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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Michelle and the Very Odd Fellow

[Jeremy Hillary Boob]
I approached his cab from behind, so I didn't get a good look at him. Given the unseasonably warm day, the driver's side window was down, so a friendly "hallooo, are you free, sir?" was enough to get a wave from a meaty hand attached to a hamhock of a forearm. I climbed into the back seat with my haul from Trader Joe's.


"Thanks! I over-bought. These bags are too heavy for walking home."

I told him my address, just about two miles away, and he started the ignition and nosed the cab into Boston traffic.

He did not look into the rearview mirror, he did not turn his head to check the blind spot. I did, reflexively. "We're good," I offered, though I got the distinct impression that he didn't care for my opinion on the matter.

That's when I noticed that he couldn't turn his head more than a couple of inches. He was slumped in the driver's seat in an unnatural, off-kilter position with his bald head jutting forward, so it looked as though he'd leaned over to check the radio at some point and had stuck that way. He was a big fellow, in a big yellow polo shirt. All I could see from the back seat was yellow cotton-encased flab billowing into the center console, and that fleshy head the size of an overturned bucket seemingly fixed in place to look out the lower third of the front windshield. Scoliosis? Arthritis? Spina Bifida? I'd never seen someone drive a car in that position before. How odd. But whatever his ailment, he didn't seem to make it an issue, so no biggie. Homeward bound was I, with this very odd fellow at the helm, me in the back seat, hoping that he could see where he was going.

"Do you know how to get there?" I asked. Everyone knows my neighborhood, but it's thickly settled with a lot of one-way streets, so it never hurts to ask. He said that he knows the way, and added that he's been driving a cab for 20 years. Then he made a turn, without signaling, in the completely opposite direction. "Is this a shortcut?" I asked him. That's what you ask when the cab drivers go the wrong way, just in case they know something that you do not know. In the form of a question, how you do if you were repeating what I had just said, he said the name of an entirely different street. Only it was way off. Didn't sound even a little bit like the street name I'd told him. So I told him my street name again, carefully enunciating, and then I spelled it out. Okay. That was quite odd. But maybe he can't hear very well.

There was traffic, so it took a bit to get us turned around going the right way. No sooner did we get going the right way, he said that he knew a shortcut. But he didn't. He turned the wheel, and then we were locked into taking, well, a longcut.

What I wanted to say: What the hell, man? You're terrible at this job. I've been in this cab for two minutes, and you've already been wrong twice. Why don't I just tell you where to go so we can end this whole thing quicker?

What I said: Nothing.

The radio was tuned to a talk show, the volume set very low. When he grunted in approval at something the radio host said, that's when I realized there was nothing wrong with this fellow's hearing. I recognized the radio host's voice. "Is that Howie Carr? Wow," I said. He said, "Yeah. Republican radio. Well, I call it Republican radio." I took a moment to ponder what he meant by "I call it..." since Howie Carr has been a nationally popular Republican radio host, columnist and author for decades.

What I wanted to say: Everyone calls it Republican radio. That's what it is. This is a Republican radio show that's on right now.

What I said: "I used to listen to Howie Carr every day on my commute. He's super-conservative, but he's also well-read, humorous and gives good radio. I haven't heard his show in years."

I left it at that. I could have said more. I did listen to Howie Carr during drive time for years, and I remember being entertained and sometimes even informed. But there were times I had to turn him off, for my own safety and that of other drivers, because he made me need both fists to be angry at the air with, plus some steering wheel pounding.

"I like this station," he said, then he called it the wrong call letters.

What I wanted to say: "No, this is WRKO."

What I said: Nothing.

"On weekends they have sixties music, oldies. I like that. You wouldn't think, on a Republican radio station, they'd play that music, but they do, I dunno why."

What I wanted to say: What the hell are you talking about? A listenership of old white people? That's the primary oldies demographic. "Oldies" is both what it is, and who it's for, at the same time.

What I said: "Well. Seems about right to me."

Now we were within sight of a big building and a car dealership. For some reason, he decided to inform me that New Balance owns that building, that dealership, and all of Braintree Street down from the Stop 'n Shop.

What I wanted to say: No, they don't. That building, and that dealership, have been owned by the Ciccolo family for decades. Two brothers run the whole thing. I have met them. And the new Braintree Street construction isn't New Balance, either. And the old building at the end near the Stop 'n Shop is owned by this lawyer whose office suite is on the 5th floor. I've been in his office dozens of times.

What I said: Nothing.

As he negotiated another left turn in our unnecessarily lengthy journey to my house, I guess he wanted some kudos. "Is this the fastest way you seen? Pretty good, huh?"

What I wanted to say: This is the dumbest route and you're an idiot.

What I said: "Well. Ya know. There are a number of ways to go. I gave up my car about 12 years ago, so I'm out of practice on the roads. Now my brain is rewired for walking and the bus."

He told me again that he's been driving a cab for twenty years. "Around here?" I asked. A less...confident...person would have heard the unspoken implication tacked to the end of that, to wit, "...because it doesn't seem like you know this area too well." But, quite sure of his rightness in all things, this fellow said, "Here, Roxbury, Dedham, all ovah." He asked if I remembered some business that had closed down about 15 years ago. I said no. He said, "What are you, about 65?"

What I wanted to say: "Are you fucking kidding me right now?"

What I said: "I'm 46."

"Oh," he said. "I figyid when you said you gave up yer cah you musta been in yer sixties." Since he can't turn around or look in the rearview, he hadn't seen me. I'm just a voice, to him.

What I wanted to say: That's quite a leap in logic. I have no car, so I'm 65? Is that the same Nothing that you use to reach all of your Nothing conclusions in Nowhere land?

What I said: "That's quite a leap in logic. I gave up my car because I no longer have to drive to work, I live in the city now, cars are expensive, it's hard to find parking here, and ultimately I don't need it. It had nothing at all to do with my age."

Howie Carr was still on the radio, introducing a guest, and the topic was, of course, the election. The very odd fellow said, "There is only one clear way to go. Trump can do no wrong, that's what I say."

What I wanted to say: Well, you could not be any more wrong.

What I said: "Well, you could not be any more wrong." Because I'd had enough of this wrongness. This fellow was the wrongest person I had ever met, and my husband's parents think Paul Ryan is an inspiration.

Finally, finally we reached my one-way street. I paid this very odd fellow who was blatantly, unequivocally wrong ten times within the span of a fifteen minute cab ride. I gathered my things in an awkward double-armful, and got the hell out of that cab. On the porch, I re-organized my bags to get a better grip for the climb upstairs. I dug out my keys, I got the mail out of the mailbox. As I stood on the stoop flipping through the envelopes, about to go inside, here comes the very odd fellow again, driving down my one-way street. He'd turned right, into another one way street that comes next after my street. Turning right is wrong. It just loops around.

"Guess I'm goin' the wrong way," he called out as he drove off. I still didn't get a very good look at him. Just the awkward lean of a sloping head, loose lobular ear flesh and a fleeting impression of close-set, droopy eyes.

I said to no one, "What an odd fellow." Yes. You are definitely going the wrong way. The wrongest possible way. Best of luck to you, sir.

Best of luck to all of us.

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