03 January, 2002
The Old Guy
I think that this is a good story to start the year off with, and it is time at any rate that the story was set down, for sake of sharing the rare kind of experience that occurs when a person is busy looking the other way. What I am about to relate is an event that actually happened; it is "true" as much as any story can be. I found it valuable to memorize the details, and hope that you will appreciate it enough to gain something from it.
One of my favorite haunts is the local library, as I suspect
it is for any literate person. Not only do I do a lot of
research there for my stories, but they have a large enough collection
of videos, CD's, books on tape, and literary mind candy to keep
me entertained well into my sunset years. How many other
places can you go into any day and walk out with copies of "Les
Enfants du Paradis", "Happy Gilmore", "Flies
on the Ceiling" and Aristotle's "Ethics" without
having paid one red cent? It is, I think, a powerful and
seriously under-appreciated intellectual tool.
On a fine spring day, one of those days that is as green as summer, but not yet so hot as to be uncomfortable, I was sitting on a bench outside the library, waiting for a bus. One of the appealing things about the library I frequent is that it is right at the turnaround point of the same bus route that stops just outside my house, making it as accessible as anythingg on a bus route can be.
It wasn't my usual bench I was on that day; the one next to the bus stop. Rather, as I had a few minutes to wait, I went to one a few paces over, the one on the edge of the steps leading down to the ferry terminal; the one overlooking the harbor across which you can get a view of downtown that is inspirational to anyone who cares about that sort of thing.
Seated at the other end of the bench was a man that I could guess to be in his late '70's or early '80's; definitely somebody's grandfather, and quite possibly somebody's great grandfather. In his cardigan and sneakers, he looked like nothing more than an old gentleman pausing to rest in the middle of an afternoon stroll.
I settled in, and prepared to start in on my newest library acquisition -- I'm not sure, but I think it was "The Passion of Ayn Rand" by Barbara Branden -- but the old fellow had different ideas. In retrospect, I suppose I should have seen it.
There's something about me that makes people at bus stops want
to tell me their life stories. I don't know what it is; I'm usually
not the most approachable person, as I generally have my attention
buried in a book, and I certainly don't initiate these conversations
myself. Yet somehow, during these idle moments, certain people,
usually fringe dwellers of some sort, feel the need to share the
intimate details of their lives with me.
Now, I'm not rude when this happens; I don't rebuke them, or even ignore them (unless I'm into a particularly fascinating book, in which case I give a brief nod or acknowledgement before going back to my reading). Instead I listen, confessor-like, giving the occasional nod to indicate I'm still awake, or the classic response, "Oh, really?"
After the usual introductory comments about the weather ("Nice
day, isn't it?") and the state of the world in general ("How's
it goin? "Not bad at all."), this old gentleman came
at me with, "You know, when I was seventeen, I went into
town one day with a dollar in my pocket, and when I came home,
I had a hundred dollars." Now, I figured I could see where
this one was going; I have been on the receiving end of more than
one lecture about the value of hard work and spending one's money
wisely. Aside from the fact that in my case, it is a matter of
preaching to the choir, these sermons also tend to be unanimously
boring, probably because therre's never a fresh perspective on
the matter. Just once I wouldd like someone to attempt to justify
the value of sloth and wasteful spending, just for the variety.
So, determined that I was not going to sit through one more of
these lectures, I finished the conversation with a polite, "That's
very interesting", put away my book and excused myself from
the conversation on the premise that my bus would be arriving
at any minute. I left the man sitting on the bench on his own,
and ambled over to the bus stop where, about a minute later, my
bus did arrive.
As I took my seat, I happened to look out the window and across the street. Parked in front of the shops there was a white stretch limousine. Then I saw the old gentleman I had been speaking with make his way across the street to be escorted into the back of this limousine.
As I've never noticed him again, I've no way of knowing if the limo was his, or perhaps a rental for some specific function, or maybe sent by a friend or relative to pick him up. Certainly any of those options may be possible.
I do not relate this story to encourage the complete indulgence
of any person who wants to impose their biography on you, nor
to suggest that the ragged, bearded person talking to their imaginary
friends on the street corner may be a genius or a millionaire.
I guess if there is one point I have to make here, it is simply:
you never know.
I do know this: looking back at that day, and my curtailed conversation with the old man, I can only think of one thing: I sure would like to know what he did to turn one dollar into a hundred in one day.
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