I enjoyed retelling this old tale to an email chum this morning and thought I would put it here as well:
Once upon a time, when I was living in New York and painting apartments for a living, I stood outside and apartment building as I waited for it to be time to go to work. I was leaning against the building wall, watching pedestrians as they hurried off to catch the bus or be swallowed by a nearby subway entrance. It was sunny and pleasant. Now and then, I imagine, a 'Zen' thought or two crossed my mind ... it was a time in my life when I was hip-deep in the Brown Rice Circuit, attending morning and evening sittings pretty much seven days a week. It was 'important' dontcha know.
Anyway, as I was standing there, a man emerged from an alleyway to my left. He was wearing a warm coat on a warm day -- something to sleep in when cool of the night descended. He was mildly, but not spectacularly, grubby. He came out of the alley and walked directly up to me, standing too close as crazy people often will. Since I was leaning against the wall, there was no place to escape.
Once situated, he began to talk. He talked too loud, given our proximity, but he talked with the assurance of a man who knew what he was saying. The problem was that I didn't understand a word he was saying. My mind struggled to understand. I searched for some language that might explain his assured delivery. No, it wasn't German or French or Spanish. No, it wasn't something out of the Balkans. And it lacked the lilt and intonation of Cantonese or Mandarin. It didn't sound like any African dialect I had ever heard, even in passing. I loved languages, but I simply couldn't get a handle on it. What the hell was he saying?
Finally, he stopped and just looked at me. And I said the first thing into my head, which was, "I'm sorry. I don't understand." And he started all over again ... too loud, too close, very assured ... as if we were friends and of course I would understand. But I didn't and so when he stopped for a second time, I could do no better than to say what I had said the first time: I don't understand.
He seemed about to start all over again, when suddenly things changed.
"Close your eyes a second," he said in perfectly clear English.
And as my eyes closed, I could see the mildly dirty index finger of his left hand rising towards my face. And when my eyes were closed, I could feel that index finger ever so gently removing a bit of mucous from the inside corner of my right eye. It was gentle as a kiss.
When I opened my eyes, he was looking at me in a way that told me we had become friends.
"Have a nice day," he said.
And he walked away.