You read my About page, right? So you know I'm planning to post clippings from my notebooks here? You don't mind? Great. Thanks.
Here's one. It's dated September 21. Many, many moons ago. I was a young fogey at the time, which explains the expression "peculiar to New Wave rock and rollers." I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now. Post tells the story of the first time I heard of the B-52's. And the first time I ever met a saint.
Sunday night in Harvard Square, waiting for the Allston bus. The bag lady who blessed me for a quarter I gave her in Kenmore Square two weeks ago is also waiting for the Allston bus. She wants to get to Cleveland Circle. Her possessions are in green polyurethane bags that she holds by the necks, straight-armed, one in each knobby hand, all their weight pulling on her shoulders, and two heavy cardboard boxes. The bags are perfect globes and they clear the sidewalk by a safe inch. She is kicking the boxes ahead of her as she goes. Today she is dressed for the brisk fall breezes, the hint of one of which everybody else is dying for. The bag lady is wearing an olive green overcoat and maroon pants that are rolled three time to halfway up her brick-shaped calves, revealing yellow knee socks. She wears heavy ankle-high walking shoes. The shoes are made of orange leather. They are brand new, not even scuffed. They would fit an average-sized man and she is not even an averaged sized woman so they are way too big for her. So she walks awkwardly. She wears a salt and pepper fluffy knit hat. Wisps of black hair stick out from beneath the hat at the sides and trail over her collar in back.
Her walk is a sort of waddle. Picture a drunken rectangle, long side up, nudging itself forward. One corner nudges itself ahead, then the rear corner drags itself forward to catch up. The bag lady, like the rectangle, could be easily toppled, tipped forward, to the right, to the back, and like the rectangle she would go over with all her lines and angles perfect. No bends or wiggles. She would fall flat.
The bag lady is after information. She wants to know if the Allston bus will take her where she wants to go and she wants to know when the bus will come. She waddles down the line of people, asking us. When she asks a question, she doesn’t lob it into a cluster of people hoping someone will field it. She asks each man, woman, and child, personally, standing square in front of him or her and looking right into their eyes. She receives varying temperatures of reception and conflicting answers. On Sundays the T is irregular, buses run different routes and have different arrivals and departures than they do on weekdays. (Saturdays are different altogether.) The information booth at the Brattle station is out of schedules for the 86 bus and the attendant doesn’t know the schedule. All anybody is able to tell the bag lady is that the bus runs once an hour. But at the quarter? The half? Three quarters? Ten past, sixteen to? Nobody can say.
She is coming to me soon. I can hear her repeated questions growing louder. Her questioning is lucid and her voice is clear and loud as a bell peeling. I don’t know any more than what she’s already been told, but prepare to answer her questions in a direct and friendly fashion.
“Excuse me, young man. Do you know if this bus goes to Western Avenue?”
I look up from the bulletin of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Her oatmeal cookie face is too close. The curls of her beard point up at me and do in my tolerance.
“No!” I kept eye contact only long enough to show my hostility. The bag lady shuffled down the line.
A young man stood on the curb, his thumb stuck out in the road, hitching. He was tall, pleasant looking; a square-jawed saint in sandals. He spoke to the bag lady before she even saw him.
“Do you like the B-52's?” He said. He’d noticed a pin with the band’s logo which the bag lady wore on her droopy coat. I didn’t catch her answer. The young man said, “Did see them when they were in town? They were very good. We were dancing all night. Like this. You know?” He demonstrated his dancing—the lunatic, looseboned, hopping up and down on both feet dancing peculiar to New Wave rock and rollers and incompetent electricians who have crossed the wrong wires.
The bag lady didn’t say anything. She was afraid yet fascinated by the hitchhiker and she stood and stared quietly at him the way a little girl might watch a magician at a side show. The roles of freak and gawker reversed themselves under the hitchhiker’s direction. His voice was gentle and boyish, but still adult. He answered all her questions about the bus even though she never asked him.
They stood together awhile and he talked to her quietly about many things. Her attention never faltered, his interest never grew patronizing.
He’s kept his thumb out the whole time. Now a car stops for him and he’s free to say his good-byes. But he doesn’t dismiss her as she expects him to. “Come with me,” he whispers, as he opens the car door. Then he says loudly, “Get in the car, Mom.”
All heads turn.
The bag lady looks terrified.
“This is my mother,” the hitchhiker says to the driver. The driver’s mouth gapes. The hitchhiker bundles the bag lady into the car. “Are you going to Brookline?” The driver nods. “This is great,” the hitchhiker says. “Are you ok, Mom? Good. Let’s go.” He hops in and puts his arm around her.
The car drives off.