Monday, May 29, 2006

I Turned Around

TOWARD THE END of the breakfast shift, I was standing in line with a buddy at Hardee's, examining the menu, when suddenly I felt a sheet of sandpaper chafe my tricep.

Before I could turn around-

"You need to stay out of the sun," a stranger's voice twanged like a banjo. "You gittin too dark."


About five-and-a-half feet above the floor, it was the face of a White man, 70 -or-so years old. His teeth, riddled with holes, were the color of spoiled milk. If I would have leaned in closer, his breath would have stank. The sandpaper I'd felt was his right hand.

Is to touch, to possess?

He was grinning.

"You gittin a lot darker than your friend here," he said, as he held up MyFriendHere's buttery arm for comparison. MyFriendHere's plastered smile strained with disgust.

As the stranger released my arm, I beheld the full picture: the gray wisps impossibly stretched across his skull, the roughened palms of a lifetime working outside, his khaki skin creeping closer toward the color of dirt, the bent back leaning day-by-day closer to the ground. I beheld this man, an elder to my own parents, and looked into his shining eyes, blue and bright with the electricity of connection.

Something shot through me.

And so I said back to him, the only thing I could have possibly said:

"Yeah, yesterday we all spent a lot of time out in the sun."

And I turned around.

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