Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A conversation between strangers

They'd been sitting side by side for the entire first half, occasionally glancing over at each other as any two strangers would when fate brought them to such close proximity.

The boy's father descended the creaky bleachers to hit the restroom before the second half began. It was a closely fought girls' basketball battle between two teams who didn't normally meet: Auburn and Chief Sealth high schools.

This time, their eyes met. "Hi," said the man.

"Hi."

"Are you watching your sister play today?"

"No, I go to lots of high school games. My dad's a teacher here, so we get in free. I'm a big basketball fan," offered the boy. "My mom even made me a real Auburn basketball uniform that I wear around the house. I don't wear it around my friends because they make fun of me."

"That's too bad. And I'm a big basketball fan, too. Well, mostly because my daughter plays for Chief Sealth. She's number 20."

"Really? She looks familiar," said the boy. "Why do you have earrings? Only girls wear earrings. And how old are you, anyway?"

"I'm 47. How old are you?"

"I'm ten and five-sixths. I'll be eleven in August."

"My birthday's in August, too."

The boy straightened his glasses, which had begun to slip down his nose. "August birthdays are totally decent. What do you do for a job that lets you wear earrings?"

"I'm a graphic designer."

"What's that?"

"It's a type of artist who tries to visually capture someone's attention. I work on a computer."

"A computer? Like one of those things at NASA? I love the astronauts. Do you draw stuff?"

"Sometimes."

"I love to draw. I draw all day, when I'm not watching J.P. Patches. That show's really neato. He's so funny."

"Do you watch old episodes on DVD?" inquired the man.

"What's that?"

"Never mind." The man now wondered if this kid was for real. The boy was wearing Converse All-Stars, like a lot of children these days, but he also wore a football jersey with number 51 and the name "Butkus" on the back.

"So are you wearing one of your dad's old jerseys?"

"No. This is mine. Dick Butkus is my favorite player. Duh," said the boy more quietly. "I hope my dad at least comes back with an apple. I'm starving. I eat too much junk food, like Ho-Hos and Ding Dongs and Twinkies. And donuts and Cheese Nips and Chicken in a Biskit. And Froot Loops and Cap'n Crunch."

"I hear you," said the man.

"Of course you hear me. Geez."

The boy's dad returned with a crispy, red apple. "Here you are, son. I was surprised to see that these apples are twenty cents now."

The boy crunched down hard on the apple and turned toward the man. He was gone.

The boy knew he'd see him again.

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