Read Old Man Scanlon


02 July 2017

It was none of my business, but the man made it mine when he spoke his litany of the psych meds he’d taken. He briefly buries his face in his hands in pained reflex, and I hear, muffled, “mental illness” and “a lot of depression.” Our age of less stigma carries with it less discretion. Maybe it’s me, but I’m not exposing my mental state to a random stranger. There’s a reason we have small talk and an extensive repertoire of weather commentary. But I’ve seen depression, and I’ll let him talk. My periodic “mm-hmm” suffices to keep his words flowing. Indeed, I can’t stop him. It seems to me he speaks from habit, not that he’s in dire need of an ear, but nevertheless.

Tattoed, head shaved, thickening at the waist—he’s big in mass but not, I think, in power. He wears a Nationals shirt, sober dungarees, and clean bland sneakers. Carrying a two-liter Coke for hydration, he displays none of the macho swagger that presages tales of livid violence. He speaks of his dislike of stress and pressure—face buried in hands again—how he’d like to sell roses on a street corner.

We’re waiting for the commuter train that will take him to a babysitting gig at his sister’s, so I guess it’s appropriate that he tells me of his past and future travels. He’s spent his day shopping for clothes, criss-crossing half a county looking for sales. He enumerates each leg of the trip, the tee shirts he’s found, the bus route numbers. Then he realizes that he got the order wrong. He is compelled to retell the entire story, each leg in its ostensibly correct order, like a child getting a letter wrong in the alphabet song. Two or three times he does this, and then once more to reiterate it when he gets it right.

His coup for the day is purchasing a deeply discounted Patriots leather jacket at Goodwill. His voice quickens as he spills out his plans to sell it on Facebook or eBay at full retail price, and then do it over and over again with the proceeds. I keep my doubts to myself.