Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The man in the red suit

I intended to post this yesterday, but I never could get it to come out right, so I decided to scrap it. Then when I went running tonight, instead of counting my steps to 100 and making sure I took exactly five steps on the short bridge and eight on the longer one, all I could think about was this post. I came home and wrote it, though I'm still not sure it came out right.

The first thing you notice about the man in the red suit is his outfit. The bright red coat, pants and tophat would stand out almost anywhere. But especially so on a steamy afternoon near summer's end, at a football game. That is when I first saw him.

Everyone else wore shorts or at least short-sleeves, except for the man in the red suit. He walked alone and at his own pace, a bit slower than the rest of the crowd. He seemed to be the definition of the phrase "in his own world."

Almost subconsciously, I filed him away in my mind as just an eccentric old black man. But as the weeks passed, I came to realize the man in the red suit was fairly well known around town. Or at least recognized. A couple of people even knew his name. And I began to ask questions.

Everything I know about the man in the red suit comes from things others have said. He draws a check from the government. He is always behind on his bills, but he pays them the best he can. No one seems to know if he has any family, but they have witnessed him speaking to his imaginary friend. And of course, there's the suit. No matter the season, no matter the weather, there is always the suit.

Casually and not really expecting an answer, one day I asked why he was the way he was. The answer came back in a single word.


It was spoken as if that one word should explain it all away--the curious attire, the imaginary friend, the struggling to make it on a fixed income. As if I am to accept it as that's just the way it is.


And with that, my view of the man in the red suit forever changed. Instantly, I had great respect and admiration for him. And albeit from afar, I felt a certain compassion for him. Anytime I see him now, it touches a soft place in my heart.

I also grew much more curious about the man in the red suit. I wonder about his life. I wonder if he has any family. When the fighter jets fly over before kickoff, does he get tears in his eyes like me? I wonder what he thinks about. Then I'm thankful I don't know.

Most of all, when I think about him struggling to pay his bills, I can't help but wonder if the country he risked his life for has turned its back on him.

A few weeks ago, I spotted the man in the red suit inside the stadium. He was sitting just a couple sections over from us. The crowd began to do the wave and I watched anxiously to see if he would participate. He didn't stand up, but did raise one arm as the wave passed by. I smiled.

The first thing you notice about the man in the red suit is his outfit. And that's OK. I think he has more than earned the right to wear anything he would like. But if that's all you notice, you're missing a lot.

On gameday, many fans put Bama flags on their cars. They fit on the side windows and most people have two flags, one on the driver's side and one on the passenger's side. At the most recent game, I saw the man in the red suit in his car. (Out of 92,000 people, we had parked in the same lot. Go figure.)

He had a Bama flag on one side.

And an American flag on the other.

"Some stood through for the red, white, and blue, and some had to fall. If you ever think of me, think of all your liberties and recall, some gave all..."


  1. Once Again you have left me speechless.

    This post reminds me of my Grandfather,as he can barely shuffle down the hallway now, due to the fact he was shot out of a helicopter in WWII.

    Too often we forget about those who gave most...if not all.

  2. Growing up, there was a man who was always riding the city busses. He made weird noises and cussed. I was petrified of him, so was Mom, though still a bit empathetic, 'cause I knew something had to be wrong. As an adult I heard or read two words about him, though the first one would have been enough, Tourette Syndrome. I wasn't scared anymore.

    Thank you for not counting your steps last night. I'd hate not to have read this.

  3. But if that's all you notice, you're missing a lot.

    You didn't miss a lot.

    Thank you, for taking the time and making the effort to make this come out. Some stories need to be told. This was one of them. And for whatever reason, it seems like you were the one who needed to tell it.

  4. Tiffany - Well said. Let us remember all those who came back with permanent scars--mental and physical.

    Marcia - That's very nice of you to say. I'm glad I didn't count my steps last night, either.

    TC - Well, I came to feel the same way. It needed to be shared and it really didn't matter if it was perfect.

    HotPink - Thank you.

  5. I saw a cool movie "Motorcycle Diaries" where Lepers who lost limbs were exiled on an island were they were self sufficient except for nuns and visiting doctors, on the island they had a sense of worth and community, I think that is what a lot of veterans don't have when they suffer loss of so much from being wounded (menatally and physically) They are changed and everyone who knows a disabled veteran is changed for knowing them. God Bless our soldiers and may they all come home soon. Thanks for sharing this veteran's story.

  6. Bone once again you have outdone yourself
    I loved this and thought it told the story perfectly even if you don't think so. It's better to obsess over writing then number of steps, though unfortunately I understand both

    Viet Nam did that to people. We who lived during Viet Nam and weren't in diapers opposed the Iraq war for many reasons but a big one was Viet Nam was so wrong and so so so many veterans suffered from PTSD

    We can't let that happen to another generation.

    It's heartbreaking

  7. Very touching. You have such a way with words. Observing people can give you the deepest understanding. I'm glad you're one of the ones that still notices.

  8. My friend.
    This is why I've read only one blog this year.
    You are brilliant.
    And I wonder the same things about our vets - young and old - Vietnam and Iraq. I hope we haven't turned our backs on them... I know I haven't.

    I often see people like this in my life (though most likely aren't vets), and I feel instand pity. Not that they deserve for me to feel that way or need me to feel that way, but I can't help but to want to just hug them. Like your man - I'd want to give him a hug, roll up his sleeves to cool him off, and sit with him to raise with him only one arm during the wave.

  9. Judging people based on appearance, more often than not, can lead to complete mis-characterizations. Glad you did some digging to get to the truth.

    Veterans should not get lost in the mix of daily American life. Without them, we would all be in a very different America.

  10. Bone, your way with words is brilliant...what a beautifully moving post. I would love to meet the man in the red suit...

  11. Daily Panic - God Bless our soldiers and may they all come home soon.

    I'll second that. Thanks for your comment.

    Pia - Thanks. I agree, that should not and cannot happen again, ever.

    Lass - Thank you. You're right. I need to take the time to observe more often.

    Blondie - Thank you. I agree. Veterans have been through so much already, it's hard to think that they wouldn't be treated with the utmost respect or that America would turn its back on them.

    Java - Yeah, I sort of convicted myself a little bit because I had cast him aside so quickly in my mind.

    Fledgling Poet - Thank you. I definitely feel better off having crossed paths with him.

  12. Bravo :) Beautifully written...
    I read this post to my daughter tonight, and what a wonderful thing to be able to share with my child.
    Thank you~

  13. I wish I had something profound, witty, or insightful to add. But instead, I'll just say thanks for writing this- it made me think big today.

  14. Mayden - Aww, that is about as nice a compliment as I could imagine. Thank you.

    Renee - Reeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!

    Cami - I understand. Thank you for reading.