Sunday, December 28, 2008


BUS STORY # 113 (Big Fish)


He gets on the bus at Eubank. He’s a big guy, solid, no fat, six-two, maybe more. Big yellow work shoes, jeans, plaid shirt, baseball cap. He’s got glasses and a moustache. The moustache is light brown mixed with gray.

He’s carrying an open-top cardboard box. I can see the top of a yellow hard hat inside. When he sets it down on the seat, I hear the clink of bottles. He edges past the box and into the window seat.

He looks inside the box. Then he adjusts his cap. I see the edge of a gauze wrap when he makes the adjustment. The cap must not feel right yet because he continues to make adjustments. Finally, he takes the cap off and turns it backward.

When he takes off the cap, I can see his head is wrapped with several layers of gauze. When he puts the cap back on, the gauze disappears. The backwards fit seems to work. He turns his attention to the box.

He lifts a bottle partway out of the box by the neck. I can see it’s a fifth of Jim Beam. He lays it back down, gently. He pulls another bottle up and looks at it. It’s a blue bottle with “Skyy” in white letters. (I learn later this is an American vodka that is doing exceptionally well.) It’s Friday, I think to myself. He’s ready for the weekend.

When I look up from the blue bottle, he’s looking right at me. “Hi,” he says. It’s firm, direct.

“Hi. How are ya?”

“I’m a lot better now than I was last night.”

It’s like fishing. I know I’ve just had a hit, and there is probably a good-sized bus story at the end of this line. I give it a tug.

“So what happened last night?”

He tells me he was in the emergency room at UNMH. He’d been in a fight and got his head laid open. Blood everywhere. He went down to get it stitched up.

When he took a seat in the waiting room, the guy on his left said he’d been there 18 hours waiting to see a doctor. The guy on his right said he’d been waiting for 20.

“So I’m outa there. I ain’t got no 20 hours to sit around waiting. I figure it’ll heal itself back together.”

He says he’s always been healthy, never really thought about insurance, but after last night, he’s having second thoughts. And, without prompting, he tells me what happened.

“A friend of mine – well, he ain’t no friend of mine anymore – hit me with a pipe.”

It seems he and his friend and his friend’s wife were riding in his van. In a sequence I don’t quite understand and can’t quite imagine, he accidentally closed the door on his friend’s wife’s leg. She said “Ow.” Her husband hit him with a pipe. I’m guessing with some of that Jim Beam aboard, the dots connect.

“How long have you known each other?”

“A month and a half. I even put him up in my own house. Him and his wife and her two girls. I let ‘em sleep in my room. I let ‘em eat my groceries.”

You can hear the “can-you-believe-it” in his voice.

He goes back to the fight. When he got hit, he didn’t go down and he wasn’t knocked out. So his friend hit him again. All this did was make him mad. He could tell by the blood he was gonna have to go to the hospital, and he decided if he had to go, his friend was gonna have to go, too. So he fought back. Lots of detail about pounding and kicking and how beaten up his friend’s face looked when they both got to the hospital. I’m wondering, did they drive down together? And what was that conversation like?

But I’m at my stop now, and this is all the story I’m gonna reel in. Well, almost. As I stand up and head for the exit, he lifts the bottle of bourbon from the box.

“You need any Jim Beam?”

“No. No, thanks,” I reply. I’m out the door now.

But it’s got me wondering what exactly he’s doing with those bottles. Getting ready for the weekend? Deciding to get rid of the stuff after last night?

There’s always the one that got away.

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