People are Strange

“People are strange, when you’re a stranger.”  The music played in my headphones, dragging my hung over ass into work, bobbing and weaving through the mass of people on the streets of Boston. I had a presentation that morning with some executives from a venture capital firm to pitch our new product called Global Creative Collaboration. 

Will I ever see any of these faces again? Have I ever seen one before? A weird thought I barely entertained as I passed all the random faces on the train and the street. They were all in their own story, far from my own, living their own plays of hope and sadness, laughter and fear, anxiety and anticipation. This quick thought gained weight, and I lost focus on the music and the faces became detailed with questions.

“I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.” 

Jimi Hendrix

Have I sat at a bar with either of these strange faces that whip past me frantically on their way to work? How many degrees of separation could we uncover from each other if we tried? Could we sit, have a beer, link each other together somehow, even just in a quick passing like we are now on the street? Would she remember my face as I might hers? The web we weave is strange.

Is it our web to weave or is it already weaved?

A face I pass may be a face I love in the future or a face I interact with at a checkout line in six months or sit next to on the subway in 5 years. We all have a story. Every single one of these faces has their own story. This guy coming up on my left with the fedora on just lost his sister to breast cancer. The woman behind him, a self-proclaimed nymph, can’t resist checking out his ass. And a man in a fedora? She’s a sucker for that.

The couple sitting on the bench over by the hot dog vendor will have a baby in eight and a half months, but don’t know it yet. Their child will end up becoming one of the most respected physicist the world has ever seen.

The old lady pushing the cart of trash bags filled with empty aluminum cans will get hit by a car today. The driver who hits her will immediately let God back into his life because of the guilt. Was the bag lady put on this earth sixty-seven years in poverty only to be hit by his car, so he returns to God and one eighty’s his life and starts a charity to help the homeless? A pawn to this life for someone else’s advancement?

Perhaps. 

Are all stories scripted at birth? How can we determine the order of events? Are we under free will? Life presents choices, and sometimes we choose what seems best at the moment. Is that free will or is the decision already planned for us?

Every face carries a unique story. Would the world be better if we all stopped and asked everyone their personal story, to understand their path?

Maggie got that scar from a careless drunk driving accident.

Julie lost her virginity to her math teacher when she was fourteen.

Sarah loves her life and takes every minute as if it will be her last.  

I was running early this morning and didn’t much feel like wandering the halls or sitting in a boardroom for an hour to kill time. I work best on the fly, when I can jump right in with the swiftness of a magician working a sleight-of-hand trick, and the audience isn’t the wiser.

I stopped for a coffee. Black. Find a bench in the shade to people watch, remove my head phones and ask the gentleman if the seat next to him is being occupied. He shakes his head without a word and I sit.   

“Beautiful Morning, ah?” I say. 

He grunts a low, “MMM” 

“You from around here?” I asked. 

“I used to be. Why?” he replied.

“Just curious, striking up a conversation, that’s all.” 

He gave a cold, careless nod, then sank deeper into the bench. He is a heavy guy, looks to have a lot on his mind. Balding in the back, but has his hair neatly parted to his left. I could smell the dank on him. It wasn’t the normal body odor or the smell of piss and shit, but it smelled like oily skin from unwashed bed sheets and hair that craved a shower. 

“Can I buy you a coffee?” I asked him 

No reply. 

“You know,” I said, “Everyone has a story.” 

He swiftly turned his head, giving me a sincere, inquisitive look.

“You gotta be kidding,” he says. 

“Nope, think about it, that lady over there-” I shifted in my seat and pointed, “First off, we don’t know her name, we do know she is a woman standing on the sidewalk waiting for the bus, right?” 

He gave me no response and seemed uninterested.

I continued.

“We also can see that she has a nervous tick.  See right there- in here left eye?” He gave a quick confirmation nod. 

“How do we know that somehow we are not related to her or that we work with her son or that she holds the missing McDonald’s Monopoly piece that we need to win?” 

His head shot up like a deer hearing a gunshot. His eyes went wide as he stared at me. His mouth, partially open, had white foam building in the corners of his lips. 

“What is it?” I asked. 

“I, I, I uh, I won once,” he said. 

“You did, huh?” I said.  

I thought, Okay, this guy is another looney wilting away in the shade of a day because they did not take care of the mentally ill vets from Nam. Operation Ranch Hand. 

He slowly shook his head up and down for a few seconds and said, “I should have never told her.”

“Tell who?” I asked between sips of my coffee.

“My wife, Janet.”

“Janet is your wife”

“Was my wife, I miss her so”, he dropped his chin in his chest.

“I’m sorry to hear that, did she pass?” I asked.

“No, she left me for someone else.”

“I’m sorry” I replied as sincerely as I could. What’s your response to that? ‘don’t worry bud, there are plenty of fish in the sea?’

He was an old dumpy man sitting on a bench who didn’t look grimy enough to be homeless, but he also didn’t look to have his life in order either.

“I lied to her so much that it bit me in the ass.” he said. “All I had to do was not buy that God damn ticket and we would still be fine,” he turned his entire body towards me. “That God damn ticket, if I could take it back I would.”

It looks as if I struck a nerve.

“What are you talking about, what ticket, a McDonalds Monopoly piece?” I asked.

“I have been sober for almost 2 years now…” he said.

“That’s great man, congratul-” he cut me off, now becoming a bit more animated.

“All I had to do was not buy that fuckin’ ticket and I would be happy, we would be happy.”

I could relate to the whole sobriety thing. I have had my difficulties, my right and wrong moments, especially with booze. It is a sympathetic friend, but mostly the devil.

He continued, “Sober for almost 2 years and I had a rough day at work. I got into an argument over something petty with my manager, I don’t even remember what it was about.  I said awful things and became a madman. The anger took me over and I blacked out in a way.  I came to, and I was standing in front of Morrison’s liquids over on East St.”

I knew the place.

“I don’t know where my head was, I was pissed and what I had done the last 40 years of my life is drink to calm the nerves.  I always had an excuse to drink.  If I was happy, it was to celebrate, if I was sad, it was to mourn, If I was angry it was to forget.  It took me a long time, but I slowly brought my drinking down in about a year and finally stopped drinking all together.  Anyhow, I went into the liquor store and bought the first fifth of whiskey I could get my hands on.  I ended up paying with cash so my wife wouldn’t see it on the debit card statement but I didn’t have enough cash and the guy behind me was nice enough to give me a few dollars and asked me to pay it forward.”

Checking my watch, I realized I had just enough time to make it to the meeting if I left now.

“I had a dollar change left, and I turned to give it back to the guy that lent it to me.  He repeated again for me to pay it forward and waved me off. So I bought a lottery ticket.”

“Ah, a lottery ticket,” I added, “but why was it so bad to buy a lottery ticket?” 

”I got so stinking drunk and I hadn’t drunk in sometime so I was blottoed quick. I remember bouncing from bar to bar, snapshots of eating Chinese and waking up under a willow tree over in Cleveland Park.” 

I knew the place.

“Shit man, I’m sorry” I said with a tiss, looking again at my watch.

“My wife had been calling my phone all night, leaving messages, first concerned then absolutely bullshit.  She knows what I was doing because it follows my drinking pattern and she knows the pattern all to well.”

“So what happened, she left you, right?” I asked. 

“Yeah, I had no idea where I left my car, I looked all around, but nothing.  I took the Redline train towards home and then called a cab from the train station to take me home.”

“Was she there?” I asked.

“Yeah, she was home with her bags packed waiting for me to confirm the inevitable.  I had relapsed on my last chance with her and she wasn’t giving me any more get out of jail free cards.” He paused, took a deep breath. It seemed like he was experiencing the pain and lost love again.

He continued, “The part that got me the most of her leaving was that she didn’t get emotional or act mad or anything. She was cool, calm and collected.  It was kind of eerie how calm she was. I suppose I had made her numb to it all from the many years of my drinking behavior.  She didn’t even cry, ya know, and she was a crier.  I had hardened her so much, she had no emotion left in her.  That’s what got me the most.”

“Are you doing OK now?” I asked.

“Yeah, this was 2 years ago and I haven’t had another drop of booze since.”

“Well, good for you.” I gave him a quick support tap on his shoulder. I felt for the guy. It’s obvious that he’s devastated over losing the love of his life and the disappointment he caused her.

“By the way,” I asked, “what is your name?”

“Georgio” he replied.

“Listen Georgio,” I said. I need to run, but here’s money for food or whatever you want. I pulled a twenty from my wallet.

He shook his head and said, “it isn’t the money.”

“I can’t imagine losing a loved one in that way, but you can prevail,” I said, trying to breathe some life into Georgio’s morning.

“That’s the whole fucking thing,” he said. “I don’t need the money.”

“Everybody needs the money,” I replied. “Here take this too, it’s my phone number.  Call me if you would like to meet up, ya know, to talk or get a hot meal or, just, I don;t know, someone to talk to.”

I have never done offered my number before and haven’t since.

“You’re not a queeah are ya” he asked as he leaned away from me.

“Christ no, God no, I have a wife and two kids and I own a business around the corner.”

He took my number and slid it into his breast pocket. 

“I just want you to know that I started my day with a bunch of strangers and I made a friend from a strange face and I got to hear your story.  I am grateful for that, so thank you Georgio,” I stood and extended my hand.

“What? where’re you going?” He asked like a child, seeing his dad go off to war.

“I have to get to work, I am running late.”

He extended his hand, and we shook. His hand was firm, calloused, and cold.

“I tried to get her back.” Georgio said, “Many times.” Sinking his chin back into his chest. “I won two hundred and fifty million dollars on that fuckin’ scratch ticket that night.” 

“Huh”, I said. Something came out strange and I thought I heard him say he won two hundred and fifty million.

A brick hit me in the chest. 

I stood in awe, still holding his hand in mine.

“You what?” I asked. Thinking I was still hearing things.

“The ticket I bought with the dollar I had left, it was a winner, the grand prize winner”

“Your shitting me Georgio, come on I gotta go”

“OK” he said, and we released hands.

I turned toward the intersection and quickly spun back. 

“If you won all that money, why are you sitting here looking like a-” I hesitated. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I said it. “A bum, looking like a bum on the street?”

“I told you” he said, “I don’t want the money, I just want my Janet back”. A tear rolled down his check and into his lip.

I sat back down, now facing him.

“Georgio, you’re telling me you won two hundred and fifty million dollars and your moping on the street over a woman. Are you fucking crazy?” I said, and then asked, “Please tell me you are shitting me, Georgio?”

“No, I wish I was,” he said.

“Wish you were?… What the fuck?…. Two hundred and fifty million!, two hundred and fifty million dollars!” I kept saying in disbelief as he sat with his chin on his chest and his tears rolling in the tide.

Way Past Tipsy - ran kime

Read “People Are Strange” and other stories by Ran Kime in the collection Way Past Tipsy & Other Silent Cries for Help

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Ran Kime Writer
Ran Kime, a writer, poet, musician and recluse from New Hampshire, crafts abstract stories, flash fiction & poetry that probe the psyche. His collections include “Spectre of the Brocken: Halo for the observer” and “Way Past Tipsy & Other Silent Cries for Help”.