Hey, how’s it goin’?” the man called over his shoulder as I climbed in the back of his cab.
The Boys of Summer were on his mind, I guess because of the start of Spring Training all over. “Those jokers, what a buncha crybabies” he said of our local team and then went loudly on and on about their faults, sprinkling his remarks with various peppery terms.
“You sound like those call-in shows on sports radio,” I told him.
“Seriously, talk about mama’s boys! Tell ya what, you don’t get BS like that in football. In football a guy F’s up and the coach is all over him. With these bozos it’s ‘Well we all have bad days,’ and ‘there are no bad players, only disappointing games.’ Gimme a break!”
This guy was about 50, and stocky, with a tattoo running the length of his arm of naked lady cradling a guitar, and as I studied the back of his head he began to feel weirdly familiar to me, as if he had to be from the city where, long ago, I had been a teacher.
“Are you by any chance from _ ?” I blurted, naming the place.
“Where else?” he sneered.
“And did you go to the high school?”
“Ya, for about three hours after I left the Trade School! Basically all I have is a ninth grade education. If you can call it an education. They kept passing me on from year to year even when I wasn’t gettin’ it.”
“Oh no! Did you realize you weren’t catching on like the other kids? “
“Of course I realized! I couldn’t f*in’ read! I still can’t spell for sh*t. But they didn’t have no ADHD or nothin’ then. “
“But… can you read OK now? The sports pages, say?”
“Oh sure. Well, I can take my time with them.
“I grew up in the Projects,” he went on. “My old man was a real lowlife. Took off on us back F knows when.”
“The Projects, huh? Did you know ___” I asked, naming some names from back then, including that of the famous local gangster who was then in his heyday.
“OH ya! My ma hung out with his girlfriend,” he said. “Not the guy’s WIFE, mind you., his girlfriend. Ask me, any guy who’s got both is scum. Me I got three kids, never mind that they’re not talkin’ to me at the moment, and I paid their child support right up until the baby turned 21.“Their mothers are drunks” he added. “If I hadn’t been forkin’ money over to them all this time I could’ve maybe made somethin’ of myself.
“Even though I only have ninth grade education,” he said again.
“If you can call it an education.”
“So what do you do for joy in your life?” I asked, just because I love asking this of people.
“Play with my band,” he said, indicating the tattoo of the musical nude. Then he darted quick as a minnow to the curb.
“End of the line, $24 even,” he said, with an abruptness that made me think maybe talking about daily joy was not the story he wanted to tell.
No, I think the story he wanted to tell, during this cab ride anyway, was the story of how he had tried to uphold the social contract, to marry and be faithful to his kids, and of how the system had failed him, starting way back when he was a child.
The man was angry, with a deep underlying anger, and right now in this country? Right now it looks like he’s not alone.