We must have been the oddest pair on the entire train. Me, with my creamy yellow, hand-embroidered Sunday dress, a wide-brimmed straw hat with a big bow in my lap, and a sock on the needles in my purse. Him, with his leathery brown skin, thread-bare clothes, and
I was sitting in the priority seating area of the MAX train in downtown Portland. I was coming back from a class on knitting knee-high socks, when an old man hobbled over to the seat next to mine. I moved my skirt off the seat for him. He turned his wizened face to mine, put his hand on my shoulder, and said in a gravelly voice: “Thank you, Bonita Senorita.”
I smiled cluelessly. I don’t speak Spanish. Never have.
“You understand me?”
“Ah can speak German too, ya know. Ah was there in Frankfurt forty yeahs ago, in the US Army. I’m sixty-four, ya know.”
I told him he was looking well for his age. He snorted in contemptuous laughter.
“Fo’ what? Ah smoke, Ah drink, an’ lookit this!”
He pulled out a pretty little blown glass instrument. It was vaguely shaped like a spoon, and had some little charcoal-looking things in the bowl. I looked at it politely. He looked at me for a moment, then said, “You know what that is?”
What was I supposed to say then? “Why, how very interesting, Mr. Man. I am glad you have shown me this thing. What an interesting tale I will have to tell my friends in Seattle about my trip to Portland.”
No, that wouldn’t do. I just sat there, dumb as a fish.
“Yor thinkin’ sumthing, Girlie,” he said wisely, tapping his temple knowingly. “Yor thinkin’ sumthing, an’ yor not telling me what.”
So I told him exactly what I was thinking.
“I’ve never seen marijuana before.”
He giggled at my simplicity, showed me his stash, and advised me never to try it. Then we moved on to the subject of boys.
“You have a boyfriend?”
“Wal, don’t. An’ when you do, make sure he’s a good one. You don’ know what dem bad boys will do; you jest don’t know what dem bad boys will do. The name’s Louis. See ya ’round.”
“Bye.” I said with a smile.
He hobbled over to the door of the train, waited for it to start closing, then stuck his leg through it. The door bounced back, and he ambled away, into the streets.
“Marijuana, compared with other illegal drugs, is relatively harmless. There aren’t many nasty side-effects and medical conditions that will arise from its use. Thus, people think that they can use it every day, and no harm will befall them. One day, however, they will wake up and realize that four years have gone by, and they have done nothing with their lives; nothing but light up, day after day . . .”