He sat with one leg crossed on the bench in the sun. He looked relaxed, non-threatening. He wanted to talk…
A memory from years ago on the Boston Common…
I’m fifteen years old.
Am walking past Park Street and towards Boylston Street.
A guy in a brown leather jacket says “Hello” as I walk by.
I say “Hello” back to him and keep walking.
“Can I bum a cigarette off you?” he asks
“Sorry, I don’t smoke,” I answer.
“Bad habit anyway,” he says.
He’s probably in his late twenties. Good looking. Trim. He is sitting in the sun on the bench with one leg crossed. Looks relaxed, non-threatening.
“Nice day, but a little cool,” he says.
“Yes, it is.”
“You in a hurry?”
“No… I’m just taking a walk,” I tell him.
“Well, rest your bones a bit,” he says, pointing at the empty side of the bench.
I’m leery of strangers on the Common, but he has a confident and intelligent voice.
“You like taking walks?” he asks.
“Been doing it since I was a kid,” I say. “My mother worked right over on Boylston Street. She was a waitress. Brought me in with her and let me walk around Park Square. I’ve loved the city ever since.”
“Yeah, it’s quite a place alright,” he says without much enthusiasm. “Where did your mother work?”
“It was Mcmannus’s Restaurant.” It’s no longer there. I used to count her tips at the end of the day.”
“I think I remember it. Busy place. I bet she made a lot of tips.”
“Yeah, she was a good waitress — the best,” I say.
“So, what do you do when you’re not walking?”
“I’m in High School.”
“Bet that’s a mixed bag of fish,” he says. “I hated High School. How about you?”
“It’s OK, I guess — but I don’t really like it. I’ll be glad when I’m out.”
“What are you going to do then?” he asks.
“Not sure yet. I’d like to travel.”
“Across the country. I read a book “Travels with Charlie.” Made me want to do the same thing,” I said.
“Who wrote that?” he asks
“Ever read The Grapes of Wrath?” he asks me.
“No, not yet. Is it good?”
“Probably the best book he wrote,” says the guy. “You read that book and it opens your eyes. By the way, what’s your name?”
Even though the guy seemed OK, I decided to give him a made-up name.
“I’m Tom Shaughnessy,” I tell him.
He holds out his hand. “Glad to meet you Tom, I’m Dan O’Hearn. Funny, you don’t look Irish.”
“Just on my father’s side,” I say. “My mother’s English and Scottish.”
“Bet they’re fighting all the time,” he says with a smile.
“Yeah, sort of. You think it’s the Irish against the English?”
“Always has been,” he says. “It’s destiny, that’s all. What’s dominant in you, the Irish or the English?”
“To tell you the truth, half my brain is Irish, and the other half is English, and they keep contradicting each other. Would have been better to be one or the other.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he says in a brotherly sort of way. “Let them fight it out, and just keep your feet on the ground and take one step at a time.”
As if to change the subject, he asks, “Where’s the first place you want to go when you get out of High School?”
“New York city,” I say.
“Don’t get me going on the Big Apple,” he says. “That’s one mean, nasty place.”
“How come?” I ask.
“The cops hassle you… everyone walks too fast, always in a hurry… and everything costs too much.”
“Well, I’d like to go anyway. Been there for a few weeks. My aunt lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. I took the 99-Bus into the city every day. Loved the library. So many places to walk. So much to see like the Empire State Building and Central Park. I really loved it.”
He smiled. “Yeah, if you’ve got the cash, it’s good — speaking of which, do you have a dollar you can spare?”
I was surprised. The guy didn’t look like he needed money. I thought he just wanted to shoot the breeze with me. “What do you need a dollar for?”
He seemed surprised by my question. “For Wine,” he said, as if it should have been obvious. “I’m a wino.”
I gave him a dollar, said my goodbyes and headed for Boylston Street, over to where my mother once worked.
Later, I realized that it was one of the best conversations I ever had with a stranger. I liked the guy. He had some sort or charisma… and it was hard to believe that he was just a wino looking for a buck.
I bet there’s more to his story.