I meet many strange people who seem to gravitate toward me for some reason. Perhaps it’s because I have a friendly face and relaxed mannerisms. Perhaps I’m easy to talk to. Perhaps it’s an energy I give off. In any case, Portland has no small share of strange souls who happen to come into contact with me, and the man with the magic rock was no exception.
I only had ten minutes left of my half-hour break at work. I had just finished eating most of a rather dry turkey panini when I stood up, stretched, and walked to the condiment bar nearby to get a couple of napkins. Upon returning to my seat in the cafe, I noticed a young man with baggy jeans and a black coat standing up near one of the cafe tables. The table was littered with napkins, plates, a Coke bottle, plastic bags, cigarettes, and other things. His eyes were directly on me, expectant.
“How’s your day going today, sir?” He asked, a smile spreading across his face.
“Good. You?” I replied. I started thinking as I prepared for his reply that he’d most likely ask me for money.
“I’m okay,” he said, trailing off for a moment. “Hey – I thought you WORKED here?!”
“Yeah, I do. Just on my break now.”
“OH – you’re on your break. That’s cool.”
We made small talk for a little bit as I tried to clean up my spot, hoping he’d get the hint. He rambled on about having been interviewed for an article on homeless folks by the paper (he didn’t know which one) and he said they’d taken a photo of the shelter he’d built in Baxter Park somewhere.
“I can pretty much make a shelter out of anything,” he said. “I was in the Boy Scouts.”
I believed him. “Wow, that’s awesome,” I said. “I would die out in the woods.”
He spoke to me some more about making shelters, particularly teepees. He moved closer and I could see that he had a long scar running down the left side of his face, but it wasn’t a deep scar. Another one dotted his right temple. His left hand shook, and he wore a Native American bead necklace or choker around his neck. He also wore a bead necklace with a pink gem attached at the end. He held what looked like a quartz stone in the shaking hand.
“This is my magic rock,” he said, holding his rock out for me to see. “Want me to show you how it works?”
He squeezed the stone in his hand and shut his eyes, holding it to his forehead.
“I’m a Mic Mac and this has been passed down to me for generations,” he said, eyes still closed. “A lot of people, probably you too, think that this rock doesn’t hold magic – but it does. A lot of people think I’m crazy.”
“No judgement here,” I replied, holding my hands up in mock surrender.
“I’m serious, though,” he said, holding the rock up to his right eye. “You just hold the rock up to your eye like this, and if you believe in the magic? Man, whole new worlds open up to you. It’s like you’re seeing into other realities. Like, I can see the spirits of the dead.”
He talked to me about the rock at length. He mentioned he was from Bangor, but that he’d been all over. Ohio, Arizona, Mexico. I mentioned that I’d been to Bangor a few times. He began nodding.
“I don’t know why,” he said. “This is so weird, but you and I are connecting today. I feel we’re a lot alike. You’re open to the magic. Do you know Joe Dana?”
“Not sure.” I said, scratching my chin in thought. “The name sounds familiar, though.”
He went on, and on, and on – barely stopping to breathe. He casually mentioned he’d been in a foster home as a boy and I mentioned that I had been, too, at one point. His face lit up with something like recognition of another human soul who’d been through the system. I wasn’t sure why I was talking to him for so long, but I felt like I had to listen, like it was the right thing to do. It was way past time for me to be back from my lunch break and my boss was giving me the eye – we were allotted thirty minutes for a break and I’d now been gone for an hour. My concerned co-workers tried to get my attention from behind the counter by making small noises. I glanced over briefly and one of them had written “DO YOU NEED US TO SAVE YOU?!” on a piece of paper. I knew I was almost done with Mr. Magic Rock, though, so I stood up and eventually slowed him down enough so that I could get his name. It was Nick. I thanked Nick for his conversation, as well as his confidence in showing me his magic rock.
“It was nice talking with you, sir,” he said, standing up to see me off. “Hope you have a great day.”
“Likewise,” I said, returning to my decidedly non-magic job.