Michigan State University used to be just a T-shirt that my Grandma Ellen bought me when I was a teenager. I loved that shirt; mainly because it was green and it was from a university that was out of state which automatically made it cool.
This week I finally got a chance to make MSU something more than just a shirt by spending a few days on campus. It's a nice place. I had a good time walking around making snap judgments about the futures of all the students I saw. It was hard for me not to smile when I saw the girl in the trench coat and beret (semester in Europe) or the guy wearing a floor length skirt with a save the planet T-shirt (when he graduates he'll probably continue to wear Birkenstock's and white socks with his sleeves and tie - at least until his first promotion).
I knew these people. I used to walk around as one of them. It was cool to get a glimpse of these works in progress. It was energizing.
They all walk very fast.
After work I walked to the strip and found a Chipotle restaurant. I'd heard good things about these places and I don't get a chance to eat burritos very often so I decided to have dinner there. It was a beautiful evening so I made my way to a small courtyard in back and ate outside.
While I was finishing up my dinner I heard, "HEY!" I looked up and a man was standing in front of me. He had two emerald green deposits of snot beneath each of his nostrils and each of his words were slurred even before they left his mouth.
"Mind if I join you?" he asked, loudly.
I looked around at the six empty tables in the courtyard and I said, "Yes. I do mind. You need to keep walking."
I have an uneasy relationship with panhandlers. But I'm usually very courteous and, for the most part, an easy mark worth at least a buck or two. This evening I was tired and just wanted to be left alone.
"I hear ya." he said and just stood there looking at me.
I was getting pissed. "You didn't hear me well enough. You need to keep walking." As soon as I locked eyes with him he decided I wasn't worth the hassle and left.
I felt bad. I started poking at my dinner and then dumped the rest of my burrito in the trash (the thing was huge and I was almost done with it anyway). I started walking in the direction I saw him go. A block or two later I caught up to him. He was wandering around a bus stop full of people and suddenly I felt really self-conscious and almost walked away. But it was too late and I got his attention.
"I'm sorry I was rude back there but you startled me." He just stared at me. "You scared me. . . a little."
"Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?" I asked.
"SURE! Let's have a seat." He pointed to an area on the ground off the sidewalk.
I wasn't in the mood for a street side pow-wow so I cut to the chase. "Are you hungry?"
"Nah! I'm fine. Well. I don't know."
"I'll buy you dinner."
"Okay! Eatin' is better than drinkin'!"
We were standing near a Chinese restaurant and a Taco Bell. I asked him to choose a place. "Beggars can't be choosers," he told me but he kept walking toward the Taco Bell and so we went in.
When we walked in the restaurant he took off past the counter. I asked him where he was going. "I gotta get HYDROED!" he said and disappeared into a bathroom. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about and wondered just how long it would take a person to get hydroed. It didn't take long. I had hoped that during the hydroing process the big green boogers under his nose would have gone away but they were still there; gleaming.
We got up the counter and he asked the girl for a milkshake. She informed him that Taco Bell didn't serve milkshakes. "What's the biggest meal you got?" he asked her. She smiled and pointed at a sign over our heads that read, THE BIG MEAL. That's what he ordered. Then he turned to me and apologized for ordering the biggest thing on the menu.
It didn't take long for the girl to deliver THE BIG MEAL. I hadn't planned to give the guy any money but the bills that were left were just about enough for another fast food dinner and not much more so I felt okay about leaving him with the change. I knew just how sanctimonious I was in limiting the amount of money I gave him but still I slid the money over while simultaneously saying, "Take care."
I almost made it out the door when I heard, "WAIT!" He was being loud again. He walked over to me and wrapped his arms around me. I hugged him back. While this was happening, I couldn't help but note the angle of his head in relation to my shoulder and attempting to calculate the probability of a portion of his great, green boogers winding up somewhere on my shirt.
And while he may not have left any boogers he must have made some kind of a mark because I can't stop thinking about this guy. When he first approached me I was ready to deck him and now. . . now I just hope he's found a place to get regularly hydroed, have enough BIG MEALS and clean out his nose.