Monday, January 18, 2010

49. Bananas

Lunch in the dining hall at my alma mater. Catfish, sweet potatoes, squash - things sure have gotten healthier around here in the decade since I graduated. One of the cafeteria workers catches my eye. A grown man with Ds. I watch as he methodically, deliberately refills baskets of bananas at the fruit station. Students buzz around him.

Suddenly, everything is buzzing around me, too.

I wonder what it feels like to go to college every day, but not really go to college? What's it like to serve these students? Are they kind to him? Do they talk to him? Would I have talked to him when I was a student? I probably would have said hi.

I am captivated by this man. Why? He's just a man. Look away, take a bite. Look back. He doesn't see me. He's busy. I'm a jerk for staring at him. Look away.

Maybe Ozzie could work here one day.

I feel like I'm sinking. Look back at him. I'm Mr. Down syndrome now, why don't I go over and say hi? But what am I supposed to say? If I was him, would I want some guy walking up and butting into my life?

I bet he could tell me something profound. He could shine a light for me. Everyone could use a little more light. Maybe he and I could get to know each other. He might be really interesting. Look away.

My friends must think I look spaced out right now. I must be a terrible lunch companion. I'm not even here. I'm somewhere else, lost. Maybe they haven't noticed.

Look back. He's still there.

A lot of fruit passes through this joint, apparently.

Hell, why don't I just go over and say hi? I could use a banana. No, no.

This is ridiculous - why aren't I talking to him? Am I a fraud? Damn, man - I'm making this about me, and it's not about me, and it's not about Ozzie. I'll tell you why I'm not talking to him - because his life is none of my business, that's why. He's just a stranger doing his job. And I'm sitting here dissecting him like he's a lab frog. That's offensive. Look away.

Why am I so obsessed with him? What about these other cafeteria workers? Why don't I take interest in their lives? I bet they are so bitter, serving up these children of privilege day after day.

Oh come on dude, this is a state school.

Still, I bet these workers are bitter. But I bet he isn't. Look back at him. He's still at the fruit counter, just doing his job. He's so gentle with the produce. As a former produce clerk, I can appreciate that. Nobody likes the bruised fruit...

I'm such an ass.

How can one tiny chromosome wield such power over me?

He's a short guy.

I bet Ozzie will be short like that. That's a good height for Ozzie, really. It's the perfect height for me to put my arm around his shoulders as we stroll along the sidewalk.

That will be nice someday. Yes, someday, that will be nice.