I’m running errands downtown, standing on the corner waiting for the light to change. You know how long it takes for the light to change when you’re a pedestrian in a hurry. I’d parked in a thirty-minute meter hoping I wouldn’t spend all thirty minutes standing on the corner. That’s when a guy, fiftyish-looking, gray hair, clean-cut comes up to me.
“I can’t find my car,” he says.
I’m immediately pulled in.
“It’s in the historic district, next to a one-story red brick building,” he says, with a hint of panic in his voice. “Not the kind of red brick over there.” He’s wearing a local bike shop t-shirt, pointing to a new three-story parking structure. Not what you’d call historic.
It’s a lot of blocks to wander if you’re lost, so I point him in the direction of the Mission. That’s about as old as you get in California where historic is anytime before the 1950’s.
For some unknown reason, he’s not walking toward the Mission, and now we’re part of a burgeoning crowd huddled at the corner, anxious for the light to change. He asks if I work at the college. Before I can answer, he starts in about his daughter. “She graduated summa cum laude. That’s number one. She’s a really good student. Isn’t that what summa cum laude means? I’m not sure where she got her smarts—not from me anyway. She’s overweight, but I don’t care about that. Do you know there’s three times the saturated fat in French fries than bacon?”
That’s when it clicks. Life imitating fiction. I’ve started my second novel. The working title is Alone in a Crowd, and I’m writing about a character who’s struggling with mental illness. Or he’s a stalker, I’m not sure yet.
The light still hasn’t changed–which is suddenly a fortuitous turn of events because now I’m focused on the character I’m trying to write. This guy’s not a stalker, but I have the same creepy feeling. Please don’t follow me. Please. Please. We cross the street en masse and I slip inside the surf shop trying to evade him, but I watch as he starts a conversation with a couple of guys standing near the curb. “I can’t find my car,” he says. His new friends seem eager to help, and I can see how quickly it’s possible to get hooked.
In my previous life, I was a psychologist, so I feel for this guy and I hope he finds his way to a psychiatrist. But as a writer, I’m more interested in the twitch above his right eye, the way he rolls his hand back and forth as he points down the street. How his words flow in a steady stream of consciousness.
There’s a tightness in my chest as I finesse my getaway. That’s worth noticing too.