It was well past noon by the time I got myself out the front door of my place, and the previous night was to blame. Remember Japan? My memory fades in and out, but over my hauntingly-close-to-three years back in the States, I’ve connected with a few good men and women who may be called upon to come together and serve up a reminder that everything used to be totally different. Among those every things, I used to stay out until 3 a.m. a lot more. I used to also have nightmares a lot more. A healthy first-time-in-awhile reunion reawoke both old habits.
So I was getting a late start. Destined for a train to the city and late as I was, I nevertheless plotted to first stop at a café for drugs and things. I mean basically.
There are a few factors that I am either sure or suspect contributed to the following surreal vignette, and I’ll just ask you to trust me that this is actually how it happened, or else write it off as a fun series of lies, if that is what it takes for you to stave off your own nightmares. One factor was that, distracted by my own tweaking caffeine habit, I forgot to bring any change for the parking meter. This meant I had to park in a free spot and traverse the remaining few blocks on foot, utterly exposed to the universe and its elements.
The next was that these remaining few blocks had narrow, suburban sidewalks that guaranteed personal space bubble collision with any other pedestrian encountered. There’s an uncomfortable social ballet that plays out when you pass someone in a narrow space. Were this a more staid and homogeneous society like Japan, there would likely be more of a collective understanding not to say or do anything in these situations, or conversely in a more comfortable society like Canada, an understanding to say or do something friendly. As it stands here, it’s always a toss-up. You never know if the person you’re passing is from Northern Michigan (practically Canada in its own right, am I right?) or, say, Detroit, Michigan. But after a phase of verbally greeting every person I encountered in such situations (this was when I first moved from Japan to California), I’ve experienced enough awkward non-responses to discourage me back down to a pursed-lip pseudosmile. It’s a non-verbal way of saying, “I want to acknowledge our mutual humanity, but I guess it’s against the rules.” Then sometimes you get the laid-back individual who tosses out the rulebook and actually gives you a greeting, making you once again question your entire existence.
The third factor was that I was wearing my hat inside-out. This hat, previously introduced in this blog, was a reversible hat given to me by my brother, and not the kind of hat that would theoretically draw any extra attention nor convey any additional statement by being worn inside-out. It was, however, exhibiting what I thought to be only a marginally poofier constitution than its normal state, having just been through the laundry, which as it happened, was also why it was inside-out. I noticed upon retrieving it that this reverse side happened to match the black pants I was wearing–it being black–and decided to try something new as a way to stave off being boring for at least another few minutes, at least in my own mind.
Inside-out, it’s just a black hat.
The fourth and final factor that I can fathom may have had some part in orchestrating the thing that happened was that, as I crossed paths with a particular young man on the narrow sidewalk, our personal space bubbles colliding, I think I might have made an odd face. Not a sneer or an eye-roll or a scowl, but the odd product of a computational error generated by conflicting face muscle-controlling brain cells. I’m a scatterbrained guy, guys, so I’m not entirely sure what or why the what happened here with my face. Piecing together memory fragments now, my best guess is that my normal pursed-lips nonverbal greeting was interrupted by a conflicting part of my brain reacting to a nearby sign, thereby forming an unnatural hybrid facial expression that unintentionally resembled a scowl. Also, I will confess that somewhere in the back of my mind, I noticed that the guy was wearing a particular ensemble of clothing that, perplexingly, I’ve seen constantly on young men throughout California but in no place other than California, and that furthermore I realized that I was noticing his clothing while also possibly looking like I was scowling, and so then tried to recover by altering my face in a way I didn’t have time to think through, resulting in sort of a tongue-sucking wince-grin. All of this happened in the course of maybe two seconds, that felt as excruciatingly long as this godforsaken paragraph.
And so was set the stage for what would soon reveal itself to be a shocking lesson in identity; culture; society; my two friends, Et and Al.
After passing the guy with the clothes (I will get back to those in Part 2, by the way), I continued on my way for about a solid forty seconds, until:
“Hey, excuse me,” came a voice from behind.
I was in Burlingame at the time. I’m used to strangers in the Bay Area calling out to you when they want money, and I’m used to them even finding their way to otherwise pristine suburbs like San Mateo, but never had I encountered such a thing in Burlingame. I suppose that’s why I bothered to react at all, albeit with a cringe and slow turn. Lord tell me I dropped something.
It was, of course, the guy I’d passed forty seconds ago.
“Hey,” he said. And then this is what he said. “This might sound like kind of an asshole thing to say, but do you guys know you’re Hipsters, or is it an accident?”
Just. . . . JUST. . . I MEAN. . . .
Where do I even START? Where do I START, guys? Where do I. . . I mean I just can’t, I can’t, I CAN’T. I can’t.
I MEAN I JUST
Before I get into the seventy-four million things I realized would’ve been good to say to him after the fact, I guess I’ll tell you what I actually said to him, which was lackluster, unceremonious, and something I suppose I’ll regret for the rest of my life.
“Is it the V?” I meant my V-neck T-shirt, which I was wearing underneath another shirt.
“Kinda. That and the hat.”
“This? I mean. . . this was just a gift from my brother.”
“Heh, you’re cool man. What’s your name?” he asked.
“Greg? I’m Ken.” He offered a high-five, so as to soften the blow from having just said something totally bigoted and uncalled for. I have labeled this maneuver the Rodney Dangerfield. For the sake of a bright side, I will note here that he sounded like he was being sincere, and a lifetime of being patronized by my peers has given me an acute sense for this.