I normally arrive at work on my bicycle and take a break in the Plaza de Armas in Old San Juan. I usually sit for a half hour sipping cool water and trying to get my body to realize that it can turn off the sweat production. There is always a strong breeze in the shade under the trees and it is a lovely place to relax and people watch.
There were three old men sitting in a row on a bench facing away from mine. I couldn’t see their faces, but all of them looked to be in their seventies, perhaps eighties. One was fat, like a little dough ball with a cane, the other wiry with a baseball cap emblazoned with USA flags. Did I see a military designation? Couldn’t make it out. Yes, they seemed like veterans, pensioners passing the time together in the plaza. The one on the left, a dark-skinned gentleman with a lively disposition was searching for something on a tiny handheld radio. “Mira, allí, poco para atrás. Allí está. Aguanta.” Barely audible, he had coaxed a faint song from a distant AM station by holding the little radio just so. I could barely make it out, but then this little old man broke into a beautiful Puerto Rican folk song. He belted it out in a clear strong voice. I’m old, he seemed to say, and I want to sing. A couple of passing older women stopped to chat, to reminisce, and to hear more. After, the friends went back to looking for songs to sing.
It must be nice, I thought, to have such friends to hang with at such an advanced age. I peered at the three men, fiddling with their little radio looking for songs to sing, talking shit about nearly just about everything, the weather, government, who is doing what with whom. Old they were, but animated and lively like little kids, and I could see them, the ten year old boys inside, for whom a song, a tv show, a sports hero, a story, a game are all they need, and all the possibilities of the universe residing strictly within. I concentrated, and their age melted away. For a brief time I saw them as perhaps their parents had seen them in their time of youth – little boys playing in the plaza.