Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Groom-To-Be

Seven days away from one of the biggest moments in his life and he felt nothing. He was unsure if it was nerves, indifference, or just numbness with fear and joy; but he felt nothing a week before his wedding. He mostly just wanted to feel something and to get beyond the tension that comes with a wedding. Tension that tends to be best served by shutting up and getting out of the way of the Mrs.-to-be. That's what led him to get out of his tiny two-bedroom apartment and hop on the 51C to cross the Mon into downtown from the South side.

The bus puttered along Carson Street, passed the T station and turned right to cross the Smithfield Street Bridge at Station Square, where the P & L E Railroad had long been forgotten. All that remained of that would be the "P & L E RR" that rusts above the old station now known as a mall and the home of the neon Hard Rock Gibson SG that stands as a beacon of so-called urban development. The days when the sky was still black with soot at noon and businessmen carried two dress shirts - one for the morning and one for the afternoon - had become more cliché than folklore in a city still recovering from the death of industry and struggling to find an identity instead of learning to be.

It was a close to empty bus on a Sunday, a day when the only life downtown is in the fall when the Steelers play in the afternoon. Even then it is just people parking downtown and walking to the North side to save on parking or provide an outlet to walk off the alcohol induced haze after attending a game. Besides two blue haired ladies in their Sunday best heading to see the Symphony and one silently contemplative middle aged black woman dressed to begin her day cleaning offices while the workers were away, the bus was empty and quiet. Besides the occasional mutterings between the ladies about gossip at St. Adalbert church, no one spoke. Not even a passing glance was made to anyone, as was common with his daily trip to work. All that was missing was the sound of newsprint pages being folded and flipped to make it like any other rush hour. It was a good day for him to walk aimlessly around downtown trying to collect his thoughts; his chances of seeing anyone he knew were slim in a town where everybody seems to know everybody. He got off after riding around the block at Wood Street and stepped off across from Kaufmanns saying, “Thank you” to the driver, and started to meander down Fifth Avenue.

As he walked past a person doused in the scent of a just finished cigarette, he started to reminisce about the days when the Warner Center was still a movie house instead of the empty shell of an office complex. One of his fondest memories was watching Star Wars at the theater as a kid, behind the scenes, as his dad prepared the film. He even helped out by searching for the cigarette burns on the upper right corner of the projected film to tell his father it was time to switch reels. His father worked there as a projectionist and he remembered the joy of coming to work with him, with tight hold on his tobacco scented and stained giant hand. He then lowered his head, slapped back into reality with the realization that the tobacco scent that had started this memory was the same that took his father from him. Years of “reds” took their toll on a man who seemed as solid as a rock. Shaking it off he tried to soldier on but as he got a few steps down the street he decided to head back and sit in the bus stop across the street and down a bit from the Warner.

It had been several years since his father had passed. His father had never met Jodi, his soon to-be-wife. Who knows if he would have liked her, either? He wasn’t one to let you know much of anything as to what he was thinking. They had a tough but loving relationship. His father wasn’t the sports fan that every other father was. He never played catch with his dad or threw a football around with him. His father took him to an occasional Pirates game at Three Rivers but seemed bored with the game and tended to sit quietly sipping his beer instead of teaching him how to fill out the scorecards like his friends’ fathers had taught them.

It became an act of rebellion to be what his father wasn’t and strive to be the mold of the typical male that he had wanted his father to be. He went to college, became a businessman wearing a suit, and looked down upon the blue-collar union man his father was. It provided him the money he wanted, the life style he wanted, and he loved it all. He had thought during the funeral he would have an epiphany that would bring closure to the distance he felt with his father. The movie-style realization that allows the son to truly understand and live happily ever after never occurred. He had told himself after his father’s death that it was really because, just like the movies, it was make believe.

Make believe which drove his father to be a projectionist and spend more time with old sad stories repeated night after night than with his son. He just didn’t understand his father and his father was the same with him.

He would be different, he told himself. He would be the father he always wanted when Jodi and he had children.

He caught himself and shook his head with a quick exhale and a flurry of blinks out of his empty stare. He stood up and started walking towards Smithfield Street with the swagger of a man who had a purpose, whatever it might be. As he turned the corner at the clock and headed towards the bus stop he saw the bus sitting waiting at the light. He noticed the 51A glowing in the upper right corner of the blacked out back window and rushed to catch the bus. As he barely made it to the middle set of doors the bus lurched forward and billowed exhaust as the light turned green.

“Hey!” he hollered to no avail as the bus headed off to the cross the Monongahela River without him. He cursed under his breath and regained his composure as two teenagers in throwback jerseys leaned against the doors of a closed shop and stared at him. They were shaking their heads slowly with a humph under their breath. As soon as their eyes made the subtle glimpse of contact he looked away and headed towards the bridge by foot.

The 51C would be by in another 15 minutes.


Blogger Jo Janoski said...

Enjoyed your Pittsburgh scene. I incorporate Pgh. in some of my fiction, too. It's great, isn't it--bringing the city to life in stories. Very nice blog!

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