Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reality? Check.

I just had my sanity re-evaluated by a perfectly normal looking stranger in a green fleece jacket. He introduced himself with a joke I didn't understand, peering into my computer lab suspiciously and then laughing, "I'm just kidding, how are you doing?" After that entrance, he walks in and begins talking about graduating from West High, but he wants something more from his life. West High, so do I know this guy, is that why he's talking to me? He doesn't look familiar. He says he doesn't want to take away my time, but could I tell him where he could get a new Air Force Uniform? He needs a new one, he says as he pulls from his wallet a laminated picture of himself, a few years younger, in full regalia.

"No, I'm sorry, I really wouldn't know where to get one..."
"The VA, maybe? Sorry, I don't mean to be rude."
"Yeah, I'm sure they can point you in the right direction anyway."

Some talk follows from him (with no space for contribution by me but smiles and affirmative nods) about West High, new beginnings, getting his credits transferred to the U, his dad works here, he doesn't want to go back to the gravel pits, he's riding on the second wave of his life, and this is a letter from his bishop saying that he could use some on-the-job experience. Girls don't like him because he never served a mission, but he doesn't think that's too important.

This man is smiling an immense, braces-laden smile as he talks, finding humor in every few sentences, enough to laugh and watch me to make sure I'm smiling too. He looks young, fresh-faced. He looks like he belongs in the front row of a freshmen chemistry class. He is not the fast-talking conspiracy theorist that rides your morning UTA bus to work, who blinks too often or looks past you with glassy eyes when he talks. He looks vaguely ethnic, but in a sort of American Melting Pot way, nothing identifiable. He has shallow, sad eyes, and he takes his steps without purpose, as if he'd walked into my lab but might just as well have walked into any room in any building on campus.

"My uniform was stolen, you know."
"Oh, .... I'm sorry."
"Yeah, It wasn't you though. Or you," pointing to my co-worker and little brother Clayton, whose eyes are understandably glued to his computer, "or my dad or anything. I think it was a former roommate of mine. Not you though. I don't know. I've got this whole stack of paperwork." He laughs again. "So I just want to get the things back that are mine, you know? I'm trying to get things back that are mine, and it really upsets me. But it wasn't you."

I'm pretty sure by now that we're about to break through this dreamlike mess of an interaction. I'm convinced that the illusion of insanity he's cast will break down any minute and, in spite of his genuinely harmless appearance, he'll ask us for money or drugs, or try to sell us some kind of contraband, or make a grab at my laptop, because if the interaction moved to that level it would become concrete again, and I'd know immediately why he was here, talking endlessly in apparent non sequitur. But he gives me no such shift.

"So can I do that next week, can I get my credits transferred from West High and the Air Force to the U and start taking some classes, because I don't want to go back to the gravel pits," laughter, "I want to figure out who I want to be, if I want to be a teacher, or a car collector, I just don't know, but my plate is full of possibilities."
"I'm really sorry, but I can't really help you with any of that, I think you want to be talking to student services, they can help you get your credits transferred."
"Ah, of course, yeah, I don't mean to be rude..." he stretches his hand out for a fist-bump, which I give him slowly.
"Well, good luck with your uniform and getting your credits transferred," I say after he's talked again for a little while about wanting to go to school, more or less.

At first he's unfazed, but with his next disjointed sentences, he puts his picture back in his wallet and starts walking back toward the door.

"Well thanks, you know. I'll come back though, with some more time. I'll be back with some more time."


  1. amazing. he needs his own video channel I think.

  2. Wow. So interesting. I wonder what I would have done in that situation. Did Simon tell you about "Benjamin" who showed up at Kimberlee's birthday party? Semi-similar experience. So bizarre. It's excellent though, having these conversations that remind us of how normal most of our other conversations are. What if every conversation was odd in some way? I guess they probably are for that guy.

  3. Thank you for having the grace to be a part of this man's disjointed existence. It can be uncomfortable, but the compassion you extend to a fellow traveler will be repaid. He is someone's child and as a lost and wandering soul he deserves some kindness.

  4. I'm not sure what it is, but this struck a really powerful chord within me, one I can feel reverberate all the way in my teeth and fingernails. You just have an incredible way of taking something so simple, which most folks would look past or shrug off, and you give it a heartbeat that pumps this beautiful life through each word. Thank you Luke! I can't wait to see you in November.