There is a man who rides his bicycle around the city about a half an hour from here. He looks.. far away, very far away. I'd not heard anything of him until one day, as we drove down a street just off of main, and there he was, seemingly oblivious to everything and everyone, avoiding any sort of confrontation, physical, or otherwise.

I saw him and.. I wondered. I was curious as to why.. I mean, he was fairly old and it's not so uncommon for people to ride around like that, but he had a way about him, an aging man of dark skin that looked so terribly.. lost?

My mother was with me at the time, and it turned out that the man was someone she was remotely familiar with, through word of mouth, of course. His family was killed in a house fire some time ago, and I suppose that he's been riding around, perhaps homeless, since. It would seem he is very withdrawn, distant.

He looked so achingly sad.. and, of all the strangers I've come across wandering around in this universe, he is the most memorable. I'm quite sure that I'd have remembered that face, those old clothes, even having not known the story behind his person.

I also recall a young man, some time this year, he was walking along the street and looked troubled. He was wearing a trench coat. He reminded me greatly of someone I know, but have never actually seen. I remember wanting to request that my father stop the car so I might go and give him a hug, though I couldn't say precisely why.

There is someone like that on the college campus in San Jose. He is old and thin and dirty and has lots of scraggly facial hair. He looks very gentle and looks like he knows a lot, but he never speaks and often goes into fits or passes out. The campus police come with a blanket and a little food for him... which I always thought was a wonderful gesture, telling me that some people still do care. Of course, I always want to try and say something to him but I am afraid that if I do I'll actually find out that he's just crazy. He probably is, but I just can't bear to ruin my image of him.

...And then there's Macky

Macky is a poet that I and a close friend met in Washington Square Park (where else?). I was carrying around a carboard sign that read:

composed on the spot for
75 cents

(Yes I can compose 5-7-5 haikus on demand; I sold two that day.)

And he asked to use my pen and write on the back of the sign, so of course I gave it to him and he wrote a poem about materialism and false gods. It was really quite good. (Though I don't have it anymore. I gave it to above mentioned friend, who is far more outgoing than I am and who was doing most of the talking with Macky.)
Macky has 6 fingers on both hands. The 6th finger isn't functional, it is a sort of outgrowth of his thumb. He calls himself "Macky" because the letters of that name are spelled out in the lines on his palms.

Of course I never saw him again, though at times I'll be in Washington Square Park two or three times a week. Random strangers you remember can be forgotten when they're not strangers anymore.

The young man left the park through the metal detector, a large silver rectangle which gave back a dull reflection. It beeped. The guard on the stool looked up from his daydream. "Boots," the young man said, pointing to the steel toes. To his right was a tiny booth, presumably for the guards. They never sat in it. Nailed to the side was a small box with a wire running out of it. The box had a slot in it. He ran his ID through this slot, announcing to a computer somewhere that he was done for the day.

This odd gateway he passed through everyday was covered by a brief roof. The young man walked out past the edge of this and squinted up at the sun. It was hot. Damn hot. Over his shoulder, the huge prow of a viking ship swung up from behind the fence, its silhouette slicing into the blue sky. He took off his hat, and clumps of sweaty blonde hair fell into his eyes. The viking ship swung back down behind the fence. The young man looked down at his dirty uniform. A tear in the right leg of his pants looked back at him. His clothes and his hands were stained with grease and dirt. His thoughts came slowly. Friday, today's friday. Not the last day of his week, but payday anyway. He pushed his hair back from his eyes, and walked around to the other side of the empty booth with the box nailed to it's side. There were two lines here, each leading to a counter and a woman behind a plexiglass window. The young man moved into the a through m line. The same woman sat at the end of that line every week. He thought of her as the pay lady. She remembered everybody. It was like the teachers in school when he was a kid. They always knew everybody's name, even if you had never been in their class. He could never figure out how they kept it all straight in their heads.

A girl with dark hair walked up behind him and stopped there. He turned to look at her. She was pretty, and he could almost tell that she wanted to talk to him. Standing there in line, such a common thing. What to say? Nothing. A short smile, maybe a little sad, or just tired. He turned around to find that it was his turn at the window. "You never smile," the lady behind the counter said, "are you afraid of me?" The young man looked through the big plexiglass window in front of him, looked through his own vague reflection, and thought, yes. Yes I'm scared of you, and I'm frightened of this beautiful girl behind me, and everyone else I see. I'm so afraid that I can't speak, can't smile, can't laugh. People scare me. "No," he said. He took his money and turned. The girl looked at him and gave him an uncertain smile, much like his own. She was so beautiful. Words, wonderful words, surged up from the very center of his gut, the place where the voice of the soul comes from. The words rose through his diaphragm and lungs, like bubbles in the pool behind his house, only to stick at the top of his chest, somewhere between his lungs and trachea. That small smile was all that made it up to his mouth. A little wave, a tiny bundle of force, going nowhere. Again.

You don't often run into strangers more than once in Las Vegas. During the summer it's too damn hot outside for most normal people to just hang out and interact. By the time winter rolls around, you've already gained the habit of getting to were you're going as fast as you can with as few detours as necessary. Vegas isn't really a friendly place. See the lights, leave your money, get out. But I'm the kind of guy that pays attention to what's going on around me. When I’m driving down the road, I look to the right and the left, instead of the narrow focus of my air-conditioned destination. On occasion I see this guy. I have never heard him speak, and have never interacted with him, so I feel a little guilty about the person I imagine he is. He reminds me of one of those, "undeveloped" adults. The guy must be at least 35, but his stature and actions suggest that he possesses the faculties of a child. He has that slouched wander walk and the big, wide open and confused eyes. The reason I remember him so clearly, is because no matter how hot it gets, he's always dressed like a cowboy. Not a real range worker, or one of the later day anti-hero's that we've come to expect these days. He dresses like a cowboy out of some twisted halcyon days remembrance of a republic serial. His enormous, white, ten gallon hat, casts a cooling shadow over his vacant stare. His red double breasted cowboy shirt and stiff pressed jeans tucked snuggly into his ornamental and pointy cowboy boots would be enough to kill a normal man when the mercury soars above 105F. And yet it must not bother him, for I often see him wearing a jacket as well, sometimes even a vest. The strangest part though is that I always see him in the vicinity of a bus stop. It wouldn't be so odd if I saw him at the same bus stop, but it seems that no matter where I go in the valley, I'm bound to see this guy. I've seen him multiple times in a day at different ends of the city. If I were a superstitious person I would think him to be one of the inconsistencies in the government plot to record my actions, some sort of X-fileish after effect of the alien invasion. I'm sure the truth is much more mundane. I speculate that he's just one of those people who like to dress up like movie cowboys and ride public transportation all day.
It was winter, almost a year ago. There had just been a pretty decent snowfall so the roads were strewn with jagged sticks and other debris. As a result, I popped a tire attempting the treacherous drive down my hill. Somehow I managed to wheedle the car into climbing the icy slope back to my house and called AAA.

Eventually, a burly black man with a gruff, Tom Waits-ish voice came to take away the destroyed tire and replace it with a new one. Since it was still snowing a little and the temperature was below zero I decided to keep him company. After making small talk about the woes of winter driving and the various accidents he had seen we somehow got onto the topic of relationships.

Him: So, you got a girlfriend?

Me: (Nervous laugh) No.

Him: Why not?

Me: Just haven't found anyone I'm interested in.

Him: (Thoughtful pause) You like boys?

Me: (More nervous laughter) I don't think so...

Him: Ya never know. You should go out...experiment. What do you do for fun?

Me: Go to see shows. Spend too much time online.

Him: Man, you should get out more. Go down to Greenwich Village. You'll find people- boys, girls, whatever. (Long pause as we shift uncomfortably in the cold) Yeah, well I had three wives. First one ran out on me, second one died of cancer, and the third one got shot in a crossfire. Loved 'em all. But the point is this: Bad things happen. Don't stop lookin' for that special someone to make them right. Now, I got me a new girl and we're as happy as can be.

Shortly after this exchange a call came over his radio to go off for another job. After he left I was inside warming up and I thought about what he had said. His words brought a new perspective to my situation and helped to reinforce my sense of optimism for the future. This can be considered a "thank you node" for that brief conversation in the dead of winter.

The summer after graduating from college I spent two months traipsing around Europe. After five and a half weeks I found myself walking through London’s Hyde Park smoking a Vanille sprinkled with the last of my Amsterdam treats.

I had a bushy new beard, a backpack filled with clementines, and only a couple days left until I had to return home. I had spent the morning by the Italian fountain contemplating into my journal about not returning to The States. I was feeling a little sorry for myself for having a non-refundable ticket.

So, there I was walking through the park across that huge field where there are chairs set up as though they were facing an ocean watching the clouds and hearing the birds and taking in every person walking on the paths around me when I spy a man in a suit probably only a few years older than I walking briskly towards me down my path.

That we were on the same path, or that he was walking briskly, or in a suit, or seemed as young as I was not unusual.

But when we came within a few feet of each other he turned his eyes from the ground up to mine and said, You’re lucky.”

My mind reeled as I realized he was right.
I'll meet you in the grocery store, picking over avocados next to you.

You may overhear a talk I am having with a friend, in a coffee shop, and invite yourself into it.

You may be the clerk in the mailroom where i went to mail a package.

You may be the person I randomly sit next to in the theatre.

You may be anyone.

I meet them all the time, random strangers I remember.

When I first meet you, I'll be shocked, but try to hide it, and usually succeed. I'll SWEAR I've met you before, and my mind will scramble to place when and where. I will try to find how I know you. But nothing will fit. None of the patterns from this life fit at all.

And I'll sit there, or stand. I'll talk to you for two hours, or I'll barely speak. But I'll have seen your eyes. and I'll know.

I won't say anything, of course. Because I don't know WHAT, or when or where. And I won't figure it out in that time, almost surely not.

You'll fascinate me, of course. I'll be curious about you for weeks after. Both who you are now, and who you were. But in the end, I'll walk away. And you'll haunt my thoughts.

In the end I'll walk away. And I'll mourn your loss. I'll mourn knowing I share that past with you and the fact I'll never ever realize its entirety. Because I've known you and connected before, I'll remember you. Well, I'll remember knowing you. I'll probably never truly remember you at all... I just wish I could...

Because you're one of those random people I remember, but wish I remembered better...

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