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People I’ve Met Along the Way

People I've Met

Stranger: Hey child! Mind if I walk next to you?

Hello. OK.

I have this flute, you see? I was going to play something for you. But I don’t want to disturb you, if you’re thinking.

You won’t disturb me. I’m going to the Starbucks to meet someone.

You have a lovely face.

Do I?

A strong, beautiful face.

I see. Thank you.

I’m going to be seventy-four next week. Can you believe that?! People tell me I do not look seventy-four.

You look ninety-four.

Ha ha ha! You are funny! You know how I done it? I’ve been homeless forty years in San Francisco. Forty years and I’m going to be seventy-four. I’ve seen crazy things. Crazy, crazy things. I’m around a lot of people. I don’t do no drugs, no ma’am. I don’t do no drinking. I don’t let the sadness catch me. Always running. You have to run. That’s how you do it. I see a lot of people, a lot of men let it keep them down and push them away, you know? And you just have to keep running, be happy, and keep running. I know a lot about pain. Someday I could tell you. You’d like that? I will tell you all sorts of things about pain that I’ve learned in my seventy-four years, you can learn. I know a lot about pain. Lord, I see a lot in San Francisco. I see it all.

I see. I’m sure you do.

Your face. In your face, you have it.

Have what?

Come on now, child. You have it.

Yeah.

I’ll play now, OK? I’ll be seventy-four tomorrow, can you believe that? And I’ve been on the streets for forty years. It ain’t so tough. Don’t worry about worry. You just have to keep the sadness away. Don’t let it catch you. That’s all you have to do. Honey, you still waiting for someone?

I am.

Welcome to San Francisco! I’ll play you a tune. If you sure I won’t bother you.

Please do. You won’t bother me.

Story Break

Stranger: Hi Miss, excuse me, you’re reading that book?

Yes?

You must be a professor.

No.

The way you’re underlining.

I’m a writer. I’m not really reading.

A writer, me too. Where are you published? I mean, if you don’t mind my talking to you. I’m not hitting on you.

I know. I’m waiting for someone. I write online, I guess.

I’m old-fashioned. I like the pages. I’ve been published seven times. It’s mostly conspiracy theory stuff.

Conspiracy stuff? Like, political?

No, economic.

Economic?

Yeah. I believe that capitalism is corrupt, and the best economic system was, like, Ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egypt had a slave economy.

Well, before that. Babylon. When the shekel was a religious thing, and now, it’s pervaded our political system, and the concept of money has become so pervasive that it’s institutionalized, and our countries are built up around it.

You mean the rise of the industrialized nation-state?

Yeah, like that. Economics is cruel. Capitalism is evil.

OK. I think it’s fair to tell you I’m a capitalist.

Yeah, well, of course you are. You’re in Starbucks.

You’re in Starbucks.

So what?

If it makes me a capitalist, what does it make you?

I’m just getting a coffee. I was cold.

Yeah, me too. Gotta keep warm. But was that a difficult decision for you?

People always think it’s OK to judge the Left. That each and every action has to conform to our beliefs, and if they don’t, we’re hypocritical. Well, no one scrutinizes capitalists.

I think you’ll find they do, very much, scrutinize capitalists. But I’m not judging. I’m asking about your decision process. I’m curious how someone with such strong convictions makes these micro-decisions that either conform or abandon those convictions. It must be exhausting.

It is. I’m very tired. I have to make those decisions. I don’t see myself supporting Starbucks. Just this coffee.

You’re supporting it the same way I am. We bought a drink here.

Yeah, but you are a capitalist. You support Starbucks.

How? I don’t own their stock.

You’re a capitalist.

So, if I’m not fighting against them, I’m supporting them?

Yeah.

When did you start holding these beliefs? Always?

I was raised poor. There are so many poor around here, in San Francisco. So much poverty. It is hard to feel another way if you were poor.

I see.

Are you from here?

Michigan.

I went to Michigan! State. The “bad” one, you know. Graduated last year.

Not bad. My mom went there.

Did she? You didn’t, though. I bet you went to a good school.

I did.

U of M?

Harvard. A long time ago.

I told you. That where you learned capitalism?

I learned what it was. Not why it works. I’ve learned why it works by living. Do you think there will be a revolution? In the next twenty, fifty, one hundred years? End of the nation states? End of corporations?

No. It can only come from the poor. And the poor are drones, controlled by needing things and money, and they are shut out. They don’t even know.

Revolutions don’t always come from the poor. Che Guevara was aristocracy. And a doctor, come to think of it. Before he went off on his power trip.

Corrupted.

People get corrupted. But they start good. Goodness can always be found if you care to look. And love.

No way. People are evil. Everywhere, everyone. That’s just the way it is.

Are you evil?

Yeah. I don’t do as much as I could do.

Like what?

Well, if I really wanted to change things I’d blow myself up or something.

Not blowing yourself up makes you evil? That’s just self-preservation, instinct.

Well, I don’t do it.

So there is no hope for the world?

No.

What about this conversation?

What about it?

Have you ever had one like it?

No.

No. Me either. Maybe it’s a sign.

Of what?

That I’m right. Goodness can be found. If you look.

No. Don’t think so.

Good luck out there.

Story Break

Lover: Hi babe. Hi.

Hi.

How are you? It’s good to see you. Sorry I’m late.

It’s fine. An old man played his flute for me.

Do you want to eat something? Or something hot, to warm you up?

I had coffee. I talked to a conspiracy theorist. Young thing.

Ha! Only in San Francisco. I’m fine. It’s good to see you. Are you reading your book?

This one? No, not really.

So you’re OK?

I’m fine.

Thank you for coming.

It’s fine.

(pause) You’re distant.

OK.

I didn’t think it’d be like this.

How did you think it’d be?

I thought . . . I could explain it. I thought I could make you understand.

You want me to feel sorry for you.

No, I don’t. I just, I don’t know. I just wanted to tell you face to face. I wanted to talk. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I am so sorry I hurt you.

I’m here. Talk.

I just. . . I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

I know. And I understood. I understand.

What do you think?

I’m wondering why I’m here. I said I understood, wasn’t that it?

I’m sorry I brought you here.

Of all the things you need to apologize for, bringing me here today isn’t that big.

I know. I know. I just wanted to tell you. Face to face. That I’m so, so sorry.

I see. OK.

What do you think?

It doesn’t matter what I think.

It does.

No. Not anymore, it doesn’t. That is essentially what you said on the phone, no? That it doesn’t matter what I think.

I care about you.

That doesn’t matter, either.

How can that not matter?

Because if you do or don’t, it doesn’t change the fact that you chose. And you chose to let me go. Let us go.

I didn’t mean to. I just didn’t know how to do anything differently. It just got really hard. I can’t be what you need or want, right now. It was a mistake. I’m so, so sorry.

I didn’t realize it was so hard on you.

It was really, really bad. I was struggling, hurting.

I’m sorry. What do you want from me?

I don’t want anything. I can’t even ask. I’m horrible to even ask.

Yes.

I can’t.

You would like to ask me to pretend it’s OK. You would like to ask me to say I forgive you. You would like to ask me to say I understand, you aren’t a bad person, and I care about you.

Yes! That is what I need. I need that so much. But I can’t ask you for that.

You can’t.

I hurt you. I didn’t mean to.

I forgive you.

You do?

Yes. Everything will be OK.

Oh thank you. Do you mean it?

Sure.

Thank you so much. You mean so much to me. You know that, right?

Of course.

There is no one like you. This is the nicest thing you’ve ever done for me. I won’t forget this. Thank you for caring and understanding.

Yes.

Now I can be happy.

Please, go be happy.

Story Break

Stranger: I can’t believe our flight is delayed again. It’s always cloudy at SFO, you think they’d figure a way around it.

Yeah, sure.

Do you live in Chicago?

Live? Yes.

Is it home?

Home? No. Or, I don’t know. I guess.

I’m the opposite. I live in San Francisco. But I’m going to Chicago, just for the week. Work. I heard it’s really cold there.

Cold everywhere. So, is San Francisco your home?

Has been since 1988. What is home but that place you can’t wait to get away from. And then can’t wait to return to?

I’m not sure where that place would be for me.

Everywhere?

I’ve never been to the tops of the Himalayas.

Minus the Himalayas then. Everywhere else is home?

Perhaps. Everywhere else is home. Then nowhere is home, isn’t it?

Home is where you are.

Like a turtle.

Not like a turtle. Turtles live in ponds, they have homes. Their shells are defense, not homes.

Like a hobo. A modern hobo.

Many people wander. Others don’t. It’s about wandering—not being lost.

My home is an action, not a place.

An action?

Yeah, like when I’m doing something particular, I feel home. Regardless of where I am.

Like what?

Loving. Deeply. When I love someone, I feel home.

That is lovely.

I’m a writer. Words are easy.

You’re a writer?

Yeah.

Why were you in San Francisco?

Relationship.

Cool!

Ended.

Oh. Well, I’m an idiot.

It’s OK. It was time to let go.

Ha. Oh, shoot. I gotta go, they are calling my group. Are you Group Two?

Five. I’ll see you on the plane.

Cool. See you later. I hope you find it.

What, the plane?

Ha! No, home.

It’s like Monty Python says. . .

“Always look on the bright side of life”?

No. “I’m not dead, yet.”

Love that movie. “Bring me a shrubbery!”

Story Break

Husband: You’re back. I’m so glad you’re home.

I’m back.

Good trip?

Fine. Long.

Flight OK?

Fog at SFO. Not a big deal. Just a little delayed. It’s cold here.

I turned the heat on. The radiator is making noise, not making any heat though.

I finished my book.

That one? You’ve been reading that one forever.

I’ve been carrying it around forever. Wouldn’t say I’ve been reading it.

What are you going to read next? Do you have any ideas? Damn this thing.

Don’t know. I think I’ll mourn the loss of this one first.

Ha! Why isn’t this stupid thing working? Why is there no heat in this apartment? Wait, there it goes. I can feel it coming out. Yeah, just a bit. There it is. Heat! Heat! We have heat!

Great job.

I knew it would work.

There is heat after all.

I’m glad you’re back, I missed you.

Me too. Missed you.

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