Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I first met Al (not his real name) last year around late November, early December. I was minding my own business at work, and he tapped me on the shoulder and asked me a few questions, and me being the friendly brother I am, I answered all of them. But me also being the observant brother I am, I could not help but notice Al's appearance. He wore a tattered hat to the office, his beard was patchy at best, he wore sweatpants that seemed a size or two too big, and a sweatshirt that fit the same description. To say the volume on Al's voice was loud would be doing a severe disservice to the word. Al's voice was so loud that even Billy Mays would cringe if he heard it. And it wasn't just that his voice was loud, it was coarse, gravelly and distinctive. When Al talked, not only did the people in front of him have to listen, but a few folks who had no intentions of hearing him, often were in for a treat as well.

Despite his disheveled appearance and his animated nature, Al definitely knew his stuff on the job. If I had a question, Al knew the answer, and if he didn't know, he would make it a point to get back to me later on with an email, a text or he'd just tell me the next day when he saw me. He was thorough like that, and I appreciated that, and I did my very best to return the favor whenever I could. We'd talk about sports, women, being a man, and life in general (I just realized that I sound like Forrest Gump talking about Lieutenant Dan or something..bear with me though). But I cannot sit there in good conscience and tell you that Al didn't annoy me, because he did. This may come as a surprise to you, but I am a quiet fellow, who likes to keep to himself most of the time. When I"m at home, I share myself with my lady, but other than that, I enjoy solitude. So here was this older guy (early 40s) invading my space every chance he could, and although I enjoyed it sometimes, there were some instances when I'd see him coming, and I'd think damn..again?

Yesterday when I was en route to play basketball, I saw Al about a block from my apartment. He was in a group of about 20-30 people standing outside of a nondescript building, and we noticed each other simultaneously. We did the traditional handshake/half-hug deal, he noticed that I looked slimmer, we talked briefly about the Wizards, then he asked me about my lady and I did the same about his. Since I abhor small talk, I attempted to wrap the conversation up prematurely, and I just casually asked him what the hell he was doing standing outside of this building with all these people. He paused, then looked right at me, and with a surprisingly soft voice he said, "Man I'm here for an AA meeting. I fell of the wagon a bit, and I'm trying to get right!"

I was completely floored. Completely. That's the last response I expected to hear, and I instantly felt bad for being so flippant and probing with my question. But I do have a grandfather who has been sober for 35 years, and he's told me about the challenges of not only staying sober, but being around people who are supportive of the sobriety you're trying to achieve. So instantly I went into that mode, and I told him a quick story about how my grandfather had to stop listening to jazz, because it made him want to drink. Al told me that certain music and people caused him to do the same, which is why he was at the AA meeting. He was still speaking in hushed tones at the time, and he was surprisingly candid with me. Instead of just rolling out and ending the convo, we talked for about 10 minutes more, we did the same hug/handshake combination, and then I left.

I immediately called my girl and told her about what had happened, and I remember telling her that I felt a little bad for judging Al. I mean yes he looked bummy sometimes, and yes his exuberance was in stark contrast to my understated ways, but I had/have no idea what it takes for this man to get dressed and come in public; I had no clue what his personal demons were; I had no idea that he was in the fight of his life. Swimming has humbled me. Seeing writers write amazing articles that I did not think of humbles me too. I now have another humbling experience to add to the list.

1 comment:

Jazzbrew said...

Great entry bruh.