Cheryl and I spent most of the week before last in Providence, Rhode Island, for my annual work conference, which is alternately boring, informative and loads of fun. Yes, and occasionally even easy to dance to.
Cheryl has been coming the last two years – New Orleans last year – and we have such a great time. This year, it seemed like we were making friends whenever/wherever we went out. This is the first of three stories about people we met.
The last night we were there, as we were walking to the Federal Hill district, which is full of great restaurants, we stopped at an intersection for a red light as an especially loud motorcycle whizzed by.
The next 10 minutes were like a scene from a movie, with a particularly intriguing character inserting himself momentarily into our lives and then disappearing into the night for good but not yet from my psyche, days later.
I’d love to write it like a novel, but don’t really have time or talent to do it justice. He was 50-something, he gave us his age, actually, but I forget. He was quite overweight, but seemed in fairly good health otherwise. Kind of like me, come to think of it. He seemed to just appear out of the dark and started talking to us by complaining about the noise of the motorcycles that keep him up on the weekends from his apartment in The Regency, he told us, pointing back over his shoulder.
We sympathized and from there, within a matter of a few minutes, we found out more about his life to date than I dare say we know about some of our close friends. He hates living in Providence but accepts it because he totally ruined his very successful life in Manhattan and now has no reason to live and nothing to look forward to, except getting totally blacked-out drunk every night. And this was the reason he entered into our life by chance – he was on his way out this night, to find his hard liquor of choice for the evening to help him forget where he was and more importantly, why.
He was a very well-spoken, funny, insightful person. I was half-tempted to ask him to join us for dinner...and I half-expected him to ask. Instead, he gave us the run down on each of the many restaurants on the street: “That one looks really great from the outside, but they have really crappy food.” “If you like Italian, try either Andino’s or Castelletos…but definitely don’t go to that place (pointing across the street).”
As we approached the liquor store, he slowed down and told us to have a nice evening. We told him to do the same and he said “Oh, that’s impossible. I’m really no good to anyone.” To which I told him, “Well, you have been to us, so that’s a start!”
I’m not sure he heard me, or even wanted to. So we walked on to find the first of his recommendations, each of them coming up within the next 2-3 blocks, and suddenly he was back by our side, inexplicably no longer interested in the store he’d just walked into. This pattern repeated itself a number of times, his saying goodbye, wishing us luck, disappearing into a bar/restaurant/pizzeria, and then suddenly reappearing alongside us, continuing his story, telling us how he’d gone to Tulane, sold time-shares there to make hundreds of dollars a week while a student, and how to know when he was going to find a sucker, based primarily on how they were dressed, one time tripping his best friend while they were in a dead sprint to be the first one to get to a couple of rubes from Alabama dressed in leisure jogging suits, which was a sure sign of success from his standpoint.
But through it all, there was an active lack of self-worth. He embraced it, accepted it, and would not consider any alternative. His life was permanently ruined and there was no chance of life parole. And somewhere among the restaurant reviews and the references to his huge financial successes in NYC, and colorful tales of his past exploits, he lowered his voice slightly and said, almost as if he were saying it to himself, to remind himself yet one more time of the reason for the hard path his life had taken, “I guess the lesson is that your lies catch up with you.”
He shook his head a few times as if it were a combination of trying to shake the memory or pain out of his head while also still in disbelief that he had been on top of the world not too long previous and now only had a bottle to look forward to each night.
Finally, he found the place he really wanted or at least thought he did, and he was off to complete his life and we were off to ours.