17 September 2007
So, I'm walking through Little Italy on Labor Day, on my way to the office. The street is fairly deserted—one of of the few people I could see outside were a couple old men sitting outside the brightly-lit dive bar in the middle of the block. The bar is pictured above. At most hours of the day, that bench and the white plastic chairs are filled with large old men smoking cigars, and occasionally little old ladies smoking Virginia slims.
As I walked by, a large old man seated on the bench asked me if I had a light. I did. He then asked if I would join him in a smoke. I did. (Two smoking posts in a row! I'm still not a smoker, really! In fact, you can see in this story and the previous that the best thing about smoking is, in fact, the social space that it opens up, almost inaccessible through other means.) He said he liked my red striped socks, and then quickly qualified the compliment, "I mean they're not something I would wear..."
There was a Labor Day airshow going on, and the USAF Thunderbirds (or whatever) passing overhead prompted him to tell me about his childhood friend who is now an independent contractor in Afghanistan. This, in turn, led to his telling me his plan for Iraq, which was, in essence, a version of the fire-bombing of Dresden. Not a simplistic "Nuke 'em all," mind you, but rather an elaborately worked-out method for evaluating residential districts and leveling them one-by-one. I listened with the noncommittal smile-and-nod face that I have previously practiced during discussions with my racist uncle.
But this old man with dirty fingernails, whose name is Gary, was completely pleasant. Midwest-nice, in fact! As horrifying as his opinions were, I left the interaction smiling. He actually wanted me to have another cigarette, which I declined.
He also wanted me to come into the bar, where there was a Labor Day buffet set out. "Real good food," he explained, "not like the food you eat." I have no idea what he thinks I eat, but he said this simply as a statement of fact, as if it were self-evident, without a hint of insinuation or judgment.
In Cleveland, even the dirty old drunks are nice.
Note [23 Sept]: I actually wrote almost all of this this a week ago, but left it saved as a draft all this time.