The rain was falling hard, and so I ducked into a dimly-lit bar. It’s the same bar where I stare into the painted face of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a face painted by the same man who is supposed to be my biological father. Longfellow’s white bearded visage hangs to my right on the far wall, while an etching of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tombstone looms directly over me.
My bartender’s name is Jasper and he is one of my customers at work, who I don’t immediately recognize. He’s tall, lanky, with short dark hair and a well-manicured beard. He sees me trying to peer over the counter at the beers on tap. It’s an “Oktoberfest” buffet of choices. I ask Jasper to recommend one to me.
“Well,” he says. “We may as well do a taste-test on all of them, since there are a lot which taste very similar to one another.”
I shrugged and nodded. “If we must.”
So we tried a few, which turned into a lot, Jasper indulging me out of boredom perhaps. I took long draws of cold German beer, feeling like a Hobbit as I did so. I absentmindedly texted my friends in the quiet as the beer worked its warmth through my damp frame. In what seemed like hours, I finished the last of my beer and left Jasper with a large tip, silently giving a farewell to Longfellow’s stern countenance as I exited onto the rain-slicked street.
I walked for a bit, when I came upon a young man in a baja hoodie. I started to move past him, since I tend to walk faster than most people on the sidewalk. He had the hiccups. As I passed, he would hiccup and then laugh.
“Havin’ the fuckin’ *hic* hiccups is the fuckin’ worst,” he said, not looking directly at me. I laughed.
“I’d just as soon have cancer than *hic* the fuckin’ *hic* hiccups. Jesus.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Hiccups are the worst.”
We fell into walking together somehow. He matched my pace and at first, I thought maybe he was one of those guys who might ask me for change or something else I never felt like handing out. He did ask me for “a smoke” but I explained to him that I didn’t smoke and he surprisingly left it at that.
His name was Cory, which he revealed after I introduced myself and shook his hand, and he fell into talking to me like I was an old friend. He revealed he was a lobsterman by trade. I asked him about his time on boats, how hard the work was, and whether or not his work life made him any more appealing to the ladies. He spoke to me about a girl he’d just gotten back from meeting.
We talked and we laughed. A few times, he accidentally dropped his cigarette on the ground and I waited for him to pick it up, though we hadn’t started out walking together, and though we weren’t going to the same place. It just felt like the natural thing to do. Eventually he asked if he could use my phone. He wanted to call his girl. “Sure,” I said. “It’s for a good cause.”
“Wait, check out this message,” he said, dialing her number.
I stood under a tree and waited.
“Becky,” he began. “Listen. I’m drunk, and we just met. But I wanted to let you know that I had a good fuckin’ time with you today. I’m still smilin’. It’s quarter ’til midnight and I’m in a park. I’m with this man…”
He pauses and looks over at me. I laugh.
“…he’s got a LOT of fuckin’ buttons on his jacket. I enjoy it. He’s a nice fuckin’ guy. Anyway, I hope you have a good day tomorrow. I’m gonna’ crash on Dan’s boat.”
After he finished, he asked me what I thought of the message. “It was a good message,” I said. “I liked the part about the buttons.” He laughed.
We walked some more before we parted ways. He told me about his mother and said she was mad at him.
“Does she not like the fact that you’re a lobsterman?”
“Nah,” he replied. “She doesn’t like the fact that I’m a drunk.”
When we parted ways, it was just as casual as when we’d first started walking together. Just two people from two different lives connecting in a positive way. There was initial distrust on my part, because I trust no one, but the guy was harmless. I don’t know how these people continuously find me, but it’s always interesting. Portland is home to many of these strange souls, and I count myself among them.