Monday, May 26, 2008

Portrait #8: Random Guy

I came up to Baltimore today to try to sort through boxes that have been sitting in an attic for seven years now. Had I know seven years ago that after all this time, I still would not be using those books and pans and curtains and halogen lamps, I would have given it all away - or panicked and done something stupid upon realising that my decision to housesit for a sweet lady in the suburbs would somehow lead to a life of floating around the world! But I digress.

Baltimore City is a special place full of all kinds of unique personalities. And this evening, as I rushed from the attic to a friend's graduation bbq, I stopped at a Rite Aid in a typical Baltimore city strip mall, and had a chat with one such character. This store was typical Baltimore in that half the stores in the strip mall were shut down and the Rite Aid was a bit run down... and, as everyone went about their business in their studiously slow way, they deliberately ignored the fact that mine was the only white face to be seen.

The checkout line was moving quite slowly, as was to be expected in a neighbourhood where values such as productivity and efficiency are summarily dismissed, perhaps even as a form of protest against the dominant Americans, the ones who value such things so much. Finally I was next in line when a guy came up to one of the checkout clerks and asked if her till was open. When she said yes, he put his batteries on the counter, but she quickly pointed out that there was a line and he should politely await his turn.

So he came and stood right next to me, not behind me, but next to me. He blurted out an apology for his quasi-queue-jump and I nodded and smiled. Then he disappeared and returned with a box of the same type of cookies I was purchasing and began to make conversation. He was a striking figure: dark features, except for green green eyes. And the tips of his hair were bleached. His skin was in terrible shape, though, rashy and peely. Too much sun? I confess that, since I was in Baltimore City, my first thought was drugs.

He pointed at his box of cookies and said they looked good, but had I tried the new Reeses Pieces cookies? Those were good! I've never heard of them, and so he described them to me by comparing them to a type of girlscout cookie. He said he has a real weakness for sweets, and showed me that he had selected the cookies with milk chocolate chips, which were sweeter - and clearly better - than the semi-sweet chocolate chips in the cookies I had selected. I said I prefer them with less sugar, and he reiterated his love for sweet things, and declared that he's pretty sure he has "the sugar." He's had headaches lately, been thirsty, tired... I said he should watch out about that as it can come back to get him, and he agreed. Then he said it wasn't helped by the fact that he works in construction and is always around asbestos. True, I said. Nor could the fact that he smokes quite a bit be very good, he added. Definitely a problem, I said.

Soon it was my turn to check out. I paid quickly and scurried out, revealing my time-conscious Whiteness for all to see, but not before my new friend called out, "Have a good day!" and I bid him farewell.

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