Black wingtips: That’s what I noticed first.
Worn and curled with time, polished in a way that couldn’t hide their age.
They shuffled along the dirty, dimly-glittering concrete.
Then, the loose, brown woolen trousers hitched almost chest-high, the hint of suspenders visible under a matching brown jacket.
Finally, the hat — but only as I tilted my head back on my neck and my little eyes rose.
The shoes, suit, and fedora all made a set — probably the same set they had in 1942. I remember a musty scent as we approached — the smell of ten thousand days spent in a dive with a race form in one hand and a cigar in the other. A different cigar each day, but always the same suit.
That suit might have been all he’d kept after getting his draft notice. Maybe he didn’t end up going, after all. Had he been refused for allergies? Spinal deformities? A suspiciously-homosexual-sounding lisp? Who knew? Perhaps he’d finally been judged too old, even back then. As quickly as he’d been marched off to war, he had returned. Maybe hadn’t expected to come back so soon, or perhaps ever. But back he was — with only a brown woolen suit to his name.
That suit might have still been all he had in 1972 as I watched him amble toward some gray room on a floor with a shared bath. Perhaps there was a whole building of men just like him along a bus route somewhere.
I felt my mother’s grasp tighten on my hand. I gazed up at the underside of her chin. Her jaw tensed. Mother was insistently ignorant of him as we passed. My tiny feet struggled to keep up.
I looked back at him. This was Hollywood: He could have been a star for all I knew. I was so very young, but old enough to sense this man’s name might have been in brass letters in the concrete slowly passing beneath those curled wingtips. I saw him spit or toss a cigar butt on the sidewalk, desecrating Jimmy Durante or Ann Francis or Desi Arnaz. It didn’t matter back then.
It didn’t matter to anyone usually found walking in Hollywood.