Friday, March 15, 2013

The Strange Ones

Granddaughters Chelsea and Sloane called her the “talking lady.” She was tall and slim and wore long flowing skirts, sometimes several, one over the other. She draped her shoulders with a scarf and wore another around her head, trying to keep her unruly gray hair in place. A canvas satchel hung over her shoulders and it bulged with strange lumps. And in her hand was an open book, one of those blank books you buy for journaling. As she walked she held the open book in front of her lips and spoke into it.

I saw her often in the California suburb I lived in. She seemed to walk everywhere. One early morning, I stopped in at the local McDonald’s to have their sausage egg muffin. I took a seat beside the window and noticed her in the booth opposite me. She had several open books on the table along with a number of pens–red, green, and black. She was writing and changed pens often. I could see the words covering the pages were closely spaced. Her coffee was black in a Styrofoam cup. At one point she looked up and saw me. I looked back, deep into her eyes. We connected, truly saw each other, then she dropped her pen, scrambled out of the booth, and raced out of the restaurant.

I called a young attendant over and asked him not to disturb her things.

“Oh,” he said. “We all know her. She’ll be back. Don’t worry, I won’t let nothing disturb her things.”

I thought of all the other strange people I’d seen—the angry man at the bus stop. He was there every day; dressed in a suit, clean shaven, and carrying a leather notebook. He stood quietly until the bus stopped. The moment the door opened he started. His arm lifted and with an accusing finger pointed directly at the driver, he began to shout. It sounded like gibberish with an occasional four-letter word thrown in. People disgorged from the bus and more people got on. No one seemed to notice him. The minute the doors closed he quieted, opened his notebook and wrote. 

It was like the fat boy on the street corner of Bridge Street when I was young. He always stood on the corner opposite the Post Office, rocking back and forth, sucking his thumb. Often, his pants were wet. I watched him from the safety of the back seat of the car. People walked about their business and no one noticed him, or seemed to. I asked my father about him and he explained that he was a boy who would never grow up, that he would remain a child always and we must be kind.

I think of the “talking lady” who doesn’t want to be noticed and of the others—all those who don’t fit within the norm. The thinking seems to be that if we don’t notice they won’t exist. But they do. They are in our world. They are our people, part of our family—the family of humankind. I have a feeling the “talking lady” knows that and is recording all that she sees in her book. The guy at the bus stop too. He’s making notes. I’ve been told that when one enters the Pearly Gates, St. Peter looks in a book to determine where we will go. I wonder who has been gathering the data for that book? Could it be the “talking lady,” or the guy at the bus stop, or my rocking boy? God’s spies?


  1. Riding BART in San Francisco was a great view into seemingly strange behaviors and a reminder not to ever judge a book by its cover. Like the young man in huge pants down to his knees, nose pierced and hair spiked who struck up a conversation with his seatmate. (I eavesdropped shamelessly.) He talked about how he was taking care of his grandmother because she'd been ill recently and had noone else.

  2. Wow! Powerful work and wonderful writing:)