Yesterday I was at the nice Taco Bell, waiting with my head down for our take-out, when an enormous man walked in and said he would order in a moment—he was just waiting for the order to come in. I wasn’t looking, but I think he must have waved his phone at the girl behind the counter, because the next thing I heard after her polite acknowledgement was the loudest word I have ever heard inside a fast-food restaurant.
“HELLO!!” he said. Then there was a pause for the other end of the conversation. I looked down a little further, so that it was clear to everyone at the front of the restaurant that I was not involved in this, or anything that transpired from it.
I heard the man walk up, and the girl said what she was supposed to say—welcome, can I take your order, etc. Fast-food conversations are a dead idiom, but the internet has made me jumpy; I find myself fearing confrontation from all corners. Someone is always about to say the wrong thing.
The man gave his order, much quieter, now, and the girl punched it in. Then she said, her voice sliding out of the Taco Bell register, “You have the most beautiful teeth.”
“WHAT?” Sometimes it seems to me (on Twitter, in real life, wherever) like all of us are on the same tightrope, an instant from falling away from each other into the ideas we're predestined to land on, alone.
“Your teeth are just so white.”
Now I am sidling behind the take-out bench. But the man’s voice gets much quieter—still ragged, but an indoor voice now—and he says, “These? Store-bought.” And then he says, “When I came back from Vietnam the government put three grand into my mouth.”
And all of us in the store—all of us except the man with the white teeth, who had never been nervous at all—all of us exhale deeply. He and the girl laugh a little. And I walk out feeling grace—stupid, trivial Taco Bell grace. That was the only place in the world this loud Vietnam veteran and this 16-year-old working Saturday nights and I, whatever I am, could forgive each other for being different human beings.
Baseball isn’t really walled off from the rest of the world, and tonight all of us, the religious and agnostic, the people who have to know everything and the people who don’t want to know anything more, will scatter wherever we need to be. And then we’ll come back, because the things that bring us together like this aren’t distractions from the real world but consolations for it.
We don’t really know him; we don’t know whether he should have played more last year, let alone whether he was a good person. Through baseball, for half a season, we were lucky enough to speak a common language. He signed to us in broad gestures—the off-balance swing, the enormous smile—and we waved back. We talked about stupid, trivial things, and I’m so glad we could.