Sometimes things happen that remind me of how interesting life is. I need to be reminded, otherwise I end up more thankless than thankful. Sometimes those things are experiences, people, or both.
No one is picking me up today so when I get off the bus I start walking. I’m across the street and I see your sign that says “The End is Near.” You are sitting right in the middle of the sidewalk, on the corner where the Blockbuster used to be. You look intimidating. I consider taking the long way to my parent’s house. At least that means I get a whiff of that Happy Fortune lunch special.
I don’t take the long way, for some reason, and the first thing I think about is whether I’ll have to step off the sidewalk and onto the street when I pass you. Your wheelchair is huge, but rather than sink into it you seem to command it, like a tank. Your sign is a rigid flag fit for an intellectual war. I cross the street with my head down, hoping that you don’t swivel fast enough to start a conversation.
We’re only a few steps away from each other when I notice that your sign actually says “The End is Far.” That piques my curiosity: I say hello and offer a handshake. You switch your sign from right hand to left to make sure you shake with the proper hand. I like you already. I notice your mop of curly red hair, and contrary to what I’ve heard–that gingers have no souls– the few that I know are quality.
After these pleasantries you get to business; you are not out here for fun and games. You declare yourself anti-truther and anti-doomsday. Too many people spend time talking about the apocalypse, instead of trying to prevent it, you say. I respond, preach. You actually start to, launching into a whirl of topics: global warming, China, Gog and Magog, Saudi Arabia, mass extinction, nuclear war.
After a minute or so I lose track of what you are saying and start wondering how anyone’s hands could be so red and so freckled. You tend to speak with your hands and it’s like conjuring a fireball.
I blurt out, when do you think the world is going to end?
You are not miffed at my interruption. Before you answer, you put your hands together for emphasis. A red kamehameha.
I don’t know. I don’t care about when it ends. I’m only interested in what I do before it ends.
At this point I really need to go to the bathroom, so I say goodbye and thank you as I run to Brian’s house, which is a couple of blocks away.
I forget your name. I wish I had your number. I wish we spoke more, but I really had to pee.
When someone says New Jersey stinks, whether in a literal or metaphorical sense, I sometimes agree, but offer the caveat that some places in Jersey are nice. Like Hoboken. Hoboken is pretty. It sits right across from midtown, and at night while on its hills you get treated to two sets of luminescence: the lights from the New York skyline, and the stars…which you quickly realize are just the same city lights reflected by the Hudson River. How New Jersey is that. Hoboken is still pretty though.
I leave my friend’s place at Newport and park right by the water, on 1st street. It’s the middle of the summer and I have baggage on my mind so what better thing to do than walk around and sweat the thoughts out. I walk by the water all the way up to 15th street, and back down to the park by the church. It’s been about an hour and a half and I am sweating so much it looks like I opened up a fire hydrant and danced in it. I am parched. Parks, especially ones with basketball courts, have to have a water fountain somewhere.
You are sitting on a ping-pong table by the basketball courts, cigarette in one hand and a can of Arizona in another. I ask for a sip and instead you give me the entire can. It feels like my birthday and I close my eyes, thankful for your kindness and for the consistency of the company that makes Arizona Iced Tea; the price hasn’t kept up with inflation (still 99 cents). You tell me that there’s no space at the Bloomfield shelter and how summer is fine but winter sucks a big one. You tell me about how your brother kicked you out. You talk about your girl, and how she took all your money when she left you.
When you mention that you want to be a truck driver, and that you need a couple grand to pay off some tickets and get a permit, I get excited. You don’t look homeless so much as you look like you’ve never figured out what home really means.
Here is the plan. You don’t have a computer, so come to my apartment and we’ll go on Craigslist and find you a job. If that doesn’t work, do what I did and walk into a restaurant and offer to wash dishes for free. Be really good at washing dishes and offer to do other kitchen work for free. Start getting paid. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up being a waiter. If that happens, it won’t be long before you have enough money to get a trucker permit.
You say thanks and mention how late it is. Since you don’t have a phone I ask you to write down my number. Call me after I come back from Italy.
Two weeks pass. You call me. I never answer calls from numbers I don’t know but I pick up, hoping that it’s you. Instead of talking about coming over, or about finding work at a restaurant, you pass the phone to your friend. He asks for money to help fund a shady venture of his. I ask for you but your friend tells me to call back. I call the number five times over the course of a month but no one ever answers.
I’m leaving this up here for you. If you ever come across this, send me an email – I’d like to hear from you.
You coming all the way here means something, you know. I am new, and you are the first woman, from Eden. We spend all this time together but still I wish we had more. Where did you come from anyway.
You don’t have to meet up with your friend for another three hours so we plop ourselves down in Grove Square and talk. You seem to be curious about what I’m curious about. By immutable law of transitive property we’re curious about each other. Right.
We start to people-watch and people-comment, in between normal conversation. It’s my first time doing this with someone. There is a little boy holding a teddy bear, looking dapper in his matching hoodie and sweatpants, and his father, who manages to look just alright in a uniqlo bubble jacket. I ask you about your thoughts on color and texture matching with regards to personal clothing style. As you answer, I spot a waiter on break with his buddies, wearing a jersey with a bedazzled number thirty-two on the back. He turns, and in the afternoon sun he shines bright enough to make us squint.
To our right, there is a group of Filipinos we don’t know. We do the natural thing and assign each member of this group a corresponding doppelganger from our own circle of friends. They remind us about our disdain for pop filipino culture, and its obsession with American media. We talk about how, despite this, giving back to our motherland is one of our dreams. We mention other dreams of travel and service. I don’t mention the word “together” but I want to.
A man wearing a black suit blazer, green t-shirt, and matching green shoes sprints by. Picture a poorly dressed, bald leprechaun. Thirty seconds later, he sprints past us again, in the opposite direction of where he came from. I don’t know why you’re laughing so hard. Then we see a man in a muscle tee walking a puppy. He is flexing, it seems, at everyone in the square. I never hear you laugh like this and I love it.
I lose track of what we talk about and the people we see. After two hours and two cups of frozen yogurt you leave and I feel something like longing.
While we are paying attention to others, I think about us, and what it would mean to do things like this, with you. Before the world ends.