by a contributor
from Sean Pravica, author of A PSA About Love:
Everyone has had them: sudden encounters with memorable strangers. Here are five of my own personal favorites. A supporting character in my novel, Stumbling out the Stable, is based on one of these people.
Blonde hair, blue eyes, spoke with a wistfulness that made every word froth over with existential longing. He worked for the Forest Service in Big Sur, a place heralded for its austere and largely unadulterated beauty. He stood in a wooden kiosk at a trailhead, slowly leafing through a National Geographic, surveying pictures of the world’s beauty.
He wore a patchy red and blue jumpsuit. I saw him when I was a child. The first time was from my mother’s car as he stood at a stoplight holding what looked like a child wrapped in a blue blanket. The next day in the next town over, out to breakfast with my mother, I looked up and saw him again, his face nearly messianic in its calm. Now I saw the blue bundle he cradled in his arms was empty.
Some forgettable backlot in downtown Los Angeles. A kind man ambled carefully to my car, in one hand a bucket and in the other a rag, which he held outstretched like a flag designating peace to an unpredictable alien. Two dollars to wash the windshield. I accepted and received some backstory per my request. Unemployed, used to be in construction, built Staples Center, its purple glow peeking over squat buildings behind us.
She was not filling up her car but parked oddly in front of a pump. She was smoking a cigarette and had the window rolled down, so passing by her on the way to the register I asked her to put her cigarette out. She took offense, called my laptop case a purse, and we exchanged words. I paid for gas, and as I came back, she invited me to get in her car and sit with her. So I did. We talked about vague things, and she was friendly but aloof. She had some kind of alcohol in a water bottle that she offered me, telling me I could use it since I was being uptight. I declined. She was looking over a paper throwaway magazine that lists the latest local arrests, complete with mugshots. She called them “knuckleheads,” and betrayed a strange connection to them as she shook her head, a familiarity unspeakable but palpable. I asked her what she did and said she was an entrepreneur, but would not elaborate. I left, and we ended our conversation in peace, and that was much more than I could say for how things started.
- I lived in Big Sur for a little while myself. But I did not work in a kiosk, though my job booking room reservations was tremendously unsatisfying. I feeling guilty about the prospect of leaving only a few months after being hired when I happened to meet an older woman at a concert after-party. She was a psychotherapist and we talked about goals and ambition, things owed to others versus things owned to oneself. She had a generous laugh that signaled a deep satisfaction in her own life.