Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"I like Pablo Neruda."

8:36 on a Tuesday night. I've been moving stuff into my self-storage unit, and I feel like I've earned a treat. Fortunately, my go-to treat, Mr. Gyros, is right around the corner.

The place is deserted when I walk in, just me, the Greek-American lady behind the counter whom I've nicknamed The Daughter-In-Law, and the two Hispanic kitchen workers whom, it strikes me with some shame, I have never even given nicknames. 

I get my regular order (a #1 and a #96 -- gyros platter with fries and drink, side of feta cheese) and, ignoring NCIS on the mounted TV, sit down with my book to decompress and focus on me for a bit.

I'm about a third of the way through my gyros -- which, in accordance with the directions on the door, I pronounce "yee-ros" -- when he walks in. Except he doesn't really walk in; rather, he does what I've recently learned is called "the pimp limp." A young African-American man, early 20s, I guess, wearing what I estimate to be $300 jeans, an elaborately embroidered black and gold oversized jacket, and what I can only assume are shoes that cost as much as my car payment.

After some discussion with The Daughter-In-Law, he orders: a #1 like me, but instead of feta, he opts for a #78 -- chili-cheese fries. (Did you know "chili-cheese fries" in Spanish is pronounced "chili-cheese fries"? At least, that's how The Daughter-In-Law rattled it off to the kitchen staff, mixed in with other actual Spanish.)

He waits patiently for his order, gets his drink, and takes his tray to sit down. Right across from me at my table. At. My. Table.

And if that's not weird enough, he says -- honest to God, he says this -- "I like Pablo Neruda."

What the whatnow?

"I'm sorry?" I say, through a mouthful of fries, Diet Pepsi, and astonishment.

"I like Pablo Neruda. You look like a guy who would know who that is."

Come on.

"Oh, right. One Hundred Years of Solitude." 

"Naw, man. That's Gabriel García Márquez." His eyes narrow and then widen with his growing, knowing smile. "But you know that, don't you?"

Of course, I do know that. But I'll be damned if I can remember anything Neruda produced. For some reason, I do not want to disappoint this young man who believes that I know about the Chilean author whose work he professes to like.

"Whatchu readin'?" he asks, mercifully changing the subject.

When I show him Answering Your Call, he asks if I'm a preacher. 

"Uh, no," I reply with a smile. I get that a lot.

"A, um, whatchacallit, a rabbi?"


"I know you're not a priest, though."

"How do you know that?"

"I can just tell. So why are you reading that book about call for?"

"Because I believe that everybody has a spark of God in them, and we're here to fulfill a special purpose that God wants us to discover. Our job is to line up all the gifts God gave us, figure out what we're supposed to do with them, and then do it. I'm learning about how people do that."

"What's your call, then?" 

"I dunno. That's why I'm reading the book."

He laughs, sticks out his enormous right hand for me to shake, and introduces himself: Jamarcus Shawn Headley IV. When he says "the Fourth" it appears to be with great pride in his heritage. I'm reminded of "The Lion King" for some reason.

I tell him my name, and he says I'm the first Scott whose hand he ever shook. 

"Scott," he says. "What do you think my call might be?"

"Hard for me to say, having just met you. But I bet part of you already knows," I reply. "There are probably some areas of your life or activities that really flow for you. Those might be clues to your call. But really, it's different for everybody. And you might have different calls throughout your life. At least, that's what I think."

"Huh. Never thought of myself like that before, like God has something special in mind, just for me. Glad I sat down here."

We talk a little more about call and God and life, and we finish our meal. As he's preparing his tray for the trashcan, he looks at me -- with what, in any other person, I would call a twinkle in his eye, but Jamarcus Shawn Headley the Fourth clearly does not twinkle -- and he revisits the beginning of our conversation.

"Scott," he says, "do you know one damn thing about Pablo Neruda?"

"I do not," I confess. "Other than the fact that he was a writer. From Chile, I think, but I could be wrong."

"No, you got that, you got that. He wrote this one book called Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair. It's good. Wanna hear one?"

I nod, and he recites, from memory:
The truth is in the prologue. Death to the romantic fool,
to the expert in solitary confinement,
I'm the same as the teacher from Colombia,
the rotarian from Philadelphia, the merchant
from Paysandu who save his silver
to come here. We all arrive by different streets,
by unequal languages, at Silence.
"Pretty good, huh?" he asks, meaning the poem.

"Yeah," I say, meaning his reciting of it.

"Well," he says. "I think in this poem, Silence is a symbol for Death. But on this evening, Silence is what I need to think about my call and go through in my head what we just talked about. Good night, First Scott I Ever Shook Hands With."

"Good night, Jamarcus Shawn Headley the Fourth," I say. "Be well, keep reading, and listen hard."

His hand dwarfs mine again in a parting handshake, and he heads off into the Indianapolis evening.


jss said...

Two cool stories!

shouldhavezagged said...

This is AMAZING. I adore experiences like this. I'm so glad you shared it with us! Keep this one in your pocket when (1) someone needs a reminder on not judging a book by its cover and (2) you are feeling withdrawn from the world and/or anxious about making new connections.

I was once given Los versos del Capitán by a lover (don't I sound scandalous!) and thought the poems were so beautiful, especially in Spanish; the translations were also nice. That's how I think of Neruda, as a wonderfully political romantic.

Ket said...

Dude -- where do these people find you?! And how do you have the presence of mind not to totally wig out (a la I would do)?

Glad you shared this one. And SO glad you're posting again. A girl cannot live by Twitter alone you know. :)

Anonymous said...

what the heck?! NOTHING like this ever happens to me...not that I would want it to. I wouldn't know what to do!
-cuz L

Anonymous said...

Wow. Fantastic. I wish I'd known about this when you guys came over - what a conversation we would have had! - Lisa