Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

Stories

the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

Interstate 287 // Friday, 3.45pm

He's standing at the head of the median, where the lane curves around to rejoin the highway. I'm at the front of the line of cars, and he catches my eye, and holds up his hand and rubs his fingers together, sort of playfully.

I hold up my hands to pantomime helplessness.

He puts his hands on his hips and makes a "shame on you" face that startles me. But something about his posture also makes me think it's a joke. So I poke out my lower lip in contrition. He thinks this is hilarious; he pokes his out, in return.

I laugh.

 

Then he approaches my car and speaks into my closed window.

I roll it down, just a crack, and say "I don't have any money." That's a lie--I do have money, but it's $70 in large bills, and it's my eating-in-New-York-City money. If I stretch it, it might last three days.

"A quarter?" he presses me, still smiling.

"You want a quarter?" I say it more as a statement, flatly incredulous. But that was my deal that I made with myself, back in Lancaster in the summer--if they ask a specific amount, and it's not, like, fifty dollars, I'll give it. I fish around in my purse's zipper compartment and come up with a quarter and give it to him.

"You so pretty..." He stops short, and squints at me skeptically. "I...I hope you know who you are."

Damn it. How do these homeless guys always hit on exactly what's on my mind?

"I don't look so good," he says, taking a shy step back. "I got this grey hair..." He strokes his head, and then his beard.

"It looks good," I tell him. "Distinguished. Like Sean Connery."

He squints again, but he's obviously pleased. He shakes his finger at me, like he's figured out my game; coming again to my window, he holds his fist out for a pound.

"Look at your little hands!" he says. And again, that skeptical quint. "You come on back here sometime, and talk to me." His eyes roll up to the sky. "I could tell you some stories..."

At that moment, the fucking light turns green, and the rage I feel at time and money and all the elements together roils behind my sternum as I drive away.