Friday, July 9, 2010

The Washington Senators

The  driver saw me running for the bus and stopped to let me on. I was wearing a dark blue hat with a thick red capital "W" bordered with white thread. The driver looked at me, "What's your hat for?"

"The Senators, Washington Senators, the baseball team."

"Oh right, yeah, that's nice I like that better than that other joint with the curly W they wear now."

"Me too, I picked it up at the stadium."

I walked down the aisle to find a seat and passed a thin, nearly gaunt, man who looked to be in his 60s. He said in a friendly, grumpy old man voice, "And what do you know about the Washington Senators young man?"

I laughed and sat down behind him, "Well I know about Walter Johnson and about the World Series they won and I know that they left for other towns, twice."

"Did you know that they used to play in Griffith Stadium where Howard University Hospital is now?"

"I did, I did."

The man was tall and thin, his arms and legs like straws. He was wearing white shorts and a loose short sleeve button up with blue lines. He was wearing a beige hat that snapped down onto the brim; he had faint white stubble and had what looked like a bandage or maybe a towel that he was pressing on to the side of his neck. On the seat next to him was a reusable shopping bag and two full plastic bags, I couldn't see what was in the bags.

"Was Griffith nice? I wish I could have seen it."

"Oh it was beautiful, or at least it was to me when I was a boy. My father took me there quite a few times."

He angled his body to the right into the aisle in order to stiffly move his neck to the side so he could look at me; he moved like someone with bolts in his neck or pain in his back.

"It was a chance to watch some ball, eat some cracker jack, drink some pop and he'd even give me a sip of beer." He popped his eyes wide and smiled.

"That sounds great."

"It was fun, you know for a kid to spend time with his dad, that was very important to me. I remember the Senators very well. He died when I was young so these memories of him are very nice."

"That sounds great, sounds like a lot of fun."

"It was, it was. He took me there, me and my brothers, whenever he had a chance. You know my parents did their best, they did a good job, I was very lucky. A lot of people out there can't even raise one kid, much less me and my three brothers and my two sisters, hell. I was lucky."

He kept the bandage/towel pressed to his neck.

"Oh we had it pretty good. I remember my dad taking me ice skating, there used to be an ice skating rink at Florida and New York. But you know, even then I knew we were different. I'd look around and not see any other dads there and knew that, you know, that I had it different."

"Right, yeah I know what you mean." I thought of my mom dropping me off at roller skating rinks in Texas.

He nodded, "Now, now I just don't know I think its gotten even worse. DC was different then, or maybe it was me, but it seemed nicer then. Easier maybe."

We were both quite for a moment and felt the heat on the bus.

He craned back around, "It got rough later in the 70's when I was trying to go to school. I was drafted out of college, and god I didn't want to go, I tried to get out of it, but they told me, 'you can do five years in prison or two years in Vietnam.'" He laughed, hard, like a cough, "And I knew I'd die in prison so I decided to take my chances in Vietnam."

I laughed, "Yeah, well you made it out."

"Damn right I did, I got out in '74, but the economy went down, there were gas shortages later, no one had any  money, and I needed a job and damnit I had to go back into the army. I been all over the place, went to Iraq twice, went to Afghanistan and got blown in half, but now I'm out. On the day I hit my 35 years and retirement I said get me the hell outta here i'm sick of killing people, I'm sick of people trying to kill me I want to go home. I was in the convoy on the way to the airport to head to Germany to be processed out and BAM," he clapped his hands together. "Blown to hell, they told me later, and some of those guys were giving me a hard time about it, making fun of me you know, they said I was trying to push my own guts back into my body. I said, what the hell was I supposed to do? It's not like I had a MASH unit in my pack, I did what I had to do. And you know what? I survived." He hooked his bags onto his shoulders.

"Damn right you did."

He stood up to get off the bus, "I'll tell you what it was," he reached up to grab the bar above the seat but his fingers slipped off and he fell to the side and landed on his hip and the side of his thighs, his bags sliding off his shoulders onto the floor.

"I'm alright, I'm alright."

I stood up and grabbed him by the right arm with my hand on his left side and helped him to his feet.

"There you go, you just slipped a bit, you're okay, no problem."

"I got it, I got it." He stood up. "Thanks. Have a good day." And he walked off the bus.

Two young women had looked at him with shame when he fell, and I saw them make eye contact as he stood up, they may have rolled their eyes behind their sunglasses. I sat back down and watched Columbia Avenue go by the window.

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