How It Is That the World Begins To Speak Again

walgreens logoIt starts at the local Walgreens. I am buying toothpaste and some bottled water to drink on my walk home. Waiting in line, I see these mini-pens, the kind that would fit perfectly in a shirt pocket with a small notepad, a little writerly touch to make me feel better about things. I put it on the counter with the water and toothpaste. “Oops, someone left a pen,” the cashier says. “Oh no,” I say. “I intend to make that mine.” “Probably one of the managers left it here,” she says. “I mean, that’s mine,” I say. “Oh sorry,” she says. “I didn’t mean…” And she tries to hand it to me. “Actually, it’s not mine yet,” I say,” but I want it to be.” “What?” she says. “I’d like to buy this,” I say. “See the tiny bar code there?” “Oh,” she says smiling. “You want to buy this and I’m trying to stop you.” We laugh together and she scans everything and I swipe my card. “Oh, and you have a coupon here to use next time. A dollar off on the toothpaste,” she says. “I can use it to buy another pen,” I say. “What’s that?” she says. “A dollar to buy another pen,” I say. “It’s for toothpaste,” she says. “I know,” I say, “but I can use the money I save to buy another pen.” “Oh yes,” she says. “Of course you can.” She hands me everything in a plastic bag and then I’m outside walking toward home on the sidewalk. I see a man approaching I know as Lenny. He’s wearing a sleeveless mesh t-shirt, constructed more like fish netting, and I notice his belly button poking through a hole. I switch the bag from my left to right hand to avoid any contact with his unsightly outie. I say hello and he nods and moves on, a small blessing. It’s the first warm day of the year. I pull out the water and unscrew the cap. I take a swig and re-cap it, putting it back into the bag with my toothpaste and pen, which I decide now to take out and put in my empty shirt pocket, first peeling off the barcode sticker and rolling it around between my fingers. I hear a car slowing down behind me and turn to look. A carful of teenage boys has pulled up beside me. “Sir, you’ve dropped something,” one of them says from the front seat. “Oh,” I say and immediately reach for my pen, which, thankfully, is still in my pocket. “It’s back there,” he says pointing down the sidewalk. I look in my bag and see the toothpaste and water, feeling the bottom for a hole. “Sir, you lost something back there,” the boy says more emphatically. “You should really go get it.” I’m reaching in my pants pockets now. “I really don’t think…” But I don’t finish. From the back seat a boy yells, “Yeah, you lost your fucking self–respect,” and then the car speeds off. Through the back window, stricken with hilarity, the boys look like giant bobbleheads. I should be angry, really, but I reach for my shirt pocket, making sure the pen is still there, my thumb and index finger still rolling its sticker into a perfect sphere. I think about writing some of this down. And then behind me, it’s the car again—it must have circled around the block. As I begin to turn, one of the boys, his body leaning out an open window, barks at me like a spasmodic dog.