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Sunday, April 29, 2007

I've Become Safe

I don't know how it happened, or why, but in the last month or so, I've become safe.

I'm not sure I like it.

Let me explain. You see, by nature I'm a loner. Don't get me wrong, I love people. And I can be quite intense with my relationships. But at the end of the day, it's just me. And I often choose solitary endeavors over social ones. I often attend movies alone. I eat alone (sometimes to the chagrin of the wait staff). I work alone if at all possible. I live alone.

That doesn't mean I don't cherish the time I spend with others. I do. I just don't need as much as most people. Too much and I get anxious. I pine for time alone.

As I write this I'm sitting in the cold, penning the words on my tablet PC. You're reading a transcribed version -- my penmanship is off tonight. Probably the cold.

Anyway, like I said, I'm sitting in the cold. At a bus stop. Actually, behind it. On the steps of a state building. I'm in Civic Center. The mayor's office is across the street. Spitting distance. But spitting is for bad boys. I'm not one of them anymore. Not in the eyes of the world.

So I'm sitting in the cold at a bus stop, using my battery to power the tablet beneath my hands, my penmanship slipping as the words stream every which way but loose.

A crazy woman in a navy hoodie and rain slicker is driving the other two people waiting with us crazy. It's her non-stop, jovial chatter that's doing it. At least, I think so. Fortunately, she senses that I'm not receptive tonight, that I'm not able to listen to her, and thankfully, has left me out of it. Thankfully. Because I'm nothing if not polite. I'd listen, my brain screaming in silent protest, while my lips mouthed polite uh-huhs and is-that-rights?, providing the feedback that would spur her on to greater heights.

Maybe, back here, on the steps, behind the bus stop stall, she can't see that I'm safe. But I am. Everyone seems to know it. Like tonight, while working in a cafe, on my tablet PC, plugged into the wall and warming my lap. Today, I made a new "friend". A "friend" in quotes because that's where they belong until they've proven themselves.

I am not tough, though I rarely wear a coat. The chill is scraping against my backbone and raising bumps on my arms. It was pleasant a few hours ago, in the low 70s, but now it is around 12:30 in the morning, the sun is long gone and the temperature has plummeted. As it almost always does here. It is no surprise.

The crazy woman finds herself a crazy man. He asks her about the bus. She is elated and offers him her bag. In it, she says, are some very good garlic Chinese noodles. She tells him to take them home and eat them. He gladly accepts the gift. There is a meeting of the minds and souls as their madness dances and weaves and bops throughout their dialog.

The bus finally arrives. It hums like a toy car. Occasional pops and flashes as the electric cables spark overhead. The crazy man gets off the bus after 2 blocks -- short, San Francisco blocks. He waited 20 minutes with us. In the cold. For the bus which he decamps a quick 2 blocks away, across a relatively flat stretch of sidewalk for the city. Crazy man.

The crazy woman falls silent as her soul mate gets off. She moves to the seat closest to the the bus driver, her thin, sweat-pants clad legs daintily cross.

The driver yawns loudly. It's the opening she needs, and like a new-found friend, she launches in, yapping about coffee and accidents and how, like the yawning driver, she too is tired. Yet she is hyper alert and the lie as obvious as the fact that the night is cold--yet it is warm in here, on this bus. This bus, going too fast down a street too dark, a journey Ican tell, for her, has no end. Because inside, on this bus, it is warm. And safe.

Safe like me. Somewhere along the way, I became safe. Like a eunuch hired to protect the noble's harem. Like an old man, sliding his walker through life on bright yellow tennis balls. Like a child, small for his age, peeking over the edge of the table, trying to see what he can see. I am safe like that.

The guy I met tonight, in the coffee shop, the IT manager, the Terry Pratchett fan, the prematurely balding young man, is the third such encounter this month. In the 3 years prior, this has probably happened no more that 4 - 6 times. And now it's happened 3 times in a single month.

3 times in a single month.

That's way too many. Really. I'm not a people magnet. Never have been. But suddenly, people feel the desire to talk to me. Strangers. Stranger still. Because I talk back. Openly, because openly is the only talk that is worth hearing.

I'm almost home now. 10 blocks to go. Short, San Francisco blocks. It's nearly 1 am. I'm out late. With the bad boys. Doesn't seem to matter though, or work, because I've changed. I'm safe.

I think I'll get a tattoo.


Charles Gramlich said...

Clifford, this is a great piece. Beautifully written. It almost seemed that it could be an opening for a hard boiled or noir novel. So maybe you're not as safe as you think.

Clifford said...

Thanks Charles. It was totally stream of consciousness, in the moment stuff, so I didn't think it would play well with others. Glad it worked for you.

Sidney said...

Yeah, very nicely written as Charles said.

Have you ever done the Myers-Briggs profile?

I test as an INFJ, which seems to fit me pretty well. "Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging" by their breakdown. Judging in their usage is not a bad thing, I don't think. :-)

We did a smiliar thing at work the other day, where you answered the questions from a work perspective and I came out a little more of a "Driver" or a "Bold."

Sometimes I'm kind of floored by the similarities you, Charles and I have-similarities I've never realized that get revealed in blog entries.

Clifford said...

Sidney, yeah, we're very simpatico. I don't know if that has anything to do with the era we grew up in or the choices we've made, but we definitely flock together!

As for Myers-Briggs, I have a friend who's pegged me as a fairly rare breed. Haven't dabbled in it since college myself. For me, the eye-opener was a book called "Party of One: The Loners Manifesto". It's a pretty brilliant treatise on the personality type and asserts that it's perfectly normal and often the bain of creatives, like writers.

Oh, I just checked amazon and "Party of One" is still in print. Heh.

Kate S said...


Interesting about the Myers-Briggs. I seem to always tie with INFP/INTP, and it makes sense to me. Introverts like being alone with their thoughts and are often creative.

Will have to find the Loner's Manifesto. "The Introvert Advantage" is another interesting book. It mentions how introverts are in the minority of the general population, but in the majority of the gifted population, so cheers to the home team. :)

Sidney said...

Maybe the guy in the bus was psychic and was picking up a replay of the whole towel exchange.

Monica said...

I agree with Charles, this was a well-written piece.

I came across your blog with the random "Next blog" button here on blogger.com; thought I would come out of the shadows and tell you I enjoy checking in from time to time (I'm curious to know if your last name or "nom de plume" is anywhere on the blog to find your published writing...)

Clifford said...


Thanks for the kind words...and for stopping by. I chose not to use my last name just so I can keep some people away. It's not like I'm talking about them or anything, I just like the freedom. That said, I've got a link to this site in my e-mail footer -- but you'd be amazed by how few folks notice it (okay, it's kinda not obvious, but it is there).

Unfortunately, my published writing is hard to find. My most recent sale was too an overpriced anthoology called "Corpse Blossoms". Originally $45, I think it can be had for half that these days, still, kind of pricey if you ask me (:

About Me

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.