Character Sketch

Once you get to know me you realize there just isn’t a lot there. It’s not that I’m shallow — it’s just that I’m a three trick pony. Hang around me for any length of time and you’ll get the idea. You’ll start to notice that you heard me tell this joke before, were struck by that witty comment sometime last month, saw the same nervous tick last week when I got upset about the state of baseball in America. And that’s when it hits you. I’m boring. Nice, but really boring. Oh, I don’t blame you. You think it’s bad for you, imagine being me. I’ve been living with myself for nearly thirty years now. It’s no walk in the park.

The strangest thing is, how you’ll come to be friends with me in the first place. You’ll think I am so clever and interesting. Because I can carry on a passable dinner conversation about Lear.

That’s amazing, you think. What a grasp of intricate conceptual twistings and turnings he has. Which is, of course, true. Because I’m not a phony. So we talk for a while and you find out I like jazz. And know how to tell my Bird from my Coltrane. Wow, what a connection; you’re starting to think this could turn into something; but, being the natural skeptic that you are, turn the conversation to a subject about which you are positive I’ll have nothing to say.

“As a matter of fact, I think that, sociologically speaking, the Samoan peoples are far more advanced than the ancient Polynesians,” I retort, as your jaw drops into your soup bowl.

So we exchange cards that night and I call you up for coffee in a few days. It’s subtle, but you feel slightly uncomfortable when you walk into the restaurant and see me sitting at the table wearing an almost exact replica of the outfit I wore to the dinner where we met. You decide to give me the benefit of the doubt and not assume that I only own clothes that are disturbingly similar.  Which I do.

The conversation goes way better than you had even imagined it would. Not only do I know jazz and Lear, but I can hold forth for a decent amount of time about the plight of Tibet and the benefits of having a Zen garden.

This will continue for about four weeks. Then the other shoe will drop. We’ll be at a party together and it will happen. You’ll introduce me to your friend the English professor (the local university chap who just finished a book on Lear). And I’ll start in. It’s beautiful, charming, well researched, perfectly rehearsed and exactly what I said on the night we first met. That’s when it will all come into focus and you’ll see exactly why you’ve been slightly irritated all the time for the past week and a half.  I’m a three trick pony.

It’s not there anymore

Today I was thinking about a place that I barely remember. It’s not that the memories themselves are hazy; there are just so few of them. I grew up in a very small town in the middle of Indiana farm land. You might say it’s a town that time forgot, but these days time has a better memory than it used to.

It’s the same town where my father spent his boyhood. Dad grew up in the 60s; and by the time I was in grade school, the town he knew had become a shadow of itself. But even in shadow, some silhouettes are more clearly defined than others; and in our small town, there were edges that had not yet completely blurred into the dark mass we call what used to be.

Ruch’s Confectionary was one of those edges – a long, tall building with heavy, creaking doors and display windows stuffed with toys, games and advertising displays that had gone out of date ten years ago. The “Open” sign was only turned occasionally, whenever Mrs. Ruch felt like being there.

Dad used to talk about taking a break from his paper route to sit in Ruch’s and drink an ice cold Coca Cola and eat a bag of barbecue chips. It sounded like heaven. So, one summer day, I decided to take a break from my own paper route and enjoy a Coke and a snack. The open sign was turned – Mrs. Ruch was in and I was in luck.

I pushed the door open with both hands and sauntered to the soda counter. Sitting on an old high stool I gazed around and took in the shelves that ran floor to ceiling. They were packed solid with merchandise I barely recognized. Trinkets, games and toys lined the walls and even fell onto the floor; the smell of mildew stung the air and I felt as if I were trespassing time itself.

I sat and waited for Mrs. Ruch to make her way to the counter and wondered if I was allowed to be here. I felt as if I had stepped into a scene never written for me; I was a stranger in time. I had no business here. Almost as a protest, I ordered a Coca Cola and a bag of chips when Mrs. Ruch shuffled in from the back room. I sat in silence and tried to imagine what it must have been like before the air went stale – before the life began to slowly fade into the shadows.