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Telling it like it is l Chuck's World


Last updated 3/28/2018 at Noon

Last summer, a construction company began building a neighborhood in my backyard. It’s been fascinating.

Not that I doubted that someday they would. I moved here 30 years ago, next door to a large, undeveloped plot of land belonging to neighbors who purchased it around the time I was born. I must have figured that eventually the owners would sell to developers.

Those were the whimsical days of the late 1980s, though, before the Northwest embraced speculative physics, in which nature abhors a half-acre or so of empty land. I sort of forgot about it. And it was like living next door to a pasture.

But I didn’t think it would take 30 years. That’s a pretty impressive run. I have no hard feelings.

I never suspected I’d last 30 years here, either. Who thinks that way, at 29? I had plenty of things to dream about. Settling down in one spot didn’t seem likely, or practical.

It was, though, or at least it worked out. I’ve spent half of my life under this roof; it’s not a stretch to say that I grew up in this house, alongside my children, a couple of beloved animals, and the blackberries, of course.

And I was able to observe time passing in concrete ways, most of which involved concrete. The landscape of my neighborhood has changed a lot since the Reagan administration.

Single-family homes have been replaced with cul-de-sacs. Businesses have gone and buildings have been razed, rebuilt and sometimes razed again. There’s now a Starbucks within walking distance, something that might have altered the trajectory of my life 30 years ago.

But it’s still my neighborhood, and much remains the same. A grocery store a few blocks away still sits there, remodeled a dozen times over the years but still intact, with the same expansive parking lot. Which is where I see The Storytellers, and have for 30 years.

These are not panhandlers. Begging is an unfortunate part of life, familiar to all of us, forcing us to assess our moral code, our compassion, our sense of fairness. Our suspicion, our impotence. We all have our experiences, and our solutions. Your guess is as good as mine.

I assume you’re familiar with Storytellers, though. They have something to say, something sad, usually, and traumatic, and apparently carefully tailored to their prey. Three decades ago, a young woman would probably tell me a story about an abusive boyfriend. Today, this woman will size me up and talk about an early pregnancy, maybe, or a bad daddy.

I’ve seen the show, folks. I could do the monologue for them, and occasionally I have. It irritates but rarely bothers, just another inconvenience. They might as well be posing as Nigerian princes or promising to build a big, beautiful wall on the border. They’re just selling a story.

And they always need a bus ticket. A ticket I can’t buy for them, of course; cash only, thanks. But it always involves a bus. I have some theories about this. Also about why they flock to this particular parking lot, but that’s not relevant to the other day, and this one guy.

He was gifted. He was special. He saw a walking panel of buttons in me, just waiting to be pushed, so he did. He just pushed the wrong ones.

I won’t bore you with details. He did what they all do, attempted to shove me into a philosophical cage, force me to confront my personal morality, make me question my assumptions and humanity. His twist was bouncing off an innocuous parking sticker on my windshield, from which he extrapolated vulnerability. He was sort of right.

This is not my first rodeo. No money changed hands during this encounter.

But something was lost. Certainly my temper, anyway.

I’m not that guy, really. I’m too cautious, too self-conscious. Too uninterested in confrontation or public theatrics. That guy, yelling at another guy in the parking lot? Not me.

I screamed at him for at least 30 seconds, long after he began to slink away. I screamed my outrage, my offense, my anger. I followed him for a bit, suddenly remembering phrases I hadn’t used since I became a father, for good reason. It was remarkable.

It was bad, too, rude and antisocial, uncalled for and uncharacteristic, as I say. If you think I was justified, we disagree about that.

But I don’t feel bad, or not anymore. It was wrong, and I wish it hadn’t happened. But I know why it did.

This man was lying to me, and I’ve been lied to for a long time. Politicians have always lied, but now they don’t care that I know.

Corporations, institutions. Companies that promise transparency and good intentions and sell our personal information to the highest bidder. Truth has become malleable, fungible and unrecognizable.

Again, that’s not an excuse, just an explanation. I behaved badly. I wish I hadn’t.

But I’m glad for the reminder. I wasn’t screaming truth to any kind of power, but it was still truth. This poor man wasn’t responsible for the mess of the world, but some people are, and they lie to me all the time.

And I’m complicit when I remain silent, even in this small, insignificant way, and sometimes you have to yell to be heard. I think I understand that now.

I have no idea why it took me 30 years, though.


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