He wore a palm tree print button up shirt, and I’ve never before in my life seen a man who could rock a pith helmet as well as this man could, were he wearing one. Even without a monocle and large mustache.
If Vanilla Ice shaved his head and grew his eyebrows out I think I just met him.
He asked if I had change, I said yes sir, I have change. He said, no, I mean a lot of change like for $100. I gave him change for his $100, and he insisted that I check it somehow in the dark to verify its authenticity. I held it up to the streetlight and saw that it had a metallic strip in it so I thanked him. He must have forgotten that I have his phone number and address should something be wrong with his money.
And this guy. Jeez, this guy. I knocked on the door of his hotel room, waited, and knocked again. I heard nothing, so I called him to verify his room number. Yeah, that’s my room, but I’m not there. I didn’t know you’d be here so fast. So he left, apparently. And I am currently standing outside of this downtown hotel at ten o’clock on a Friday night waiting for him. He was quoted 45 minutes to an hour, and it’s now been 45 minutes on the dot, since I’ve been writing this post while I wait. Maybe this is him. It was him. He eyeballed me as he drove past, parked very far away, and then slowly moseyed back to the front door, where he complained that I was too fast.
And the lady who said let me just make sure there’s no onions before you leave like I was going to pick them off for her if there were.
Seriously though, I’m having a heck of a time back delivering pizzas. I love it.
It’s an odd mixture of hipsters and strippers at this new mall, sprinkled liberally with saggy-pantsed gangstas, rich white ladies, and classic four-piece nuclear families.
Is he old enough to drive? I can’t tell anymore. Maybe his mother dropped him off. But no, she was waiting for him on a nearby bench while he bought cookies to cram in his mouth by the handful. He brushes the crumbs from his fingers onto his shorts and helps her carry the Dillard’s bags.
He’s mall walking age, but the three piece suit tells me that’s not what he’s here for, as does his pose, leaning against the ladies wear storefront. His daughter comes out of the store, bag in hand, and they set off together. Perhaps she chose the flower for his lapel.
Rhinestones sparkle from her neck and wrists, and the clear acrylic platform heels click against the floor tiles as she rapidly walks by, holding a loud conversation via speakerphone. Oh no, honey, she got to get her hair did.
She drags two school aged children along behind her, scolding them each time they pause to explore some shiny distraction. She’s in a hurry; she has to be out of here by eight, she keeps repeating, whether to herself or to passersby or to me, I’m unsure. The children plead for escape with their eyes.
He sits next to his expensive girlfriend, texting on his expensive phone and wearing his expensive shoes. She talks without pause for breath, gesturing broadly with both hands. He continues to text, ignoring her.
Black button up shirt, black bow tie,black slacks that stop just shy of his ankle bone, black socks, polished black shoes. His face is stern and his beard neatly trimmed and sharply outlined. He stares straight ahead, no matter who he passes.
Joan sat in her corner booth, as she did every Wednesday at eleven in the morning, and pondered life as she knew it. Was it possible to feel completely exposed even as one lived in a cage? She lifted the plain white porcelain cup and sipped her coffee, staring blankly over the rim of the mug, completely ignoring the papers scattered across the table before her.
A bright spot of color caught her eye, and she let her curiosity get the better of her. She lowered the coffee mug and leaned to the side, struggling for one last glimpse of the red plain coat that had so inexplicably intrigued her. Nothing. Joan sighed with disappointment and dropped another spoonful of sugar into her coffee. She stewed for a moment before deciding to learn from this experience, and turned her contemplation inwards.
She felt frustration: understandable, yes. Excusable? Not so much. Joan took a few deep breaths, emptying her mind of the frustrated thoughts and feelings, sending them out into the ether to be countered by positive ones.
She felt curiosity: where had the person in the bright coat come from, and where had they gone? What were they doing? She shook her head. She had no need to know these things; her life would be neither more nor less full with that knowledge. She breathed the curiosity out as well.
She felt confusion: what was it about that shade of red that had caused her attention to latch on so tightly?
Joan laughed at herself and finished off her coffee in one final slurp. She gathered her papers together and crammed them all into her satchel, not bothering to straighten them, heedless of how many would have dogeared corners by the time she got home today.
In four minutes she was blocks from the coffee shop and halfway through the park, striding along as fast she normally did. She checked her watch, then looked up to see, straight in front of her, the red coat. She laughed aloud, and the old man feeding the pigeons looked up, sharply, quizzically, before dismissing her as just another lunatic.
The mourners filed from the cemetery, somber and solitary for all that they were together in a group. Behind them, the raw dirt peeked from beneath its faux green carpet, waiting only for the last one to disappear before being uncovered and dumped back into the hole from which it came.
On rainy days, the parade of black umbrellas was a notable difference, but everything else remained the same. The solemnity, the slowing down.
The little boy peering from his window on the other side of the fence watched them all. His mother hated it, couldn’t bear the thought that her precious little one was obsessed with the morbid, with the ruthlessness of death.
But she didn’t understand, and he was still too young to have the words to explain to her how it wasn’t the dead that fascinated him so, but the living. He watched the people who came to each and every funeral. He watched for their loves and their lives. He watched them comfort each other and refuse comfort offered.
From them, he learned to care, not just for those he knew and loved, but for everyone.
At first glance, he was everything I’d ever hoped to be; I watched him stride confidently into the restaurant and order with an aplomb that I’d never quite been able to manage, all with a smile on his face.He was fearlessly there, and he was taller than everyone else in the shop save one long string bean of a man cowering timidly in a corner, alone with his sandwich and his thoughts.
His work boots were well broken-in, but still clean and presentable. His collared shirt was unwrinkled, but without that starched trying-too-hard look about it. He was shaved, but not clean-shaven; somewhere between the noon bristly look that everyone else wore on their chin at lunchtime and that five o’clock shadow that no one but airbrushed models can pull off perfectly.
I heard him order French onion soup and a club sandwich, hold the mayo, and I respected that bold move. It’s hard to put back a steaming bowl of French onion soup when you know you have meetings scheduled for the rest of the afternoon at which you have to have the perfect physical presentation, including a breath without the stink of onions, a puppy-dog breath, if you will.
His steps echoed in my soul as he waltzed to the pickup counter, heedless of my slack-jawed admiration of him. Thunderously loud steps with those scrubbed and pseudo-polished work boots that no one else paid attention to, save me. Those boots were burning into the soft, wet, gray matter of my mind. After he left, they were all I could think of. Those boots and the way his hair waved back from his unlined forehead like a movie star’s hair. Like the hair of the man I wished I could be.
The boss wrote me up before I got off work that day. He pulled me into his office and told me that he caught me staring at the customers again. I wasn’t staring at the customers that day, I argued. I swore that I wasn’t, but I was lying. Somewhat lying. I was only staring at one. The one that I wanted to be when I grew up. I couldn’t help myself, and besides, the boss wasn’t even there when he came in today. He was off fucking his girlfriend or whatever it is that he does on those long lunch break that he always takes that no one else is ever allowed to indulge in. Like making someone else’s meals is so important that we all have to be at his beck and call all the time anyway.
I didn’t care; I signed the write up and let him file it in my folder without another word of argument when I saw that look in his eyes that says shut up, John, you’ve made enough of a mess out of this one for today, you should just quit while you’re ahead. I quit while I was ahead. One more step on my road to transformation. One more notch in my belt.
The boss let me go and I walked out the door and down the street to home, whistling tunelessly, which is the only way that I know how to whistle. I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried. I’ve been practicing my whistle since the first day I realized that I could pucker my lips and blow and make that eldritch sound, but I’ve never gotten good at it.
My keys were clipped to my right hand belt loop, and they jangled dissonantly with the whistling, but I didn’t care; I made a rhythm out of it, something to walk to. It was only two blocks to my apartment. When I reached the door I looked both ways to make sure no one was watching me before I unclipped the keys from my belt loop and let myself in.
I don’t know why I do that; It’s just something that I’ve always done. It feels like an invasion of my privacy for someone to watch me enter my own domicile. My own safe place. The one place that I can truly be myself.
I don’t allow that to happen anymore, not since the last time, when I first moved in. The neighbor always came outside to make sure I wasn’t going to rob him. he always watched me with those beady little eyes in his pudgy round face. Those eyes, those eyes, always boring holes into me until I couldn’t sleep at night for the pain of them.
I spent a little over a year and a half at Brookview after I ran up the stairs and gouged those eyes out with my keys. I don’t know why they didn’t keep me any longer. I think it’s because of the way I licked my lips when I looked at my doctor. She was a tasty little morsel, but I would never ever have given her a try without her permission. She never did anything to me that she wasn’t supposed to. It would have been rude of me to take advantage of her.
A shiver went down my spine as I thought about my doctor, and the neighbor that never did come back to retrieve his belongings from the apartment upstairs. Management kept it empty now. They didn’t kick me out because I paid them my rent annually, from the lump sum payments I received from my parents’ estate.
The boss doesn’t know that I don’t need the money. That’s why he keeps me on at the sandwich shop, even thought he writes me up every time he catches me watching the customers. Or every time one of my coworkers rats me out for watching the customers when the boss is on his long lunch break.
I closed the door behind me, and the snick when the lock engaged was so satisfying that my knees gave way for a moment, and I slid down the door, nearly to the floor before I caught myself and stood back up. I closed my eyes and thought about the man that had come in for lunch, the orderer of the French onion soup,, the wearer of the boots, my idol, my hero, the perfect man, the man that I could never be, no matter how hard I tried and tried and polished myself.
I could never be as confident as he is. I could never fit in like he does. But I can dream about him.
For the first time in my adult life I didn’t put my work uniform immediately into the washing machine when I took it off; I left it on the bathroom floor as I soaped up in the shower, rubbing myself as I thought about the man with the boots. I left it on the bathroom floor as I got out of the shower and toweled myself off, letting the small splashes of water dry on the mirror that hung over the sink. I left it on the floor as I collapsed into my bed, naked and damp and aroused.
I fell asleep, and I dreamed about him. I dreamed that he came back the next day, and he looked into my eyes, and he waited for me out back. I dreamed that when I got off work he took me under his wing, and he taught me how to be a man. He taught me how to be bold and unwavering, how to look someone in the eye until they flinched away, uncomfortable with the strength of my gaze on their skin. He taught me how to make everyone else feel the way that I feel every day.
When I woke I felt that I had soiled the sheets, and my shame was nearly enough to force me into the shower with the straight razor that I keep behind the bathroom mirror that hangs above the sink, but I thought about him, and about how he would handle it, and I decided that it wouldn’t bother him one bit.
He would laugh, and so I laughed. Ha ha ha. He would pull the sheets from the mattress and put them in the washing machine and wash them and that would be the end of it, and so it was that way for me.
I felt better already.
I hope that he comes in for lunch again today. I’m going to make the French onion soup special, just for him.
He looks her up and down as they pass each other, licking his lips before he loses himself in his phone again, She is oblivious to his lasciviousness, bags bumping her leg with every step she takes.
His stride is an easy stroll. The metal cane he carries may be an affectation, something he uses because of his calendar age and not because of necessity. He doesn’t seem to be leaning on it for support or balance. His head swivels back and forth, back and forth as he walks, peering into each and every store.
She clasps her wallet tightly against her chest as though the slightest release of pressure will cause it to leap from her arms and into a stranger’s. She wears running shorts and tennis shoes, but that wallet is too large for her to have been exercising while carting it along.
Mother and child, carrying lunch. Mother holds the bag of food and her large styrofoam cup. Daughter struggles to keep up with both chubby arms wrapped around her own small styrofoam cup. Short legs begin to fail, and mother now holds food, cup, and daughter.
Sweatpants, sweatshirt, hoodie–and flip flops. His thumbs flash across the face of his phone as I wonder what weather he dressed himself for today.