i met richard the other day.
he was having a hard time with the washer. it slyly eats a couple extra quarters. we all know this. i lose count, too. most of us are irritated but sadly, don't care. but richard, well, that could mean a whole snack or bus ride or coffee or ten minutes in the dryer.
he can't stop talking to himself. i don't mind, even if his pants are falling down while he does it. everyone moves away from him. he insists that someone took his other shirt. the laundry attendant smiles kindly, gives him one from the lost and found.
so we talk. about school (he studied engineering, he proves this by pulling out his greasy old transcripts.) i believe him.
he says, i could do it, you see. i could do it.
i can't do advanced linear algebra, but richard can.
but something went wrong in 1989. you can see his grades dropping: withdrawel pass, withdrawel, withdrawel fail. fail.
so now he's at the dryer asking me to figure out which one pays up and which one pays down. i guide his cut-up hand to the top coin drop.
he tells me his fingers are still cut up from "doin' somebody else's yard work. it's the only way i get by." he's not begging, just telling.
i have lots of bandaids in my bag in case of blisters. so i give a bunch to him, we talk about handwashing, and he tries to give me a quarter.
he tells me i'm a nice nurse. i tell him he's really smart.
i offer him my extra apple, munching on mine so he knows we're sharing, not gifting.
he says "i got bad teeth and i got some soft donuts in my bag." his plastic bag that he brought his dirty laundry in.
i start folding my laundry, he politely looks away when i fold underwear and camisoles.
i start thinking about diabetes and poverty, how i can understand how much it would hurt to eat an apple with so many teeth missing. but no whole food, no soup, no nourishment in richard's life.
i tell him i've gotta go home. we shake hands; say "it was nice to meet you." he likes that, you can see. don't we all? what is it like to be so invisible?