The Man Who Marks The Time

June 2, 2009 § 4 Comments

There are 2.8 million people in the city of Chicago and it covers a total of 237 square miles.  Come August, Brian and I will have lived here for 14 years, lived in five different apartments and I will have worked at five different jobs not including temp work and theatre.  During that time, I have encountered the same particular man, somewhere in the city, at some point, at least once every couple of years or so.  Were I not married I would honestly believe that God was trying to tell me something, trying to shove me into the path of Pepe Le Pew with a white stripe of paint down my back.

He’s a man a bit younger than me, not ugly, not handsome, not short or tall, just a guy.  I first encountered him when I started my job as an Executive Assistant for a brilliant but scatterbrained institutional investments consultant who rented space inside the Hancock Building.  I was a temp, and The Man © was a permanent employee in the office we rented space from.  He would run into me in the lunch room and give a nod, and a hi, and that was about it. 

Five or six years later, I started doing improvisational comedy at The Playground theatre on the North side of the city, and a few months into it I arrived at a performance only to see The Man© performing in the show right before mine.  I introduced myself and he remembered me from the job that I had just quit a few months before.  We laughed at how small the world was, and as it happened, I never saw him at the theatre again.  Time went by, we moved to two different apartments, and I got a new job in a completely different part of the city.  Shortly thereafter, I saw The Man© while at lunch in a food court somewhere near my building.  It was becoming something to take note of.

Now I am a classic victim of “Van On The Corner Syndrome”.  I learned about this via The Straight Dope, a Chicago newspaper column I’ve been reading for about twenty years now.  VOTCS happens when you start spouting off that there’s ALWAYS A VAN ON THE CORNER AT THE END OF OUR STREET!  ALWAYS!  The problem is, you only think of mentioning this when you notice a van on the corner, which means that you’re blocking out all the times that there ISN’T a van on the corner, therefore making your argument invalid.  So I began to say that The Man was THE GUY I SEE EVERYWHERE, when really, I’ve only ever seen him in about seven different places.  But it seems strange to me, that I see him in each of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, each of the areas I’ve worked and at the theatre where I expressed myself creatively.

I had nearly forgotten about The Man© when I saw him standing on the corner of Wells and Hubbard, making his way to the same train that I take home from work.  I audibly guffawed, shook my head in disbelief, and then my eyes widened in horror.  His hair was going gray.  I’ve only lived here for fourteen years, but that means I’m fourteen years older, just like him.  And just like it’s hard to notice weight loss or gain when you see someone every day, it’s hard to notice fourteen years of aging.  I remembered back to the first time I saw him, and I thought he looked like a kid fresh out of college (not unlike myself).  I thought back on all the milestones of my life over these years – birth, death, gain, loss, struggle, success, friends made and treasured, friends lost or outgrown.  And even though I’ve only said about three sentences to him in my whole life, it felt important to see this man at the corner, hair gray at the temple, but still truckin’, still strong and relatively young.  I wonder if he saw me, and if the look of my face, my skin, my hair, had marked the time.

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§ 4 Responses to The Man Who Marks The Time

  • Meredith says:

    Wow. I am absolutely fascinated by this!

  • Kim says:

    I’m with Meredith – this is an amazing story. It sounds like a really cool Twilight Zone episode. Actually, this would make a great basis for a novel. It’s just so odd – like you and The Man are leading parallel lives.

  • Brian says:

    I like this quite a lot — not so much because of the mystery surrounding it, but because it seems to reflect a yearning for consistency. Given the changes in our lives, there’s some comfort in the familiar and consistent (even if it’s an unfamiliar man aging over 14 years). Well done.

    • donkeyinawhitecoat says:

      that’s true. Anyone who knows me knows that while I love adventure and surprises, I also crave routine. Somehow knowing that guy is out there I know everything is ok.

      But I’m on medication.

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