Sunday, January 11, 2009

marching to a different drummer...

If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
Perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music which he hears,
However measured or far away...

Henry David Thoreau

I didn't give my Christmas party this year, but if I had, there was a guy that I see sometimes at Starbuck's whom I might have invited. He's a tall, slim (but there's a reason for that, which I'll get to), good looking guy who usually reads the NY Times. I first noticed him because of the way he dresses: in winter, he wears loafers with socks, worn, comfortable looking khakis, a polo shirt and a navy blue blazer; in summer he wears loafers with no socks, worn, comfortable looking khaki shorts, a polo shirt and a navy blue blazer. It's the summer garb that I noticed first, of course. An interesting, if rather eccentric, look, but I'm not at all put off by eccentricity; in fact, for the most part, I value it. I commented on the look to A right away (this was a couple of years ago): "Have you seen that guy who wears a blazer with shorts?"

A had, of course, as he's at that Starbucks more often than I am. He assured me this was simply a Northeastern look. Uh-huh. A spent all his formative years, from the time he was 12 until he graduated from college, attending school in the northeast (yeah, A's a preppie and a Harvard man), whereas I've only visited the northeast a few times, so although I'd never seen another guy in shorts and a blazer, I figured, what do I know?

On weekend mornings, my neighborhood Starbucks is heavily populated by various people from the neighborhood, including a number of people in their 50's and 60's. Having lived in my house since 1984, I know a lot of these people because our children went to school together. This guy is not part of that group, though. He does have two grown children, but they're older than my oldest, so I hadn't met him as a fellow parent. Still, there are plenty of people in that group who are new to me for various reasons. A knows more of these people than I do, and accordingly, when I meet A there for coffee, he's sometimes talking with some of these people whom I don't know, with the result that I've been introduced and have ended up making new friends. There are people who take the position that they have enough friends, but I'm not one of them. I'm always up for making new friends, and I've welcomed the opportunity to get to know some of these people. I've expanded my Christmas party invitation list accordingly, with excellent results. Everyone I've met and ended up inviting to my Christmas party has been interesting and a welcome addition.

Eventually, I made the acquaintance of M. It turns out that he's a retired accountant. We've talked a few times about the things that people our age talk about: politics, books, our children. In November, when Mike was in town, we went to Starbucks on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Kath met us there with Xander, who ended crawling all over Mike, whom he adores. M came over and said hello and asked how old Xander was. He mentioned that he was writing a woman who has a six-year-old, and said he wondered what that was like. I thought then that if I gave my Christmas party, I might invite him. He seemed interesting to me.

But I didn't get around to giving the party this year. It's a lot of work, and I had plenty of family activities planned without adding the work of doing that party. And I didn't give another thought to M until A came over one day between Christmas and New Year's and said, "Wanna know something interesting about M?"

"Sure!" I said, thinking maybe A would tell me he was an avid kayaker or some such thing.

"He's living in his car," A said.

"What?!?!? He is not!"

"Yes he is!"

"How do you know that?"

"Because I asked him."

Whoa. In a million years I wouldn't have been able to ask M if he were living in his car. It seems the question came about because A saw his car, and noticed that the passenger seat was reclined, with a sleeping bag in it, and there were all these clothes stuffed in the he simply asked M if he were living in his car, and M said yes. Apparently, he's been living in his car for quite a while, i.e., maybe a year or two. A immediately said that if he wanted to, M could shower or do laundry at his place, but M said no, he uses the neighborhood recreation center. I didn't know we had one, and I'm not even sure where it is, but apparently he uses it because he's always clean as well as clean shaven.

I'm bothered by this. I know that M cannot be rescued. I don't even know if he wants to be rescued. But it poses a million questions. How could this happen? This is someone who is educated, and was probably licensed. At one time he had a job and a family and a house. He worked for a couple of big companies, so he must have had some sort of retirement plan, as well as social security. That doesn't all just disappear, no matter what bad luck you may have, so did M make a conscious decision one day that he was going to punt it all to live in his car? I'm sufficiently practical that I could understand someone doing this for a month or so, between places, to save money. But I can't actually imagine even doing that myself, and to decide to live in your car indefinitely, in your sixties? Never a good night's sleep, never a decent meal (of course he's slim!)...I can't really comprehend that. One of his adult children lives here, but M has said he does not get along with that child, who has not taken him in, so that hardly seems a reason to stay.

How does one decide to live in a car? And why stay here, in this solidly middle class neighborhood? It's hardly the most economical place to live, even in a car, and he must have to find side streets to park on at night, to avoid the police, because I'm pretty sure they would not be sympathetic to anyone sleeping in their car. And why spend your time in Starbucks, drinking overpriced coffee with no free refills? Why not LaMadeleine, where it's air conditioned in the summer and there's a fireplace blazing in cold weather, and where, for $2.50, you can have endless free refills of coffee as well as some free bread, butter and jam, all day long if you like. Why isn't he working somewhere? He's attractive, articulate, educated...surely someone would hire him to do something. I'm pretty sure this is not just my way of reassuring myself that this could never happen to me. And why the blazer?

I don't begin to understand...


Cynthia said...

I don't understand either. I can't even begin to wrap my head around it. Very interesting entry.

Ann said...

Seeing as he is honest about it, why not ask him the next time you cross paths? It would make for a very interesting conversation. Probably insightful as well.

Chris said...

This was an intriguing post to read. I hope to hear more about this guy's story.

Part of me is very empathetic but another voice in the back of my head says (embezzler, serial killer, etc) in hiding.

emmapeelDallas said...

Ann, I would never ask him casually about this. I can't believe it isn't painful in many ways for him, and I wouldn't be willing to cause him pain for the sake of my own curiosity, which would be the case, as I'm not his social worker.

Chris, I agree with you. It chilled me more than a little, to find this out. He's probably just strange...but there may be something much more sinister, rather than just strange. I think part of what bothers me is that I was a diagnostician in a department of psychiatry for 5 years (admittedly, I worked only with pediatric patients for most of that time), but nevertheless, my antenna remain really good, and with him, I picked up NOTHING. Which, given his circumstances, doesn't mean there's nothing to pick up on, but rather it suggests he's really, really good at keeping those vibes hidden. And that in itself is disturbing.

~ L said...

Intriguing to say the very least. Maybe he knows something we may not. Like how to not place such value on material possessions? At least I hope that's the case. Not that he has to live in his car in order to survive.

Mrs. L said...

First of all, I don't think he's an eastern preppie, I think he's a southern preppie -- UVA, UNC or Due. He dresses like my favorite blazer and no socks fraternity, Beta Theta Pi.

So Ask him if he was a Beta in college.

A lot of really skinny people are also alcoholic, on or off the wagon. Not the beer drinking kind, the single malt whiskey kind.

A lot of functioning alkies load up on coffee during the day and drink away their nights.

And Starbuck's coffee has the highest caffeine levels you can buy.

Find his ex-wife. She'll know.