The Inbetween

Tonight I ran across an interesting man on my way home. The truth is I didn’t find him, he found me while I was waiting for Teri and Trevor to come and pick my up at the North Hollywood subway station.

I noticed him because he walked slowly in front of me. He was young, early 20s I’d guess, hispanic (a Latino) by appearance, but I don’t know if he spoke Spanish. I say I noticed him, but really he noticed me, as in he looked at me while I was sitting there holding up my Kindle and reading a novel. When I say he looked at me, I mean he really looked at me.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but most people in a public setting do not look at you. Oh they might glance at you, but there never let their glance rest on you for long. They look, and then quickly look away. Sometimes a gaze will linger, but this is almost always to express some form of sexual intent, or aggression. Rarely will a man gaze at me, especially a young man. A naked straight-into-the eye stare is considered a hostile act by most. Certainly it makes people uncomfortable.

(Don’t believe me? As an experiment, the next time you’re out in public openly stare at people. Look them straight into the eyes and do not look away. See what happens. Note: this will be taken as an aggressive act if they are the same sex, or a sexual advance if they are the opposite. Do this at your own risk.)

Anyway, this guy was staring at me. In the eyes. Only his expression was neutral, perhaps even thoughtful. There was no hint of anger. He seemed genuinely interested, like he was staring at a flower, or a car. There was not the least hint of negative intent, or of any understanding that his actions could be considered negative. In short, he was innocent.

Then he asked me what time it was. I clicked the menu button on my Kindle and told him it was 8:23. I told him several different ways. Finally he responded when I told him the way we used to tell the time at the Ren Faire (eight and twenty). His response was to repeat my words back to me.

He looked fascinated at my Kindle, so I showed it to him. He stood there for a second, never speaking. Looking both at the Kindle, and then into my eyes. Back and forth, back and forth. It was unnerving. He was really looking at me.

Then he walked to my right, and sat down next to me. Now I was sitting on a concrete rim of a planter there at the subway station. There were lots of people milling about, high school kids in black sporting skateboards, somber-faced old latinas walking along to their next bus, business people of every stripe and station, and even a few bums and drunks. And this guy. The one now sitting next to me. Only he wasn’t sitting next to me, he was sitting next to me. As in too close. Much too close.

Again, this sort of thing is usually considered an aggressive act, or a sexual one. But he wasn’t interested in either. Or at least I should say he wasn’t giving off the social clues for either.

So I asked him, “How ya doing?”

Its a straight enough question that most Spanish speakers can get the meaning. He responded, with a kind of non-word. A grunt, or maybe a sigh. Essentially a sound without any meaning. At least to me.

Then I looked up, and saw Teri drive up to the kiss and ride. I said goodbye to my newly found friend, and got moving to the car. Luckily he did not follow. If he had, I’m not sure what I would have done.

When I told Teri about this, she exclaimed she would have jumped up and moved away as soon as the guy sat down next to her. No doubt wise advice for a woman. Me, I’m pretty comfortable around the mentally ill, and the strange. This guy I think was likely just retarded. Possibly lost. Perhaps he doesn’t speak English. Who knows?

All I know is he was weird, and if I got a chance to talk with him at any length, I would have probably liked him, much like you like a new puppy. Only people are not puppies.

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