Friday, January 1, 2016
A few weeks ago, I made my semi-annual trek to Total Wine. It was a really crappy day outside (December in general was really gross in Philly, wasn't it?), and I knew if I didn't go that day there's no way it would get done before Christmas, OR it WOULD get done before Christmas but it would be such a godawful mad house that it would make the entire trip barely worth it.
(Ok, well anything that helps me stick it to Harrisburg is always worth it, but you know what I mean.)
I had this long list of stuff that I had to get, but luckily the place was pretty empty since it was almost dinnertime on a Tuesday. While agonizing over sauv blancs--the last thing on my list--I could sense the presence of some random person directly approaching me to talk to me. This happens to me all the time wherever I go, and it's been happening I think pretty much my whole life. I can be out anywhere, doing anything, and people just walk right up to me and start conversations. RIGHT UP TO ME. Like I'm the only person around and they've known me for years. And I don't mean, "Hey do you know where the such-and-such-is?" conversations. I mean, "Hey, have you figured out life's answer to this problem yet?" conversations. It blows my mind. 80% of the time, I am perfectly fine with this, and I'll talk to these people until they're done and walk away. The other 20% of the time, I'm either totally up for it but have no time and can't do it, or I'm in no mood for it and have to put on some kind of magical, invisible shield to create some kind of barrier between my mind and the rest of the world. It works too--I see people coming right for me, and they just sorta bounce right off of it like a tennis ball and I don't really even have to do anything. Usually, I feel pretty bad about it, but it's necessary the days that I do it.
I hear this voice over my left shoulder go, "Can you explain to me why women typically prefer white wine over red?" I turn and look and this little old man is giving me this quizzical expression, and it's obvious that I'm going to be here for a good thirty minutes. But, I had no place else to be and didn't really care and so was like, "Ok, here we go."
This guy had the coolest life story. It turned out he was 90 years old which was insane because he looked significantly younger. ("It's true! 5/26/26!") I didn't think twice about his hearing aids until he tapped my arm while I was talking because I had turned my head away for a few seconds: He had lost his hearing in Okinawa and relied primarily on reading lips. After Okinawa, he came home--without most of his friends because they didn't make it--and then decided to enroll in college, but then he got kicked out after a few semesters. Apparently, this happened eight times. He studied all kinds of stuff, mostly the sciences and engineering, but never all the way to a completed degree.
Blah blah blah, he gets this job in Washington, DC. Next thing he knows, he's being called in for this job interview, only he didn't KNOW it was a job interview. And then he spent several decades reporting to cabinet-level people in the White House, working on secret projects that he couldn't tell anyone about, and taking trips all around the world that he couldn't discuss.
"You couldn't tell your wife about your job? or where you were going?" I asked.
"Nope, none of it really, but she didn't mind. It was ok. I did tell her when they sent me to Vietnam in the early 60s. But I told them, Ok I'll go, but I'm telling my wife, and they said ok."
"What about your kids? Did they think it was weird?"
"Well, they did, but it didn't bother them. Other kids would ask them, 'What does your dad do exactly?' and my one son would say, 'He works for the mob,' and then they wouldn't ask anymore!"
And then I started to think, What if this guy IS TOTALLY NUTS and all of this is fiction?
"Wait," I asked. "If you dropped out of college eight times ... how did the White House pick you for this job?"
"That's what I asked them! They're asking me all these questions and then they reveal to me that they want me to take this high-level job and that this whole thing has been an interview, but they had already decided that I was it. 'Do you understand what a screw-up I am? Why do you want me?' and they said, 'Because nobody has your background except you. You've done many things: physics and chemistry and engineering and math ... Where are we going find someone better? No one else has what you have.' And all this time, I assumed that I didn't have anything. And then I realized that I couldn't say No. They came and found ME. I was supposed to do this."
Being who I am, I realized at this point in the conversation that this little old man had, in fact, come and found ME. So we just keep on talking.
At one point, he sighed really heavily and goes, "My wife is still alive, but she's totally lost her memory and lives in a home. It's horrible." And what do you say to that?
And then he gestures to our surroundings and goes, "What's your favorite thing to drink?" And without hesitating, I gesture to the eight bottles (not joking) of champagne in my cart and go, "Champagne!"
"Are you being serious??" he said.
"YES! This is an easy question."
And he looked at me for a long second and goes, "You're like someone right out of a movie, aren't you?"
And I nearly started to cry. Because if I'm being honest at all, all I've ever wanted--for as far back as I can remember--is to make all of it look, sound, and feel like a movie. Just for me. It's what I do, and I'm good at it. But no one has ever pointed at it and said, There it is!
And then he said, "Ok, my wife has no memory and New Year's Eve is coming up. When you enjoy your champagne on New Year's Eve, you have to promise to think of me and I will think of you. Do you promise?"
"Yes, I promise!"
"You can't forget!"
"I won't forget! I never forget anything!"
"I know you know!"
And that was it. The guy with the wife who has no memory found the girl with the indelible memory in Total Wine.
Just one of thousand crazy-creepy-weird things that have happened in the past six months, and I have no explanation for any of them.
Posted by Jo Harper at 2:15 PM