Friday, February 03, 2006

The Man on the Bench

NOB HILL BUS STOP--"Nice jerkin' socks!" he said. I nodded. He was looking at my my warm wool socks and sandals. "They're too expensive for me," he continued.

But he had a pretty expensive-looking car magazine on the bench next to him, and he started leafing through it. The man in the dirty University of Michigan jacket paused occasionally to get my opinion of the various autos.

"You like sports cars?" I asked.

"Well, I like to follow Formula One, mostly." He held up a picture of a '65 Cobra Coupe. "What do you think of this one?" I really didn't care much about the car. I wondered if the bus was coming.

"Nice," I offered. I stepped into the street looking for the bus.

His bright blue eyes followed me over the tops of his dark glasses. "You teach? I used to teach...graduate students. Boring!" He had something orange sticking in his beard right under the corner of his mouth. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what that might be.

"I'm on disability," he went on. "The military sends me 13,000 per month."

"That's a lot of money," I said figuring that amounted to over $150,000 a year. Maybe he meant 13,000 per year. Before I could ask, he continued with his story.

"Yeah, my daughter gets a lot of it. She's in college in California. You know how it is...'I need some help Daddy.'"

Yes. I knew how it was. How important it is for all of us to be able to help our children...or to find some way to live with not being able to. How important it is to be respected in this world. How important it was that I respect him.

The bus came. He did not get up. I got in the bus and went to the back looking for a place to sit down. As I sat there looking at my warm feet, it suddenly hit me: He hadn't said, "Nice jerkin' socks!" He had said, "Nice Birkenstocks!"

I wondered what else I had missed. I wondered what else we all miss.

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