“That’s my seat!”
I sat on a wooden bench in one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods. East Atlanta has gone through a number of changes in the past fifty years. In the fifties and sixties it was a middle-class community. It went through some changes as the white flight to the suburbs in the seventies and eighties. But is now inhabited by young families of all ethnic groups. The main drag consists of trendy restaurants and exotic coffee shops that sell seven dollar cups of coffee.
I looked up to see a skinny black man about my age glaring down at me. “Why do you say this is your seat?” I asked.
“Cause it’s where I sit every day.”
I nodded my head to my right. I sat on the far left side of a bench than can comfortable sea three people. “There’s plenty of room for both of us,” I said.
“You can sit over there, fella. Where you’re sittin’ is where I always sit.”
I studied him closely. He wore what looked like second-hand clothes. I say this because his green short-sleeve shirt was a couple of sizes too large, and his navy blue dress pants were a size or two too short. His Nike tennis shoes had a hole the size f a quarter in the front. “No problem, my friend,” I said sliding to the far right of the bench. “Have a seat.”
A triumphant smile spread across his weathered face. Plopping down on the bench, he glanced around to see if anyone had witnessed his victory.
A heavyset man standing in front of Moe’s Coffee Shop smiled at both of us.
I returned my attention to the book I had been reading, I had read only a couple of pages of “90 Minutes In Heaven”when the black man sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder. “You not from here, are you?” he asked, the hostility in his voice gone.
I put down my book. “No. I’m visiting my sister in Decatur.”
“Puddin’ Head Jones here,” he said, offering me his calloused hand.
I laughed as I shook his hand.
“What’s so funny?” he asked. “Is it my name?”
It’s not that. You see, my name is Jones, too. I’m Leon Jones.”
We chatted for a half hour or so. I learned that Puddin’ Head was his nickname. His real name was Willie Jones. His older brother had nicknamed him “Puddin’ Head” because when they were boys everybody in his family watched Philadelphia Phillies baseball games on TV in the fifties. And Earl (Puddin’ Head) Jones was the Phillies third baseman back then.
“At first, I didn’t like being called Puddin’ head,” he said. “But, over time, I got used to it. And Now I like it.” I learned that he had worked most of his life as a mechanic at a Ford Dealership in Atlanta. But when his wife left him twenty years ago he quit his job. Since then he’s been living in various shelters around town.
I asked him why he didn’t live with one of his five brothers and sisters living in the Atlanta area. “They too bossy,” he replied. “I like my freedom. Living here and there suits me. I can do whatever I want.”
During our conversation I notice a change come over him.
His voice was now friendlier. And he rewarded me with a toothless smile. “I ain’t got much, Leon. But you know what?” Before I could respond he added, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
I checked my watch. Ten till twelve. “I’ve got to go, my friend. I’m meeting my sister for lunch.” Standing, I stuck my book into my hip pocket. “I hope to see you again.”
“Lookin’ forward to it, Leon.”
I’d taken a few steps when I heard him say, “Just down plop your butt down in my seat again,” he said, smiling.
I laughed. “I’ll remember that, Puddin’ Head.”
As I headed for my car parked a half block away, I thought: Happiness is just a state of mind.