Friday, December 11, 2009

Handle With Care

Yesterday, I met the most fascinating character at the Post Office. I was waiting for my number to be called when a small elderly man walked in, wearing a pair of those huge, plastic wraparound sunglasses (the kind you wear after eye surgeries or perhaps while welding). He sported a big smile and wondered aloud about the existentialism of getting the number "00."

"Hi there, young fella," he said.

I glanced around, making sure he was talking to me. "Hello."

"Windy day, today. And cold." He held up a package. "For my grandchild. In Chicago."

I nodded politely.

"Yep. We were supposed to fly out for Christmas, me and the wife, then she took ill. Just came from the hospital."

"Oh. Sorry to hear it," I said.

"Stroke. Third one in the past three years." He shook his head. "I just got out of the hospital a few weeks ago myself. Liver thing."

I didn't know what to say, so I kept my mouth shut.

"Wife wanted to make sure Bobby got this." He held up the package again and tapped it with a bony finger. "She worked in the White House, long time ago. Sharp as a tack. Now..."

I couldn't tell if he was tearing up through the dark shades. He must have spotted me staring. "Don't usually wear sunglasses inside, but..." He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Got in a fight. Got a big shiner. Happened in the hospital lobby. Some young guy was disrespecting our country and I stood up to him. You shoulda seen his face when I was done with him. I served our country. Proudly. He had no right to insult what I fought for. Took two security guys to break us up. Not bad for an old guy."

A postal clerk called my number. I went to the counter and in a few minutes my business had been concluded. On my way out, I nodded goodbye to the old guy.

Sometimes it's a shame people don't really talk to strangers. The stories they could hear.



Mason Canyon said...

What an interesting story. You're right we don't talk (politely) to others anymore, especially to the older generation. You probably made him feel better just in that brief encounter.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

This sounds like great material for a short story as it certainly didn't have the ending I was expecting. Just goes to show we shouldn't take anybody for granted because people are simply full of surprises.

Elspeth Futcher said...

There's a fascinating character! The White House, wow. Wonder what the job was...


Galen Kindley--Author said...

I have an introvert problem in cases like this. That is, I tend to keep head and eyes down and not engage people. Dunno why that is, exactly. But it sure doesn't do anything for expanding my understanding of characters that I could transfer to writing. I gotta learn to engage more when the opportunities arise. Then, I gotta remember what I see and hear. So many ways to improve…can’t find it all in a class, critique group, or how to book…though all are valuable.

Best, Galen.
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

The cool thing is that sometimes I feel like strangers can TELL we're writers. Or that we're open to hearing their stories.

I do eavesdrop some, too. Even better stories that way, sometimes. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Alan Orloff said...

I love meeting interesting characters.

Thanks for all the comments!