Posted by: MC | July 16, 2011

Mr. Prude – I

Ever since my garage door crunched itself into an intractable accordion, trapping my car inside, I’ve been riding the bus.  I like it.  It takes more time, but it’s easy – and its richer.  One of my companions at the bus stop most Tuesdays and Thursdays is Mr. Joey Prude.

The first time we spoke was on a Thursday.  That day, like every other day I’d seen Mr. Prude he sat under the bus shelter wearing a small blue backpack.  A thin cord draped out of the pack splitting itself in two to feed two shiny silver ear buds.  5:50 a.m. and Mr. Prude is plugged in and singing along.  Motown, Blues, Jazz.  His voice is a clear tenor.  Of course, I can’t hear the accompaniment, but I recognize the harmonies of his voice and the orchestration seems to rise up from those early streets in syncopation with the dawn.  Mr. Prude’s voice is that good.

We’d been saying good morning to one another for a while, but that Thursday morning Mr. Prude pulled out his ear buds.  He smiled and said, “How ya doin’ today?”  I smiled back, “Fine, and you?”  The bus rumbled up with its usual bass notes and the grinding percussion of brakes.  There was a swish of rubber against metal as the door opened.  Mr. Prude stood to the side so I could climb the stairs first.  It was like every other day except that we’d given each other those customary signs that we were both ready to start a conversation.

I sat down in the front section.  Mr. Prude, directly across from me leaned forward and, in answer to my earlier “…and you?” he said, “All my friends are talking me into going to try out for the Idol show.  I don’t know about that, but maybe.  It can’t hurt.”  Having heard samples of his talent, I was already a fan.  I said, “That’s great – you really ought to go for it.”  The other dozen or so crack-of-dawn passengers were quiet – reading or dozing.

“Yeah, I’m in a band. We play lots of places around on the weekends.  We don’t make much money.  I’ve got this job that cut me to Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I’m an ex-Marine so unlike lots of folks, I’m doing ok.”

“Anyway,” Mr. Prude continued, “The band members, they all want me to do the Idol auditions, too. My sweetheart went and signed me up already.  She said I just have to do it.  It’s tomorrow, you know, at the Convention Center.”  I had no idea such a thing could happen in Portland.  “Yeah and if I do it, I’ve gotta do something that just kills ‘em.”  Mr. Prude paused.  “I’ve been practicing my Al Green.  I know Randy loves Al Green.”  He smiled really big at that.

“Even my mama wants me to do it,” he said.  “Where’s your mom?” I asked.  “New York City,” he said.  “That’s where I was raised.  Came out here 17 years ago, back when the Max line had just opened up.  I got on it for one of its first runs during rush hour and just busted out laughing.  Man, when you take the subway in New Yorkthere’s a million people catching every train.  This place is a breeze.  That’s why I’m staying put.”

Mr. Prude looked at the ceiling.  “What brought you out here?” I asked.  “I was out of the Marines and wanted to see a different part of the country.  I was tired of New York.”  I asked about the conflicts in which he’d served.  “I was in Viet Nam in 68 and 69, back again in 71 and 72; I was in Germany awhile and did a brief time on embassy duty in India.”  I pointed to the bandage on his left arm.  “How’s the V.A. out here?” I asked.  “It’s great.  Lots better than New York.  If they don’t have what I need here in Portland, they put me in a van and drive me over to Vancouver,WA.  I’ve got no complaints.”

Mr. Prude pulled his pack onto his back.  “My stop,” he said.  “Good luck,” I said.  “We’ll see what happens.  We always do,” he said, smiling again and stepping to the door.

Later in the day, I was telling the story to another veteran, a young woman who served in the current conflicts.  “You know they only take people under 28 on American Idol.”  “Really?” I said.  “Yep, ageism,” the young woman responded.  “Guess they think advertisers only support the American fixation on youth.  They’ll let older people perform,” she continued, “but they can’t compete.”  Shows you what little I know.

I saw Mr. Prude at the bus stop again the next Tuesday.  He had a new bandage on his arm.  I asked him how it went with the American Idol auditions.  “It went great!” he said.  “I’m going back this week.  I made the cut and they want to hear more.”  “Wow.”  I said.  And I thought that off and on all day.

Mr. Prude was radiant as we stepped on the bus.  We sat on the same side this time.  A lady across from us asked him, “That bandage from dialysis?”  “It sure is,” said Mr. Prude.  “My doctor got me an excellent deal.  He said to me, ‘Mr. Prude, how would you like to do your dialysis in two treatments of 8 hours each instead of four treatments of 4 hours?’  I said, ‘You bet, I’d like that.’ So they switched me and now I sleep through all of it every Monday and Wednesday night.”

The lady said, “That’s pretty hard on a body. You must be feeling pretty rugged.”  Mr. Prude replied, “It’s not too bad for me.  I was Marine.  I can adjust to anything.”

The bus rumbled onto the Burnside Bridge and Mr. Prude turned to me, “So, I’m going back for a second round of Idol auditions on Saturday,” he said.  “We’ll see what happens.”  He shrugged his shoulders and smiled again.  “All of this because I started with this hobby of singing a year and a half ago.  I got together a pretty good band and we have a good time together.  I mean, what else can five brothers do and not get in trouble?  The answer’s always, ‘Music!’”

Mr. Prude pulled on his pack and stood for his stop.  As he walked toward the door he said I could hear the band Sunday nights at the Candelight Lounge.  Then he said, “What have I gotten myself into with this Idol thing?  It’s nerve wracking, you know; but once I start singing everything else fades away.  It’s like with everything, it’s all in your attitude.”

–to be continued.


  1. How wonderful to hear about Mr. Prude! What an example of a positive thinking man who is able to set goals and move ahead instead of being dragged down by his problems. I would love to see him perform on T.V.

  2. It’s the journey! That’s what I would be saying to myself, so as not to say anything about agism to Mr. Prude! A true slice of life.

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