I checked my watch and saw it was almost seven o’clock, so I asked the old man, “Is Nico Park still around here?”
“Around here?” the man asked back. Then he straightened up and said, “You can’t get there from here.”
This surprised me. I expected a yes or a no, especially from someone in the neighborhood. And, until I told the man my stories, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to get to the park. I thought maybe I confused him, so with respect I asked, “Did they get rid of the park? Build over it?”
He smiled again, and his gray-blue eyes showed me he was enjoying our interaction. “They didn’t get rid of it. You’re off by one. This is Cleveland Street. You want Keeney.” He pointed behind him. “Turn right onto New England. You’ll see the park at the next stop.”
“Thank you, sir.” I turned to my car, but then turned back to the man. I said, “Just one more question.”
The man nodded.
“At first you answered that I can’t get there from here. What did you mean?”
The man stepped toward me, and patted my arm just below the shoulder. “Young man, since you described the park by telling me of your evenings as a teenager, I know that it’s not just the park you want to get to. You want that feeling back.”
He said more than I expected. And while I thought about it, he pointed to the crossed street signs, thin and green atop the post.
“From this corner of course you can get to the park.” Then he pointed to my wrist–to my watch–and emphasized, “But from here, from right now, you can’t get to what you described.”
I did want the feeling back. He was right. And visiting the park wouldn’t do it.
“Still,” I told him, “seeing the park could help.”
“I understand,” he said, nodding. Then he asked, “Is it only the park that brought you back this evening?”
“No. I’m headed to Skaja’s Funeral Home.” And then I looked down, toward a crack in the sidewalk. “One of the guys from back then passed away.”
The old man’s eyes became serious, and he moved his head from side to side. “Too soon. Sorry to hear that.”
“We weren’t close,” I explained, “but I want to see him this last time. He worked around here for one of the big companies. Worked there twenty-five years. A friend of his from work said one day he just stopped showing up. HR called him and left messages, but he never called back. His friend drove to his place one lunchtime. Went to his apartment and found him.
The old man stopped me. “You said he worked for one of the big companies around here. Was it TechCorp?”
“Yes,” I answered, “TechCorp.”
The man removed his glasses, pulled out a handkerchief that was clean and white, wiped one lens and put the glasses back on. He seemed much more alert, and red colored his cheeks. “In the eighties I was TechCorp’s vice president of data processing. About the time you were playing ball at the park.”
This answer of the man’s also surprised me. I had not thought at all about his past.
“Are you retired now?” I asked him.
“I am. But I still try to keep up with how technology is evolving. I’ve a tablet that my kids bought me. I’m familiar with it enough to get to articles I need to read.”
“So do you live on one of these streets?”
“I used to. But the downturn that started in 2009 was pretty tough on me and my family.”
“So where are you at now? Do you need me to give you a lift?”
“When I get up to Waukegan Road I just need to head north a block. I live at the retirement home you used to work at.”