His straw hat stood out in the dimly lit coffee shop. Two stickers, proudly stating he had voted. The red in the American flag contrasting with the dull tones of beige in the straw. I stared at him wondering why only two stickers were stuck there. Why not represent all the times he has voted? Or maybe he has only voted twice. It was a new high he felt when he finally went into that booth and punched those holes, that he had to celebrate.
His gray ponytail was tucked under the collar of his shirt, making the length of his hair a mystery. As he walked towards me, I quickly looked away acting as though I was not considering his voting habits.
When it is cold outside, noses tend to form these glass beads. They cling to the tips of the structures responsible for scent. Scent is the sense that is most responsible for grabbing memories from the depths of the brain and thrusting them to the forefront of your life.
It’s a mysterious state of being. In the grocery store smelling the laundry soap. But then you are in the back yard of your aunt’s house in the Italian countryside in a place called Giulianova, which sounds more like a romantic name of a made up city, because how can a city name be so perfectly accurate of what that place emulates? And the clothes are dancing in the breeze as they dangle from the clothesline. The scent of detergent and fabric softener filling our young noses as we avoid the bees in the grass and pet the kittens who eat spaghetti.
“What are you reading?”
I look up and I realize that the man with the straw hat had one of these glass beads filled with memories. It is a stubborn one, not allowing itself to become detached, as though it was in the midst of retrieving a memory of pure bliss.
“It’s called Kafka on the Shore.”
“Is it biographical? About the author?”
“Oh no. It’s about a boy who ran away from home.”
“So there’s no reference to the famous author at all?”
“Well, the boy begins using a new name and he picks Kafka because of his liking of the author. But that’s pretty much it so far. It’s Magical Realism.”
“Ah so you have read Marquez?”
As he asks this he squeezes between the table and booth to sit down. His glass bead is still clinging.
“Yes I have.”
“Are you a student of literature?”
I appreciate his eloquence.
“No but I am a writer, so I try to read a lot.”
“I always find it interesting to see what other people are reading. I come in with the New York Times and then I always end up getting distracted by glancing at other people’s reading material. I have talked to many people about what they are reading.”
At this point he lists many different fields that he has encountered. Many of them I have never heard of. Very specific topics in science and history and art that you wouldn’t come across unless they were your expertise. I urge you to use your imagination to come up with some topics I may be referring to. They were fascinating, but my brain had nothing to connect them to. They had no anchor and so they drifted and are now lost.
“What do you write?” He continues with his questions.
“Well, I am an aspiring writer. I tell people that I am one so that it puts pressure on me. One day it will be true. I will be able to say I am a writer. That is how I make my income. But for the time being I just got a real full time gig that is very interesting but has nothing to do with writing. I will always write on the side, though.”
He takes a minute to take everything I said in. I watch his glass bead as it grows and stretches, but still hugs the memories it has captured.
“I have a published children’s book and I am almost done with my novel.”
“Wow, can I ask what your novel is about?”
“Of course! It is about this group of shady figures in a resort town. They steal from tourists in order to make a living.”
“Interesting. Is it a series?”
“No! The one novel alone has nearly killed me! I am using a Creole dialect used in Hawaii, where the resort town is. It’s called Pidgin.”
“Oh. Are you from Hawaii? How did you learn that language?”
“I lived there for a year, and that’s how I found out about it, and then I read a lot of novels in Pidgin. There’s even a Bible written in Pidgin and so I read a lot of that.”
In his glass bead a beach became obvious. The recognizable signs of a tropical beach. The turquoise water lapping up the white sand. Beyond the white and turquoise, the dense, green, wild rain forest.
“I got married there. But then we broke up and now she is with somebody new and I have a drug addicted, yet intelligent and creative roommate.” He says this as though it has been rehearsed.
The crystal bead is wiped away from his slightly larger than average nose. He continues sharing his life story with me and then he asks me for my story. I tell him the good bits. He seems impressed. Sometimes, I forget to take a look at my life, too focused on those lives I hold high up on pedestals.
I put Haruki Murakami in my bag and shake the hand of the man who voted twice. Conversations can turn sour when true intentions are revealed. I wanted to avoid that disappointing moment. I ran to the brisk weather outside, but the sun was out. The perfect state, gelid and sunny. First freezing and then thawing, producing those little glass beads from the tips of noses.