Saturday, March 22, 2008

He Talks to Himself

He talks to himself, walking down the street. "What a world," he says, "What a world!" He throws his arms to the sky and drool slips from the corner of his mouth, down his yellow-gray beard, onto the lapel of a corduroy jacket, like the residue left over from a slug's journey. It could be they've got him on lithium to help deaden his mind from what he cries out against. His hands slip back into the pockets of his three-size-too-small coat, only deep enough to accept his fingers, the palms and wrists left exposed to the chill of the blustering wind. He lets out a sigh that's more a muffled flapping of toothless gums and lips and a spray of saliva issues forth. He's caught up in a world of his own. He pathetically moans, "What a world."

She talks to herself as she struts by. Or maybe it's to the mouthpiece of some unseen phone held tightly in her manicured hands, buried deeply in the leather coat buttoned tight against the cold. "What the fuck do you mean you saw him downtown? He's supposed to be at home. I swear, if that bastard is cheating on me I'll cut off his balls and feed them to him!" she yells between tosses of her streaked blond hair to the clouds. She takes a long, deliberate drag of an ultra-slim cigarette and flings it into traffic as though the world was her waiting ashtray. She's in a world all her own, "That fucking cocksucker!" she screams through colored cheeks at no one, as she storms past the mumbling man.

The guy at the coffee counter says, "Here's your change," and the customer says, "You too," and the next just, "Double-double," so he turns and grabs a cup, muttering something in Cantonese. Someone says to a cabbie, "Bloor and Bathurst," and another says, "On the rocks," while another, "Straight up," and the bartender says, "One shot or two?" A city full of people turned into machines, doing nothing of value, scooting along rails and roads to nowhere, utterly alone in the crowds. Some are yelling, some swearing, some just ignoring everyone else, some saying meaningless words to people they'll never see again, all caught up in their own worlds, all talking to themselves.

I hear a million words a day spoken in a hundred languages and dialects. I hear them like piles of leaves being blown by, chattering against one another, as I try to write them down. So I talk to myself too. But I've got some hope, because I've come to believe that in this life you can't always square with the ones that you owe. You've got to help out those around you. And the most help you can be is to feel the smallest compassion for all the others who would otherwise just pass you by -- to simply listen.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this piece. I was just talking about the fact that people are so easily blinded by the reality that is right in front of them, yet they partake in it unknowingly everyday.
You know that girl chatting away on her cell phone while on the bus, telling her deepest secrets to her most trusted companion (and everyone within hearshot of her on the bus); that guy begging for change to buy food, yet turns down a full box of still-warm leftovers because "it has onions", and the everyday conversations that take place whether we take the time to listen to them or not.
It's so weird how some people don't know the difference between listening and being heard - and more importantly that there IS a difference.
Your words have power, it's all in how you use them.

Hopper said...

The game plan is to use them to promote positive change. I'm convinced that if you can even get through to one person in all your life then it was worth it.

Anonymous said...

I like to read your piece because it reminds me of my barman job .
the conversations of customers who talk to each other and which do not listen! And who agitated due to lack of listening! Even though they have the same opinion of the topic!
Or the guy alone, a little depressed, who is talking with you ,almost everyday and who he is feeling a little bit better because you listen him! This job learned me to listen better! If all the people will do that, everything could change in this world of misunderstanding! Because you have right, everybody speak for themselves! You are a good writer even if I have a lot of difficulty to translate your text !! the next time I will write you in French ! Tchao french tony

Hopper said...

ca va tony... it's been a while... i'm gonna put an e-mail out to you later today... great to hear from you...

Anonymous said...

I loved the feeling while reading this one.

I owe you a proper message. You'll be hearing from me soon. Thanks for the writing. p parsons

Hopper said...

good to know you're still around philly...