BLIND HOWARD & THE DRUNK
Bruce Louis Dodson
I'm on the number 6-Parnassus with a window seat and feeling good today, ready to start another week. The pale-blue sky is streaked with pink and orange and yellow, pastel colors borrowed from a rainbow somewhere. Golden crosses glitter from cathedrals drenched in early morning sunlight, as a row of stately mansions from the San Francisco past drift by.
My fellow passengers are dressed as colorful self portraits: Chinese, black, and white, Vietnamese, Latinos . . . Russians. They have come from half the countries in the world it seems, speaking a dozen languages. I love this city, and am hopelessly addicted to its infinite variety of forms: the hills and architecture, crooked streets, the ocean . . . land and sea – such endless spectacle of life. It's easy to get lost — or found.
Blind Howard's on the bus today. He's standing halfway down the aisle, near the back door. I see him every week or so aboard these buses. Soon he will engage some unsuspecting passenger in conversation.
"Uh, excuse me," he will say. "Could you please tell when we've come to Market Street?"
That said, he'll try to get a conversation going. "My name's Howard Smith. What's yours? It's certainly a lovely day. Don't you agree? I work at the Emporium," he tells them. "Where do you work . . . ? Oh, how interesting." Once engaged in conversation he'll attempt to sell some candy bars to his new friend. "The money's not for me," he will explain. "It goes to the Foundation for the Blind." He almost always scores a buck or two.
We make a stop at Haight and Fillmore, and a drunk with what appears to be a self inflicted haircut is attempting to get on. He barely makes it up the steps, and stands unsteadily before the coin box by the driver, trying to get some change out of his pants as we take off again. The bus makes a jackrabbit start and he goes hurtling towards the back with one hand still inside his pocket, but he grabs a pole and makes an almost graceful, swing halfway around it before slipping off and stumbling backwards into Howard.
"Well, hello there. My name's Howard. What is yours?"
"Harraaggh," the wino answers.
Howard is confused and wary, not sure what he's gotten hold of this time, listening carefully for further clues, but now the drunk is making his way back toward the front end of the bus by grabbing onto seats as he goes by them, pulling himself forward as the driver hits the brakes to miss a yellow Volkswagen that's leapt out of a side street. Now the drunk goes flying frontward, crashing into the glass coin box and a rail that's put there to protect the thing.
"You tryin' to kill me?" he berates the driver. There is no reply as he deposits dimes and nickels, then goes down the aisle again, and stops a yard or two away from Howard. He's grasps the safety bar above him, hanging like a soused King Kong beside a young, attractive Japanese girl in a cream silk blouse and dress slacks, sling back heels.
"Uh, hub ubba flubba wubba." He attempts a bit of conversation, but she isn't having any and abandons her aisle seat in favor of the standing room still left . . . as far away from him as she can get. The other seats have all been taken.
"Hey, ubbbaaa . . . Lady. . . I don't need no seat," he says, then drops into it like a bag of day-old Jell-O, eyes closed, drifting off into another world, apparently asleep.
By this time Howard senses we're about halfway downtown and makes his move, nudging a balding, bearded man that's standing on his right. "Hello, my name is Howard."
There is no response to Howard's introduction.
"Uh, excuse me," he continues. "Could you tell me if we're getting close to Market Street?"
The bearded man ignores him, and Blind Howard asks again but gets the same result. "Why don't you answer me!" Howard demands. He's getting loud and people start to look around to see what's going on.
"Because I do not like you.”
"Because you take advantage. Will you please leave me alone?”
"How do I take advantage?" Howard asks. "I want to know."
The beard's not answering. He tries to move away, but now the bus is packed and there is no place left for him to go.
"You've got to tell me!" Howard's getting all worked up and rams the guy with his right shoulder, shoving him into a woman standing with a shopping bag. "You hate blind people don't you? Tell me what it is I do?" He shoulders him again. The bearded man's embarrassed and attempts to get around him, to the front end of the bus, but Howard will not let him pass. "Why won't you tell me?"
"Wumfih!" The wino wakes up, unaware of what's been going on two seats behind him. "Got to get off now!" he mumbles. "Wubba. Get off here." He rises awkwardly out of his seat and starts to squeeze behind Blind Howard as the bearded man attempts to get by on the other side without much progress. As I watch, the beard makes his best move, a lunge that's worthy of a Dallas lineman, glancing off of Howard, who falls back and knocks the drunk into the lap of a well dressed black woman who’s been reading a computer manual of some kind.
"Son of a bitch!" she shrieks. "Get off me, damn you! Off, off, off! She swats him with her book. The wino makes it to his feet in a quick hurry, but Blind Howard's been confused in the commotion and believes the drunk to be his man.
"Why won't you tell me!"
"Humma . . . uuhhhma."
Howard jams his shoulder squarely into the disoriented wino's chest. He's knocked off balance and falls back into the woman's lap again.
"Get off of me you pig!" She catches him a good one with the manual this time. As he tries to gain his feet she pushes from behind with all her strength.
By now Blind Howard knows that something is amiss, and has stepped back enough so that the drunk goes lurching past him, into a bespectacled executive dressed in a smart black suit. The bus now makes a stop. The doors hiss open and the businessman stiff-arms the wino into several others who are trying to get off. The drunk goes with them, stumbling down the steps, onto the sidewalk.
The back doors hiss shut and we move on. The bus is silent for a moment — peace. A man tells Howard there's an empty place beside him, where the drunk was sitting.
"Thanks. That's very kind of you. My name is Howard Smith. What's yours?"
"Dave Tuttle. Looked like you were having just a bit of difficulty there."
"Some people hate the blind. I don't know why. Just sick I guess."
"I guess so," Dave agrees.
"I'm selling candy for the blind," says Howard as he takes a couple bars of chocolate from his pocket. "Do you think that you might take these off my hands? I don't keep any of the money for myself. It goes to the Foundation for the Blind.