Where do stories come from? They come from us. The first part of this post is mostly true. The second part, well, it might be. One never knows, does one?
I pass him every day on my morning commute, that newspaper guy on the corner of Queens and Woodhaven Boulevards. He stands in the middle of the two left lanes directing traffic, waving us on and calling out warnings to the tailgaters: “Take it easy now, I don’t want no accidents on my corner. Let the lady in, buddy, she gotta merge! You head on in, honey, I gotcha.”
He’s ageless, probably wiry based on his prominent cheekbones and sharp chin. Hard to tell with the baggy clothes he wears, a black T-shirt in summer and a black hoodie in winter. He wears a wool skull cap even in August heat and adds a thick, ratty scarf in December. His deep set eyes, disproportionately large, dart across the lanes and lock in on the drivers passing by. I imagine him snapping mental pictures of faces and license plates…Click. Click. Click.
He wears a canvas apron with deep pockets full of rolled up newspapers. Do people even read papers anymore? Why should we, with all the news we want right under our fingers? Even so, I bought one once, just to be nice. Or maybe it was out of curiosity, to get a closer look at him. Like most bloggers, I’m always on the alert for the quirky human interest story.
“How much?” I asked as I rolled the window down.
He looked at me like I was an idiot. “Same as it always is, lady. A dollar.” As if I bought a paper every day and should know this. I scooped up some change from the cup holder and held it out. Close up, he was not a handsome man. A week’s stubble of an indistinct color couldn’t soften those jutting cheek and jawbones, and his too-large brown eyes had a haunted look. “Talk to me,” they plead. Pathetic. But then he grinned, his face all crinkles. Still unattractive, but infectious. I had to smile back. He handed me the paper. “Here ya go, sweetheart. Have a nice day. And hey, love the new haircut!”
That was weird. I tossed the paper on the passenger seat until the red light, then glanced at the headline. “Same old,” I thought. “Nothing changes much.” It was a long light, so I brought it closer to read the small print. It was a week old. I wrote about it that night in my blog, that guy in Queens who scams people with week-old papers. An hour later, I got a comment. Unusual, since I have a following of like eight people, so I jumped on it. Somebody actually saw me! Here’s what it said:
Hey, I’m that guy from Queens. No, really, that’s my name, my online persona. I like keeping it on the down low as far as my personal deets are concerned, so that’s the only name you’ll see. “That guy from Queens” serves me just fine, more than fine. Last month I logged 50,000 followers who get their kicks from reading about themselves on my blog. They respond to my posts like I’m their most trusted friend. Recent comment, unedited: “You get me, guy from Queens. It’s like you know what I’m thinking, like you can see into my soul.”
I wish. But no, I can’t see into their souls. Every day I get up at 3:30 a.m. and make it out to my corner by 5:00. I watch for them. I know what cars they drive. I know their license plate numbers. I know who downsized from an SUV to a used Corolla last month, and I guessed why. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a psychic either. She was crying. She used to be a passenger, but now she’s driving solo. The rest I made up. And judging from the feedback I get every day, the stuff I make up is true for 72% of my total hits. The rest of them just like reading about people who are worse off than they are.
I know who got laid off and why, who got a promotion, who got engaged, who got divorced, who was bereaved. “Listen,” I write. “I see you at your most buoyant, singing ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ at the top of your lungs. Off-key. I see you weeping with all the windows closed, thinking no one can hear. I see an open, half-empty box of Dunkin’ Donuts on your passenger seat, and you’re chewing. I see you picking your nose.” I tell them the truth about themselves. And they hear me. They really hear me.
Every morning from 5 to 9 without fail I stand at my corner and watch. My people. Now at least one of them knows that the newspapers are just a prop. (Thanks for the dollar, sweetheart.) And every day from 10 a.m. ’til whenever I’m done, I sit at my laptop and tell their stories. Maybe one day I’ll tell them mine, but for now I’m just that guy from Queens. And I get you, all of you. I really get you.
That’s all I got. Nice description of me, by the way. Unflattering, but accurate. I like honesty. Hey, check out my blog. If you like me, I’ll like you back. Looks like you could use a few more followers.
Nancy Massand’s debut novel, The Circle Unbroken, is set for release in September 2019. You can check out her blog at http://www.nancymassand.wordpress.com. She feels honored to be numbered among the authors at SMP.