Sitting in a Starbucks across from the Parker House, reading a story by Ann Hood, I tried to keep a man’s voice from interrupting fiction’s dream. But his voice was strong. Insistent. I glanced to my right. Two men, street people, poring over a crossword puzzle, the man with the strong voice, leaning into the table, his long stringy unwashed gray hair, streaming. He wore jeans, a thin tee shirt, an undershirt, really.
“I can’t remember how to spell palest or pale,” the man opposite him says. He’s younger, with reddish hair, glasses, wearing a long sleeved flannel shirt.
“P-a-l-e-s-t,” the older man says.
“Palest. Is that what you’re saying?” the younger man says.
As I listened, I kept my eyes focused on the scene outside the window wall, the garden of the Old City Hall where azalea as white as snow bloomed, profusely. Rising from the garden a statue of one of history’s giants. Later, I learned he was Josiah Quincy who lived from 1772 to 1864, a long life. Josiah Quincy was a member of the Massachusetts Senate, of Congress, a municipal court judge, mayor of Boston, president of Harvard.
“I can’t continue with the this,” the younger man said. Glancing over, I saw that he had pushed himself back from the table. “Want to take it over to the park?”
And I wondered on this particular visit to Boson, how many times I'd walked past these men as I crossed The Common, head high, eyes erasing their humanity? Now, as they walked past my table, the older man, shouldering his dirty back pack, the younger man following, I lowered my gaze, hopefully, a gesture of respect.