He couldn’t get over how old he was. Standing in the middle of a laundromat on Washington Street and Bowdoin Street, talking to no one in particular, he looked out the window at the giant empty, snow-covered lot across the street.
“He used to have his gym there. That boxer from Brockton.”
“Rocky Marciano,” I said, unloading my wet clothes into a metal basket.
He looked at me for a second.
“I’ve been here since the 70’s. I’m old. I was one of the first black students to go to John Marshall School. They tried to blow it up.”
“Because they didn’t want the black people going there.”
“That was during the busing?”
“That was before the busing. Busing wasn’t until 1974,” he said. He had his dreads tucked up in a black rasta hat. Gold chains. A week’s worth of whiskers tipped in gray. “I used to live on Rosetta Street. I remember I used to run to Fields Corner and pray a train was gonna be there so I wouldn’t get my ass beat. They used to get all drunk, and…”
I put the clothes in the dryer and stood, listening. I had become the person he was talking to.
“The biggest houses in Boston are in Dorchester. You know why? It used to be the rich Jews. There didn’t use to be any Spanish or Haitians. Then came the Jamiacans, and the Haitians. They started burning the place because they wanted the black people to leave and go to Brockton. But we didn’t. Now, it’s like this.”
He points at nothing, but the intent is clear enough. I am the only white guy of the dozen or so in the laundromat and on the street, walking or standing in front of the Nice ‘n Clean Jamaican Cuisine restaurant on the corner, asking passersby for cigarettes.
He keeps talking, even when I walk away to go to the bathroom. When I come back, someone else has become the person he’s talking to.
As I finish my laundry and walk out, I’m disoriented. I forget which way is home. The snowbanks make walking difficult. I’ve been living here one month as of yesterday.