I’m downtown on the No. 6 bus heading home to Westwood. As the bus stops on Sixth Street, I watch this guy get on. I know him, and I’m hoping like hell he doesn’t see me sitting in one of the front-row seats. I’m not in the mood to deal with Lee.
I haven’t seen him in almost a year. He lives in an apartment building downtown close to the CityBeat offices. I and other CityBeaters who smoke are more or less forced to listen to his ignorant, often racist remarks as we puff on our cigarettes outside on the sidewalk.
I’ve often referred to him as “The most miserable man in Cincinnati.” He sees me on the bus and sits down next to me. I can already feel myself getting pissed off.
“Ain’t seen you for a while.”
“How you been, Lee?” I say, not caring how he’s been at all.
“Been alright, I guess,” he says. I know those words he just spoke will probably be the only ones I won’t have trouble listening to.
“I tell ya, those illegal immigrants in this country are takin’ it over,” Lee says, “and Obama ain’t gonna do a damn thing about it. They’re takin’ our jobs.”
He keeps talking but I’m tuning him out. Lee doesn’t like immigrants, black people, Mexican people, yellow people or anybody else that isn’t white.
Lee’s a tall, older guy, probably in his mid-sixties. He’s thin, always wears a cap, has wire glasses and is usually dressed in shorts — even in the winter. He told me once that most of his stomach has been removed. I can’t remember why he told me.
“Are you listening to me?” I hear Lee say as the bus makes its way up Queen City Avenue.
“Uh, yeah.” “That damn Obama is takin’ this country away from us. We should…”
“Can we stop this conversation right now?” I say to Lee giving him a hard look.
“you’re giving me a headache.”
Lee shuts up. Maybe he’s remembering we’ve had conversations about President Obama before.
I’ve listened to his Obama rants where he would always throw in the “N” word while spitting on the sidewalk in between his ridiculous observations about our president. More than a few times, I’ve told him I find his remarks offensive, which would make him leave me alone for a while but never long enough.
“I don’t see you around CityBeat anymore,” I say, realizing that I’ve got to put up with this fool until one of us gets off the bus.
“I had to move,” Lee says. “The landlord kicked me out, said I brought bedbugs into the building.”
“Wonderful,” I think to myself. “Now I’m going to get them, too.”
“He’s an asshole,” Lee says. “I’m glad to be out of there anyway. The blacks are taking over that area of…”
“Shut up, Lee.”
“Hey, I didn’t mean…” “
Just shut up or change your seat. Please.”
Lee shuts up again. As I enjoy the silence, I think of Lee’s stomach and how most of it is now missing. Maybe during the surgery the doctors removed part of his brain, too.
The silence doesn’t last long enough. I knew it wouldn’t.
“yeah, I’m glad to be outta there,” Lee says.
“The landlord once called my girlfriend a bitch and I stood up for her, told him she ain’t no bitch.”
I’ve seen Lee’s girlfriend a few times. She’s younger than he is, short and a bit heavyset. I saw and listened to her yell at Lee one time while they were walking down a sidewalk downtown. I’m thinking she probably is a bitch and that the two of them deserve one another.
As the bus turns right, off Queen City onto boudinot, I don’t respond to Lee as he continues to talk about his girlfriend. I continue to tune him out, which, for more than a few years now, has mostly been the case.
While I’ve often told him to shut up over the years, when it comes to Lee or anything about him — his views on race, politics and even his girlfriend — I’ve learned to not bother to challenge him in any kind of serious way or try to get him to see an alternative point of view.
The reality is that with a guy like Lee, who’s now in his sixties, I’m never going to change him. I’m never going to get somebody that close-minded to be open-minded. It would simply be a waste of my breath.
The bus makes a left onto Werk Road. Lee stops talking, reaches over me and pulls the chain to get off the bus.
“What, so you’re living over here now?”
“Yep, live right here on Werk Road,” he says. “Hey, maybe we’re neighbors now!”
I don’t answer him back, just smile as he gets off the bus. I don’t tell him that, yes, we are, more or less, neighbors. We both live in Westwood.
A few blocks up, I see my stop and pull the chain to get off. As I do, I think of Lee.
At least the smokers at CityBeat won’t have to listen to his bigoted rants anymore. but now the most miserable man in Cincinnati is living in my neighborhood.
My heart sinks more than a little. Maybe it’s time for me to move.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org