Kevin

Spuds head small

That’s Spuds above; the story only tangentially involves him. Today I took him to the Shirlington dog park about 7 minutes from our house. He loves it; it’s huge, and there are about 50 or more happy and generally well-behaved dogs of all breeds and sizes running and playing on a nice day, like today was. A half hour to 45 minutes is sufficient to get both of us exercised, him romping, me trying to keep him in sight.

When I arrived there were two geezers outside the gates, apparently leaving, one with a huge Bouvier that wanted to make Spuds’ acquaintance. I started chatting with the owner, and the older of the two men, who did not appear to have a dog, noticed my Red Sox warm-up jacket and launched into a pointless tale about Carl Yastrzemski. It turns out the guy—I later learned his name was Kevin—-had been an usher at Fenway Park 50 years ago. He was thrilled to learn that I was also a Bostonian.

I was mistaken, for Kevin wasn’t leaving; his dog was still inside the dog park. Spuds took off looking for pals, and Kevin latched on to me like a barnacle. I can match anyone in Boston-related anecdotes, and periodically interjected some while Kevin rambled on about Richard Cardinal Cushing, the Bruins, Boston College, Tip O’Neill, the death of Durgan Park, Jesuits and the Kennedys. He had done a lot of things and known some famous people; he also had a background in national intelligence. Unfortunately, he kept forgetting his stories mid-tale, and each incomplete story led to another: it was like spending time with Grandpa Simpson. Kevin also walked very slowly, so I kept losing sight of Spuds.

It soon became clear that Kevin was desperate for someone to talk to. He said he came to the park every day. Most of the dog owners are young, and often standoffish; I bet Kevin hadn’t met someone there with anything in common but mutual dog ownership for a long time. I, however, was a fellow Bostonian.

I was trapped. He was so happy and loquacious, with his white mustache, well-worn clothes and a mask he wore under his nose. As one story after another tumbled out of him, often lacking a conclusion, I couldn’t bring myself to cut him off. I was way over my time at the park, I had work to do, and, frankly, I was bored out of my mind. But my Dad, in his last years, used to go to the World War II Memorial on the Mall when Mom was depressed, which was often, though she would accompany him. Kevin’s wife was dead. Mom used to complain about how Dad would chat up visitors to the memorial. My mother didn’t like to talk about the war. Dad was a lot more interesting than Kevin, but I kept thinking that some tourists may have given his war stories a little longer an audience than they would have preferred because being kind and respectful to a decorated veteran—Dad wore his medals on a sash when he went to the memorial—seemed like the right thing to do.

And so I spent almost two hours wandering with and listening to Kevin. Finally Spuds found us and sat down in front of me, asking to go home Good dog! That gave me an out, but even then, Kevin stalled me at the exit gate, with “Wait, wait, just one quick story, you’ll like this”—three times. Finally I escaped; Kevin was smiling, and felt like he had made a friend.

I told Grace that if and when I got to that stage, she had my permission to hit me from behind with a brick.

19 thoughts on “Kevin

  1. Spuds is adorable.

    What are the chances of meeting a fellow Bostonian like that?

    I have a friend who always says he’s told his wife, if he starts rambling and repeating himself, to throw some change out into traffic.

    • Jack wanted to write about a, to us yet unknown ethics hero but right after typing the first word of the title Spud sat in front of him, asking for a walk and this reminded Jack of his meeting with Dennis and alas he rambled on and on about the former usher of Fenway Park.

      “Grace? Graaahaace!
      Did I tell you about Dennis? He is an Ethical Hero unbeknownst to …
      [cry of pain]

  2. I suspect many of us have met such souls. And yes, these encounters can get ferociously dull. But when one considers what they mean to the lonely and loquacious, a bit of our time and attention, as can be offered while we’re engaged in something non-urgent (such as keeping an eye on a romping pup), always seems a kind and ethical thing for us to give.

    • Wow. No kidding. I don’t know how that happened. I wasn’t thinking about anyone named Dennis; Dennis wan’t on my mind at all. I proofed it twice, thinking Kevin, and read Dennis. It’s like a horror movie.

      It is true that everyone in the South End is named Kevin or Dennis.

  3. Sometimes it’s justified to refuse to engage with someone, politely if possible (“Oh my, look at the time” or pretend to get a call on your cell and “Sorry, gotta dash, the old lady wants me home”), but bluntly if necessary (“Sir, I’m not interested in what you have to say”). Look, it sucks to be old, mentally not all there, and probably alone. My first reliable memory is of throwing applejacks to pigeons at about age 2, and I hope my memory won’t fade out as I’m an old man doing the same thing because I can’t do much else.

    Then again, no one ever hurt or annoyed anyone else just by feeding birds. No old woman ever caused trouble by quietly tending her tomato plants. No one is bothered by (or should bother) the two old guys who play two and three chess games on the concrete table specifically put in the park for playing games on (assuming it’s one of a few and they aren’t hogging the only table) . But the melancholy old woman who sits watching the playground mooning over her grandkids who don’t visit (because they’re now in high school and busy with organized activities building college resumes), the old man who nurses the same damn cup of coffee for over an hour in the shop, and the drifting veteran who hangs around the memorial telling the same damn meandering stories to anyone who will listen and quite a few who won’t are frankly just in the way.

    • So “retire” them, then? As in, Blade Runner-style retirement?

      I believe are values are shaped at least in part by our experiences. I’ve related here in the past how I worked EMS in Boston for beer-and-books money when I was in school. Some of that was street work – emergency work – and some of it was transfer work: home to nursing home, nursing home to hospital, hospital to nursing home – etc. The street work was kinetic and adrenaline-charged. The transfer work wasn’t – in fact, you could look at it as more like transferring cargo, if you were sufficiently jaded and uninterested.

      On these runs, which could last half an hour or more, there was no particular need for my EMS training. There was nothing I could do for them physically, and these people never crumped in my presence, which at least would have gotten the adrenaline flowing. Some were senile, so conversation really didn’t matter. But the others?

      Some had existing and caring family or friends to support them. But others didn’t. And of them – oh, how they wanted to talk. Above all, they wanted someone to listen – just someone to whom they could tell a story, or express a fear, or a regret, or a recollection of something wonderful or terrible or momentous. And know that someone was actually listening to them.

      So I was stuck with them for a half an hour or longer, and yes, I was being paid to do so. And the odds were tremendous that I would never see them, or hear their stories, again. It would have gained me nothing to simply stare out the window while en route, and leave them to their own loneliness. But it cost me nothing to engage with them, to ask a few questions, to simply give them what they obviously needed very badly: a friendly ear.

      Frankly, I don’t think these people were “in the way.”

  4. I hated going to cocktail parties. I’m incapable of disengaging. I always got trapped in a corner for the whole night with a person I’d never see again. Thank God I’m long since retired and don’t have to socialize in that horrid setting. One on one, I’m fine, but in a cocktail party, it was as if I were sporting a sandwich board that said “Talk to me all night. I’ll listen to you no matter what!”

    Being kind to strangers is a good thing.

  5. Probably because I’ll end up being one of those elders that talks peoples ears off, I have a lot of patience with those who do this. Usually I learn something. Even if I don’t, it’s nice to practice the art of listening.

    However if I’m busy, I look at a watch or my phone and say, “I have to leave in ten minutes.” Then when the ten (or however many minutes you can spare) minutes have passed, I look again and say, “I’m sorry but I have to go. Thank you for chatting.” Even if they’re still talking I leave and thank them again. If they get hurt about this, it’s not my problem as I gave a clear and polite boundary about my time.

    This strategy works with relatives and friends too. They may not like it but I think of a saying I once heard…

    When we stop people pleasing, people aren’t always pleased.

  6. I’m out with my dog a lot, and meet many people like this. Being naturally taciturn, though, I think I’ve developed impenetrable defenses – my conversations never exceed half an hour.

    I’ve somehow made a liberal friend in the last two years or so, a very old lady who sits a bench and dispenses treats to dogs. She’s quite closed-minded, but will at least listen and respond to arguments. So we pet each other’s dogs, argue a bit about whatever story is in her mind that day, and then move on.

  7. Ahh the human condition… the longing of connection in a disconnected world. The very fabric of society itself. I’m glad you stayed. It saddens me we don’t make time for sharing coffee and stories anymore, for random silliness and general dawdling and to ease another’s extreme loneliness when we see it, that’s why we’re here, at least partly.

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