Thursday, December 8, 2011


It was a weekday morning at the Sunset Transit Center.  I took the steps from the boarding platform to street level two at a time, slowed to a walk and then slowed again when I saw all the cops.  Three stood on the steps to the bridge over Highway 26, watching some other cops.  The interesting activity was taking place a few paces away from the stairway at the entrance to the parking garage.    

Two cops were standing behind a man seated on the concrete.  The man's legs were stuck straight out in front of him.  His hands were cuffed behind his back.  There was a cop hand on each shoulder and a cop knee on each side of his back.  In other words, a perpetrator was being immobilized as part of an arrest. He must have resisted arrest, or why the heavy force?  But he looked about as strong as your average wasted junkie and positively breakable under the control of the two cops.

Another cop, squatting in front of the perp, was going through one of those filmy white supermarket bags that biodegrade while you wait.  A transparent baggy lay on the concrete nearby.  From 10 yards away it looked to contain a handful or two of white powder.

Another cop was snapping pictures of the perp, the bag, the scene.  He was framing the shots with painstaking care.

A Beaverton police van marked with the word "Sergeant" was parked nearby.

I had stopped near the cops on the bridge.  Now I walked softly around the arrest area.  I think it's good to let cops making an arrest know that a citizen is watching.  Keeps them honest.  I don't want a cop getting nervous or adding my name to a report, though, so without acting creepy, I crept over to a vantage point from where I could see the bad guy's face.

He was a wiry young man with Mediterranean features and long, long black hair.  Terrorist material, if you're profiling, except that all the terror here had been struck into his heart and showed on his face. 

I had seen what there was to see and restarted the trek towards my job when yet another cop strode from the vicinity of the van over to the alleged criminal.  He wore blue latex gloves, a fashion statement, I suddenly noticed, being made by all the cops.  His busy blue fingers fiddled with an arrangement of fabric or plastic -- something that unfolded and which he fitted over the perpetrator's head. 

Before I could angle for a better look, a helmet followed the collar.  The blue fingers fiddled some more, attaching the one to the other.

The helmet encased the prisoner's head completely, clearly meant for restraint, not protection, a little prison cell in itself.  It had the gracious styling of a medieval torture device.  The man's eyes peeked out, an untrained astronaut.

The End

Nick O'Connor
copyright 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Traveling on the Max from Northeast Portland through downtown and beyond with me was a young man who looked like Stacy Keach, the actor – Keach 30 years ago, that is – but smaller. He gripped one of the upright crossbar support posts with both hands. He had placed the point – or cleft – I couldn’t see the shape – of his chin on the post, bending his head back towards the ceiling. From the Lloyd Center until I got off at the Sunset Transit Center, he held that position as if tied down. As commuters disembarked, the car steadily emptied. Occasionally, the man's lips moved.

Physically, the man seemed sound – youthful, robust, standing on his own power, no tremors, seizures or outbursts. He was, however, breathing fast.

Unusual behavior, but since he was keeping to himself, no one else was paying attention. He wasn't doing anything wrong, wasn't violating anyone's personal space. You have to wonder, if a passenger dies peacefully in his sleep, will the passenger sitting next to him notice? And will the live passenger, anxious to get to work on time, interrupt her schedule and the schedules of the other passengers, to push the call button to the driver?

“What's up?” I wanted to ask the man. “What's up?"

Had I taken the initiative and asked him ,“What's up?,” what would he have said? Nothing, maybe. Waved me away. Blinked, like a cat waking from a nap?

What are the chances he would have been happy to talk? I didn't ask, so I'll never know. There are reasons for acting like you're in a waking coma. There's anxiety. There's the reaction to a drug taken for anxiety. There's “Rapture of the Ride,” when you're heavy groovin' on the tune coming through the earbud, or, less commonly, on the Tri-Met experience. There are chiropractor’s orders. There's trying not to throw up after a bad burrito. There are those who want attention but are too shy to get it directly. There are dozens of mental or emotional conditions from OCD to a phobia, and dozens of ingestable substances, from PCP to MJ, that could have been affecting the dude.

My favorite possibility is that he was a pilgrim on a spiritual quest, a self-transformative journey. He was praying for the rest of us. Why not? Why not take Tri-Met to the sacred grounds and study compassion on the way? A bus or train car is a cauldron of milling humanity. Where else in little old Portland can you consistently, daily if you like, take in the whole parade, every strata, color, and state of mind? For two dollars and change, your spot on the ride guarantees an opportunity to – in reality, not online – be with and tolerate strangers you generally want to have nothing to do with. This is a good practice.

Or maybe he was trying to win a bet. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Seats in the “new” Max cars – those of the yellow and blue color scheme and plentiful plastic – were designed for people smaller and chattier than the average Portlander. This is indisputable.

There are at least three discomfort zones in each car. At each end is a C-shaped curve of seats that is meant to encourage either conversation (which doesn't happen in Portland, in my experience, but don't get me started), or disorientation. You could be traveling backwards, which is disorienting by itself. But facing forwards in these cars can make you self-conscious.  Half the faces in the car look back at you and half face away.  Where to look? At the same time I wonder if the person whose reflected face I'm studying in the window is studying me, and if I'm alarming this or that rider by looking at them for too long.  Is it better to smile at strangers or keep a blank face?

Another dubious innovation is the conversation group of four seats. In this arrangement you sit directly across from another rider and so close that it takes an effort to keep from bumping ankles. And you're elbow to elbow with a similarly lucky couple. It's like being on a double blind date without so much as a glass of water, much less a waiter.

Then there are the seats situated behind the structural components, like machine gun nests. Each of these new Max cars has four pairs of seats blocked in by either a perpendicular extension of the wall, that is, a bulkhead; or by the plate glass divider next to the middle door of the car. Maybe the idea is to keep the riffraff from falling asleep.

I was stuck in this last discomfort zone behind a bulkhead, and had wedged myself into the window side, making room for a small child or contortionist. I had my notebook open, pen in hand waiting for a thought worth mentioning when, at the Lloyd Center stop, a young woman was asking if there's room next to me.

I shove over a little further for her. She smiles and comments on the tight squeeze.

“Yeah, you can hear the click as you snap into place.”

She said, “I see you're writing.”

Stop right there.

An attractive young woman might entertain a conversation initiated by an attractive young male stranger, if he happened to strike the right chord of bold sensitivity or raffish humor, and depending on whether her mood was on the upswing or downslide, and if his clothes were socially acceptable in the circles to which she aspired or in the slums she wanted to tour, and if Venus and the moon were aligned, and if the dog had been walked and the rent paid, and so on. All that having fallen into place, a charming and fortunate man, a young man with potential, might strike up a conversation with her.

No attractive young woman starts a conversation with a stranger in a crowded train by showing genuine interest in his notebook scribblings, and certainly not with a man whose jowls sag and whose hair is thin and graying, like her dad's, and whose smile is very slow to appear. Does she?

That's my basic line of thought.

So imagine my surprise when this young woman sits in the uncomfortable seat next to me and wants to talk. Her question about my writing led to my job, which led to my asking what she does.

She was on her way home from an all-night tango dance.

It had been her second night in a row of dancing all night, starting after dinner and going until dawn. Portland, it turned out, was hosting a major tango festival.

“Tonight's the last night. I'll be there. But it's only till midnight.” I shook my head sympathetically.

I've done some dancing, almost all of it during the first years with my wife. So I asked some informed questions, and we had more of an interview than a conversation, largely about the tango scene in Portland (500 impassioned tangueros and tangueras), but also about the dance itself (sternum to sternum!), her love for tango (“I'm obsessed,” naturally), and personal details I shouldn't tell here. I'll just say that tango has boldness, glamor, drama and melancholy, and it might attract people who have those qualities.

My wife and I used to contra dance, which is the opposite of tango. A contra is a line dance, with a caller (“Do-si-do and back to the line!”), like square dancing, backed by a string band playing traditional music. Gentrified hillbilly action to you, Snarky. We tried swing and lindy hop. We waltzed and square danced a little. But we met at a contra dance and contras remained our meat and drink. We danced at the local weekly contra dances, at weekend festivals with names like Fiddling Frog and Harvest Moon, and traveled hundreds of miles to week-long camps where you could dance till you dropped . And we attended a few all-night dances. I proposed marriage at the all-night New Year's Eve contra dance in Pasadena as 1994 became '95.

While my new acquaintance spun her glittering web, a whiff of those whirling nights came back to me. My wife is an excellent dancer; I'm not. But with the band smoking, the women flaunting their assets, the mischievous sideways glances and blatant stares, the stomping and shouting, the parade of attractive strangers, why, even a limping curmudgeon from the planet Grim might feel some pleasant intoxication.

At the Sunset Transit Center I said goodbye to the tango fan and slipped past her. She said “You should come tango sometime. We like beginners.”

It's a stirring thought, but no. not me, not now. The occasional dancing I do anymore is with my wife, in the kitchen, to the radio. Sometimes our daughter joins in. Maybe some day, when I've recovered from parenthood and a scientific miracle has restored my youth, tango will be in the cards for me. Still, as I cross the footbridge over the freeway, I'm tangoing in my imagination.

In my fantasy, I'm a tango master. My tuxedo fits like a second skin and feels like silk. My wife is dancing with me. She reminds me with a glance and a shift of her hand on my shoulder why I married her. We glide like tigers through a jungle of other couples. The music is so intense the bows want to fly from the violinists' hands into the hearts of those who are the most tangotastic.

At the office, I hung up my jacket and settled into the cubicle. I had trouble getting down to work; I was surprisingly aroused. Within a short time, however, the office worked its magic. It is, after all, one of my comfort zones.

Nick O'Connor

Copyright 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011


My nephew and his wife were having a housewarming. For the occasion, I bought a cast iron bottle opener in the shape of a bird.  It's definitely a bird, but definitely not a specific bird. It doesn't matter.  It's the thought that counts, right?  Right?

Anyway, the party was scheduled from 3 till 9 p.m. on a Sunday. I got a late start but expected to make it on time to see the house, greet the family and present the bottle opener.

At 7:20, the 77 bus picked me up at the corner of 17th and Weidler.

At 7:40, I got dropped off at 58th and Halsey to wait for the 71 bus. There was still some riding ahead, but enough time to see the house, greet the family, and give the gift.

I noticed another guy waiting a couple doors down the street, back towards 57th. I thought maybe he was standing there for a view of the 71 bus, which turns left from 57tth coming south onto Halsey and heads east. But no, he wasn't close enough to the corner to see up 57th. Then I had the impulse to walk back to 57th and see for myself if it was coming. The instant I moved in his direction, the guy crossed the street.

That's when he showed how far gone he was. As he crossed, his legs were misbehaving and he did a little half squat every few steps to keep from launching sideways. I calculated he was about one drink from final splat.

I think he was avoiding me, not because I look badass -- I'm a medium-size, mild-mannered, middle-aged guy in glasses – but because alcohol had short-circuited his judgment. I've been there. I think brother man was alarmed by his condition. Whether I was coming over to rob him, hit on him or just ask a question, he couldn't trust his wits with a stranger. He could die on the spot, or be humiliated and not even know it. But if he started moving now, into the well-lit, wide-open street, he had a chance.

When I returned to the stop, he returned as well, squat-lurching back across the street and then trying to keep his balance on an undulating piece of sidewalk about 10 yards away.

I had mislaid my cell phone and also maybe to screw with him a little, asked if he knew when the bus was due.

He managed to call the tracker. “Ten minutes.”

A conversation followed. He complained about the transit tracker's inaccuracy and praised Tri-Met, “rated the best in the country” (repeated three times, slurred not spoken), because “we do good work in Portland.” And never mind how good we are here, he was mad that the fares keep going up.

This sent us on a side trip to the Tri-Met budget, the federal government, unions and ultimately, his union and his job.

“I'm in mail. I just do mail.” At a printing company, he said.

He called his supervisor “a turd” – only the tip of the shitberg, of course. After railing against the supervisor, he railed against the company owner, who inherited the business and had no idea what he was doing.

“Two bad bosses -- I feel for you, man.”

“What?” He squinted hard at me.

“The supervisor and the owner. Right?”

He said, “No, It's just one guy. He plays video games and drinks beer every morning in his office.”

According to my unnamed acquaintance, his boss is not only a slob, but he overbids jobs, resulting in not getting the jobs, resulting in too little work and too little income.

“I was laid off for years. I had 18 vacation days taken away. Eighteen.”

I asked how the company could strip benefits with a union in place. He shrugged and said, “They've got no money.”

I nodded sympathetically. He said again, “They've got no money.” Shrugging again. Bottom line.

He said “They've got no money.” a couple more times, shrugging each time. He seemed to be fading.

It was about 25 minutes into our talk, and I excused myself to take a refreshing walk to the corner and back. He used the break as an opportunity to get behind a bush next to the front porch of the nearest house, where he took a leak. He concluded the festivities by dipping a wad of snuff into his cheek. Then he took a little walk down Halsey the other other way from me, using the entire width of the sidewalk as a giant balance beam.

He made a show of looking up the cross street. Then he looked down Halsey Street towards the neon signs of a couple of bars. For a second, I thought maybe he was going to go top himself off at whatever bar he'd recently left. Wisely, he chose to return to the busstop.

We continued the topic of his work. In that overly forceful and blurred way drunks have, he confided “I'm just about ready to say 'Fuck you' to the boss.”

I said “The bus?”

He repeated himself, verbatim but louder. “. . . THE BOSS!”

I could relate. Though my current boss and company are relatively enlightened, experience as a member of three unions has convinced me that labor and management are natural enemies.

The walk had revived him. He had a lot more to say about the printing company, the boss's family, the dire economic situation, and where was I going, anyway?

The boss finally arrived at 8:40. We called each other “buddy,” as in “Nice talkin' with ya, buddy.” He boarded, but it had grown too late for me; I crossed the street and walked all the way back to 42nd to catch the 75 homeward, feeling extra safe with my hand in my jacket pocket on the cast iron bird.

Nick O'Connor
Copyright 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011


On October 5th, the day before Occupy Portland began, I witnessed a miscarriage of justice. As I came onto the inbound platform at the Sunset Transit Center around 5:10 p.m., a woman's raised voice got my attention. She could be heard clearly along the entire platform. Every passenger was looking her way. She was standing near the middle on my side, holding onto a bike and dressed in riding gear. She was talking to a Tri-Met cop. At the far end of the platform, where the front end of the trains stop, the cop was trying to ignore her. He had his ticket pad and pen out and was talking with a young man.

The woman accused the cop of harrassing the youth, saying he was “misusing his position of authority.”

Though loud and with an edge of anger, her voice was even and her thoughts rational. The cop shouted back, “Sir---”

“I'm not a sir.”

“Ma'am. This is none of your business. You don't even know what we've been talking about.”

“I've heard everything you've said,” she replied. “Your conversation has been loud enough for everyone to hear.”

“I'm doing my job. I'm investigating a violation. You have no say about this.”

“I certainly do if I witness an abuse being committed.”

“I'm doing my job. You're interefering.”

“I can speak. I have a right of free speech and I'm exercising it.”

“You don't have free speech to interfere with my job.”

“I'm not interfering. I'm nowhere near you. I'm just speaking.”

This went on for about 30 seconds before the cop ran out of patience. He left the young man to half-stalk, half-run over to the woman. He was about six foot eight. She was portly, middle-aged, and showed no sign of being intimidated.

I noticed my train pull in and decided to stay for the next one.

“If you don't keep quiet I'm going to cite you for interfering with police business.”

“I guarantee if you cite me you're going to end up in court.”

“You could get 30 days.”

The cop saw that the young man had fled up the stairs. He trotted after him.

I took a seat a respectful distance from the woman, got out my phone and fired up the camera.

The cop came back, agitated. He walked up to the woman, rolled back another page of his citation book, and said, “I'm citing you for interfering with police business. May I see your identification, please?”

As she got her card out of a saddlebag, I held up my phone to get a picture. The cop spotted it right away and bolted over to me.

“I have to tell you that it's against the law to take a video of anyone in public without the knowledge of everyone who's being filmed.”

“I consent,” the woman shouted.

I said, “It's not a video, it's a still camera. Are you saying I can't take photos of you, as a public officer, doing your public duty?”

“I'm not saying that. I'm saying that you can't take a video or sound recording without the knowledge of everyone in the area who might be filmed.”

“It's not a video.” I was holding up the camera so he could check it out but he was already on his way back to write the ticket.

There was a woman who had been sitting quietly nearby throughout the scene. I asked her if she'd seen what happened. She said yes, but hadn't tuned into what was going on between the cop and the young man.

The woman who had riled the cop was quiet as he wrote the ticket. The next train came and I felt the call to get home to my family, dinner, the evening schedule. At the same time, as a witness I should stay and let the woman know I could back her up, if necessary.

Force of habit got the best of me and I boarded the train. As soon as the doors closed I got witness regret: that's when you don't take a stand even though you were right there watching. So if by a remote chance the cited bicyclist is reads this, please get in touch with me:

                                                   THE END
Nick O'Connor
Copyright 2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I was riding the 75 bus north towards home on 39th avenue in the dark, damp evening, somewhere between Powell and Division, reading a book on the topic of working memory.  Working memory is the stuff you try to keep in mind while doing something else.  It's similar to the "copy" function on your computer, if the thing copied always rapidly decayed and disappeared, like a lump of sugar in an ocean of coffee.  Working memory is a good indicator of the fitness and health of one's brain.  Generally, better working memory equals a sounder brain.  That I can recall all this confirms that my own memory was working during the bus ride and sets my mind at ease -- at least until the next time I leave the burner on.  

I was sitting in the frontmost forward-facing seat, behind the handicapped and senior love seats, when a little girl draped her arms over the divider and started talking to me, as if we had an appointment. She was about two, with a head of thick Shirley Temple curls. She told me, sentence by sentence, about her life.

“This is our bus.”

“It's your bus.”

“Aaaand my momma, too.”

“Aaaand your momma, too.” This is how I talked to our daughter when she was little. The research shows – I don't know what research, but people I trust (i.e., my wife) told me -- that when you say back to a child what she just said to you, it helps her learn to talk. It's called “mirroring” (“Does my hair look okay?” “Does my hair look okay?”). My daughter, now ten years old, talks like a 35-year old professor (of stuffed animal psychology), so I believe mirroring works.

The girl's mother was sitting on the other side of the girl, and said, “Anna, he's trying to read.” I said “No problem, I like talking with kids,” and the mom went back to her conversation with her boyfriend.

The little girl told me that Christmas was coming, aaaand that she was gettting new toys, aaaaand that they were going to visit grandma, aaaand that Garglegee had pushed Impkiss down the stairs.

“Who's Garglegee?”

“Garglegee's my guardian.”

“Garglegee's your guardian?

“No! Garglegee's my garden doc.”

“Garglegee's your garden doc?”

“NO! Garglegee's my guard dog aaaaand...”

“Garglegee's your guard dog.”

“....and she pushed Impkiss down...the stairs....”

“Who's Impkiss?”

“Impkiss went down the stairs... aaaaand...”

A woman sitting across from the girl and her mother and the man with them yelled out, “Don't mess with me!,” obviously meaning them.

The mom yelled back, “No one's messing with you.”

The woman was muttering and rummaging in a monstrous handbag, one of those soft black leather and brass designer items that perfectly complement a full leather outfit and not much else. She yelled across the aisle again, “Stop bothering me.”

The mom raised her voice higher. “Listen, lady, I don't know what's your problem ---” The mom's boyfriend, or husband, or brother, or whatever laid a hand on the mom's shoulder, stopping her.

He leaned halfway across the aisle and muttered something to the woman. She listened. She took a couple deep breaths. He muttered. She relaxed.

Wow. A Psychopath Whisperer. The man was dressed like puke, a thick slab of prison muscles covered in blurry tattoos – in other words, a typical Portland high school dropout.

The little girl was still talking to me. She was saying “Impkiss is okay. He's okay. He didn't have to go to the hospital.”

“He didn't have to go to the hospital.”

“Aaaaand he didn't have to go to jail.”

The mom gently pulled her away, saying, “She hasn't stopped talking since she said her first word,” to me, and then “This is our stop, darlin',” to her.

“Bye,” the girl said to me.

“Bye,” I said back.

Nick O'Connor   Copyright 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Girls giggling: perfectly normal, perfectly natural. They had boarded the Max inbound near Lincoln High School around 5 p.m. and sat together across from me. Three nice, middle-class girls, all apparently with an extracurricular interest in shoes and eyeshadow. They were comparing birthdays – they were all 17, one was soon to turn 18 – and boyfriends, and boyfriends' birthdays.

“Jeremy is 27,” bragged one with huge, Dora the Explorer eyes and raven hair. Her friends were silently impressed. “He had to make $400 yesterday.”

I strained discreetly to hear what this could possibly mean, picking up that his occupation was “returns.” She told of him returning a $300 leather jacket to Buffalo Exchange.

“When the employees got all suspicious and huddled up in the back, Jeremy just left.”

The other two girls radiated coolness. Fascinated but not asking any stupid questions, like “Who does he work for?” One of them, a fair-haired gamine whose cherry red lipstick overpowered her face, confided that she keeps her stuff at her boyfriend's place. “Shampoo, hairbrush, cosmetic kit. I've got access 24/7.”

The third girl's boyfriend had taken her to a cool party house.

“It's totally soundproofed, with lights and cameras all over the place. There are little secret nooks for hanging out, a kitchen anybody can use, and a runway.”

“A runway?”

“Yeah, like for fashion shoots.”

“Who's the owner?”

“Some forty or fifty year old guy.”

Being a forty or fifty year old guy myself – with a daughter – I was alarmed. How about putting these girls and their parents all on house arrest? Was I jumping to a wrong conclusion in smelling criminal activity?

One said she sold “four, five, six, seven a day at school.” What she sold, I didn't hear. Somehow I don't think she was talking about handmade wristbands or books of poetry. Jeremy's girlfriend said she didn't like to drink “much.” (Bless your good judgment, I thought, while her friends giggled.) 

They made calls and set up a meeting in front of a hotel at the Convention Center. At the Convention Center, they got off and I had a chance to look at them more closely as they walked by. Yes, they were all pretty. They wore more makeup than the average schoolgirl but so what? This was all overheard in public. They could have been exaggerating to impress. Jeremy could be a casual friend and the “return” business his own hyped-up exploit to impress her.

And the Convention Center hotel?

Saturday, September 3, 2011


The women were of a type I used to see in San Francisco 25 years ago: tired, frowsy and, even then, weirdly unfashionable. White, middle aged but reminiscent of the thirties, they would have been unfortunate poor widows or divorcees without education or other resources, I guess. Maybe second generation Okies. In any case, they must have missed or fallen off the economic rocket ship the U.S. had been riding since World War II and become too depressed or too set in their ways to change even their clothes. Without the clothes, which were authentically vintage, complete with babushkas, frayed collars and cuffs, and ghostly, faded colors, they would have been invisible. Not that I wanted to think of them without clothes.

Then, not long ago, a generation and a half down the line, and in another cool, gray city, there they were again, riding my bus. Two of them sat together, hairdos straight out of The Honeymooners, in patterned housedresses under long, dark, patched wool coats. One looked angry, and the other one, sad.

The angry one said, “I haven't had sex in 27 years and I don't miss it at all. At all.”

Yeah, I thought. Reagan's presidency was a bummer for me, too.

Jumping on the bandwagon, the sad one said, “I haven't been with a man in 12 years.”

Angry said, “Men take you dancing, buy you a drink and then expect you to have sex with them.”

Sad said, “Those are the ones with a plan and a paycheck. The bums just show up at your door, smoke your cigarettes and eat your food and still expect sex.”

Angry continued, “And then they try to have sex with you even if you say no. They practically rape you.”

I used to think I'd do anything for the right man if he ever came along. He never did.”

Men run everything and they've made a mess of the world. War, death, destruction – you can't blame women for any of it.”

Wild laughter drowned out the philosophy. Near the back door, teenagers were cutting up. One boy was taking stage, doing an impression of someone who apparently walks like a flamingo, rolls his head around as if trying to detach it from his neck, and stands too close to girls while leering shamelessly. Every move elicited another howl from his friends. He was in clown heaven.

The driver, through a shockingly clear P.A. system, asked them in a distinctly Australian accent to “bring the volume down.” This caused a short silence followed by loud laughter, followed by Clown Boy's sarcastic impression of a grumpy busdriver, complete with a bad Cockney accent (nice try), and a new peak in the hysteria.

The punch line, which everyone could hear, was “My fucking hemorrhoids are killing me.”

The P.A. squawked. The driver said, “This is your last warning. If you can't bring down the volume and cut out the rude language, you'll have to get off the bus.”

It was too late; the kid was rolling too hard. In the Cockney accent, he yelled “You need a spot of tea, old chap . . . old bloke . . . old FART.”

Screaming. Squealing. The bus stopping.

You three, get off---”

God save the Queen.” This was Clown Boy's parting shot. He and his buddies jumped off, whooping and high-fiving in triumph.

The driver took a moment before getting back on the road. He said, without the intercom, in the Strine accent, “Pitiful display. Unfortunately, rudeness is not a crime.”

Up ahead, the three boys were walking curbside. The driver started up, gained speed, honked, and as they turned to flip him off, rolled through a big puddle. The muddy spray doused all three, and Clown Boy got well baptized into the Church of Vengeance is Mine.

Oops,” said the driver.

The formerly unhappy ladies from the past beamed at him. “What a man,” their transfigured faces seemed to say. “What a man.” 

Nick O'Connor 
Copyright 2011 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Poor in Spirit

As the evening Max train passes through downtown towards Northeast and fills up, I'm sunk into a story about our U.S. Congressman, poor David Wu, and thinking how truly Portland weird it is for him to appear on the front page of the Willamette Week in a tiger costume. I barely notice the woman who takes the seat next to me. But then she gets on the phone for a personal conversation. She's intermittently loud, talking to a girlfriend, and streaming regrets: she can no longer keep a dog, she hasn't spoken to Benjamin for a year, she shouldn't have left San Francisco impulsively. And I'm hooked.

I peek: her camelhair coat complements her golden locks, which are pulled back in a sleek French braid. She's about 37, healthy, intelligent, middle-class or above, more like one of the lawyers I used to work for than their assistants. She's wearing an ostentatious diamond wedding or engagement ring on her right hand – a row of rocks shooting sparks. How badly off could she be?

I was soon annoyed, both because she couldn't suck up a few ordinary setbacks, and because she was half out of earshot. I stretched my left ear towards her, covering my morbid interest with occasional soft humming and page turning.

She was slamming Portland. “I'm stuck here, and want nothing more than to get the hell out.”

She whined about her small room, grumbled that she was only making a couple hundred dollars a week – not enough to leave. She had left her heart in San Francisco.

“And I need money for shampoo, books, cookies . . . “ She laughed. At herself?

And what's so bad about Portland?

“No one talks to anybody they don't know. When I first got to town I went out a few times. I couldn't get served because I was alone. It's all about couples.”

Well, huh. I sure wasn't going to talk to her.

She laughed again, this time bitterly.

“Aliens came and took all the men my age. . . Sure, I can date, if I want to date a 26-year old. There are plenty of those.” Her voice reminded me of no one so much as Terri Gross, the NPR interviewer. It had a pleasant warm tone and something like curiosity in it, all but ruined by her constant discovery that the world is not full of beautiful souls and fascinating mysteries, but poor choices, unfortunate turns of fate and a jungle of indifference.

She brought the volume down and for the next few minutes I strained in vain for an earful. In retrospect, I should have given her the article on Wu. Such a gesture would have shown her that sometimes, in Portland, strangers do make contact. Maybe she would even have contemplated the possibility of networking her way to Wu – hey, he's over 26, single and powerful [was].

But in the moment I sat like a lump, hoping for another tidbit that never dropped, and then she was gone.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I'm riding a five p.m Blue Line crammed with Portland's huddled masses. Most everyone is guarding their bubble of personal space -- plugged in, zoned out or just plain inscrutable.

“But how can that be?” A young man loudly takes the floor. Standing with a friend, he shakes his head and keeps shaking it. “It is just unbelievable, you have to admit.”

The friend admits. “Yeah, wow.” Nods his head sheepishly and keeps nodding.

Battered backpacks hang over their shoulders. What news, what wonder of the world is this vagabond bringing to light? Alien abduction? Resurrection from the dead? The minimum wage? A 1,000-year tsunami astonished Japan. Can he top that? I remember when I was his age. Standing on a mountain peak for the first time. Following the moon landing. Watching Richard Nixon resign. Unbelievable.

“If you had a 1953 Willie Mays, for example, that card would be worth $12,000. More, if it was signed in perfect condition.”

Baseball cards. Amazing.

“That was the first year he played, know what I mean? If I had that card and showed it openly on the street in San Francisco, I'd get jumped, man. That card is like a $12,000 bill, do you know what I mean?”

At the next stop, the “friend” escaped. Disembarked without saying “goodbye.” The loquacious kid took the seat across from me, made good eye contact and continued the spiel. Out of all the strangers on all the Max trains in the world, this budding old-school flim-flammer had landed the fly on me. I try not to advertise it, but I'm a sucker.

I once gave $12 to a guy begging on the street who said he needed a shirt for a job interview that afternoon. Very sincere. He was at the same corner the next day, still needing a shirt. And I gave $8 to a fellow I met at a laundromat in L.A. so he could get back to his apartment where he had left the key to his parents' nearby house, which he was caretaking. Nice guy. I gave him my address so he could return the money, but he never did. And I lost $20 in one throw on a three-card monte game on a San Francisco bus.

I steeled myself against handing over any cash.

It turns out a Willie McCovey could be worth anywhere from ten dollars to a few thousand, a Michael Jordan is too recent to have much value unless you've got a complete set, and a signed LeBron James will someday be worth a house down payment.

He came back around to Willie Mays and, to let him know he wasn't doing all the thinking, I told him I'd seen Mays play when I was a kid.

“Yeah?” He paused, waiting for the story.

Had I? I thought fast. Mays played in the National League and my hometown was Detroit, an American League town. My uncle did take me to see a Cubs game on a visit to Chicago when I was about six. All I remember from that game was, in the ninth inning, upchucking three hot dogs.

“Oh, yeah. He was amazing. Incredible.” The kid looked suspiciously at me so I cleverly asked him if he'd ever seen a clip of Mays' famous one-handed catch.

“Of course,” he lied.

Now that we had a level playing field, it was time to talk business.

“I've got some toys here,” he said, and, glancing around, pulled a black binder from the backpack.

Inside, on top, in a clear plastic envelope lay an 8 x10 of Willie Mays swinging a bat. It was signed: “Willie Mays.” On the back, the envelope was notarized with some legal verbiage about authenticity.

I said, “It looks real.”

The kid exploded, but softly, in a conspiratorial whisper. “No one can forge Willie Mays' signature. That's a federal offense.” I was reminded of a dollar bill I'd recently defaced with a mustache.

The binder contained maybe a dozen album pages, each one designed to display six sports cards (or, e.g., expired TriMet passes). It was about half-full.

He read them off. “Michael Jordan. LeBron James. Five years of Magic Johnson.”

“Lakers,” I said, testing him.

“Kobe.” he said, testing me back and pointing to another card, but looking me in the eye.

“Bryant,” I said, looking back into those glittering marbles between his forehead and nose without glancing at the name on the card. Letting him know the playing field was as flat as a polished basketball court.

He became quiet. I asked if he wanted to deal.

He said, “No, I'm just making conversation.”

Somehow, I knew that the strongest move I could make at that instant was silence.

A few seconds went by and the kid said, “Yeah, I could use some money.” Like the thought had just occurred to him. He was good.

I said, “Do you take credit cards?”

Obviously, he didn't want to appear too eager because he packed up and got off at the next stop, which happened to be the Lloyd Center, saying “See you later.” Not that I had expected a phone number from him, but talk about strong moves! Unbelievable.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


In the rear of a Max car – old-style with the padded seats, not the newer plastic design – the seats face backwards. The car is symmetrical, I'm sure you've noticed. There's a driver's cab at each end, and no matter which end is in front, the seats nearest the driver face forward and those at the other end face backwards. No doubt several years of well-paid engineering effort went into figuring out this scheme, and in engineering terms, it may be brilliant. In rider terms, depending on who shows up, those 15 seats are a ghetto.  Or a rez, a barrio, a hood, if you like. 

I sat down in the ghetto across the aisle from three loud riders. Not my homies. One greeted me, so I greeted him back, “How are you doing?”

“Flying like a hawk,” he said. He made a flying bird with his hands. He was sitting alone but turned towards the aisle so he could talk with his friends, a man and woman sitting right behind him.

I stuck my nose into How The Irish Saved Civilization, about my homies, which I badly wanted to enjoy.

A moment later, a young man in a leather jacket garlanded with chains and a ball cap customized with many buttons sat in front of me. As he passed, the woman said “Nice shirt,” in a tone unmistakably mocking.

What color is your underwear?” the man in front said to the kid. The provocation drew a shrug.

The man in back said, “It's probably brown.” Now they were laughing. The kid hadn't turned his head, but was sitting tensely. Maybe thinking of getting off the train?

No,” the woman said, “it's lavender.”

The man in front said, “Indians don't wear underwear, you know.”

The other man said, “Rough riders. We're tough.”

Tougher than fucking cowboys.”

The kid turned to them and said, “I'm half Cherokee.”

They were all quiet for a moment, then the woman tried to remember a movie she'd seen. It turned out to be Powwow Highway. “That was a good movie about Indians. Funny, too.”

Indians have a good sense of humor,” the front man said. For the first time I looked squarely at him. He was smiling through a face that was recovering from a recent violent encounter with something solid. I looked away.

He said, “Each face has two sides, you know.” He was looking at me. I didn't know what to say.

His friend saved me, saying “What is that, a Kiowa proverb?”

No, I made it up myself. Pretty good, huh?”

You must be a shaman.”

Defrocked. I'm a defrocked shaman.”

The woman said, “You can only get focked, not de-focked. ” We all laughed hard at that one, including the kid, who turned to look. He did look Native.

At Pioneer Square they were out the door, discussing how much money they had all together and whether they should spend it on food or drink.

When the kid in front of me got up to leave, I saw he was wearing a knife on his belt.  He caught my glance.  I asked him if he was really half-Cherokee. He stopped cold, smiled at me sweetly and said, “Navajo, but I didn't want those Chinooks to mess with me.”

"How could you tell they were Chinook?"

He shrugged.  "I'm from the rez."  

The End

Nick O'Connor 
copyright 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I hit the Hollywood Trader Joe’s at least once a week. T.J.’s has deals, like $2.99 for a bottle of drinkable wine or a can of organic beans for $.69. (My family is as organic as a benzene ring.) And the store is on the way home.

One dark, wet, cold evening, I was in my T.J.’s, loading up. Into the shopping cart went deals on two pounds of organic, fair trade coffee for about $12, a couple of chocolate bars for under $2 each, a bunch of (organic) bananas, and a few jars of (organic) tomato sauce.

The store, which is always either busy, or some level of busier than busy, was busier than usual. Carts were jammed in every aisle. Despite the usual friendly efficiency of the employees, eternity gained ground. Lines got snaky long.

At last, my turn came. The cashier rang up $22 and change. I slid my debit card. Tick tick tick -- the moment got snaky long.

“No, it’s not working. Please slide it again.”

I slid it. Tick tick tick.

“I’m sorry, it’s disapproved. Showing insufficient funds. You can try it again, as credit.”

Only midly surprised, I slid it again.

“No, sir. It’s not approving.”

All right. I probably sighed loudly. I asked the cashier if she would keep the bag of groceries at the checkout for a moment. She nodded and turned to the next customer.

I sat down on a kid-size bench kept near the front door. I pulled out my phone and tried to reach my wife to have her move some money over, which would take no time, problem solved. But she didn’t answer.

After a couple of tries, I looked up. A woman I didn’t know was standing there, smiling warmly and fanning some currency at me.

She said, “Here, let me take care of your groceries.”

“No,” I replied politely but with some force. “No thanks. You’re very kind, but I’ve got it handled. Thanks.”

She went away. I tried again to reach my wife, while entertaining resentful thoughts, like “I’ve got a job,” “I’m not at the end of my resources,” and “Do I look like I need a handout?” Again the electronic connection failed to materialize.

There was nothing to do but leave. I zipped up my jacket tooth by tooth, pulled my hat down and adjusted it, over the left ear, over the right ear, took my gloves from my jacket pockets one at a time. But the call did not come.

Then the cashier was coming at me. She had a bag of groceries, which she set down at my feet. I could see my tomato sauce and bananas.

I said, “Did that woman pay for these?”

“Yep. She said to pay it forward.'”

The angel was still at the checkout; I caught her at the door and thanked her.

“Enjoy,” she said pleasantly, without slowing down.

“Do you want to exchange names?” I said,

“No, just pay it forward.”


Friday, July 8, 2011

The Coolest

Every Thursday evening, the Liberators’ comedy improv class ended at 9:30.  Like the clockwork inside a $20 Rolex, I left the class and the Falcon Building.  Feeling funny, I walked the half-block to the corner of Albina and Killingsworth to catch the 72 bus eastbound towards home. 
There was always someone at the busstop whom I would have crossed the street to avoid, but the tentacles barely visible in the shadows over on the other side - though they beckoned in a friendly way - kept me on this one. 
I always said “Hello” to the driver, who was almost always the same woman.  I flashed a smile along with the transfer obtained two and a half hours prior.  She coldly read every word on the uncrumpled scrap of newsprint as if it were a ransom note, and assessed me as if I had typed it and were delivering it for her approval. 
“Go ahead,” she would say. 
One Thursday evening, the bus arrived ten minutes late.  Otherwise, everything was as usual.  I said “Hello,” flashed the transfer and the smile, and she said “That’s expired.” 
I wanted to say, “I thought you were my friend.”  Instead, I pointed out that she was late, and that if she had been on time the transfer would have been ---
“… almost good.  Almost good is still expired,” she said.  “This line runs every 15 minutes, so you would have been expired even if you caught the last bus.”
I’m expired?  I’m expired?  I pulled out my wallet, containing a lone $5 bill. 
I said to the dozen passengers, “Does anyone have change for a five?” 
Blank dogfaces dared me to further disturb their peace. 
I thought I heard the driver say, “I’ll take you by a store and you can get change.”   
“Excuse me?”  She said it again.  I would have been more surprised if she’d given me a pair of free Blazers tickets, or a fresh caught salmon, but not much. 
I stood just behind the yellow line while she drove from stop to stop to stop.  Just as I was thinking I’d slip through the barrage of stimuli and demands she was fielding – checking fares, bantering, driving – she stopped, gestured at a convenience store kitty corner across Alberta Street and said, “I’ll wait for you.” 
We were at 10th Avenue, more than a mile from where I’d boarded.   I ran into the store, waited for two customers to get what they needed to make it through the night, broke the five on a box of spearmint TicTacs and ran back to the idling bus.  I paid up and thanked the coolest bus driver I ever met. 
Nick O'Connor  Copyright 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011


I boarded the 75 bus northbound at Sandy Boulevard in front of the Hollywood Burger Bar about 6 p.m., like I have a hundred times before. The driver was a big fellow, who said “Hi” like he meant it, as always. About a third of the way to the back of the bus I stopped shuffling and stood, because my back hurt and standing felt better than sitting. It's the last leg of my trip home; I was probably daydreaming hard.

There was a shout from the back and then another shout and eventually, slowly, I turned around.

A blind man (white cane, dark glasses, uncoordinated Goodwill clothes), and therefore a TriMet Honored Citizen, stood by the back door. He held a folded wire shopping cart under an arm and was talking seriously with an agitated woman in business clothes, whom I recognized as a regular rider.

She pushed roughly by me to the front and complained quietly but emphatically to the driver about “she.” The driver pulled over, heard out the complaint and made a garbled announcement over the P.A. to the rest of us. Only the last few words came through clearly: “... will be out on the sidewalk.”

A glance at the rear of the bus was inconclusive. The half dozen teenagers were all innocent looks and faint smiles; the few adults gave off blank indifference.

At the next stop, several riders boarded, so to get out of the aisle I sat down, ending up right in front of the back door.  To go easy on my back, instead of settling into the seat and then straining to get out, I sat on the edge facing about 45 degrees into the aisle. The Honored Citizen had taken a seat in the middle of the bench facing the back door, putting him at my left, across the aisle.

At the next stop came a shout and scuffle and a young woman – a girl, really, about 14 – was attacking the Honored Citizen. She was right on top of him, cursing, punching his face, and spitting. He managed to get his feet up and kick-shoved her away but she came around the legs on my side for another go at him.

She was by my left elbow, facing away. Without really thinking, I reached my left arm around her neck and grabbed her right upper arm with my right hand. She struggled for a few seconds, but I had a solid grip and to my surprise she calmed down.

A skinny middle-aged guy wearing a “CSI” cap paced up and down the aisle, yelling for someone to call the police and saying that he saw it all, that the girl started it. I held on. The girl resumed cursing at the Honored Citizen but was not fighting me at all.

It's hard to estimate time when violence and adrenaline are flowing, but I'll guess that no more than 20 seconds into all this, a couple of the girl's teenage friends made their way from the back up to the situation. The two boys were bigger than me. The girl was between me and them. One said to me, in what I took to be a neutral tone, “You can't keep holding her like that. That's not right.” Still, I felt vaguely threatened. I took my hands off the girl and she and her friends bolted out the back door.

A second later, before the door could close, she stuck her head inside and spit and screeched at the Honored Citizen one last time. I couldn't understand what she said. Then she was gone.

The driver announced that he would wait for police. The Honored Citizen stood and walked calmly to the front, cart under his arm. I looked for blood, bruises, torn fabric, but saw none. On my way to the front door I overheard the Honored Citizen talking. 

He said to the driver, “I was just sitting back there and that girl next to me was making rude remarks. Saying somebody was filthy and smelled like you know what and should wipe himself before going out in public. And then I realized she was talking about me. . . . “

The whiff I caught of him was not fresh, but more like a dirty shirt than soiled underwear.

Not wanting to take time for the cops, I jumped off. The girl and her entourage were nowhere to be seen. My heart was still racing, with my breath right behind it. I checked over my shoulder for a posse all the way home.


Nick O'Connor - copyright 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011


Sometimes the Max from Hillsboro is already packed when it takes on the homeward bound commuter swarm at the Sunset Transit Center. Then we have to suck up one another's garlic breath, intense perfume, loud (but private) cell phone conversations, and, now and then, the ranting of a sociopath. But on this particular Wednesday evening the crowd is light and I hit the Trimet jackpot – a seat next to an empty seat. Ahhh! I unfold the Willamette Week and leaf through like a cool breeze.

At Pioneer Square, the train stops. And stays stopped. No matter; even without reading it's going to take me ten minutes to tear ten pages of music ads into confetti. A Wednesday practice of mine. For someone who never learned to actually play music, it's satisfying to virtually destroy the hopes of scads of earnest young musicians, to imagine being Darwin, God and a radio program director all in one. A few geniuses will slip through and have careers, sure, but that's life.

I've reduced a couple hundred band photos to chicken coop fluff when, into the corner of my eye, up the aisle and to the very front of the train just three rows ahead of me, strides a seven-foot tall man tricked out like a tinker from a fairy tale, in swaddling rags and a matchingly grimy but cute hat. I mean King Hippie in layers of motley, multiple scarves and fingerless gloves, a homeless leprechaun with giantism. He takes off the hat, which is bumping the ceiling, and places it upside down on the floor. He faces the half dozen of us he's now trapped. We face back at him as if summoned up for his performing pleasure. He smiles lovingly and says “Hi, I'm Allen. I'm going to give you a music lesson.”

Shit, he's got a didgeridoo. Now I'm pissed off. Isn't this disturbing the peace?

“This is a didgeridoo and I'm going to teach you to play it.”

I remind myself that this guy was once his mother's baby. To calm myself, I read my horoscope. Rob the astrologer says we Virgos should be more open to experience, especially the eccentricities of others. Okay, Allen: You've got one minute.

“The didgeridoo is an ancient instrument of the Australian aborigines. It's basically a hollow reed, as you can see.”

Oh, I get it. Allen's on a mission. He's a white, upper-middle class American who found himself wandering in the outback, had an epiphany and has returned from the dreamtime to “so-called civilization” (as I imagine him saying) with a vision of tribal rituals going viral. Or maybe he's a sophisticated robot constructed at Burning Man.

“To play requires a technique called 'circular breathing.' The player keeps the air flowing continuously through the instrument by inhaling through the nose while exhaling through the mouth.”

He's gesturing circularly, with an arm as long and fibrous as a didgeridoo. A couple of my fellow captives try to read. One young woman, however, is beaming. Smitten. Transported. Well, there's no accounting for animal impulses.

“If anyone cares to give a small donation, please use the hat.”

I have not been transported. In fact, we're still at Pioneer Square. Allen raises the mighty instrument to his lips. I stand. Make my way to the aisle. Allen pauses politely. Loathe to break the delicate trust we've established, I suppose. He gazes at me lovingly but I keep moving, on and out. The deep, crudely modulated mooing begins, and as the train doors close and the Max grinds ahead, I see that Allen's admirer is mesmerized, swaying in her seat like a hollow reed in a desert wind. 

Copyright 2011 by Nick O'Connor

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On The Edges Of Our Seats

The blonde was standing on the Lloyd Center platform, scoping out a seat through the windows as the Max pulled in.  She negotiated the crowd smoothly, ending up in the last vacancy in sight, in the middle of the five-passenger bench straight across the aisle from me.  Though perspiration was already glittering on foreheads, she seemed cool and relaxed in a pastel summer dress.  The bare shoulders set her off from the sober, gray, pressed schmeer of commuters.   She could have stepped out of a cigarette ad created by Don Draper. 

She was probably in her early thirties, and she sat in a comfortable, balanced posture that suggested a dancer or athlete.  She smirked, privately.

I had begun scanning with her hair and now reached the pale, bare shins and slid my eyes straight down to the hot pink nails peeking out of a pair of sandals.  But --- wait ---

That ankle bracelet.

What look was she going for?  A thick white plastic box the size of a deck of cards held by metal rivets onto a thick white plastic strap.  Oh, wow, a real live parolee.  "Must have a desk job," I thought.

I was staring at the ankle bracelet.  
When I glanced up, I swear she winked.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


My wife, daughter and I were waiting at the 77 bus stop westbound, near the Trader Joe's by the Hollywood Transit Center.  My daughter was wearing a sorceress costume and cape and reading “The Celery Stalks At Midnight.”  My wife was cooling off in silence after a heated family discussion.  If I smoked, I would have been doing so.

Waltzing along and talking cheerfully to himself came a grizzled old guy.  His wild beard, and a backpack under his poncho that shaped him into a hunchback did not disguise a friendly, inquiring face.  He stopped and greeted us.  The cap on his head read “Couples Retreat.” 

“What does your cap mean?” I asked.

“I have no idea.”

He took a long look at the sorceress and eventually asked “Where did she come from?”  His tone suggested he thought she might have some powers.  He added, “A small egg?”

“From thin air,” I said. 

He asked and I told him my name, what I did, where I worked, where the business was located, where we were going.  When I asked his name, he asked what my wife did. 

I said, “Couples retreats.”

This is actually about 80 percent true because, though she's never actually held a couples retreat, she is a licensed therapist and her specialty is helping couples.  She told him as much.  He stepped back, in mock shock. They were amused with each other.

He asked if she were my sister. 

“My wife.” 

“Your sister, too?”

“You big joker.”

“Maybe she's my sister.” 

“Now you're getting personal.” 

“Whoa,” he said, in a voice exactly like Popeye. 

The cocktail banter continued in this familiar facetious fashion, except that our new acquaintance was free associating at a speed that left  me trailing.  His thoughts would veer off unpredictably, though he kept  touch with us.  His phrases were like confetti, magical while in the air and then gone. 

For example, one chain of associations I was able to retain, because he said it more than once:  “Information becomes truth becomes god.  Christianity is insanity.  God is dog backwards.  A dog eats its own shit twice.” 

The door, maybe, for that trip to the mental dump was that I had told him where we were going:  “Church.” 

“Catholic, Muslim, Jew?” 


“Christianity is insanity.”

When he wasn't gathering information about us he was riddling, punning, improvising epigrams.  A mention of the brain led to vagus nerve and then Las Vegas.  He asked where I was from. 


He held up his right palm, the instant map of Michigan, and I pointed.  “Detroit?” 

“Right.  And also. . . ” I pointed again.

“Flint?  Lansing?”


When I took note of his East Coast accent, he said “Where do you think I'm from?”


Before the last syllable was out of my mouth he was repeating the word in a good imitation of my voice, with its West Coast drawl, then again in what I took to be a true Massachusetts accent, followed by his own, harsher-sounding vernacular.  Baddaboom.

“The Bronx,” he said, to sum up the lesson in dialects.

He got on the bus with us.  My wife took on the conversation as we traveled, which improved her mood dramatically, thank dog.  There was something else said about church, and he repeated the little “Information becomes truth” rant, ending again with “Christianity is insanity.” 

I asked, “Why do you say that?” 

“Because it's a poem.”  He held up a credit-card size packet wrapped in a thick rubber band, on top of which showed an embroidered patch reading “AA.” 

“How long have you been clean and sober?” 

He moved the rubber band down on the patch so we could read at the top, “Army Airborne.” 

Gotcha.  “Since Vietnam."

He said he joined  the Army in 1963 and asked us to guess his age.  Suddenly he was speaking French.  After some wrong guesses, he revealed:  “Soixante-neuf.”  Sixty-nine, older than I imagined. 

He talked about “The Kingdom of Heaven,” a movie he'd seen the night before.  “I bought the DVD for two dollars at Goodwill.”  It was nice to know he's got a place to stay and is not flat broke. 

“It's about Saladin, a great leader of Islam.  And about Christianity, which is insanity.” 

This is the bare bones of our twinkling talk, which lasted all of  20 minutes.  Free fun with a complete stranger.  

I and my family deboarded at 17th and Broadway, saying goodbye, but not before wangling our new friend's e-mail address.  It will remain private here, but I can say that it would make an excellent title for a “Star Trek” episode. 

The End