Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Today I struck up a conversation with a man I’ve seen many times at one of the fast food places I go to for lunch. He’s spoken to me before when he sees me there reading a book and we’ve exchanged the occasional word or two. Today I asked him to sit with me for a few minutes and it managed to help me put my little problems into a bit of perspective.

A little background. Once every few weeks or so I end up on my own for lunch and I have one or two places I go so that I can grab a quick bite and sit for an hour and read a book. It’s quiet time for me and I enjoy that since I normally lunch with co-workers or friends. One place I go is a fast food burger place on East Market that is usually quiet and I seldom run into anyone I know there.

Over the past few months when I stopped here for lunch, I’d noticed this same man sitting at a table drinking coffee while I would sit reading and picking at my lunch. One day as I was leaving with my book tucked under my arm, he asked me what I was reading. It happened that I had a copy of Mark Bitman’s book ”Food Matters” and that started a short 2 minute conversation about food and what we eat. I’m embarrassed to say that I was surprised at his articulation and that he had something to say on the subject. Shame on me.

It struck me that the man was probably from the housing unit down the street, if not possibly homeless, obviously jobless with nowhere to go, and most definitely part of the “tapestry of life” we so easily joke about while walking around downtown Akron.

Today, when I found myself on my own again for lunch, I tucked a book under my arm and headed to that same place for a burger and some quiet reading time. It happened that I plunked myself down at the booth where I generally see this man sitting (it was busier than normal and seating was limited). I managed to get through most of my lunch when I heard someone say hello to me….it was this man. He said he’d remembered talking to me before about the book about food I was reading and just wanted to say hello, which he did, then excused himself and wandered over to a booth across the room.

As I finished my lunch I became more curious about this man and why he was here all the time. I overheard him speaking to the cashier asking if he could exchange the last 20 cents he had for another cup of coffee and it appeared that she knew him well enough to call him by name and try to find a way to accommodate his request. By this time I was finished with lunch and had marked my book to prepare to leave when the man walked by me again with his coffee. I stopped him and asked him to sit with me since I recognized I was in his booth.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the next 20 minutes but I can say that I was totally blown away by this guy. We introduced ourselves, his name is Tom, and he said “let me guess what you do” and came surprisingly close by stating he thought I was a secretary in either a bank or a real estate office. Then he asked about my new book and that’s when the quirkiness came out.

I have a very old book that I keep in my car for days like this called “Boat of a Million Years”. It’s science fiction and very long but is broken up in sections that makes it easy to read a little one day, shove it in the back of the car, and pick up a month later with no problems. Tom said he liked science fiction too and his three favorite movies were Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Mission from Mars. So we chatted a bit about movies and I it was then that I began to see the struggle between real life and science fiction in my new friend.

He said that when he was 13 he went to counseling because he thought he had been abducted by aliens but that the doctors worked with him to help him learn that that wasn’t true and to help him understand that aliens didn’t come to Earth because there were no such thing. As he explained this I could see him waiver between trying to believe what he was being told and what he truly believed had happened to him. He talked to me about the stars and how far away they were but that he’d come up with an idea for a space craft that would work on solar power but the problem he couldn’t overcome was how to get outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

As we talked I could feel my heart about break for this man who struggles to understand the difference between reality and fiction. I know that he’s one of thousands of men and women out on the streets trying to live in our world with very little support. Whether from another planet or not, these people must feel very alien.

I can only wonder about life as a child for someone like Tom. I can recall times when I was a little girl that I imagined that I was truly a princess and had been taken from my real parents and somehow given to these people who didn’t care for me much. Someday all would be clear and I would be a real princess with everything my heart desired. Tom had similar thoughts. He, however, was pretty convinced that he was an alien child sent to Earth to live out his life here among humans. I could see him repeat what he’s been told about the event only being a hallucination, but after 38 years he is still is not quite convinced it didn’t happen. How sad it would be to really think you were something foreign that didn’t belong in this world.

So, today I had lunch with an alien. I’ll take Tom at his word that he was abducted as a teenager and that aliens are living among us and that it’s possible he is one of them. He’s certainly made my life a bit more interesting. It also took my mind off of my own problems for a while and made me realize how many others struggle with issues I can know nothing about.  I look forward to seeing him again at my local burger joint and next time maybe we can talk about space travel.  Perhaps he'll have that inertial thrust issue solved by then.

1 comment:

  1. Your writing is fantastic... And what a neat opportunity to talk with someone new!