I was sitting with Brett and my son Lincoln at a local small town cafe. We were killing time before we had to be to an awards ceremony at Linc’s school. We had finished eating and were laughing and talking about the quirky distinct personalities of our four other kids. Brett and I had commented on how pretty Lincoln’s sisters were and that his friends were starting to take notice.
“Hi. I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about pretty ladies so I had to come see what was up.”
The three off us jumped at the close proximity of the deep gravelly voice that had clearly crossed the line into our personal space.
We looked up to see an older man whose weathered skin had obviously spent a lot of time in our hot desert sun. His khaki shorts and oversized striped polo shirt were divided by a large and very full fanny pack. His tube socks were pulled high on his shins and his sun hat dipped low on his forehead.
He looked at Brett. “How’s your dash going?”
“Excuse me?” Brett said with a hesitant smile.
He had leaned over so close and so unexpectedly that my body had set off it’s alarms: tingling scalp, accelerated heart rate, moisture disappearing from my mouth, a sensation of numbness. I was glad Lincoln was on the other side of Brett and further away from the stranger.
“What did you think I said,” the man roared.
“Uh. My dash?”
“Yep. Your dash. How’s it going?”
“My dash? Like the dash in my car?” I could see that Brett was thinking this guy was trying to sell something.
“You know. Your dash! Like on a tombstone. There is your birthdate at the start and eventually your death date at the end and the dash is everything in between. You know. Your life! How’s your’s going?”
(Mostly what I heard was “your death date.”)
“Ooohh,” Brett said. “I see what you mean. It is going great.” He smiled. He was more comfortable with the man than I was.
“Do you ever use the Google?” He asked.
“Yes. Yes we do.”
“Well, next time you are on the Google look up the poem ‘The Dash’. It has been a favorite of mine since I read it many years ago.”
Something about him mentioning poetry took away the tingling in my scalp and allowed the moisture to return to my mouth. I could also feel my limbs again.
“I will look it up when we get home,” I told him as I finally joined in on the conversation. “I love a good thought provoking poem.”
He turned to Brett again. “How old do you think I am?”
I was glad it wasn’t me he asked. He was one of those people that could have reasonably fit any number within a range of at least thirty years.
“You think I am that old!” He hollered.
The man leaned even closer into Brett’s personal space and lowered his voice to just over a whisper and said, “I am 82 years old.”
In my head I had guessed 56.
Anna then skipped through the door to meet us and he put her through the same set of questions and she giggled and interacted with him in a much less guarded manner than I had.
A few minutes of small chat later we said goodbye as we gathered up our stuff and headed for the door. As we were walking away he approached the counter and said he wanted to pay for the $35 order that a large family had just made. It was clear he had never met them as he then began the same set of questions on his new audience.
“Do you use the google?” we heard as the door shut.
As we started to pull away I watched through the window as he shuffled over and sat in a booth across from a woman I had not noticed earlier. As they smiled and started talking I imagined she was his wife or a dear lady friend and that this was probably not the first time she had waited while he asked those around him how their “dash” was going. I wished I had asked him how his dash was going, although, I could see that at this point in his life he was clearly enjoying it. I wished I knew his name and where he came from. I wished I hadn’t been suspicious of him in the beginning.
We started to make speculations as we drove away. Maybe he had recently retired to the area and was hoping to make friends. Maybe he was here on vacation visiting family. Maybe they travelled the country in an RV…him making the rounds at each stop as he shared his favorite poem. I decided he had walked over from the Veteran’s home across the street to have a date with his wife.
I hope I run into him again.