Gainesville Ramblings

This is a blog, and thus it barely qualifies as writing, let alone formal writing, so I'd not let it bother you.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Meeting Happy Matthews

An event I forgot in my blog post before took place walking down Broadway in Newport on Sunday morning. I'm adding this now, because it was something really want to remember.

I spent alot of Sunday wandering around Newport, looking for various items, or seeking things I had been craving. One of my first stops, of course, was the local comic shop. The shop didn't have a whole lot going for it, but I was able to order 5 through 8 of the Y: The Last Man trade paperbacks (should be here by Thursday. Sweet.) And then, having been craving a good burrito for months, I went looking for a place a had found online.

On my way back to my car, I noticed there were cops on just about every corner. And when I finally got to the side street where my car was parked, I found it blocked off by a barricade. I asked the officer at the intersection what was going on. He responded: "There's a parade. Aren't you in it?"

This is probably a good time for me to mention that I was in my liberty uniform: summer whites, with short sleeves, shoulder boards, and combination cover. And Newport, from what I've gathered is a weird town, in that half the people here know about OCS, so when they see people wandering around the area in uniform on a weekend, they know its Officer Candidates on liberty. The other half just think its cocky Navy guys who want free food and beer, hence why they never take off their uniform.

Since my car was stuck in its current parking space, I decided to walk to the burrito place. Nothing, not even a police parade, was going to stop me from getting a roll of Mexican goodness. And plus, the walk was great. I got to see real life happening for the first time in months. There were little kids running under foot, yelling. Couples set up chairs outside their houses and cuddled in the cool, damp New England weather. A few people were having parties in their front porches, enjoying beer and the company of friends as they waited for the parade to pass.

I smiled as I walked along Broadway, enjoying the weather, enjoying the people, enjoying the feeling of being a part of the world again. And then, as I'm about to cross a street, so close to the burrito shop that I could see its sign, I heard someone call out, "How's the school treating you?"

I turned to find an elderly man in a 'Rhode Island State Police' hat sitting in a folding chair, looking at me. At first, I was slightly annoyed. I mean, burrito. But then I remembered that one of the reasons (OK, it was a very minor reason, but a reason none the less) I joined the Navy was to have exactly these conversations. The random ones with strangers who want to talk about the Navy and the military, or a veteran who wants to reminisce.

So I walk up, shake hands with the man, who turns out to have the awesome name of Happy Matthews, and we start talking. He actually reminded me a little of my grandfather, in that he just wanted to tell stories about his life. He said he had served as a torpedoman in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific. He told me of his battle stories, how the Escort Carrier he served on avoided being sunk by inches. He told me about his twenty years as a officer and a detective with the Rhode Island State Police. He told me his thoughts on taxes (too high), government (he actually was a fan of Obama), racial profiling (you had to do it, and its not nearly prevenlent enough to worry about), and just about everything else there is to talk about.

I stood there, talking to this 84-year-old for nearly half an hour. And honestly, it was probably one of the most enjoyable conversations of my life. It may have been just that I haven't had the chance to do something like this for a while. It certainly helped that Happy is a much better conversationalist than I am, and had no problem picking up the slack when I was unable to. And it helped that it was a beautiful day out, just cool enough that wearing a jacket felt good, but not too cold that other layers were needed.

After a while, my stomach started making its presence known, and I had to shake Mr. Matthews' hand and wish him a good day and a good life. It isn't till just now as I'm typing this that I realize what a mistake that was. My stomach could have waited. The buritto wasn't going anywhere. But I will probably never talk to Happy Matthews again. And that is my loss.

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