Friday, February 22, 2008

CTA Stories: The Old Man of Diversey

He is perhaps three score and ten, and perpetually grizzled, as if he saw a razor last week at the most recent. He wears a Masonic diamond pinky ring, but his clothing is stained and free of a woman's care. He is tall, and I think at one time, was a strapping, handsome man. His most salient feature is the monologue. Every time I've shared a ride with him, he talks incessantly, the driver being the most obvious captive audience. The last time I saw him was when I was traveling west from the Brown Line. He sat in the seat directly behind the driver, and I wondered how she could concentrate as he jabbered away.

On Wednesday, I rode the bus east, and The Old Man was there. Our driver was a regular on the route, an African American man with striking green eyes. He always wishes riders a good day as they leave the bus, his sea-colored gaze resting upon us. That morning, I pretended to read The New Yorker while sitting adjacent to the Old Man. A school crossing guard was facing him. She was a large woman, wearing a police-style cap and a coat decorated with two wide reflector stripes. The Old Man directed most of his monologue at her, which she accepted with judge-like impartiality.

She could be a stickler. Her house was a showcase. A showcase! Everything had to be immaculate. You could eat off of the floor. Us kids could not play in certain rooms. My father's sister-in-law, Dorothy. A person like that can be very difficult to live with. Everything had its place. My pop was straight with ma.."I'm not going to live in no showcase!" But, she could be a lot of fun. Yes, when she wasn't in her own house, she was the life of the party! A damn good cook, too. A very good-looking woman and always dressed to the nines. Her daughters got out of there as soon as possible. One of them told me, "I didn't grow up in a house. I grew up in a showcase!" [to bus driver] GOOD DRIVING JOCK! Well, nobody's perfect. She was a fine woman. They're all gone now. I'm the only one left.

The analysis of Dorothy's character continued for 20 blocks. I once read that in Mexico, there are "the dead," and "the truly dead." Those who are "truly dead," are forgotten. Their graves are untended and no living person remembers them. That morning, I could see Dorothy, her bright lipstick and neat dresses, her laughter, and the little house that was her shrine.

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