There's a gas station a few blocks from my apartment. It's called The Quick And Save. It's not my favorite gas station, but it is the closest. The people who own it drive very nice cars and are Pakistani. This is the extent of my knowledge of them. Mostly when I go in now I see a nice West African couple and we talk about work or why Americans must put sugar in all their vegetables, or the lady and I compliment each other on our hair-dos. A few years ago there was no West African couple, there was only the Pakistani family. Sometimes the grown son, (who I still see on occasion) sometimes his wife (who is tiny and beautiful and had a baby), and sometimes the parents, especially the older gentleman.
For some reason, the older gentleman took a shine to me and started holding my hand when I would go in to buy cigarettes. Just across the counter, as you would take the hand of someone dear to you. One time I went in and he was out in the store proper and he gave me a hug. This became our thing for a while, he would come out from behind the counter and hug me and then go back and hand me my cigarettes and I would hand him the money and that was that. Then one day, he came out from behind the counter, took my face in his hands, looked into my eyes and said, "My Darling, my darling!" Then he kissed me on the lips, hugged me vigorously, and sold me my cigarettes. I stopped going in for about a year.
To try to explain this, something gets lost in the translation. It wasn't frightening or creepy. It was wrong, no question, but there was something in his foreignness, or in his propriety, or his age... Or something in how old fashioned he dressed and spoke, that made it almost okay. I didn't feel that slimy uncomfortable feeling in my gut when he did this. I felt truly loved. It was utterly absurd, and that absurdity charmed me and charms me still. Regardless, I knew it wasn't right and I did take my business elsewhere for a while. Now when I go in he is never there and I don't ask about him. I don't want to hear that the grown son had to fire him for kissing the customers, or that he has dementia. I like the absurd to remain the absurd.
A few weeks ago a coworker walked me to my car after work. We park in the lot of the bank next door at night because our restaurant has very limited parking, and to get there we cut through this little muddy wooded area behind the dumpster and under a giant mulberry tree. This night in particular we were walking and talking and we came upon a man supine behind the dumpster. He was very fat and hairy and dirty and not wearing a shirt and he couldn't've been comfortable because he was half on and half off the concrete slab that was there to support the dumpster. He said, "Hey!" and my coworker, nice man that he is said Hey back, and as we kept walking I was thinking "Great, here we go.." because I just knew he was going to ask for money and I do generally give people money if I have cash in my pocket but that night I was just not in the mood, and I was having that internal struggle of whether I wanted to be a miserly bitch or if I was going to give the man a dollar. Then the man goes, "Hey! Do either of you guys.... want to arm wrestle?"
Again, do you see the absurdity? The beauty of this? He was so big and strong and dirty! He was laying in the mud! Even if we HAD wanted to arm wrestle, what? Would we have gotten down on the muddy slope and somehow leaned our bodies so that our elbows were braced on the dumpster slab, taken his meathook mitt in hand and counted three?
We told him No Thank You and as we turned the corner to our cars we saw a group of young, well dressed people walking up to go the way we had just come. "I'm not going to warn them," my friend whispered to me as they passed by. I got the giggles and had to stuff my hands in my face.
I love the absurd, I dearly do. I love it when people act in ways that are completely unexpected and marvelously strange. It makes me feel more right and more human. Lately I've been depressed, unhappy with work, unhappy with my performance at work and how ill-defined my job is, and how much time I spend there and how it wears me out. I haven't been feeling well and it seems I get every cold that passes through town, though I do wash my hands a million times a day and I eat my vegetables. I have mold in my apartment and that depresses me. People die, people get sick, people we love. I don't know what I'm doing with my life, I feel like I'm wasting it. A friend of mine finally got all this out of me recently and told me in no uncertain terms that I am not alone in feeling this and that we all go through this, and basically Buck Up, Buttercup, but you know? Knowing that everyone feels lonely and depressed does not make me feel more one with the human race, it makes me feel more hopeless. What hope do I have, what about me is so special that I might somehow find the way out of what I understand to be a very human condition? Yes, every body cries. That is just depressing. REM can go suck it.
You can't connect with sad people. Sadness is selfish and I don't want to share my sadness or anger or frustration with anyone, and I really don't want anyone to try to share theirs with me. To say how you're feeling and be honest about it is fine, but to dwell and divulge and struggle- it's all too personal to feel one with. I feel the pain of others but I can't do anything about it, and all I want is to be useful.
Which is why I so adore when people are strange. Truly absurd experiences (even the word absurd is absurd! D's and B's in the same word! Hilarious!) remind me that we are all different, and if we are all different it follows that maybe there is something in me that will spark and grow and change and find joy! Isn't that a great idea? That none of us are the same? That we will be surprised all the time, by everyone we meet? By ourselves?
There's a dollar bill that's been going around work and keeps showing up like a bad penny. It's a perfectly good dollar bill, only someone felt the need to add extra zeros to the 1, so it reads "10,000". They didn't try to make it look real or anything, they just used a black marker and the zeros aren't even the same size. But still, a 10,000 dollar bill! Ka-zam! No one wants it. We try to give it to people in their change and it keeps coming back. The other day I even held it out to my boss and said, "Um, Kim? I'm going to need change for this 10,000 dollar bill." He wasn't fooled. (Yes, he is a man named Kim. He's not even Asian! Ka-zam!)
I need 10,000 dollar bills. I need arm wrestling homeless men and to be called Darling every once in a while. Even if all I do is tuck these things away inside to pull out and think about sometimes. What is in these people that make them do these things as part of their every day lives? What is in me that startles people out of their normal? When have I been that person? When have you? What will happen next? I hope it is something beautiful. I hope it is truly marvelous.
Don't go looking for pictures of hairy homeless men online. Unless what you really want to look at are penises and butts.