True Story Thursday vol 2.

I've been reading far too much Miller & Lee lately, so I'm afraid my prose for this entry will be in the mode of Liadens talking about other Liadens. For me, this style of writing is something I associate with wry good humor. When I read or write it I am always alert for little puns, little refreshing or fun things to be read between the lines of an otherwise straightforward statement. I've been having a weird day for inside-the-brain snarking at myself, mainly because I'm still sick and that tends to make one cranky. So I figure a True Story Thursday done Liaden style will help me feel better and drain away some of the snark.

A couple of weeks ago I encountered an individual named John.

He was an older fellow; I'd've guessed him at early to mid fifities. Short, Caucasian, vaguely heavy in an American sort of way. Graying brows, a hat he professed himself too embarrassed to remove, a nose just on the bulbous side of normal. Prominent blue eyes which sat squarely on that odd little edge between total intensity of focus and utter lack of expression. Mind locked up like a bank vault below the public level, sense of space hypervigilant. His clothing had been chosen with the same sort of slovenly exactitude I myself have employed when low on self-confidence and/or desiring to appear an unattractive target to would-be beggars and thieves. We were standing in line at a McDonald's. I found his hamburger order to be so unusual--no cheese, no condiments, double onions--that I couldn't resist a quick visual scan for curiosity's sake. As I had made eye contact with him, he felt it appropriate to engage me in conversation. Not being otherwise busy during my lunch break I decided to see where this went.

Within a few minutes the talk had degenerated into the sort of life story-swapping chiefly sought out by those whose current levels of human interaction have been far, far below their preference for a considerable time. To make a comparison among persons I have known well, John's manner of interacting could be compared to Myke. Save Myke was always more circumspect, more aware, and more cautious of how he spilled his emotions. I found John's way of interaction, his eagerness to reveal all within himself as readily as may be, to make himself of service in any way possible, made me miss the kid. That nostalgia was a good part of why I continued to lunch in his company for some few days.

Which is not to say that I found John's company disagreeable for himself. Only that, as Douglas Adams has noted, doing anything whatsoever a person wishes is a very strong grip to have on them, indeed. And that the more intense and obvious became John's desire to be of service to me in some way, any way, the more cool I felt inclined to be. Inclined especially to be more protective of my personal information--phone number chiefest of all. He had flat out asked, as though he had every expectation not to be refused, that we exchange cell phone numbers the first time we met. So another aspect of this man I found interesting was his seeming (perhaps, pretended? twittered my mental antennae) total ignorance of the true balance of obligation. This balance being: that the person who does a favor puts the receiver in his debt. That his eagerness to have me owe him a debt, even a small and informal debt such as may go unremarked between friends, aroused primarily my suspicion. And not the gratitude for his solicitousness he seemed to think was the natural response.

Needless to say I insisted from the outset, and continued to insist, on paying for my own lunch.

I was intrigued by this person; I wished to know the depths of his self-awareness regarding the structure of his actions. Here was one who was at every turn positive, encouraging, complimentary. (Though quite defensive on the subject of compliments. He seemed to take the word "flattery" for an insult and was painfully certain to insist that all he said was heartfelt and genuine. With which I readily concurred, that aspect of truth being entirely beside the point.) Was this behavior the result solely of low self-esteem--the sort which leads a person to believe others always their superiors, and themselves fortunate to be noticed? Or did he seek to place myself in his debt in order that he might, through the manipulation of emotional bonds, seek to direct or even constrain me in some way?

It is rare to find a male so adept in the latter art that he will practice it knowingly upon the unwary. But I confess myself half convinced. After nearly two weeks of meeting for lunch every day, I had refused to budge on the subject of contact information. I was always vague on the subject of making plans for anything other than lunch, with or without a third person present. He had run up against certain hard limits on content areas I was unwilling to discuss. (And the content areas in which those hard limits were discovered, indeed, cemented my suspicion even further.) So it came about that on a Thursday two weeks ago he told me, professing his regret, that he would be busy on Friday and could not make lunch. We agreed to lunch again Monday at the same time and location. That Monday, and the entire week following--whether out of habit or curiousity or on the off-chance the poor man had been on the level and merely taken ill, I cannot say--I undertook to be in the usual meeting place at the usual time. He was not.

In truth, I am uncertain how to react. To send my prayers into the taig, for the health of a friend gone missing? Or to gloat over my perspicacity and peruse the Wanted postings to see if I recognize a sketch?


Amber E said...

What an odd experience. I am hoping that all is well that ends well.