I read this at an open mic the other night, and talked entirely too fast. So read this as slowly as you like, but please remember that it was written for performance. Thanks, yo.
It’s freakishly bright out. The sunlight, unhampered by any clouds, bounces off of the office paper, practically blinding me. I squint as my pen moves, scratching out words, adding notes. I’m wrapped up enough in the revisions and squinting tight enough against the glare that I don’t see him until he speaks.
“Mind if I sit?” he asks me.
I look around. Every other table on the Union rooftop is empty, despite the beautiful sunlight.
It’s obvious that he wants something from me. I’ve spent years keeping my eye on my phone and earbuds in my ears to avoid clipboarders, but he’s managed to sneak under my defenses.
“No,” I say reluctantly. Even knowing what kind of person talks to complete strangers, I’m too afraid that he’s someone I’m supposed to remember. High school, class, maybe some bartop best friend- my mental Rolodex spins furiously as he slides his bag off his shoulder.
“You’re looking pretty good,” he says. “You must be working out.”
I smile with only a corner of my mouth. He must know me from somewhere. “Yeah, uh, running a lot. You know.”
“Oh, cool, cool. That must take a lot of work to get that energy up!” he says. He slams a protein shaker bottle onto the table, even though he looks skinnier than I do. I don’t say anything, settling for a casual bobbing of the head to indicate that I was, in fact, listening.
“Finishing up homework?” he asks as if he was my roommate, full of assumed familiarity. Or maybe it’s genuine familiarity, but just one sided, thanks to my knack for forgetting faces. His is especially forgettable.
“Uh, yeah,” I allow. It’s easier than telling him the truth- that I fancy myself a writer and am revising my own work that I can’t get relatives to look at.
“It looks like writing!”
“Yeah, uh… Yeah."
My mind screams, flinging aside the file cabinet drawers full of irrelevant information in a frantic attempt to identify this guy. Andrew Johnson was impeached by the Radical Republican legislature in 1868. Petr Cech wears that stupid helmet because he fractured his skull on a goalpost. My girlfriend’s middle name is Elizabeth: all these files get tossed aside in the desperate search.
I want his name, the police chief in my brain growls.
“Ooh, writing! Is that your major?” The guy looks young enough to be a freshman, and only freshmen are dumb and lonely enough to try talking to strangers.
“Nope, Social Science Education, to be a high school history teacher.”
My mind’s given up. I’ve searched every file I have. It’s clear I don’t know him. It’s a relief that he doesn’t know me either. The relief doesn’t last, though, because now that I know he’s a stranger, we’ve returned to the root of the problem. What does he want?
“Oh. Are you hoping to, like, do something professionally with that?”
I blink. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?! My mouth answers as my eyes dart for a savior. Please, God, just someone else to rub this guy off onto.
“Am I hoping to get a teaching job with this teaching degree? Yes. Yes I am.” Get away from this table, I think. I even look at my watch make sure the message gets across.
“Hmm,” he says definitively. “Hmm.”
I stare, bug eyed.
“So, like-” Oh god, he’s searching for a new topic. I cut him off.
“I’m sorry, but can I help you with something?” I ask. I don’t know how my voice sounds so calm.
“Yeah, I was just seeing if you were interested-”
My mind fills in the blank, ringing through the possibilities like a slot machine as it spins. Greek life. Your stupid club. Political movement. Jesus camp. Murder/suicide pact. WHAT IS IT?
“-in making some extra money?” he finishes.
Ugh. Pyramid scheme. I’ve heard this before; you buy a box of their product and then sell it to others at a profit. The logo on the side of his protein bottle registers in my memory. It’s that AdvoCare thing; Mary Kay for gym rats, or people pretending to be gym rats. I would rather have the murder/suicide one. “No thanks, I’ve got a job, class all day, training for a marathon…”
“What if I told you time wasn’t a factor?”
I facepalm mentally. “Well, I’m leaving town in the spring, so…”
“It can follow you wherever you go!”
He really isn’t getting this. “I’m flattered by your offer, but I’m sorry- I have a girlfriend.”
He laughs. “You’re a funny guy, you’ll do great at this!”
I level a venomous stare, hoping that he will learn that I’m not laughing with him. That my silence isn’t an invitation, but an indictment of just how badly I don’t want to speak with him.
“What you would be able to do, here, is buy some nutritional supplements from me, then, find your friends-”
“I don’t know much about working out!”
He seems perplexed for a moment, but carries on nonetheless. “You said you were running a marathon, I’ve got tons of stuff that you could use and-”
“I don’t use nutritional stuff when I run. Hell, I run in dress shoes. I like to keep it classy, you know?”
“Well, if you get in on the ground floor on this, you’ll certainly do a lot better. In time and money!”
I’ve had it. “Is it drugs? Are you dealing drugs?”
“What?” He’s surprised, taken aback. “No, I’m not selling drugs. It’s just nutritional stuff.”
“Well if it’s not drugs, then I’m not interested, sorry,” I say, and turn back to my writing.
“Oh-kay…” he trails, and leaves lamely, his tail between his legs. As he glances around the rest of the rooftop for another sucker to interrupt, I can’t help but think how terrible of a salesman the guy was. I wouldn’t want to join any scheme he’s involved with.
Screw revising, I think, and open my notebook to a new, fresh sheet of paper. I begin to write.
It’s freakishly bright out.