I met an old man in the bookstore the other day. (I use the word “met” very loosely.) When I looked up from my laptop on the table at the cafe, giving my reading eyes a break to glaze over the aisles of books and the rows of bookshelves that line up like heaven, that’s when I met him. Right there in the periodicals section.
He wore a fisherman’s hat, like the one I remember them passing out for free at the entrance of the Oriole’s game back in 1996. I loved that free hat. He also wore high-water khakis along with a proud little smirk. He must really love showing off those bunched up white ankle socks, held in snug with those good support sneakers to keep that arthritis from flaring up. I could use a pair of those to tackle the swelling and the wobbling.
You know, I never saw him blink and I never saw him turn the page. He sat there smiling with his left leg crossed in a comfy chair plopped right in the middle of the colorful periodicals section. And he never looked up from the center spread of that newspaper.
Of all the colorful choices of magazines stacked on the shelves, he chose the black and white. The newspaper that leaves ink on your fingers, and that people these days use for paint splatters or packing paper.
I considered (several times) going over to the aisle right in front of him to pretend like I cared about teen mysteries or science fiction just to sneak a picture (on my iPhone, of course). He just looked so content, so comfy in that chair. A younger guy sat beside him in another chair facing the opposite direction. I liked that I could see only the back of the young guy’s head because it would break my heart to find him stroking a Kindle or cradling an iPhone.
So I never took that picture. I just glanced up a few too many times and dreamed about this old man’s life. (Now you’re left with a stock photo and a few words to guide your imagination.)
Or maybe I dreamed about how this old man approaches life.
Years ago, someone told me I had to buy an iPhone because they found it triggered the same parts of your brain as love. And then a year later, someone told me I had to buy the next generation iPhone because they found it helped you see the world in brighter colors. And then a year later, someone told me I had to buy the next generation iPhone because they found it delivered the latest news even faster.
And then I made it to today, when I wake up and instantly start scrolling through flashing colors, and I wonder how it’s possible that the world actually feels darker and farther away. And why I keep holding my breath and wanting to catch colors that keep flying by.
I wonder what it’s like to lace up those support sneakers, to embrace the wobbling, to know that you love your small world where the same man pours your coffee at your favorite cafe in your favorite bookstore just down the road.
I wonder what it’s like to hold only today’s news, to touch only today’s stories right in your hands. What’s it like to sit in that one chair for hours with ink stains on your fingers to prove it? What’s it like to wear a wardrobe of neutrals and hold on tightly to the black and white, yet to feel the world grow day-by-day in full color?
I wonder what it’s like to know that it’s cold because you felt the wind when you walked to the end of the driveway to pick up the newspaper.
I wonder what it’s like to sit back in no hurry, smiling at that center spread, inhaling those fresh pages, thinking, These kids, they have it all wrong.
I wonder what it’s like to search for all the answers to the clues, to fill in all the missing letters on the crossword. And to wait with great anticipation for next Sunday because you know that’s when all the answers will come.