Monday, February 17, 2014
Young man with a suitcase
A combination of things drew my attention to the young man hurrying past me one morning recently. That gray fedora, of course, not unknown but certainly not common, particularly in February. A sports jacket instead of a winter coat, despite the deep cold, the jacket being of what looked like velvet, of a rich blue, almost purple. The black gloves. And that large, old-fashioned suitcase with brass clasps. It seemed like it had something special in it: a ventriloquist's dummy, maybe. A magic act. A bear costume.
He was headed up Franklin Street. I followed.
Years of reporting have dulled the sense of reserve found in most people. I'm trained to blunder up to strangers in the street and quiz them about their lives. They usually take it pretty well. I picked up speed and measured my approach. "You seem like an interesting person," was the first thing I thought to say, but that seemed, I don't know, too much like a pick-up line. No point in frightening people. "What's in the suitcase, bud?" Too intrusive.
Pondering this, I increased the pace. He was losing me.
Probably some banal explanation. A Columbia College student, dragging his laundry home to mom. An apprentice necktie salesman hauling his sample case back to the Merchandise Mart having failed to interest the buyer at Macy's. That last one would be a good story. Actually, they both might. Everyone has a good story, they just usually don't know it. You have to tease it out of them.
Maybe he was an artist—he looked the type. Maybe his rolled canvases, his small ceramics, his careful etchings, his intricate jewelry, were in the suitcase, and he was lost in thought, wondering, "How can I get get the attention of the media?" Just slow down, pal.
Alas, he was too fast for me. I snapped off a photo, for documentary purposes, as he was picking up speed, and hurried ahead. But by the time I got to Lake Street, he had crossed and the light had changed. I could bolt after him, but bolting seemed to defeat the purpose. This was something that had to be done casually or not at all. Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe it was not to be, and just as well. The trouble with instinctively finding out stuff is that doing so wipes away what can be an appealing mystery. Sometimes it's better not to know.