In my last story, The Man In The Chair, I described my observations of a man who appeared to be troubled by something, but it was something I couldn’t figure out. In the end, it was a man I never talked to. So I walked away, taking my assumptions with me.
It is now one week later, and, I must say, it’s a beautiful thing when opportunity knocks twice…
I talked to the man in the chair.
I had gone to the library, again, to write a story. Much of my writing is done on my phone which makes it easy to write at any time or place. I settled into the same chair in which I had sat across from the man the week before. For ten minutes I paid no attention to my surroundings, but was simply immersed in writing. That is, until I looked up.
There he sat, across from me—the man from my story. And there I sat, surprised, staring at him and wondering what to do as he read a newspaper. I was reluctant to introduce myself. I knew nothing about this man. What if I tell him I wrote a story and he takes offense? What if he makes a scene? What if he tells me to mind my own business? I was not going to let this be a missed opportunity.
My focus had quickly slipped from my writing as I continued to take glances at the man. It was inevitable that I would say something. A few minutes passed before he got up to go to the magazine racks where he selected Guitar, then returned to his seat. Hmmm…interesting…a musician. I mean who else looks at pages of musical notes? Good chance he plays the guitar, which means he enjoys the arts, which means there’s a greater chance he’ll like my story. I waited for him to close the magazine before I spoke.
“Excuse me,” I said. “But do you have a minute?”
“Sure,” he replied.
“I’m a writer. I have a book coming out this year.” I paused. There were so many different angles from which to start the conversation. “I really don’t know where to begin.” I paused a second time, then extended my hand. “I’m Ros.”
“I’m John,” he said, leaning forward to accept the handshake.
“I write about people. You sat there this past weekend staring at the ceiling. You caught my attention. I couldn’t help but wonder what you were thinking. You seemed lost in thought. So I wrote this story.”
I showed him my phone which was opened up to my writing blog site displaying the title, The Man In The Chair.
“That’s you. I wrote about you.”
Taken by surprise, he said, “You wrote about me?”
“Yes. It looked like you were dealing with something. Like a problem or a loss. I hope I’m not getting too personal, but something was obviously weighing on you.”
Where a week ago I had walked away, never to know what was burdening him, I now had put him in a position to divulge his anguish.
John looked at me for just a moment, then chuckled. He pointed up through a large window next to where we sat. “See that wasp nest up there, under the eave? I was studying that. Watching them build.”
Forget that I was in a library—a public sanctuary for silence. I just flat out laughed. “THAT!?” I said. “THAT was your problem? All the struggle I knew you were dealing with—something that was certainly wrenching deep inside you…and your ‘problem’ was that wasp nest!? This is just too funny.”
How was it possible I was that far off the mark? I was certain he had made a poor decision, said something he later regretted, or had possibly suffered some kind of a loss. But, no. Far from it…
A wasp nest!
“Well, here it is if you’re interested,” I said, offering my phone to him so that he could read the story. “But please understand, it’s an observational story based on my assumptions.”
“No problem,” he said, putting on a pair of reading glasses. “I’d like to read it.”
For five minutes I watched John read—his expression changing from smiling to one of attentiveness. I couldn’t help but wonder where his mind might be traveling. Here I was, a complete stranger, handing him a phone that contained a short story written specifically about him. He had every right to be weary of me—skeptical that I might have ulterior motives.
But when he finished reading and handed back my phone, it was clear he had cast aside whatever doubts he might have possessed regarding motives or just me in general.
As it turns out, there was something going on well beyond the wasp nest. John looked out the window toward the passing cars beyond the library’s property. He began to reminisce and speak openly of his past and current state.
“Your story.” He paused, as if collecting himself. Continuing to look out the window, he pointed blindly back at my phone. “Your story…it hit me.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He spoke softly with a peaceful demeanor. “You wrote that you wanted to tell me that things will get better, that happier days are ahead. You know, you could never have told me that one day I’d be homeless. That each night at the age of 65 I’d have to look for a patch of dirt or grass, or a slab of concrete to sleep on for the night. It’s crazy. I mean I’ve had some incredible memories in my life.”
I had to interject, and said, “Such as being a guitarist?”
“Actually, no.” He said. “I was a drummer. Used to play with a group called ‘Ronnie and the Sonics’. We opened for Willie Nelson at his 4th of July picnic concert in Applebee, Texas. Those were great times. Hell, a couple of our songs made the top charts list in Sweden of all places. It was pretty cool.”
John paused, lightly shaking his head, then continued.
“You know, my mom always said that no matter what, things never stay the same. Everything changes. It doesn’t mean they’ll change for the better. Things can also change for the worse. So here I am, homeless. But I know one thing…you gotta believe in yourself to improve. Things don’t just come to you.”
The dynamics of John’s story unfolds as I learn he used to be a welder. But he says if he could do it all over again he’d have been a chef, as he loves to cook. He has a son that lives in San Marcos and a daughter that lives in Austin. Due to the complexities of their situations, neither is in a position to help him out. His homeless condition has been going on for four months now. It was a sudden and unexpected reality when his landlord nearly tripled the rent on his mobile home. His only source of income is $900 from Social Security that is deposited into his bank account each month. All of his possessions are in a storage unit. I told him I’d keep my feelers out for any bargain rental spaces in town. But San Marcos being the fastest growing city in America, the likelihood of a “bargain” is slim.
At the end of our conversation, John said he wanted to go to Fredericksburg. “I hear there’s a huge bat colony that flies out from an old gypsum mine each night in the summer. I’d love to see that. There’s a $23 bus tour from here I can take. I’m gonna do it.”
The man in the chair, like all of us, has a story. And he also has a name. I think there’s a lot that John’s going to do. I think he has enough ambition to find a way to a simple, but comfortable place to live. It may be a little bumpy getting there, but eventually he’ll find his way. And it doesn’t need to be much…just enough to be called Home.
Copyright Ros Hill 2017