Book open in front of me; I think I've read this paragraph a good five times, and it's still not processing. There is something unfolding over at the next bench:
a schleppy-looking man, hair a grey tumbleweed, socks mismatched, knees bony and leathery, eyes wide faded faraway. He's talking to the seated old man as though he were a long-lost...well, what? The tone is both reverent and enthusiastic, but I can't make out all the words.
"...you always used to say the most interesting things. *Profound.* I remember, do you remember what you said to me last time we met? You said, 'life is confrontation.'" He laughs, still sounding winded. "'Life is confrontation.' I thought about that for a long time. I've been thinking about *you.* So good to see you! I remember..."
Now he's launching into something about his poor health. Something about how he used to run this route all the time and apparently that's how he knew the old man from before. Although apparently also schleppy guy was a waiter at a restaurant older guy used to frequent, downtown. Complaints about the government, the economy, the general way things are going to hell. And then back: all the amazing things the old guy used to say to him, and how much impact they had.
The old guy has barely moved a muscle, in stark contrast to schleppy guy's constant twitching and dancing and punchy gestures. i think it's a sign of where the real power is. Also i figure he's maybe quite ancient and just plain tired. Schleppy guy asks:
"Listen, could you give me some advice? I always think about whatever you say."
Now I've abandoned all pretense of reading, as, finally, the stream of schleppy verbiage ceases and the old guy speaks. Unfortunately, his voice is so soft that I can't make out whatever Yoda-like wisdom he's telling the guy. Whatever it is, it's very satisfying: shlep is nodding gravely. I crane my neck openly, and now, as older guy falls silent and shleppy goes back into a monologue of gratitude, I catch the old man's pale blue gaze. Back to the book (which i now realize i've been holding upside down), but not before it occurs to me that in fact he's as bored and bemused as i am with Schleppy.
Schleppy has clearly missed about three or four signals that the more socially adept would recognize as "time to move on, now," but eventually he finishes with whatever his agenda was and jogs off. The old man gets up and walks over to me.
"What are you reading?"
I show him; it's a biography of Jung.
"Psychology. That must be useful."
"Sometimes," I say.
He looks like he wants to sit down; I feel like I want to stand up. Either way would be a bit forward, so we do this awkward dance. He shrugs, looks off into the distance, laughs. If he had a cigarette he'd be flicking it now.
"He thinks I'm a guru."
"Maybe you are, to him."
"I don't know why he thinks so much of me, but who am I to say? I barely recognized him; he looks terrible. If I helped him, I'm glad."
Finally, I can ask:
"So what did you say to him, anyway?"
Shrug again. "I don't remember."