#979: Brian. Little Girl.

September 12th, 2018

When your first impression is of youth, it’s hard to start that story.

What does it mean when you remember someone as young? How young? Younger than me? Younger than the composite age of my aggregate readership? Younger than my prejudices of someone too damn fool to listen to good music and respect their my-aged elders?

Sometimes, it’s easy to describe someone as young. Brian was young, too young to need the quad cane at least.

He looked about late 20s, early 30s, but the cane screamed older. It was one of those four-footed medical deals, the transitional step for grandfathers between limping and a walker. But Brian wore it well.

He needed it clearly as he hobbled across LaSalle downtown on a bright, sunny weekday when the employed scuttled toward destination and deadline.

Brian had nowhere to go.

He wore a Cubs hat and long black hair in a messy ponytail. His gait was looped and pained. His attitude beatific and open. He looked at me and smiled when we stopped at a light.

“I like your…”

Here he pointed at his temple, an indicator both that he liked my sideburns and had momentarily lost recall of the word “sideburns.”

I smiled and thanked him in that loud, broad way people use when they want to advertise to the world how open and kind they are. We walked across the street together, traded names and chat. I mentioned a few people who find my ridiculous ’70s muttonchops ridiculous and ’70s. He scoffed.

“You’ve got to live your…”

He lost recall of the words “own life,” but I knew what he meant. I walked to work with a smile on my face.

A few days later, I was heading home, the other end of the workday scuttle. No broad open smiles or beatific air, just frustrated, annoyed commuters smelling of sandwiches and sweat. As tired, annoyed and reeking of that day’s lunch as the rest of the train, I hopped off at my stop and hobbled home.

Steps from my door, a little girl and her mother walked by hand in hand. The little girl saw me and my bright blue plastic sunglasses. Her eyes and smile grew wide.

“I like your sunglasses!” she said, pointing to her temple to show me where the glasses would sit.

“Thank you!” I said in that overly loud sing-song adults use when talking to strange children.

I was 10 steps from my front door. I passed those steps with a smile.

It’s obvious why we don’t do this: It’s creepy as hell from anyone but an evident innocent. There’s a reason the train is full of people wearing earbuds that aren’t playing music. Unlike Brian, my words to a passerby would come off as condescending more than appreciative. Unlike the little girl, if I had paid compliment to a stranger of the opposite gender it would come off as more lech than charming.

But there are those who cast that open air, who simply feel like honesty. When those who can say something nice do, it adds a spot of light to finish the story.

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You are currently reading #979: Brian. Little Girl. by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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