This morning I ran into Oscar. He looked about 65. Asked me how far I’d gone on my bike and I said only about 13 miles, just down to a plant spot and back. He said he once rode his bike to Reno, a two and a quarter day ride, and arrived in time to turn 21. He said he got super drunk in Reno.
I asked him if he could ride on 80 back then and his response wasn’t clear as he was changing the subject but I think he said yes. He said he’d been in the army as a youth, stationed in Germany, as a mechanic. He put seven years in at Sunsweet Prunes running the pitter machines, and they didn’t want to see him go when he left because he knew how everything ran. He was unclear whether this was before or after the army.
He said he’d gone to catechism right here downtown. Then he said that he’d been caring for his parents here downtown until they died, one at 83 and the other at 85.
When they died about a year ago (2019), he said that the city took the house and he didn’t know why. But they lived right on 87 and the city had taken all the rest down so they wanted his parents’. He didn’t get it because they owned the home outright. I speculate there could be a few reasons for this that Oscar didn’t know. He said that now he sleeps in the park.
He asked me for some help because he’d been drinking nothing but water all day. I told him good, he should drink water, and then gave him 3 bucks plus half the nectarines I’d just plundered down the street. Our neighborhood produces apricots, peaches, plums, pomegranates and avocados that put everything you ever bought in the store or from a CSA box to shame, in the purely super-organic nature of neglect and good weather.
Oscar said he’d pay me back and I said just tell me more stories next time. He had presumably everything he has on a walker, and walked slowly with a hunch to his neck. His clothes and stuff were in order and only the top of his hair was thinning, handsome, probably Italian, beard and mustache getting long.
Ran into Oscar again tonight at the park, about 50 degrees F and getting down to 38 tonight. Didn’t recognize him at first all bundled up, and I guess I forgot his voice already.
He was a little less coherent than I remember from last time, more repetition, but that could just be the pace of his day. He was on the bench and started the conversation asking me to pick up a trashed Modelo so it wouldn’t get smashed and hurt kids in the playset, because he could barely bend down with his walker and all. Said the VA set him up to the walker.
Before I realized who he was, Oscar told me that he was staying the park, didn’t want to go to the VA to sleep because he didn’t want to get in fights, and there were prejudiced people there. Didn’t want to walk down to the fairgrounds for the quarantine housing, doesn’t like the bus because you have to fight for a place to sit. So he was bundled up to stay on the bench.
He repeatedly kept the talk going by saying that he was drafted in ’72, was born here on Prevost, went to Gardner, went to Woodrow (Wilson), then to Lincoln High, graduated in 1969 and drafted in ’72. He said he was in the army in Berlin until 1979 and divorced his wife meanwhile for cheating on him, so he has two daughters right down off Lincoln whom he has little seen, and said he lost the address since I’d begun by asking if he couldn’t go stay with one of them to warm up. He said one is thirty and one is twenty-six. The whole timeline is fuzzy due to his use of the present tense a lots of junctions in the story, so I’m not going to argue.
Just before I found out that we’d already met, I asked about his loss of his dad’s house after he died, thinking that he was someone else and trying to test if there were some pattern in San José for people losing their parents’ houses at death. This time Oscar said that his dad had sold the place to the city for the land before he died. Oscar had used his army money to help his dad buy the place whenever that was, and had the house landscaped, et cetera.
Then came the theme of bad legs. Oscar has tendonitis, “and you know that travels,” and says they’ve wanted to cut his legs since he was in his twenties. He said before that that his dad had been a carpenter and had injured his legs to the point where doctors had wanted to amputate his legs for gangrene. Oscar said that his dad had survived the gangrene, or else was out of sequence with my question, and at 85 he had “had enough” and Oscar took took him to the doctor essentially to have him put down. Again, I’m just writing what he said.
I told him how I’d been involved with German beer and he asked if I still drink. I know he was trying to be polite to ask for a hand with some beer. I gave my usual lament that my system can’t handle anything anymore from total stress and lack of exercise, so it has to be “expensive” (ie., Sierra or German) or else I don’t enjoy the trip that much. He said he was drinking (lately? earlier?) 8.1, I have no idea what that is but it doesn’t sound goo. Later on he asked for beer money, but I didn’t have my wallet so I didn’t give him any. He had a few cans in a bag to recycle, and a dead lotto ticket. I’m glad he has VA benefits but sure wish he’d use them.