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Things lost to us.

I found a picture of you, o-o-oh
Those were the happiest days of my life
Like a break in the battle was your part, o-o-oh
In the wretched life of a lonely heart
- Back on the Chain Gang (Pretenders)

My neighbor is a small, energetic and youthful 70 years old.  A super-mystical Catholic, her “hair turned completely white when A. died.”

Yeah.  That about sums it up.  A.was her younger son — brilliant, creative, eccentric, and pretty good-looking.  Inside her house, there are photos of him as a dark-eyed baby with his father (also dead), with his mom reading to him and his brother at around age 4, and as an adult near the time of his death (25, maybe?)

He killed himself.  He would have been around my age, and we have his disintegrating copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  The inscription reads: “To A, on his beautiful 3rd.”

I look at my son and think, “No way is that happening to me.”  But you just never know.  My neighbor had a great relationship with him, according to her, but he was just… mentally ill.  Or was hiding something that made him loathe himself so much, he chose to die.

I didn’t ask, of course.  According to my dad, she couldn’t talk about A. for a few years after he committed suicide.  I would have liked to have known him.

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Character Diary: Axe and googly eyes

The Axemen.

The other day, I was in Borders, getting some emergency coffee, when in comes these two guys.  I smelled them before I saw them; they both reeked of Axe.  If you’ve ever been in the weightlifting section of the gym, you know what Axe smells like.

I couldn’t tell how old they were — high school or young college — but they were wearing these bright green Adidas team jerseys.  One of them read “DOS SANTOS” on the back.  He had some pretty serious acne.  I wondered what they played: soccer or volleyball, maybe?  They were both skinny and energetic, and had indistinctly brassy-blond hair, like they used to be blond as kids, and now it was darkening into adult hair.  Unlike older guys, they didn’t say much to each other, probably because they were exhausted.  Only one went up and ordered, and came back with a hot chocolate for himself, and some kind of whipped cream iced drink for his friend.  They collapsed on the black pseudo-leather chairs bordering the section and read their magazines in silence.

I didn’t stick around; Axe gives me a headache.

Google-eyed individuals.

In the indie cafe I go to (free wireless and hidden outlets that only I know about), there works a guy.  His pale pink mouth hangs open a little bit, all the time, like he’s gaping at something he doesn’t understand.  His face is long and mournful, and he wears his hair in a military-style buzz.  He is certainly over twenty, but since he doesn’t talk much, I can’t tell how old he really is.  But the most disconcerting thing about him is his round, glassy blue eyes that never seem to blink.

Try ordering coffee from someone like that.  You’re just not sure if he’s all there, and he just looks like a sad teddy bear.  Even when he says stuff that sounds cheerful, like “Hey, what’s up!” to his friend the owner, his expression never changes.  Or talking about a catastrophe: “Did you see the news today?” pointing at the NY Times — still, the google-eyed look.

I also saw a runner, probably a student, with a neat face.  It was neat as in, “Neat-o!” but also, as in not messy. He was short, and his face was small, so his features seemed too large for it.  He had high cheekbones and a reddish mouth that also seemed stretched across his face.  But most startling of all were his huge eyes.  They were also blue — you couldn’t miss it.  They seemed to pop out from the shade of his baseball cap, framed by thick brown eyebrows in nearly perfect arcs (geometrically, like sections cut out of a circle.)

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Jerry the Construction Worker

A few people were interested in my “character diary” process. I’m fascinated by people — in my opinion, there is no such thing as an ordinary person… just an ordinary-acting person. I’ve kept a character diary for years with profiles of people I know and meet. I’m not moving any of my old entries online, but I’ll keep my character observations on my blog from now on.

So, we were out on the construction site in the back of my house. For years, there has been an abandoned Victorian, a real hard-hat zone with the aging “DERELICT” notice on the door. Finally, someone bought it and is supposedly fixing it up into a commercial building. The parking lot in the back of my house, poached by several different valet parking services, just started getting dug up.

Di, Frog, and I stood next to the chain-link fence separating my property from theirs, watching the excavator dig up the concrete. There was only one worker, a thin, middle-aged man wearing the standard issue workboots, dusty blue thermal hoodie, and thick jeans. He’d pulled his hood up so I couldn’t see his face. What little I could make out was covered by a long, half-gray mustache and beard.

After he’d dug up the parking bumpers, he got out and started kicking through the leaves and trash for rebar. He didn’t glance once in our direction, though surely he knew we were there, watching. Maybe he was used to it — a lot of people like to watch deconstruction. I was waiting for a chance to wave to him, to acknowledge him. Di and I looked at each other and crossed over to him across the rubble.

“Hi,” she called out. He looked up and flashed his gloved palm in greeting, but did not stop. I wasn’t surprised — between the worn look and the beard, I was prepared for him to be unfriendly. Expected it, even. But Di didn’t. She walked right up to him, making him stop. “After you dig up the lot, what are you doing next?”

He shrugged. “Don’ know, we… haven’t seen the plans yet.” He spoke fluently but with an accent that I couldn’t make out. His muddy brown eyes kept looking around at the site as he was talking.

“How long do you think it will take?” asked Di.

“I really’ve no idea. We have the foundation to do,” he gestured to a stack of grungy wooden boxes with holes in them, “and the whole building after.”

“Well,” I said, “they’ve probably got to get it done before winter, right?”

The worker shrugged. “We work in winter. I go to a lot of different sites.”

I finally understood the reason he didn’t stop — he was simply in a hurry to get to the next site.

Di introduced us, including the dog that had gotten out and was charging around the machinery.

The worker finally smiled. “I’m Jerry.” Spoken in his accent, the name Jerry took on a different meaning for me. I’d always thought it was a name reserved for uncles, perhaps those who used to be jerks in middle school. I was glad to finally know him, as we would see each other a lot through the fence this summer.