See Me

On the way back from work yesterday riding on freshly-paved King Street toward a busy intersection at Mission, a car full of college students coasted up next to me at a red light (the shop where I work is right down the road from the University).

The girl in the back seat on my side had rolled down her window. She was wearing a sweater with a hood that looked like a tiger’s head, ears and everything. She looked at me with these big blue eyes and said, barely above a whisper through cupped hands, “You are an amazing human being.”

I am not good at sarcasm, but this didn’t feel like that. I have a flowing silver beard and I’m riding a pink cyclocross racing bike with pink hubs and tattoos on both arms. I think nothing of my appearance (clearly so because if this big, stupid beard). This girl, half my age, took the time to say something nice about me, to me.

Or more likely, she was mocking me. Hey, but at least she took the time to comment, right? That’s a win for me in this day and age. I’m pretty fucking invisible.

Dark and Obsolete

When I was younger I twice landed jobs by sitting in the lobby of the office where I applied until I was able to speak with a hiring manager. Once I even came in for three days straight. This was before mobile phones, so just imagine reading every word of that day’s newspaper. Twice.

Times have changed. Until you are older you cannot possibly imagine the futility of a potential employer forcing blind shots into the void and then waiting for a response. Time is shorter, and yes, it matters. I have gone as far as to find the address of the home office and carry in a printed resume (I clean up real nice) to make personal contact and was treated as an annoyance.

I’m not here to lead a crusade for my demographic (over 50, IT, out of the business for over two years), nor am I complaining. I cannot change any of this, it’s how the machine works.

I responded to a friend this morning regarding how my dormant LinkedIn profile reads better than any poetry I write. Frankly I’m a shit poet, but that’s another topic altogether.

You’re a tiny bit younger, but you might get it. This Twitter thing is fun when there are words, but the LinkedIn reference is starkly true. I was in IT for 17 years. When the company I worked for was bought, they closed my data center. By the time that happened, at 50 I was out of the market for jobs because age and the speed of change in tech wiped me out like a tidal wave. I can’t get back in, so I took a 70% pay cut to work harder, longer, dirtier in the cycling industry. It’s all I knew aside from how to fix computers.

    I came up through the ranks of tech support back before ADSL; dialup days. I managed to get through without a degree or certification of any sort. I worked for a few different tech firms, and that last job was perfect. I worked alone on graves in a massive data center after they had let go the other three operators during the recession.

    And now I come home greasy every night, poorer, tired (not in the best way), in a place where I have great difficulty being in public, and now aim to parlay all of my earthly assets to my children in real time with specific direction so they don’t end up like me.

    Obsolete.

    My history…I miss that part of my life even though it has been a colossal struggle, and this why much of my writing is dark because I see no hope. Hope bears no value in the past, and only speculation determines future happiness.

    So this writing is about my only light, ironically, in its dark context.

    All that from an auto-responder, a one-off echo from the void.

    Fringe

    There is no poetry more perfect than my first thought of you in the morning, before eyes flutter open or fingers reach for a pen, while you are still on the fringe of my fantasy, smiling in faded departure.

    Interest(ing)

    …written in a series of four tweets.


    Today a pretty woman smiled as I studied each of my steps while walking past her in a pet store. I don’t look up because this never ends well.

    By my age, everyone has a someone and I’m not that lucky to be caught in open windows, between heartbeats, within a stolen glance.

    The last time I responded to being noticed was a long time ago; like reading fiction, wishing to be in the story.

    Alas, life has become a dull, grey tale with no denouement. The natural conclusion is merely a continuation of uncertainty.

    Empathy, Part Infinity

    Fog blows in over Pleasure Point bringing a chill to an otherwise warm, spring afternoon. Coasting up on my bike to the liquor store with blank windows, this will be the last stop of my day and I am not in the mood to talk with anyone. This isn’t news, really; people bother me, but I know how to handle spontaneous conversation.

    Dave Wood seems to know me, but we have never met. His breath smells of vodka, which has affected his speech, and he seems to have begun the conversation well before I arrived. His tense smile reveals two missing teeth.

    “Look at all that hair on your face. Some people lose hair when they get older – what are you, 80?” He removes his baseball cap to expose a full head of unwashed and uncut grey and blond hair.

    As I unpack my messenger bag to work, I sense Dave needs to be acknowledged in the way he wishes – my smile and minimal eye-contact while I work are not sufficient.

    “I’m 52, but I’ve seen some things,” I replied calmly. “Raising kids will do that to ya. And I think the beard is just my hair migrating from the top to the bottom of my face.”

    Dave is not amused. My history is closely guarded and I will share only with those whom I trust. I don’t know Dave’s backstory, but I was about to find out.

    “My 16 year-old son doesn’t talk to me. Well, I can’t find him. I don’t know where he is.”

    He goes on with a stream of consciousness, becoming louder and slurring his speech further.

    “I used to be a professional fertografer, man. Then I was riding a bike this one day, up to Sand Point, ya know? I wasn’t wearing a helmet and now I have this detached retina. Do they pay you to tape this paper to windows? You think I could get a job there? I can’t ride bikes anymore though.”

    He claims an expired poster I had removed from a window while regaling me with his story and happens to be carrying a brand new black Sharpie, which surprised me. I gave him my first name and showed him the patch on my bag with my company’s contact information, which he wrote down, misspelling every word, including my name.

    Dave becomes increasingly agitated when foot traffic from the liquor store flows around him as he is standing directly in the path to the store’s entrance. I gently guide him to one side of the entrance to avoid people, who walk by with an obvious effort to not look at us.

    After talking about West Side vs. East Side homeless politics, and my overlooking his tangent about women’s grooming habits (I don’t know where some of this came from – I mostly listened), his face relaxed and his eyes became soft, like he was going to cry.

    “Thank you for talking with me, Rob. No one gives me the time of day if I ask. I will remember you.”

    Dave doesn’t need to know what time it is. Dave needs to know someone cares, even if they can’t help.

    —-

    Every day I ride my bike for work in this town, I encounter homeless people. I don’t know for certain if they choose to be on the streets or if they are trying hard to become active participants in society. No one can know for sure without an evaluation. Being around people, strangers in public, makes me anxious, but I have to do it sometimes. One of the things I am good at is feeling a person’s pain even if I don’t know the origin, and making them feel a little more comfortable, which is contrary to my own anxiety.

    This post was inspired by a teacher I follow on Instagram. Kindness is not just absence of malice, it must be active and one must be aware of their surroundings to make it count for all it’s worth.

    Everyone has a backstory. Know this before you say one word to a stranger.

    Twenty Minutes Fast

    A young girl stands in the doorway pressing the screen on her mobile phone, oblivious to my need to enter the building. I am not in a hurry. Her jeans may be a size too small, her shirt may be an undergarment. Had I not known how to read a calendar, this could have been 1984. I ask politely if I may pass and she smiles and steps to the side but does not break eye contact with her phone.

    The only television in the place features a baseball game. The clerk behind the counter is the owner of the deli, efficiently taking orders with a smile as the group of hungry high schoolers begins to filter to booths and tables.

    As I unpack my messenger bag and get to work, I can feel eyes on me while I quietly remove old content from the store window and replace it with current, upcoming events. Who is the white-bearded man, older than any of their parents? He’s too young to be retired, but too old to be putting up posters for music festivals in local storefronts.

    Thirty-four years ago I roamed the same halls these students walked to get here – the deli is right next door to the high school from where I graduated. I feel these students watching me and immediately think of The Breakfast Club, when Carl the jancarlitor enters the library. You all know the scene.

    These kids have no idea who I am or where I have been, or that I am from here but in a different time.

    Just a short couple of years ago I was making six times as much money in the IT industry, working in a cubicle Monday through Friday. This felt…normal for a man my age. This is what we do before we retire and play golf or watch Murder She Wrote at 1:00 in the afternoon while we wait to die. Riding a bicycle to deliver parcels and post playbills is not where I saw myself at 17.

    Or 47 for that matter.

    An urge to stand up and gather the attention of these young minds was overwhelming, but I did not. These children, discussing weekend exploits at parties, video games, music, and sports didn’t seem to have a notion of what happens outside the walls of adolescence. I remembered being that young and thinking the world will take care of me, from my first job to my last. From my wedding to my retirement.

    I was unprepared.

    The message would have been to begin planning for your future immediately, because the world changes faster than a clock can tick, especially in this modern era. If you’re not careful, before you blink you will be 30 years old and a young parent without a career, scraping by doing what you are good at to put food on the table. All of your money will be spent supporting a family rather than saving, and before you know it you are 50 with a meager nest egg and a need to work for the rest of your life just to survive.

    Truth be told, no one cares that much about who I am or what I do. They were probably looking at the big white beard and thinking this is what I do in retirement for fun. Regardless, I felt like Carl the janitor, doing a simple job and brimming with ample amounts of wisdom.

    Yeah, my existential crises are pretty tame and yeah, my kids are probably pretty tired of it