Sunday, December 07, 2008


BUS STORY # 110 (Wanna Be A Baller)


I’m on my way home, laptop case on my lap, New Yorker opened on top the case, absorbed in an article about something I no longer recall. So I’m not really aware of the guy who sits down beside me until he leans over and says with last night beer breath, “You gettin’ off work?”

This is how this bus story begins.

I’m coming to the hard realization that, more and more, I have to make a choice when I’m riding the bus: read things I really want to read and often don’t have time to read anywhere else, or watch what’s going on around me – which, of course, is where the bus stories come from.

I’ve missed some stories. I’ve looked up too late, in the middle of something whose playing out never lets me in on how it all began, or what it’s really all about. And I’ve gotten a few stories only because somebody imposed himself on my reading. Like this guy sitting beside me.

“Yeah. How about you?”

He’s been up since six. He bets I was still sleeping.

Actually, I was up at five.

He’s impressed because I put in, what, a 13-hour day?

Well, more like ten when you count travel time.

“I’ll bet you’re a baller,” he says, grinning.

I’m not sure I’ve heard him right.

“A baller. You know, a pin-up.”

This is the first time I really look at him. He’s a young guy, round, pleasant, open face, big grin, with a white baseball cap whose curved bill finishes the circle of this face. Big guy. He’s wearing a jersey, the cherry and silver of the University of New Mexico Lobos. He’s got on jeans cut off below the knees in what I would describe as “Capri’s” if they were on a woman. They’re spattered with white paint, or maybe plaster.

It’s also the first time I start thinking about what might be going on here. “Baller” and “pin-up” have connotations that, applied to me, make it pretty obvious just how badly alcohol can warp a person’s perception of reality.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I tell him.

He explains he bets I have a lot of money stashed away.

I explain that, if I did, I wouldn’t be working a ten-hour day and riding home on the bus.

He laughs. He tells me he’s got money, too. Then he adds he still has to work, though.

I ask him what he does.

Today, he did stucco work. Yesterday, he was panhandling when a cousin drove by and asked him if he wanted to work. “Sure beats asking for spare change on the street.” But it was hard work. He’d been drinking all night and was hung over all day, but he still laid it down right.

I tell him I’m way beyond being able to drink hard and go to work the next day. He laughs and says he’s young, he’s up to it. He can drink for four days straight and still put in a day’s work. Then he has to go somewhere and get some healing time in.

He hates having to work. He wants to make a lot of money and retire. Win the lottery. Something like that. He says he’s thinking about selling drugs. The work’s easy, the money’s good.

I’m speechless. But not unresponsive. He’s already started to answer when I realize I’m giving him that over-the-glasses look.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with selling if your family is starving. You gotta put your family first, man.

Does he have a family?

No, he’s too young to be getting cramped up like that. He explains instead there’s lots of different addictions out there besides drugs. That’s a non sequitur I can’t follow.

It also pretty much ends the conversation. He gets off after a couple more stops.

Later, I will google “baller” and discover several variations of the opening lines of a recent hit, “Wanna Be A Baller,” by a rapper named ‘Lil’ Troy.

Wanna be a baller shot caller twenty inch blades on the Impala call her gettin’ laid tonight swisher rolled tight sprayed with ice I hit the highway making money the fly way but there’s got to be a better way a better way better way yeah.
Part of me is thinking about the fly way of making money. Yes, I have a problem with folks like my co-rider who don’t have a problem with selling drugs to make money. But I’m also thinking my co-rider’s values are little more than the trickle down ethics from the movers and shakers of American business, government and culture.

Then there’s the other part of me that’s thinking about those 20-inch blades on the bus. I’m thinking a baller like me oughta be gettin’ Greg Payne to pimp my ABQ RIDE.

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