There’s an old man that walks around my neighborhood. This isn’t anything too unusual. There is plenty of activity up and down our main drag: runners, parents with strollers, and people walking their dogs. But this old man is by far my favorite.
Every day, without fail, he walks the neighborhood with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. For some reason, he always seems to be muttering to himself. I only know this because you can see the cigarette moving up and down with his sharp lip movements. There’s no ash, just a long, white cigarette that seems to be the only thing keeping him company on his walk.
He keeps a pretty good pace, but doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself. Perhaps that’s what the muttering is all about. I can’t help but imagine his wife at home, pushing him to go outside and get some exercise. He leaves to get away from the nagging. Since the heart attack, she’s been on his case to start exercising and stop smoking, hence the reason for the unlit cigarette.
But I’ve never actually had the pleasure of meeting this man. I have no idea the status of his health or whether there really is a nagging wife at home. The writer in me just can’t help but make up stories for people I’ve never met.
I learned this trick from my girlfriends in college. During a girl’s trip to New Orleans, we sat up on our hotel balcony on Bourbon Street making up stories for the people enjoying themselves on the street below.
There was LeRoy sporting a rather large afro who had lost his hair pick in a karaoke bar. He walked up and down the street, desperately trying to find it even though it was only hiding in the back of his fro.
There was Josiah who we decided was a young, fair-hearted missionary from Arkansas whose Spring Break goal was to keep as many people as possible from entering Big Daddy’s Topless/Bottomless. Of course, Josiah’s story wasn’t difficult to come up with. The sign that he was wearing that told everyone that “New Orleans is Satan’s playground” sort of gave it away.
Of course, the more wine we drank, the funnier the stories became. But even without the wine or the help of my friends, the story game that we had created was so much fun that I continued with my own at-home version. This has included my buddy Earl, the chain-smoking heart attack surviving walker who always wears two favorite sweatshirts, one with the word “Yosemite” in big green letters and the other, a burnt orange nightmare with a Texas longhorn logo.
Then randomly last week in the doctor’s office, it dawned on me that perhaps people are out there making up stories about me.
After a babysitter fell through, I was forced to take my two young sons with me to my annual checkup. It wasn’t ideal, but like any mother in a pinch, I was hoping beyond hope for the best.
The Monkey carried with him an empty toilet paper roll he had found in the trash and had subsequently used all day as a telescope and the Cheese wore a shirt covered in paint and glitter after a Valentine’s project at school. They both burst into the waiting room like they were entering the game room at Chuck E. Cheese and became immediately enthralled with trying to get the baby out of a plastic model of a pregnant uterus. There was no doubt that we made good material for a story.
I smiled as people stared at us in the waiting room and tried not to cringe as I thought about the stories that were being created about me and my wild urchin children. To top it off, the Monkey gave everyone in the room their final punch line as my name was called and we walked out of the room.
“Bye! We gotta go look at Mommy’s girl parts now.”
What a story.