I was waiting for the next train to the East Bay. An observer might have seen that I was sitting on a concrete slab, laptop clutched in my arms, but in reality I was sitting amid an invisible egg-shaped forcefield, its surface crawling with electrons which occasionally spelled out, DON’T TALK TO ME.
A child of about ten roughly plunked himself down next to me; the man attending to him followed closely behind. The boy began slapping his own arms repeatedly. The man looked around sheepishly and tried to hold the boy’s hand, but this accomplished nothing. The boy slapped his arms again, more vigorously this time: ”Uno dos tres,” he slurred. He squealed, then squealed again loudly. He tried to sit up and run, but the man grabbed his hand again. ”The train is coming, it’s coming,” he said, the mask of humiliation now evident on his face.
On the opposite side of the slab, a younger man waiting for the train heading south. He turns around and smiled. ”Hey man - Happy Father’s Day.”
The train heading south arrived, and both parties boarded and left.
When you were a small thing, anything could hurt you and make you cry. Skinning your knee. Dropping your toys. A gentle joke. Tears tumbled out of you like a melt water creek as I bandaged you, coddled you, soothed you.
Your sister would ask, “Why is she crying?” and I would say, “Shhh, she’s just a child.”
Now you are older. You don’t cry anymore. The questions you ask go right to my heart. You ask, clear-eyed and sure, “Did you think of me when you were away?” When I answer, “Of course,” my voice quavers like the last dry leaf in a winter wind.
You ask, “Why are you crying?” and your sister says, “Shhh, she’s remembering.”
Kevin is telling me about his estate sale excursions. It’s loud in here. Here is a bar done up to look old and weathered, but not too old and weathered; the cocktails are new and fresh reimaginings of classic cocktails, the type of place that feels exciting now, but in the future, a cultural archetype for bars of this time and this place. Here is a bar thronged with young people, and we have to strain our voices to be heard. ”I’ve seen some nasty stuff. These places, you can see on the carpet where people had accidents and people would have to clean it up. One time this man’s bed was set up in the dining room, because that’s the only place they could fit it. So he would get his meals through the opening in the kitchen wall, right there in the dining room. He died there. In the dining room.”
"He had just stacks and stacks of anime, because that was his passion. He lived all alone like that, just living in the dining room and reading his anime."
"Have you ever walked up to a place and taken one look at it and been like, Nope, not going in."
"No, no. I think it’s fascinating. One time I came across a box of college papers that this person had just saved in an attic for like, their entire life. Like they saved it. And at the estate sale, where they had all their things laid out for people to buy, there were people just walking all over it, just walking all over these papers that this person had hung on to until they died. Like it was that important to this person, and now you have all these people walking all over it like it’s just paper.”
"So since you’ve spent so much time at these things, do you feel like you are ready to face your own mortality? Like it’s not some mysterious thing to you anymore?"
Kevin pauses before he answers. ”I own a box of journals written by this guy who wrote down everything he did, like every minute, from when he was ten years old to when he died. Every day. Like, ‘Woke up at 6:30. Ate a chicken sandwich for lunch. Had a test in English class.’ His whole life in a box. Like, I own that.”
Two middle-aged men sit in resigned silence. One is wearing rings and sunglasses. The one opposite him is weak-chinned and balding. This one opens his mouth to speak.
"Something from my professional life which has sort of been teaching me something about my personal life is this. There are days when Ron will just lose his temper at me and then the next day he makes up for it…there are days when he’ll flip out at me for forgetting some crucial thing, and then the next hour he wants to grab coffee and bitch about the designers.
"And it’s the same thing with the designers. One day they’re flipping out, and then the next day they’re very friendly and helpful.
"And I guess what all of this has been teaching me is, Don’t catastrophize, you know? The universe…” He pauses and makes a fluttery motion with his fingertips like someone scattering sand into the wind, as if his hands could describe his thoughts better than his words. ”The universe has a way of creating equilibrium.”