Friday, November 1, 2013

Julio, I See You

If you're anything like The Cousin, you're an observer of life. You walk through the world like a hushed shadow, but your eyes are in a constant state of panoramic.  It's a comfortable way of being for her. It feels like an old, soft, washed-out pair of denims; the ones you want to wear every day, even if they haven't been laundered in a while...
Stop. Take notice. Process. Ponder. And for god's sake, perform these tasks in silence because when you're out in the world, the world is much too noisy.

I never was that kind of kid. I couldn't adhere to such characteristics in adolescence nor adulthood either. Speak first. Shove entire size 8 shoe into mouth after.

But as I enter what society has termed "middle age," I'm morphing a bit... Stop. Take notice. Process. Ponder. Listen. Bite tongue. Learn something.

When I look around at humans, I readily see both kinds: the observers and the engagers.
I want to be more like The Cousin. I've encountered so many people, whose names will go unmentioned, that tend to feel they have a lesson to teach us all. It's a common occurance. Have you ever been sharing something of your life; perhaps a situation, an opinion, a dream, and I'll be damned if "the engager" fires back with an answer (THEIR answer) which usually has everything to do with THEIR experience, THEIR opinions and THEIR advice. They seem to know that you'll be better off listening to THEM. It's as if, while you are speaking, you can almost see their response-words excitedly dancing on the tip of their moist little tongue, which is poking out of their half-opened mouth.  THEY ARE NOT LISTENING TO YOU! They're preparing, editing, revising their script for THEIR next reading, which translates to a lecture.

If you're not born with the gift of listening and observing, you have work to do. One of the reasons I'm interested in interviewing people, is I want to improve my listening skills. I want to cross over to the observer side of life. I want to follow in The Cousin's footsteps.

There's a man who sits on the brick ledge in front of the downtown post office. It's difficult to determine his age and ethnicity. People who live on the streets appear older than they actually are. Weather, I suppose. Weather and worry.
He's sun-drenched from years on the street. His face is leather brown, his hands boney and curled.
He's quiet. He doesn't have a sign with words like ANYTHING WILL HELP or GOD BLESS YOU. He's always hunched over in his layers of jackets, the color of Army fatigues. When he does look up, his eyes cut through me like the point of a serrated knife. Sometimes, I observe him from across the street. I notice people walk right by him. Most do not give eye contact.
They look right through him.
He's faceless to them.
They look down or pretend to be on their IPhones or turn their heads the other way.  It must feel more comfortable for them to remain in their own world; a world where hungry, homeless, drunk people do not exist. When I have a $5, I give him a $5. When I have a single, I give him a $1.
He always says, "Thank you." That's it.
I like that.

I know that my small amounts of money won't get him off the streets. I also know the streets might be exactly where he wants to be; as comfortable for him as the soft, old jeans I spoke of earlier. I know he may spend his money on booze or something else that makes some people hesitate to give anything. He's quiet. That's my draw to him. Something inside of him is shy, distant, discreet.  What was he like as a child? Did he start out lively, talkative, sure of himself, only to be hushed, crushed by someone or a chain of events?  If I gave him $20 bucks, if I knew his name, if I offered him a hot meal and a shower...It would all be a band-aid and yet, he sits in my neighborhood, hunched over and silent.

That nudges me to inquire about his story because he has one.  They/we/you/me...we all have one.

I pretend his name is Julio. I imagine he was once a vibrant child who loved to play with trucks. I wonder if he had dreams of being a football player or a musician.
I ask myself, is he a father, and if so, where are his kids? Did he abandon them? Do they hate him? Or are they looking for him but he cannot bring himself to re-appear in their lives, not in the state he's in. Was Julio in Viet Nam? Desert Storm? Did the sound of exploding bombs and the sight of death snatch his sanity?
Why do I give a shit? Why this unexplainable fascination of mine?
I actually don't know. Not really. Maybe it's because no one tells his story. You tell yours. I tell mine. We tell our stories everyday. We share our daily lives through social media, by phone, at cocktail parties, on long walks with friends.  How easily we forget that we are constantly sharing our daily lives, our "memoirs" if you will, with others and from that sharing, we get recognition, validation and even pleasure from the interactions with others...
Engage. Observe. Share. Listen.

I have this fantasy about asking him to sit with me at a small outdoor cafe next to the post office. Have a lunch together. Tell him the truth; that I want to ask him questions about his life in order to better understand my own. I would ask him what he would charge for his time. I would ask him his name, so I wouldn't have to refer to him as Julio.
That's where I'm at. I almost did it Tuesday. Then I chickened out. Today I have free time, but there's laundry to do, and there's always tomorrow.  Right? You see, these are the hiccups that stand in my way. If you told me this exact fantasy, I would whole-heartedly encourage you with a zealous GO FOR IT! I would tell you there's nothing to fear but fear itself and all that bullshit and I would be behind you 110%!  Yet, here I sit in my own angst puddle of uneasiness and self-doubt, while thousands of folks' stories go untold...



  1. Oooh, this is a tough one. Yep, I, too, like to sit around in my well-worn jeans. I, too, hesitate to speak to the homeless. And I, too, ponder more as I've grown older, and hope I'm a better listener and a little more generous with my time and money. Maybe The Cousin is on to something. No advice coming your way, just a big thank you for sharing.

  2. Of course it is because you give a shit that I would ever encourage you to do anything....but I am not doing so tonight. I am taking in your thought filled observation and genuine care that you do SEE another. You always have. See Julio. See Counsin. See yourself even....looking outward through your compassionate heart......Knowing there is a life story inside. And maybe you could simply ask his name....perhaps that would begin the story with a "Once upon a time...." Thank you so much for your inspiration Che. So moving.....