Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I see his face tonight

I have no idea why he's there, sitting inside his parked Lexus GX470, down on River Road, off by himself about fifty yards from the entrance to the Park 'n Ride in the early evening as the dark gathers around the neighborhood and tired commuters returning from the city get off the bus and into their cars, quickly start up and hurry off for home. It's a long work day for those who live up here. The Lexus is new, unblemished, a champagne color. The dome light is on, I can make out that he's reading something -- it looks like a magazine or maybe a comic book -- as his head moves slightly from side to side. He's going bald at the crown. At first I thought he was just waiting to pick somebody up but he's been there seven days in a row at all hours, hanging around long after the last bus has come and gone. Two nights ago, I was driving back from town -- I'd missed the bus that day -- and passed by the lot on River Road at a quarter after eleven and he was still there, the light on, reading.

He's white, middle-aged, of medium build, sports a wide dark mustache and wears wire-rimmed glasses. He has worn the same two flannel shirts -- one red, one green -- every time I've seen him. Apparently he never looks up from whatever it is he's studying. One evening last week, I could tell he was watching something on a portable DVD player -- the glow of the small screen was reflected in his glasses. Another time I saw him reach over and bring an old-fashioned thermos to his lips and take a swig of some liquid. There was something oddly furtive about his movements as he drank, as though he were frightened of being seen.

He keeps the engine running. At this distance I can sense a slight vibration of the exhaust system and just barely hear a low humming from under the hood. I must say the Lexus is a very quiet for a big car. It's an SUV, really, a big, blocky thing with a leather interior and wood trim, fancy moldings, a sunroof, and extraneous halogen fog lights. It must cost a pretty penny to fill it up -- it's got a big tank and I'm sure it takes premium gas. Yet he keeps the engine idling for hours, as he sits there, solitary and still.

I wonder if he has a home, or simply an unhappy home. Somewhere he'd rather not be. I had a bad feeling yesterday that he was lost, truly lost, that he had nothing left to show for his life but his fancy car and the few things he kept on the seat next to him. Magazines, notebooks, a DVD player, something to drink, mementos, something to remember himself by. No one pays any attention to him, people just drive by, sequestered in their own cars. I'm surprised the state police who patrol this stretch of road haven't questioned him as to why he sits there night after night. But I guess he's not really disturbing the peace, although he's disturbing my peace. Quist always warned me that it was impossible to know what another human being is thinking or feeling, really, no matter how empathetic you may be. I guess so.

This guy makes me sad, to see him all alone like that. And his is only one of the many faces that stare back at me from the bathroom mirror before I head off to bed and try to sleep.

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