’ll be the last. He falls down now and can’t get up. He can’t see, he can’t hear,” Jai said. “He will go out the way he came in, standing up. I don’t want him to hurt anymore.”

    And Jai wants the same ending for himself. He would rather move on to another life than go to a nursing home. That’s why there are tanks of oxygen under some nearby Australian Tea trees. He mainly uses the oxygen at night, although he got a little short of breath during our interview.

    Jai suffers from COPD, he told me, puffing on another cigarette. He also drinks, but it’s the cigarettes that are killing him. That’s what his doctor said.

    So Jai has made a decision. “I’m going to quit smoking on the 20th,” he said firmly. “My pancreas, my liver and my spleen are all good. It’s just my lungs that are bad.”

    Jai loves life too much to move on yet. “I’ve got no complaints,” he said. “I live life and I love life.”

    And he made it clear again, he wants to stay out of nursing homes. “They tried three times to put me in a nursing home, but they wouldn’t take my dog,” he said. Jai will admit in a second that he wouldn’t leave this place anyway.

    “I’m not homeless. See what I got?” he said, making an expansive movement of his arm to point out all the beauty around him. Nature is his home—the sky, the wind, the clouds, the trees, the water and the wildlife. He’s happy here.

    “After almost 25 years out on this beach, I’ve seen it all,” he said. Jai tries to spread his wisdom to lost souls who come his way, and there have been many over the years.

    Whether they’re runaways, alcoholics, sick or just homeless, Jai gives a helping hand. “They can say, ‘When I was cold, he gave me a blanket, and when I was hungry, he made sure I had food’,” Jai said.

    And he keeps in touch with the many young and old he has helped over the years. He gets emails all the time. How? Well, that’s the interesting part of this story. Jai was in the military and trained on computers for many years. He just decided to walk away from it all one day, and has never regretted it.

    Although he’s homeless, he has a laptop and Kindle with him, and an iPhone on order.

    Catching his breath again, Jai went on with his story. He believes it was Agent Orange that destroyed his lungs. He served with the Army in Vietnam when the chemicals were sprayed.

    Joining the Army was almost a foregone conclusion for Jai. His father was in the military, and Jai was born in Korea. The family lived many places before Jai was drafted and served with Special Forces, Airborne and the Rangers, he said, and as a drill sergeant and a weapons instructor.

    After the military, he began working with computers in Silicon Valley in the 1980s and had five children along the way. “IBM wanted me in a suit and tie and HP said just come to work, so I went with HP,” he said.

    And when it comes to computers, “I’ve been there, done that. I was the best,” he said. Jai worked with some of the first computers and became expert at Cobalt, Fortran and Pascal.

    “Back then we had computers as big as a building,” he said, a touch of fondness in his voice.

    But Jai doesn’t miss that life. He’s quite happy now leaning on this tree, looking for the next person he might help. And then there’s Buddy, lying in the sun at his feet, eyes closed.

    “Me and him have been through it all,” Jai said, bending down, rubbing the old dog’s head.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 18, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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