"Heeey, man!" exclaimed this vaguely familiar face, all smiles, thrilled to see me, with no idea how low I felt, how little I felt like talking. I almost verbalized something along those lines, but I can't do that. Life is bigger than my little woes. He asked, with exuberance and terrific speed, nearly talking over himself: "hey I haven't seen you in ages, how you been?"
He could have been forty, or fifty, bald but with a baseball cap tonight, dark olive skin and almond eyes like mine, wearing your dad's sweater and faded tennis shoes.
"Oh, pretty well," I replied. "How 'bout you?"
"Man, I got broken into!" It was the funniest thing to hear, that sentence, voiced as it was with the timbre of his excitement at seeing me. "I was jus' taken a shower, they came in and took my wallet, took my–"
"No way, up on Capitol Hill?"
"No, I live over here. Busted right in middle a the day,"
I'm really listening now. "Wait. You were at home?"
"Took my wallet, loose cash,"
"You were at home? They came in while you was at the house?"
"Yeah, I was in the shower. I came out ready to go to work." Readygotowork. So fast! This guy should do the voices for audiobooks. He could get you through The Brothers Karamazov in an hour. And yet, unlike many fast-talkin' folk, it was easy to detect the very real sincerity in his voice.
"Oh, no," I said. "Oh, no! That's terrible!"
"Yeah. Well. I'm okay at least. Tell me 'bout you, how are holdin' up? You look even younger now! I want your genes, man!"
"But you look more mature somehow."
"Hmm. I hope so. Maybe I learned one or two things in the interim!"
"You been doin' okay, everything good?"
"Yeah, I can't complain. Things are good. Things are fine." Somewhere in the middle of that I remembered my father, speaking on how important truthfulness is. Amazing, the speed at which the brain dashes from thought to thought. I decided to just tell him. It was the middle of the barren night, a weeknight. There was room for conversations like this.
I said, "actually, I just got dumped."
"Awww, that's, hell, that's worse than gettin' broke into!"
"Oh man, it kills me. It just kills me."
"Wait. Somebody broke up with you? Do they know what they're missing?"
I laughed. "Aw naw,"
"It's a done deal or she just you know,"
"I think it's a done deal, yeah,"
"What happened? I can't imagine."
"Oh, it's, uh. Um. well, okay. We were trying to resolve an issue, but before I could come to a decision on how to resolve it, she just said hey, I'm done, this is done."
"Awwww. How many years you were together?"
"Oh not long at all. Three months, something." Could it really have been that short? "So it's not all that you know, but it was so intense! You know how sometimes it's a short time but it's so concentrated, and it figgers larger in your head?"
"So that's kinda what's been on my mind."
"That's funny, I thought you were gay."
"Ha!" It was the loudest I'd laughed in two weeks. What a ridiculous sentence, and so perfect, sublime, really. Just the leveling needed in that moment.
"I mean no offense,"
"Nothing wrong of course I just always thought okay, I thought you were gay the whole time,"
"I know, everyone does. I don't know why. Because I'm friendly? Or I like art? I can't help myself!"
We laughed and laughed, climbing the ladder together.
"Man. Yeah, I split up with my wife after [unintelligible] years, we were livin' in Santa [Clara], one' most expensive neighborhoods in the world, we were just arguing all the,"
"It's no good if you're just makin' each other unhappy,"
"Yeah. You know something like eighty percent a relationships fall apart cause of–"
"–Financial issues? Yeah!"
"Yeah, I seen the ad that mentions that. I mean, if you guys are always arguin' about the rent,"
"Exactly, and she was workin' all the time trying t'cover for stuff,"
"But it's not a failure because it ends. Everything ends. It's never a failure just cause it ends." I often tell that to people. I need to voice it, just in case they don't know. I think he knew, though; he was way too happy not to. "Okay so what did they take when they broke in?"
"My wallet, my keys, cash. My bus card,"
"Oh man, especially the wallet, that's a bummer. Take forever to replace."
"Yeah." Listen to the effervescent bounce in his voice, infectious: "It'll work out though." Practically bubbly. "I'm stayin' at this guy's house right now, landlord's house but it's no good, he's ninety and he always has all these women comin' over. He's ninety and bunch a women half his age be comin' over to the house,"
"Hold up wait, he be ninety years old? Did you say ninet–"
"Yeah, and he has all these lovers!"
"He has lovers at ninety! I wanna know about his genes!"
"I don't wanna be no player, 'specially at that age–"
"Yeah that sounds painful. Ninety? I wanna be reading books."
"Exactly. Should be lookin' at birds and stuff. Talkin' about bowel movements!"
"Ha!" I laugh so hard the only other passenger looks up from his headphonic din, confused.
"Well, I'm sorry we both had bummer times goin' on."
"Me too, but it's good to talk. Talking's good."
They don't have classes on how to live life. They'll teach you everything else–everything else, as long as its quantifiable, binary, literal– but they won't teach you how to break up or when, to question how you define your self-worth, how to feel when your wares are stolen, how to move on from the death of a loved one. When it comes to matters of actual consequence, we're all beginners in this racket. The singsong rhythms of his resilient ebullience were the lesson I needed then, the gentle confidence of guidance offered unknowingly. No better way to teach someone.
He wasn't doing anything besides being himself.