So I get on the Marta train this morning, and this old man sitting opposite me, clearly drunk, squints at me and says, "How old are you?"
It's an amazing question, because today is my birthday. So I answer, and he is incredulous.
"That would make you older than me, and I look like shit."
"Um. . . "
"But you look like a young man. How you explain that? No, don't answer. Whatever it is must be magic, and I ain't interested in magic and shit."
He pauses, rubs his gray beard, and then leans forward. "So, how long you had that beard?"
I tell him, and his response is over-the-top shock. "No way! It would be much longer by now."
"Oh, well, I mean I do trim--"
"You a magician?"
At this point, other passengers chime in.
"Leave the man alone, fool; can't you see he's tryin' to read"
"Hey, Pops, why don't you go home and sleep it off."
"Will you please be quiet." This from the woman next to me, who's been quietly harrumphing since the conversation began, trying to read her book.
But I continue. "No, I'm not a magician."
"What you do then, drive a fork lift? I drive fork lifts, or used to. Know where I can find a job?"
"I also fold boxes."
He waves his arms in the air as if he's rapidly assembling a cardboard box, and nearly falls off his seat. "Many boxes, hundreds of boxes, all at once, like that, shazam. Hey, maybe I'm the magician."
"Could be," I say.
"Then why am I sittin' the fuck on this train?"
He waves his hand in front of my face. "No, don't answer. I'm on this fuckin' train to go to the hospital. What stop is that?"
The man next to me joins in. "That would be Georgia State Station."
"So I can get to Grady Hospital?"
"Well, thank you kindly, sir."
He turns his attention back to me. "You know, I like beer, but haven't had one in years. Would be nice to have a beer right about now, though. You got any beer?"
"So how old's your girlfriend?"
I tell him my wife's age, and he laughs.
"You dog, you, robbin' the cradle like that. Likes the young ones, huh?"
"Well . . ."
"Never mind, this is my station."
He gets up, pats me on the knee, and lurches out onto the platform, at King Memorial Station, one station short of Georgia State. Four or five of us shout at him to get back on the train, but he is already weaving his way down the platform, and the door closes. The train pulls out of the station, and we all return to our books and newspapers and private thoughts.
Happy birthday to me.