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Thursday, February 4, 2010


I’m in a coffee shop with my roommate. We’ve been here the better part of the afternoon – Jill job-searching, me writing. I try to concentrate, but I can’t help but listen to the conversations around me. A man walked in earlier and asked if he could wash the windows. He does not look homeless and in this economy it is hard to assume anything about anyone. While he does not look homeless he does not look like a businessman either. His face has wrinkles set deep in the pale skin. His hair is thin on top. He is dressed in blue sweat pants and a brown long sleeve work shirt. His beard is trimmed and maybe I shouldn’t assume anyone who walks into a business asking to wash windows is homeless. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that if you don’t have a home you don’t shower or wear clean clothes.

About half an hour ago a young woman walked in and sat at the table on the other side of the room, but directly in front of me. I tend to stare at people when I think. It’s not something I do consciously, but something I am conscious that I do. She was dressed in jeans and a frilly, silk dress shirt. She had a name brand purse, but did looked very self-conscious holding it. She looked like she was waiting for someone. She crossed and uncrossed her legs, played with her phone, looked out the window longing not to be alone.

For a good half hour I didn’t really notice her except when I looked up from my computer screen to give my eyes a break, but the window washer came into the main room to perform his janitorial duties. I watch as he tries to make small talk with this woman. He does not seem to be creepy or inappropriate, but I watch as she wiggles in her seat even more uncomfortable. I do not know what they are saying because I am wearing headphones, but her body language makes it very clear that she does not want to be talking to this man.

It makes me think of all the times on city buses or trains, walking to the store or just sitting at the park that strangers have made small talk to me. I wonder if I look this self-conscious waiting for someone or purposefully being alone. Do I act like men who are making a living doing something I seem think I’m too good for are lepers? I can’t say, but I hope this isn’t the world’s way of letting me look in a mirror. I like to think that I am comfortable with myself when I’m alone. I find people at the least entertaining no matter what their circumstance so I hope not to judge when a stranger tries to hold an appropriate conversation. I find sometimes life’s lessons are taught through strange encounters with people who have a seemingly low-impact on your life.

An Asian woman is now sitting at the table. She is working on her computer much more attentive than I and maybe life is again providing me with a mirror showing me that I’ve gotten off track again. I should not be staring at the other patrons at the coffee shop I should be working on my final project for school.

The man has finished cleaning the front windows and has done a stellar job. I get back to work occasionally staring dreamily at the sky.

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