The Man Whose Name I Do Not Know

I do not know his name.  Nor do I know his age, ethnicity and the reason for his labored gait.  His English is limited at best, his smile infectious, warm and at the ready.  A small man with a bum leg which he is forced to lift, drag and scuffle with each step, he is pure joy on my early morning walks along the beach.

When we first “met”, each of us was bundled up in parkas, hats and gloves which spared us the dangers of freezing to death while enabling us to enjoy the splendor of the Atlantic. Our respective walks begin on opposite ends of the beach; our rendezvouses always begin from afar when I spot his unique carriage in the distance, heading toward me with a zeal inconsistent with what appears to be each painful step.

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He always walks with great avidity and never has a companion. I walk alone or with girlfriends.  He is untethered to earphones making him privy to the crash of the ocean against the sand, the hum of the cars full of commuters (who are, no doubt, envious of those of us lucky enough to be able to take this walk each morning) and the aromas of the sea mixing with exhaust fumes. I, on the other hand, am either chatting animatedly with the girls or am plugged into early morning radio silliness while ruminating or contemplating or obsessing or overthinking or maybe just zoning out.  He is feeling each physical step while I am hoping that my FitBit is accurately counting mine.

Our schedules overlapped three or four times before I was sure that he recognized me.  He is easy to spot from a distance, but my less conspicuous stride and being bundled up, I assumed that, to him, I looked like all the other middle-aged women who take this walk.  It was during one of those moments, one day last winter, that we seamlessly moved from a gentle nod to a spirited high five as we passed one another.  And now we have them every day.

I love our high fives.  It happens so naturally now: we hold hands while he nods, smiles and mutters “hello, good morning” in his broken yet eager English.  Sometimes, we get to do it twice – once in each direction.  That happened just this morning.  This time, as we were grasping hands in the air, celebrating our meeting up, and the smell of the ocean and the fact that we both hit the ground at 6:30 a.m. (me with coffee in hand) I held up one finger – the international symbol for “hold on” – and took out my phone.  He knew there was a selfie in his future (which made me adore him a little more) and he went on to perform even better than I could have hoped for.

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I still don’t know his name and probably never will.  On the rare occasion that we don’t meet up, my walk feels just a little less wonderful.  If I don’t see him, I wonder if he is okay.   I love his energy and tenacity and drive.  He makes my day a little bit better just by walking in my direction.

Everyone should have a man they do know to high five.

LAW and My Dad

It’s become a lovely routine:  I wake (too) early, brush my teeth, throw on leggings, a tank and a light sweatshirt, brush my teeth, tie my hair up in a knot, head downstairs to put on my sneakers and I’m out the door.  First stop: Dunkin’ Donuts for a medium hot, one milk, one sugar, paid for with my always-loaded app.  And then I head to the ocean.

At that hour, the tide is beginning to go out, so the sand is firm and often teeming with rocks, shells, debris and, most importantly, sea glass.  It is all there just for a temporary visit before the tide comes in again and takes it all away.  Finding a piece is a random act, one which will never play out the same way twice. As I stack the morning coffee into yesterday’s empty and begin my walk/treasure hunt, earphones in, music blaring I open my eyes and heart to whatever may land at my feet.

It is strangely comforting and cathartic to find each and every piece of sea glass.  My expertise at spotting them has allowed me to be selective as to when to slow my pace, bend over and pick something up.  I used to grab every piece, aggressively going for quantity over quality, but am now more interested in the cool shapes and sizes that I happen upon, of which there are many.

Over the past few weeks, I have found almost entire necks of bottles, red pieces (most of which are, in fact, plastic bicycle reflectors which, I note with curiosity, seem to be in abundance at the shoreline) and more shades of green than I can count.  I’ve encountered entire bottoms of bottles, glass in various interesting shapes and even an occasional blue specimen.  My FitBit tells me that I cover four miles of sand, the ocean air clearing my head, as I drop the pieces into the extra cup, sand and all, each discovery and clink as it lands somehow joyful.

Yesterday, despite the fact that there are so many brown pieces that I often forgo them, I picked one up.  Its edges had been softened perfectly by Mother Nature, it’s shape somehow reminding me of a state on the map, although which state I am not sure.  I held it in the palm of my hand, paying it more attention than I normally do a ubiquitous brown piece, pushing the sand away, caressing it gently.  I noticed that it had lettering on it which I always consider a bonus, a bit of a thrill.  This one had just three letters: LAW.  No big deal, right?  Only here’s the thing: most of the brown pieces were former beer bottles, haphazardly discarded by partying beachgoers and there is no beer brand  that has those three letters: Budweiser, Miller, Michelob, Schlitz…yep, none spell LAW.  But, and perhaps you think this a stretch, my father was a lawyer.  To me it was a sign from him, although an ironic one as I don’t think he ever even tasted beer.  I took three more steps, smiling to myself, before I spied a small red, heart-shaped chunk.  No longer wondering, I was now sure that my father was with me on the beach.

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I am getting married in six weeks at my new home by the beach.  I am heartbroken that my father will not be there, so perhaps I am reading more deeply into the softened shard on the sand, but I don’t think so.  I know that he is here.

Happy Father’s Day to the best.

A Judge, A Lady with Pink Toes & Dick Van Dyke Walked Into a Bar

This morning I had a date for coffee at Starbuck’s with a friend of Harrison’s.  Jon had reached out to me a few weeks ago but between the end of the school year, my upcoming move and planning for my wedding, I had been forced to cancel on him more than once.  Or even twice.  I texted him this morning that I had about an hour – could he meet me on such short notice?  Perfect, he said. (Note: I love when people will do things with me on short notice!)

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I arrived about fifteen minutes early so I ordered my grande-cold-brew-in-a-venti-cup-with-extra-ice, doctored it with milk and sugar (no sugar substitute for me) and snagged a table outside on a picture perfect morning.  As I began to busy myself catching up on Facebook and Words with Friends, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between the man and woman at the table beside me, likely in their late sixties/early seventies. Based upon the fact that they were sharing information along the lines of where they were from, how many children they had and where they fell in the birth order among their siblings, it was evident that this was a first date.

She’d been divorced for fifteen years.  His wife had passed away more recently.  She: two daughters, 25 and 26.  He: two sons, 29 and 31.  She: just moved back to town from Colorado where she skied every day she possibly could.  He: tries like hell to enjoy golf but has a deep emotional divide between loving it and hating it. She: Googled him.  He: didn’t know that was a “thing” that people did “nowadays.”   She: “refuses” to discuss politics with anyone, yet did mention that she finds Trump a reprehensible swine.  He: Trump all the way.  And so it went.  They continued to chat for well over an hour, the details of which I did not hear as I was now engaged in my own conversation and listening to them would be just plain rude.

When they got up to leave, an older man who had been sitting with a pug puppy at his feet (and had made his desire to enjoy the outdoor patio evident by pulling up one of the unused chairs and plopping down between our two – the only two – tables) began to move himself into their not quite vacated seats.  The couple (who aren’t really a couple at all) really had no choice but to stop to pet the dog and with the cluster of us being on top of one another, we started to chat.  (Okay, maybe I started to chat.)

The older man, it turns out, is a retired judge and the dog, his emotional support.  I did not ask for his story, but I suspect, given his disheveled presentation and dull eyes, that it included a lost love.  The couple, despite their pleasant enough coffee are not, I am going to definitively state, going to have a second date.  Instead of even feigning interest in her date, she glommed onto the fact that my toenails and hers are painted the same shade of pink.* I commented that he looked a bit like Dick Van Dyke. She rolled her eyes.  He, like the judge, had sad eyes suggesting that he still mourns the loss of his wife.  And their politics..yeah, that was most certainly a deal breaker.

My curiosity getting the better of me, I inquired (or, to be more precise, confirmed) that it was a first date.  She: once again rolled her eyes.  He: smiled sweetly.  I then told them the story of my first date with Barry, which, it happens, was three years ago today.  I told her that I, too, Googled him before I met him and that I told him my big scary things before I would even meet him…no sense in having a (potentially) great first date only to discover that he couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to work with the baggage I was bringing along with me.  She offered something between a nod and a shrug as if making a mental note to do some pre-screening before her next date.  These two might have saved the $10 on coffee had they, as part of the vetting process, just said, “Hillary” or “Trump”.

They parted ways in the parking lot with a handshake. She:  I’d venture to guess, called her friend who fixed them up with a “thanks but no thanks”.  He: was missing his wife.

Dating is so tricky.  On the one hand, you put yourself out there and wonderful things can happen.  On the other, it can really suck.  I was lucky that I met Barry fairly soon after agreeing to date.  I went with my gut and gave him an out before he got in and he, in turn, did the same.  We, it is worth noting, have been together since that very first date.

The retired judge, the lady with the pink toenails and the aged Rob Petrie left Starbuck’s feeling alone and disappointed this morning.  And I left feeling grateful and hopeful for them that they will keep on truckin’ because you just never know.

As for my new friend Jon, when I left, he had pulled up a chair and was chatting with the judge. Makes me kinda love him.

 

*OPI Mod About You. You’re welcome.

The Ugly Cry

It has happened to all of us.  Well, perhaps not all of us, but certainly to me.  It sneaks up and renders you powerless over making it stop and humiliated at it happening at all: crying at work.  I do not think I would be exaggerating if I said that I’ve found myself with unstoppable waterworks and the resulting red eyes (and, in my case, nose) at least once at every job I’ve ever held.  There are times it was justified, and others which came from a benign something or other that occurred at just the wrong right time.

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Earlier today, we were at Staples looking for a desk chair to accommodate Barry’s new back issues.  I’d begun to lose interest in hearing about the differences in the chairs and was happily catching up on Words with Friends when I felt the hysteria of a middle-aged female employee, rushing past us, her face contorted and red, hurrying to the backroom, trying desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to keep her tears at bay. Having no idea what had happened –  a terrible phone call, a mean customer, attitude from 20something manager – my instinct was to follow her into the “employees only” area to help comfort her but, given the fact I am not, in fact, a Staples employee, I had no choice but to stay put.

While speeding through the doors which would provide at least a temporary haven and, hopefully, some cold water and tissues, she plowed into a male colleague who gave her a sideways glance and shrugged ever so slightly, no doubt wondering what her problem was. Given his decision to continue along, unfazed, in the direction he was headed, along with a countenance which indicated a profound lack of interest or compassion made it entirely clear that she was on her own.

I returned to my games, keeping a peripheral eye out for her return.  It was probably close to ten minutes before she resurfaced from her unsanctioned break (retail can be brutal that way), her face bearing the tell-tale signs of a woman trying like hell to stop the crying.  Trying so hard, in fact, that it actually made her cry harder.  The dull black smudges from the mascara that had first melted off her lashes and then settled onto her skin where they would remain until she was able to get home and scrub her face clean, mixed with red blotches on her cheeks and a watery coating to her eyes.  Her breathing and step were quick yet deliberate, clearly willing herself to pull it together, dammit.

I know that feeling.  You are a hot mess and hoping like hell that no one notices while, in fact, no one doesn’t notice.  You want to climb into a hole, give into whatever might have set you off and privately and unabashedly lose your shit.  Only you cannot, because you are at work.  Sonofabitch.

As I watched her scramble around the store, seeking solace, a hiding place or even an opportunity to turn back time to before her tears betrayed her, I continued to feel a pull to somehow help.  Barry, having (I think maybe, but cannot be sure) decided upon a chair to buy, signaled to me that he was done and we began to head out of the store.  I peeled myself out of the Tempurpedic chair that I’d been keeping warm (aside: damn, that chair is comfortable) and stepped directly into the woman’s frenetic path.  In as low a register as I could, I told her, girl to girl, that my heart went out to her…did she need a hug?  She declined the offer, thanked me and hustled back to the register bay, tears pushing their way to the surface all over again. We waited on line for her to log herself in and wave us over.  I didn’t say another word knowing all too well how embarrassed she already felt.  We slid our two items onto the counter, each sale priced at $2.00.  I could see how hard she was trying to keep things together, avoiding eye contact, but remaining friendly and professional, her breathing deep and deliberate.  Scan, scan, keyboard, keyboard, “$1.06, please.” I knew it wasn’t right.  She knew it wasn’t right.  It was girl code for, “thank you”.

Ugly crying (and trust me, this was ugly crying) at work (or, for that matter,  in public or at any inopportune moment) stinks.  Neither the crier nor the innocent bystander knows what to do, so most do nothing.  Both the crier and the innocent bystander hope like hell that it will stop and stop soon, but it never does.  It is an all-around Suckfest, right?

I am sure she will never see this.  I am even more sure that if she did, she would be horrified all over again, having moved on from the stranger at Staples who tried to hug her.  I wish I could remind her that it has happened to all of us and that I hope that whatever it was that unleashed the floodgates is firmly in her rearview mirror.  Yeah, we’ve all been there, but that doesn’t make it suck any less.