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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Return of the Human-nequin (Children Mentioned)

Twice a week, I leave the house around the same time to go to a tutoring job. And every time when I turn the corner on a certain street, there is a tall man waiting for the bus. As someone who is perpetually lost and perpetually late, I use markers to retrace steps and budget time. For instance, when I enter a department store, I memorize the clothing on the mannequin closest to my entrance door and then find that mannequin when I want to leave.

Seeing the tall man still waiting for his bus let me know that I had just enough time to make it to my tutoring job. This was especially helpful if I was running errands beforehand and wasn't leaving directly from my house. He was like a store mannequin in terms of helping me judge time. My human-nequin.

And then one day he wasn't there and I muttered "shit," assuming that I was late. Maybe it was a few minutes later than usual, but I couldn't really judge because I had been out running errands. Luckily, I made it to tutoring on-time. Two days later, when I was driving again, I noticed he wasn't standing on the corner. This time, I was certain that I was on-schedule. My human-nequin was gone.

For the last few weeks, I've looked for him every time I've turned that corner on my way to tutoring. And he's never there. Back when he was simply a man standing waiting for a bus, I wouldn't have given it a moment's thought. But now he had started the process of weaving himself into my life, standing amongst the other people who had started out as human-nequins and become actual, real people as their lives criss-crossed through our lives.

There's Steve. He returns carts at the local food store. He used to be a human-nequin in the sense that he was someone who simply went with that store. I didn't use him to tell myself that I was in the correct parking lot--I mean, I knew I was in the correct parking lot for the food store. But seeing Steve made me feel like I was part of a neighbourhood--one where you could recognize the man who brought the carts in from the parking lot to the front of the store.

He went from being labeled tall-skinny-man-who-brings-in-carts to Steve the day my kids were having a meltdown in the front of the store because they were out of car carts and he not only found one for them in the bowels of the food store, but he then signed "please don't be sad" to my son (who used to sign more than he spoke) who prompty stopped crying since this kind man was telling him not to in his own language. And that is how he became Steve and why my kids wave at him and sign with him when we go to the food store.

And then there is Ms. Michelle who is our favourite librarian. Prior to the day that she became Ms. Michelle she was simply known as older-librarian-who-leads-storytime-on-occassion at the library. But then one morning we walked into the library and she called out a greeting to my kids, calling them by their first names and mentioning their favourite musical instrument which she had remembered from the last time she had led a storytime. And once I realized that we had crossed into her life, she crossed into our life and now when we get in the car to go to the library, we say that we are going to visit Ms. Michelle.

There is Eric, who used to be man-from-Sierre-Leone-at-Starbucks, and Taj, who was once known by favourite-waiter-at-the-Vietnamese-restaurant. There was woman-who-checked-me-in-at-the-RE who is now Celia and the woman-who-checked-me-out who is now Renee. And there is Maria who is the best at drawing blood in the lab. And Margaret who is my favourite person to get for a sonogram. When I entered the office, the only name I knew was the doctor, who turned out to be the person I saw the least. Everyone else was a label--a human-nequin who marked the space--until they became this important character in the journey. Sometimes life seems a little like Alice in Wonderland where all you see at first is the white rabbit with a pocket watch and then one day, the white rabbit becomes the White Rabbit who has a story and kid gloves and lives in a house with a thatched roof. And once they become etched into your story, you miss them when they suddenly disappear.

After weeks of missing my human-nequin, he returned yesterday. It will start with a wave. But perhaps one day I'll need to take the bus as well and I'll admit to him that I always looked for him on the corner when I was driving to my job. And then I'll learn his name. And he will cease to be simply a marker and become a very real person.

An ode to the cast of thousands who create the backdrop of life in honour of the man at the bus stop.

This is the part where you tell me about your human-nequins that one day sprung to life.


serenity said...

There's this guy who I see in P.anera every morning when I'm there. He's the first one in at 6:30 - sits and reads his paper with his sesame bagel and plain cream cheese and coffee.

I haven't yet asked his name - because this is New England people!

But I confess it's very soothing to see him there every morning when I'm there too.

A.M.S. said...

There's an older gentleman at my usual S.bux every day, no matter when I go. On nice days, he sits at a table outside, on cold days, he sits at the table just inside the door. He greets every single person who walks in with "Top of the morning!" or "Good Afternoon!" and then wishes them a wonderful day on their way out. Most people ignore him, like he's some scary crazy person, but I rather enjoy having someone wish me a good day who sounds like he really does hope I have one. Some day, I'm going to get my coffee and sit down at the table with him and have a chat instead of rushing past on my way to work with a wave and a smile. I definitely notice when he isn't there.

katd said...

Every single morning on the way to work I see a man in a raincoat waiting at the bus stop. The neighborhood is very affluent, so I know he doesn't have to take the bus, but he does. He's an older man and always holds a briefcase and the newspaper. I have this entire life for him made up in my mind :) In my head, he's this successful businessman who has a heart for the environment (hence the riding the bus). On days when he's not there, I feel sad to have missed him.
I think it's good to think about things like this and how there are so many people we pass every day without a word. I want to say hi to my eco-friendly businessman! :)

pink said...

That was one of the hard parts of moving to Cleveland from DC--the loss of my human-nequins. The woman who worked the St*rbux at the Safeway in Falls Church and also waited tables at the Original Pancake House down Route 7. The different cashiers at Safeway I would seek out--or avoid--depending on my mood. The waiters around my old office in Clarendon. The bartenders at Dragonfly when I used to go there for monthly happy hours.

It was an obvious thing to miss my friends and close colleagues, but I didn't realize that I would miss the background folks as well.

The good thing is that a year and a half later, the human-nequins are back here in Cleveland. And hopefully I won't take them for granted.

Anam_Kihaku said...

some of the best friends i have made have been these very people :) you notice them becuase there is something there to connect with :) i am also viewed as that nutter who says hello to everyone but i know i am missed when i dont show my face for a while.

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

I often think about this topic, and am glad to see you writing about it. My mailman, Steve. My mechanic, Max. My handyman, Reynaldo. Just to name a couple. People I see regularly (who began nameless in my life) and who I am now on a first name basis with.

Josh said...

The owner of the independent coffee house by work (funny how many of these human-nequins revolve around coffee). The guy who runs the parking lot at work and saves a space for my wife when I tell him she might be there later. My Vietnamese barber who I first went to when my regular guy had a heart attack and then became the only person my wife will let cut my hair.

Bea said...

I'll pick one - the school bus driver who sprung to life when he found out we were his lawn-bowls-buddy's grandchildren.

After that, he altered the bus route to drop us closer to home (we had to walk about 3/4 of a km previous to that, about 150m after). When he retired he taught the "unofficial" bus route to the new guy, but after about six months he discovered he was adding this whole leg to his job and refused to do it anymore.

Which was fine, but he could have told us at the start of the journey so we could get off at our real stop, instead of being stranded miles away when it became clear he was only doing the official route. Hmf.


theoneliner said...

ewwww....neat topic. there are several human-nequins in my life.

because i go to court so much...most of them are the baliff secruity people in the front of the court house. a lot of them are semi-retired (i.e. not safe but friendly!) i don't know any of their names although they seem to know mine. i think of them when i am about to go to a court house. the ones i know well always wave me through security...and for a moment i feel important.

carrie said...

Mine is our UPS man, Neal. In the weeks leading up to my wedding, I saw him nearly every day as presents were arriving (as an aside, how fun was that to get presents every day?!). I told him they were wedding presents and we started talking. He recently showed my the pictures of his new grandson. And if he sees me out walking while he drives by, he'll honk and wave, or if there's a package delivery that I missed, he'll come by after hours to try again. It makes the world feel like a smaller and nicer place to live in when I can make the little connections with the Neals in my life.

Furrow said...

Hey, Serenity, I have a P.anera human-nequin, too. She works there, and I'm in often enough for us to kind of non-verbally acknowledge that we're familiar with one another, but we haven't moved on to the stage of calling eachother by name. How do you cross that threshhold?

Funny to think of it, but I'll bet I'm a human-nequin to more than a few people. I'm a librarian, and we see some of the same people all the time. I've connected with a few of them on a first-name basis, but others just float by with a nod and a smile.

JF said...

What a neat way to think about it.

Furrow -- you took the words out of my mouth! I'm a librarian, too, and there are a ton of people in the library whose names I don't know but whose faces (and habits, reading tastes, etc.) are familiar.

Once, after I'd had a lingering cold for several weeks, someone I didn't know at all came up and said, "Oh! You're still coughing! Poor thing." We bounce off each others' lives in ways we don't even realize.

The Town Criers said...

Ooooh, I hadn't even thought about that. I'm probably a human-nequin for other people. And I don't even know it.

I will now spend the rest of the evening wondering about the places where I pause long enough and frequently enough to become a human-nequin for someone.

How trippy would it be to discover that my bus man has a blog and he has written all about the woman who always turns that corner and catches his eye twice a week...

JF said...

Ha! It's a little odd to think about, isn't it?

My favorite human-nequin story is one from a lady at work: she used to pass a man driving to work in the opposite direction every day. One day, they waved at eadch other. They waved at each other every day for more than a year. One day, he turned around and followed her. He motioned her to pull her car into a parking lot. She was a little afraid he might be a psycho, but she pulled over. He asked her out. They've been married now for almost 20 years.

royalyne said...

The gate guard on base. It's a tiny national guard base, so there are quite a few regular guys I see. One always tells me that DH went to Trav.erse City for the day and expects me to fall for it every time. I always reply that I'm there to see my secret boyfriend, so it's good DH isn't around to catch me. Sometimes he asks if I brought him lunch, and I reply that he really needs to start calling ahead with a lunch order if he wants me to bring it. DH knows his name, but I'm just fine having him as a human-nequin. I lost the rest of mine when we moved up here from downstate, and again when we moved from the west side of town to the south side. I'm holding onto this one. I felt really lost reading this post, I had to search hard to find a human-nequin in my life, but when I thought of him I smiled. Reading the responses from everybody else I can tell that their human-nequins make them smile, somehow make the world a bit sweeter if only through routine. I'm glad for all the human-nequins of the world, it would be much lonlier without them.

Tina said...

Mine would have to be the telephone repair man here at work. He has been around here so much fixing our outdated phone system, that we have become buddies. He knows about my son and my love of puggie puppies - and about my losses. He has become kinda a surrogate-grandfather, and has so much advice to give.

Kim said...

Thanks for dropping me a note on my blog. I'd love to give advice on vegetarian Vietnamese and Thai sources ... books? grocery stores? Let me know what you're looking for. Best, Kim

Frances said...

I don't know why I am crying, but once I was shopping in the market with my step-son (formally just known as my son) and the-lady-that stacked-fruit crossed over to us when I was trying and faily miserably to explain to the boy what a "not fuzzy" peach was. We learned that say the fruit is called an apricot and she from then on was Ms.Karen-who-shows-us-new-expensive-fruit-to-try! LOL! Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful memory about the boy I miss so terribly.

forestsister said...

brilliant. beautifully written entry. and thought-provoking.

and i'm rather disturbed that i'm searching my memory and can't say that i've ever discovered the true identity of any of mine... maybe it's time i did.