I’m chilling by the river, on a park bench; nice breeze, sun glinting off the waves like those proverbial diamonds, the sky is endless and azure. Blue heron standing by the shore, ducks paddling about; I’m alone with my thoughts and appreciation of the beauty of the moment. It was idyllic. One of those scenes you see in paintings or a photograph and hope to experience some day.
Like all idylls, the peace was broken. Dude sat down next to me. I got up…I’m not a social kind of person and I certainly didn’t want to share my special moment with a stranger.
“Sit down, Karen.”
Whoa…guy knows my name. I look at him, he looks familiar and then he doesn’t, then he does…then he doesn’t. I’m thinking “Uh oh…sun stroke!”
“Seriously, sit down.”
“Nah, I’m done. I’m heading home, thanks anyway.” I’m backing away, slowly, trying not to make any sudden movements. I’ve heard that’s what you do with crazies, mean dogs and skunks. Had no idea if it actually worked but figured, it was worth a shot.
“I would really like to talk to you for a few minutes. Look at me. Do I look dangerous?”
I take him in; he was right, didn’t look dangerous. Old dude, long hair, beard, a few beaded necklaces, leather wrist band, jeans and sandals – looked, kind of, like a Grateful Dead fan. Nice teeth, blue eyes…or green…or brown. Made a mental note to make an appointment with the optometrist as soon as possible…Then there were voices in my head; I could hear my husband, my kids and my late parents, in the back of my mind; “DON’T DO IT! You KNOW you are a Weirdo Magnet!” I sat down anyway; I can be a bit of a jerk like that.
“So, Karen, how’s it going? I see you appreciate my work.”
“Meh…going pretty good, I guess. Could be worse, could be better…what do you mean…Your work?”
He gestured toward the lake.
“You do the landscaping for the city?”
The guy laughed, “You could say that. Landscaping. Yeah.”
We both sat, looking out at the water although, I kept giving him side glances, just in case…I didn’t want to end up on the evening news, found in the trunk of a car or a sleeping bag attached to a concrete block, in the canal.
I thought I was being discreet…apparently, not – he noticed me watching him.
“You’re safe. You won’t end up in the trunk of my car. I don’t even drive and that whole sleeping bag thing was a dismal failure.”
Shocked, flabberghasted, astounded – pick a word, none of them really describes my reaction. I decided that a little offense was needed here; I could do the defense if required, later.
“Look, do I know you? You look familiar but, I’m really sorry, I guess at my age, names and faces don’t always connect.” And thrust and parry.
“Sure, you know me. You know me pretty well; although, you usually pretend that I don’t exist. I’m more convenient that way.” He grinned.
I was getting a bit fed up. I’m a Taurus; I don’t do the whole head game thing. Give it to me straight or shut up, is my philosophy.
“I said I was sorry but I don’t really recognize you. And what is with this existentialist shit? If you know me, you know I have no patience for it.”
I started to get up. I’m not into being rude but this guy was trying my patience and I was kind of pissed that he had ruined my “moment” by sitting down. Messed with my Chi and I was disgruntled.
“Seriously, it’s been fun but I have to head home. Take care.”
I turned and started to walk away. Next thing I knew, Deadhead Sr. was beside me. I stopped and turned, he was smiling. I sighed and shook my head…this one was persistent, I’d give him that.
“What do you want? Where do you live? Can I call someone?”
I pulled out the trusty cellphone.
“No. I don’t need to you to call anyone; the long distance charges would be murder.”
He started to chuckle and then laugh, until he was doubled over. My temper started to flare; this guy was really making me angry. Messed with my nirvana, now he was laughing at my offer to help. He was way past the point of what I tolerate in a stranger but I was at a loss.
There was no way he was playing with a full deck, I didn’t want to leave him alone, to, maybe, wander into the river or piss someone off enough that they beat him up. I was thinking of 911 as an option when Mr. Deadhead managed to get himself together.
“Can we just sit back down on that bench, just for a while and chat? I promise not to do anything weird. Just give me a few moments of your time. I am not selling Amway and I’m not a Jehovah Witness.”
He started to sputter, suppressed laughter, tears started to roll out of his blue/green/brown eyes.
I was walking away from this one; in addition, sitting near the river, listening to the waves lap up against the rocks made me want to pee and made me, simultaneously, thirsty. I needed to get home.
The guy started to cough, probably from trying not to laugh again and thereby weirding me out. His face turned red while he coughed and he didn’t seem to be able to catch his breath.
Man, I really needed to go; on so many levels…but I couldn’t leave the old guy to, potentially, expire on the grass. He continued to cough and went down on his knees. I whipped out my trusty God-device, and had already punched in the 9 when he waved at me, to stop.
I stopped and the old guy wheezed himself back to a less disturbing facial colour. He motioned for me to come closer. I ran through some scenarios in my head, none of which had him coming out victorious, so decided that I would be in minimal danger by moving closer.
“Give an old man a hand up, would you?” He held out his arm to me and I re-examined my previous scenarios of him vs me and I was still the victor. I helped him up.
“Can we sit on the bench, please?”
What could I do? I couldn’t leave him there but damn, I had to go to the bathroom. I initiated some “mind over bladder” and agreed.
“Just for a few minutes and then, I really have to go. If you want, I can come back with my car and give you a lift or walk you to a bus stop. Your choice.”
“Don’t worry, I got here under my own steam. I can leave the same way. I promise not to take any more of your time than you can spare me.”
He just seemed so sweet, so cutely elderly, I felt guilty for thinking he may be dangerous.
He was just an older person who wanted to talk. Maybe he didn’t have friends or family. After caring for sick parents, I have become very sensitive when it comes to older folks and loneliness. My parents had family so they were never alone but it made me realize how many were and how impossible, how sad, life must be for them.
Yeah, I could hold my water and give this man some time.
We walked over and sat down on the bench; the place where all this had started. We were looking out at the river and sighed, at the same time, in the same tone. I had to laugh and so did he. My DEFCON level lowered to about a 4.
“You know my name, so what’s your name?”
Safe enough topic.
“My friends call me Eli.”
“Eli, you said we knew each other but I have never met an Eli. It’s a cool name by the way and that’s how I know we’ve never met. I would have remembered.”
“You just know me by another name, a lot of people do but I prefer Eli. You’re right. It is cool.”
We kept facing forward, toward the river. I was doing my whole sideways glance thing.
“Eli. You know you aren’t making much sense. If I don’t know you by Eli, then what name would I remember?”
He turned to look at me and I looked at him. His answer was ….