There is only one person in the world who will understand all of this blog post, and that’s all right. I’m writing this by instinct, and I know it’s going to skip around, change from past to present tense a few times, and bounce all over the place. No critics, please. Well, maybe one critic is allowed, if you happen to be the one this is meant for, and you’ll know if you are, because you’ll get it. This is a gift, a recollection, a story, an essay, a poem. Call it what you will, interpret it as you will. I just want to write it, relive it, and share it.
A writer walks into a food store. Yes, I know, it sounds like the beginning of a joke … but it’s the furthest thing from a joke it can possibly be.
This writer just wanted a little extra money, so he went for a walk in the past, taking a part-time job in a little supermarket, just like he had when he was sixteen, two decades earlier. He got something more than a little extra money. He got a magnificent surprise.
An hour or two into the first day on the job, he walked into the back room and heard it, a shrieking voice erupting at full volume to get its point across. It was shrill and would have been annoying except for the fact that its words got the writer’s full attention instantly.
He saw her standing there letting poor Louie have it with both barrels as she shouted of the evils of religion, of the power of the church over its poor followers, of the idea that, as Marx had said, “religion is the opiate of the masses.”
The writer stopped in his tracks. She had his attention, and he agreed with most of what he heard her say. The writer was a shy man, without many friends, and would have never under normal circumstances have told an absolute stranger what his first impression of her was. But he did. He didn’t even hesitate, didn’t think. He blurted out three words: “I like you.”
She didn’t hear him. She was too busy yelling at Louie, but it didn’t matter. She had the writer’s attention and he’d keep an eye (and both ears, as if he had a choice!) on her from then on.
Suddenly, in a world of cardboard robots, she was neon reality … and the writer’s life changed.
She became important to him, in a way that rarely happened. They collided, and the collision was a powerful one. He thought of her often, and on those days, a few days a week, when he went to work there, suspense filled his heart. He’d arrive in the morning, wondering what she’d have to say today. In bits and pieces, in a series of what would have looked like minor events to any outside observer, those small exchanges evolved into importance. He looked forward to those mornings, and even, sometimes, dreaded his days off. From nothing, an unexpected friendship exploded, and now, more than a year after the beginning, a string of memories cascades from the writer’s mind to the screen on which he types, and he tries to capture it all.
He stands outside, behind the store, breaking down a produce load. It is hot outside, the sweltering center of summer’s sizzle. He drips with sweat. She comes out, sits on a stack of empty wooden pallets, plays with her phone, and watches him. He wonders what to say. Words are exchanged, not important words, but they are important in their way. It’s just idle conversation, small talk. But when it’s over and she’s about to walk back into the cooler interior of the store, she says to him, “Now we’ve talked outside work,” as if that somehow, magically, has sealed the friendship.
That’s how it works. Nothing said is ever meaningless. Even small talk isn’t small. It’s like some outside force, some cosmic puppeteer, has orchestrated the whole thing, written a script or arranged the pieces on a chessboard that nobody else can see. Every word he says, every phrase she utters, means something, evolves the collision further. Talking to her is like falling into a movie.
Summer continues. They stand out in the parking lot one afternoon, leaning on her car, talking. It’s good. She understands the robotic nature of the others. They’re so predictable. But those two aren’t. They surprise each other. There’s nothing ordinary about the conversation. It’s honest and pushes forcefully but carefully against the barriers the writer usually sets up around his life. He lets her in, and she enters freely.
Now the Facebook messages fly, and then the texts. Numbers exchanged, bits of dialogue sent digitally now, back and forth like two kids launching paper airplanes full of poetry across the schoolyard. The writer has remembered how to have fun without being able to predict the tides of each day. It’s like a storm in his imagination.
There’s a special suspense to the texting. He sends, he waits, and he reads the response with delight. Yes, there’s reality to this. He finds himself texting in Portuguese (thank you, Google Translate!). She sends him messages when she’s drunk and he finds it refreshing.
Autumn arrives and the air grows brisk. The writer loves this time of year. Friendship takes its next step forward. They leave that place and eat together. They talk of books they’d like to write one day. At the scene of the crime, as they jokingly call it later, they stand for three hours that feel like only moments, leaning on a railing and laughing, theorizing about the sexual habits of strangers and how the plot of a hypothetical novel might proceed. There is coffee after that, and two more hours in a car, just talking, questioning the nature of reality and the purpose of the forces of the universe and it is on that night that she says to him one of the best things that’s ever been said: “I could never think you’re a raving lunatic.”
The next morning, for no obvious reason, a tree in his front yard bursts into flame and is reduced to ashes. It becomes a running joke that the intensity of the previous night’s conversation shot out and made it burn.
They meet again not long after that, laughing together as they roam the aisles of a large bookstore. He tells her the pseudonym he’d use if he needed one, which is something he’s never told anyone before. The night moves on with a drink, during which they straighten out the truth of exactly what’s going on between them, and they’re fine with the result. Then, another titanic talk in a parked car, during which a certain very old song becomes significant, and the theme of dreams enters the movie.
They talk of dreams often after that, discovering that the writer understands the dream realms, could be a cartographer of those ethereal realms if he so chose. There are dreams of injured cats and bags of money in Brazil and Russians on Mars (or it might have been Martians in Russia, as directions and shifts of scenery are often indecipherable in dreams).
She brings out parts of him that had long been dormant. He catches hailstones and smiles while doing so, allows himself to be photographed. She tries to talk him into going to the company Christmas party. He tells her he’s not good at parties. She can’t understand what that means. She tells him to go fuck himself. He braves the party, just to prove his point, and tells her to never do that again; it only works once. He had a terrible time, but it’s all right.
They sit on her couch one night. He’s slightly drunk and talking, talking, talking about philosophy and possibilities and riddles of the mind. He says something. Months later, he won’t remember what it was, but he won’t forget the result. Whatever he said, she must have liked it. She grabs him, squeals, “Oh my ------------!” (I will not type the nickname here. It’s nobody else’s business.), kisses him on the cheek and hugs him for an eternity. The nickname sticks and he’s okay with it. He likes it. Somehow, it fits because she invented it.
There are other evenings and other bottles of wine. The wine is always red and usually cheap. Sometimes there’s food too.
On one particular night, things go wrong in the writer’s life. She provides a sanctuary for him. She feeds him; they obliterate a bottle of wine. He’s drunk, very drunk. He’s falling apart and she puts him back together. He will be forever grateful for that. He’s usually guarded, aloof. But he trusts her enough to let the walls fall, let the wine do its job. That’s saying a lot. There’s trust there. Yes, he’s grateful.
The story goes on and on after that. There’s so much that could be said. The writer’s mind is flooded with memories and emotions as he composes this. But, damn it, Sam, this is a blog post, not a novel, so it can’t go on forever.
And I haven’t even mentioned the orange icing, the orange apartment, the Egyptian cat, the Moses incident, a very specific ocean, potato leek soup, sitting in the dirt fixing Facebook settings, the three golden balls, or a thousand other details of a very good year in the writer’s life.
He no longer works that job. He doesn’t see her every other day anymore, or even every month. He misses the mornings when he’d enter the store and wait in anticipation of what she had to say. He remembers outrageous laughter, conversations of intense philosophy, bizarre experiments of the mind, and arguments that were exasperating and exhilarating at the same time.
Communication hasn’t stopped. It won’t stop. It’s too important, and too much fun. It’s slowed, but that happens. After all, we have lives to live and changes to travel through. There are still bursts of texting, and those are always delightful. There will be another meeting one day soon. It’s inevitable. And the writer will drive to the chosen place wondering what they’ll talk about then. He’ll go there knowing he’ll get the smile, the shriek, the hug. He looks forward to it.
Until then, there are always the two songs that serve as bookends to the situation. One song is very old and sweetly sings of the subject of dreams. The other is very new and involves a big brown horse and magick, magick, magick!
At the beginning of this ramble, I said this was a recollection, or a story, or a poem. It’s all those things in one way or another. But what it really is, is something simpler than that. It’s a birthday card. I’ve tried to fill it with truth and gratitude. I hope I got it right. That’s all.