For my second installment of Inspired by Love, I’d like to share an updated version of a short story I wrote more than a decade ago. The premise of the story, of a weird guy sitting in a stairwell challenging passers-by, is loosely based on how I met my (then future) wife and her father for the first time, before any of us realized that we’d be stuck together for the rest of this Earth spinning journey called life. I can still recall the first thing my wife’s mother said when she learned of the new romantic interest in the young Denise’s life…
“Please tell me it isn’t that weird boy who was begging in the stairwell.”
It was. And he’s still a weird boy who likes to poke at the established acceptable behavior of “civilized” society. Although the description of “boy” is stretching it a bit seeing as how he’s now considered middle-aged, but… whatever.
The Stairwell Guru
I met him on the stairs. It wasn’t as if I had a choice; the damned elevator was being serviced. Whoever the idiot was who scheduled a service on a Monday morning when there was an early morning meeting worth potentially millions, I was going to make her pay. Regardless, it was between the fifth and sixth floors, just about the time that my wheezing convinced me I needed to return to the gym soon, when I saw him just sitting there on a landing as if it was a rest stop on a mountain trail.
He didn’t appear to simply be momentarily resting. A worn afghan blanket was spread out under him, with an army green backpack behind him as a pillow. His attire was more suited for an outdoor concert or an afternoon spent in a basement experimenting with hallucinogenic mushrooms than for an office building in downtown Chicago. A loose fitting T-shirt which read, “Dom for Hire.” A pair of dark blue sweat pants with holes at the knees. His left foot was wearing a black Nike running shoe and his right foot was in a beach sandal. Next to him was a hand-painted sign saying, “Need Change to Hire Divorce Attorney – Miss Piggy is a Bitch!” and a small bowl containing several nickels and pennies.
I stopped dead in my tracks, struck dumb by this odd conflagration of crazy… and I had grown up in New York, the capital of crazy shit. The man noticed my confusion and asked, “Water?”
“Um… no thank you,” I stammered, “I only have three more flights to climb. I’ll be alright.”
He shook his head vigorously, “No no no. Do you have any water for me?” He stretched out his hand, palm up, as if expecting me to magically BAMF! in a cup of water that very second. Unless he was crazy enough to think I was keeping a bottle of water hidden up my skirt.
“Again, sorry. I don’t typically carry water to work. I usually take the elevator, you see.”
Mr. Odd nodded abruptly and rummaged around in his backpack for a few seconds before pulling out a worn spiral notebook covered in doodles and stickers. Before I could decipher what exactly the doodles were of, he flipped it open and asked, “Would you like to hear something peculiar? You’re the seventh person I’ve said the word ‘water’ to and all seven of you thought I was offering some instead of asking for it.”
“That is … uh… interesting, Mr… um…” I barely kept myself from calling him “Mr. Odd” out loud. No need for him to know I’d given him a nickname.
“My name is unimportant.”
“If you say so, uh, sir,” and I started to ease my way towards the next set of stairs, irrationally afraid that if I stuck around any longer I’d catch some of the weirdo-germs floating in the air.
“But wait, it gets even better!” Mr. Odd flipped back a few pages and continued, “I’ve said the word ‘change’ to eleven people and they all thought I was asking for some change instead of offering it. What do you make of that, young lady?”
He hadn’t moved off of his blanket, had made no move to keep me there, but somehow I felt trapped on that landing until he chose to let me go. I looked at him closely, and noticed how bright his green eyes were. Some instinct inside told me to indulge the old coot. Just for a few more minutes. “Well… I guess it could mean that they looked at how you’re dressed and assumed you were a beggar.”
“A beggar?” Mr. Odd began to giggle. “Well, I’ve been called worse. But… if I do look like a beggar, what rational person would assume I was offering water? It doesn’t make sense that an assumption based on my outside appearance would be responsible for both statistics.”
“I suppose you have a point,” I conceded. “Perhaps all the people were just trying to be polite and not hurt your feelings?”
“So politeness is just lying to avoid getting to know someone?” He smiled again.
“No… I mean… well…” I looked at my watch, “Damn! I’m sorry. It’s been pleasant talking to you but I have a meeting in a few minutes and really need to hurry now.” I started to walk up the stairs again.
“See? Lies. You didn’t find talking to me pleasant.”
I became furious. Who was this random stranger to start accusing me of lying, judging me for just wanting to get on with my day! I spun around to give him an impolite piece of my mind, but the instant I looked back at his still smiling face I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. His eyes didn’t hold any judgment, just… concern? Care? Who was he?
“You do need to get to that meeting though. But I want you to remember something. I may look like a beggar, but I could be an eccentric millionaire with a lot of extra time on my hands. Just like you look like a workaholic executive, but could also be a free-spirited exotic dancer with the stage name ‘Sapphire.’ You just never know. And sometimes, politeness keeps us from seeing those hidden truths.”
I had never felt so confused in my life. All I could think to say was, “Are you an eccentric millionaire?”
And he laughed… deep and bright… and it made me laugh right along with him. He replied, “No, I’m not. But you didn’t know that until you asked. Now run along and do your important business stuff.”
I shook my head a little and nearly sprinted up the stairs. For some strange reason, the wheezing and struggle of the first five flights disappeared. As I reached the exit for my floor, I faintly heard Mr. Odd ask some other poor soul, “Water?” I couldn’t help but grin again and imagine myself as an exotic dancer. But not with the stage name of Sapphire… something more like… Cinnamon.
April is National Poetry Month. Five years ago, I self-published a collection of poems for my close friends and family to collect. I’ve decided to re-release this collection to anyone who may want to purchase a book of fun, love-filled, deviant, confusing poems. Click this link to see if you’re interested: Inspired Musings