If bin Laden is still alive, he’s living in a green Acura on a back country road turnout. It seems as good a place as any since it’s the last point where civilization drops off. I only know it as the point where wifi and fast food delivery ends. The wildlands begin thirteen minutes before the dirt road that carries me home. I pass him sometimes at night. In the front seat, his beard is intermittently lit up by the blue grey haze of a dying cell phone battery and the brief orange inhale of a fading cigarette. Sometimes I want to pull over and ask what he’s searching. I never have though. Somehow I don’t think bin Laden’s who live in their cars want to be interrogated about anything.
There’s also the man with the scooter. He never rides it, but he wears a helmet. He grips its handlebars and walks it to and from town. Together they maneuver their way through potholes and hills and lazy bending roads. He wears earbuds but I don’t think he plays anything. He can somehow hear me coming long before I see him and takes care to guide his mount to the shoulder of the road but he never looks back. One afternoon we accidentally made brief eye contact and half ass waved at each other but it was embarrassing for both of us. I don’t imagine that will happen ever again.
This is what life becomes when you live beyond Domino’s reach and work from home. When your closest neighbor is two cow fields away, people become a curiosity. A precious novelty. Every human interaction becomes a brief story you watch unfold and fold up again into an origami angel that floats away into the vast silence of no city lights.
There’s a small corner store down the road that I drive to when the vast expanse of space/time into town becomes as daunting as the face of the Himalayas when you’re wearing flip flops. Usually it’s for cat food or tin foil or the occasional salt and vinegar chip that can’t possibly wait another day to hit my belly. It’s now the rootstock of all stories and my favoritest of all small corners in this world. I used to take my dad to a dispensary. One day we went on a Friday and I mistakenly thought I’d found the happiest place on earth. That truth held until I first walked into the corner store. If you could meld the two together there would be world peace.
The Indian owners are learning Spanish. The Spanish speakers are learning Hindi. Everybody knows everyone’s name. There is a guy in a wheelchair out front that picks through the garbage can. He sifts and sifts like a miner but never pulls anything out. I tried to give him some recycling once and I think it offended him. He doesn’t acknowledge me anymore so I must have broken the rules. No matter the time of day, he passes his story by the can and waits for his friends to come and go. Friends like the ever tanned shirtless Sammy Hagar with a Spicoli voice who gets his daily dose of wide mouth Coors. The impossibly tiny Russian man that stuffs his Stoli pint into his pocket and laughs like I’ve never heard anyone laugh before. From the tips of his toes to the tip of his nose, it bubbles up and out of him like carbonated joy. Even getting handed change makes him throw his wee head back and snort into the air above him.
I thought I’d gotten a fair sense and glimpse of the tiniest stories of everyone who passed through or lingered. Now there’s a new story unfolding. I’ve seen him three times now and somehow, no matter how much time I linger in the candy aisle, I always end up right behind him in line.
Crisp snow white T-shirt. He must buy them in packs because they always have slightly off center fold marks…the non manmade kind only left behind by plastic wrapping. Worn jeans with a mark on the back pocket where chaw resides. Slightly damp hair so he must show up freshly showered.
**at this point I should probably point out that I am not stalking the jeans man. The owners of the store like to talk…and talk…and talk some more. Linear lines don’t exist in this plane. There is one counter and one register but people just stand around and filter slowly ahead one at a time, from every aisle and direction. Waiting for your turn is like a hobbit trial so you have time to survey the surroundings. 18 times at least**
In his right hand, slung low by his waist, he carries a bottle of Red Truck wine. In his left, he has a bottle of Crystal Geyser water. He never interacts with anyone there which sets him apart. Just waits quietly and stands perfectly still without shifting his weight. Water wine, wine water. Tobacco circle on the pocket.
Three times now I’ve watched this part of his story. He gets to the clerk and points to a plastic case on the counter. I’m all about personal space so I haven’t seen what he’s having pulled out of the locked abyss. Twice the story ended with him walking out with his secret wares. Yesterday, because of the trajectory and random placement of people in line, I had a different vantage point. Black Stallion herbal enhancement capsules.
I don’t know where he’s going or who is waiting for him at the end of his travels. All I know is that in this back country life of fleeting faces that come and go, he is now the most interesting man in the corner store. I hope whoever is waiting appreciates that.