I was sitting in the Griffin Bookshop on Sunday, working on some assignments (& texting friends in an attempt to avoid working on said assignments). While I sat there scribbling, a guy walked in & I half-listened to him chat up the barista while ordering a coffee. She had noticed a portfolio in his hands & he started talking about the comic he was working on with a friend who was meeting him in a bit. As he starts saying how these were his second-best drawings, I realize I know the guy. We had worked together at Borders years ago & hung out briefly after he left a month’s employment.
He tells the barista his name (we’ll call him “Jordan”) & eventually he not only gets her to promise to pass on some of his work onto a friend of hers who owns a small press, he talks two random female customers into looking through the portfolio with him. They go into the other room & I hear him explaining the stories behind the pictures. I’m now 99 percent that this is the guy because I remember the same stories. (“Jordan” had once asked me to come in early before my shift to look over the pages.) There was a cheeky monkey who was actually a chain-smoking, hard-boiled detective. The awkward adventures of a platypus. A weird sexual encounter pared down to a funny one-panel cartoon. The memory of one I had liked suddenly flashes into my head: a full page illustration of a lurid red heart gleaming among swirls of black & blue, surrounded by a raven & splashy shadows.
I eavesdrop, listening to him recreate this past moment. It’s not unique at all, I realize, he’s done this before, confirming what I had suspected 8 years ago. That “Jordan” was an opportunist, cruising for recognition &, in some cases, sex. He had also told me stories about working for TVT Records, helping abused children in a state facility or how his grandmother being pure Irish gave him a greater empathic sensitivity. In his mid-20’s, he seemed to have done it all & had a story for every occasion. I suspected that the main reason he stopped talking to me was because I didn’t respond well to his expertise or to his casual advances.
I couldn’t seem to stop listening, despite being uncomfortably close to the periphery of this ooze of charm. I kept waiting to see if this unseen moment will play out the way it did in the past. When he starts working toward the “I’m really focusing on my art now” & how “it’s time to make something happen” riffs, I know it’s time to leave, the story is almost over. & I don’t know what feels weirder, to watch the script of this moment unfold or to know that this guy hasn’t changed his tune in the 8 years since I’ve seen him.
The cruelty of charm is that it makes one feel special, even though to the speaker you are interchangeable with strangers.
I walked out without saying a word or interrupting the three of them. I knew he wouldn’t remember me.