I almost didn’t open the door yesterday afternoon when the knocking came. But it was a friendly rap, not the battering ram banging that the gas man brings with him. Thinking it must be Hot Neighbor Chris, I relented and opened the goddamn door.
It was not Hot Neighbor Chris. A young guy dressed all in white who looked to be about eighteen (and wasted) stood on my porch. He had a friendly smile and short, kinky dark blond hair, and in spite everything I try to instill in myself about stranger-hatred, I was immediately infected by his personality. He was a talker. Noticing my fingernails, he said, “Oh lime green is my favorite color! Well, I like my lime green a little brighter than that, but still – good choice.”
Then he launched into his very confused magazine spiel and told me a yarn about how his group had traveled straight to Pittsburgh from Tennessee last night with no stops. “I’m like, exhausted,” he laughed. “I’ve had so many energy drinks, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many,” came out in a blurt of high blood-pressured mania. I’m still not sure what he was earning points for, a trip or something? But his smile was so elvish and sincere and he already told me his name was Ray, that I didn’t have the heart to cut him off. He started fumbling with all the literature and subscription forms and asked, “Is there somewhere I can sit down to show you this stuff?”
I NEVER let people in my house. Not even my neighbors. Mostly it’s because I’m inhospitable, but also because ever since having a kid, my house’s interior rivals the ambiance of my first apartment which was little more than a party palace. I’m pretty sure Chooch shits clutter. But this kid had me captivated, completely intrigued, that I didn’t want to send him away yet. I’m pretty sure this is how Charles Manson operated. (Don’t worry – I got the Henry Lecture.)
I had to literally clear a spot on my couch for this poor kid to sit. I don’t think he noticed; he was too busy rambling on and on about everything. At one point he said something about not having parents and quickly added, “But don’t feel sorry for me! I’m OK!”
And Chooch, prancing around in his Diego underroos, was so excited to have a visitor. “Oh, you like Ben 10 huh?” Ray said as Chooch thrust one of his action figures at him. Chooch looked at me in amazement, like, “Oh shit, this guy KNOWS.” They become instant besties, Chooch’s second in as many days. (We gave one of my co-workers a ride home Wednesday night. I let her have shotgun, figuring Chooch would accost an unfamiliar backseat companion. He still accosted her. They passed his Ben 10 toys back and forth and he was so excited to tell her all their names. Then he invited her to his carrot party. She told me yesterday that carrots are her favorite food so I guess it was destiny.)
Chooch ran off to find more shit to show him.
I leafed through the magazine selections while Ray was struggled to spell my name on the subscription form. He stopped abruptly in the middle of his high-speed ramblings – wherein I learned he doesn’t like Crown Royal and his iPhone was dead – and asked me, with so much seriousness, “Are you happy?”
I was really caught off guard. I sort of froze with this crumpled-up magazine brochure in my hand and noticed that he was looking at me very intently. He didn’t seem like a church person, although he was wearing a silver cross that he rubbed occasionally, like when he was talking about not having any parents and turning his life around. So instead of being insulted by his question like I would if a Mormon came calling, I was really touched.
People I talk to on a daily basis don’t even ask me that question. Which doesn’t mean that they don’t care, but it’s still not something I’m asked often. Therefore, I assumed I misunderstood him. We had just been talking about Robert Smith from the Cure a second before, so I said, “Is Robert Smith happy now? I guess so, because the last album–” He cut me off and said, “No, are you happy?”
I really had to wrangle with my tongue to spit out a meaningless “yes.”
Ray stayed and hung out for about thirty minutes. I didn’t end up buying a magazine because they were all three-year subscriptions and I didn’t want to spend that kind of money in the middle of trying to get caught up with everything else. But Ray understood and didn’t pressure me. In the end, he used my name and address as a reference so he’ll still earn points. Then he gave me a small sign to tape on my door that said BUG OFF RAY’S #1 in case anyone else from his group showed up trying to usurp his territory.
Before leaving, he mentioned that his birthday’s in July, that he’ll be 21. “I know, I look super young,” he said.
“Are you a Leo?” I asked.
“How did you KNOW that?!?!” he exclaimed, and looked genuinely impressed to have met a real life psychic.
“Because my birthday’s in July, too,” I said, never mind that it’s basic astrology and it was a 50/50 chance he was either a Leo or Cancer.
Ray thought this was absolutely wild, like we should share each other’s blood there in my living room, next to Chooch’s Bat Cave. “What are you going to be – 25?”
RAY, I LOVE YOU.
When I told him 31, he refused to believe it and I was like, “Can I keep you?”
I gave him a bottle of Faygo root beer to take with him, and he in turn gave Chooch some parting advice. “Buddy, don’t ever get branded!” He showed us the back of his calf, which had giant, raw-looking letters seared into it. “My boss paid me to do this a few days ago! I jumped three feet! Well not really, I’m just being sarcastic now, but it really did hurt!”
Once he was back outside on my front porch, we still continued to talk. “So, you’re from Tennessee you said?” I asked.
“No!” he yelled in horror. “South Carolina. We were just in Tennessee for a trip,” he explained.
I laughed. “You seemed so offended at the thought of being from Tennessee!”
Ray went on to tell me of his hatred for Tennessee sports teams and from there we talked about hockey, which I always try to work into every conversation I have on a daily basis. (I don’t talk to many people, so my stats aren’t that great.)
Before I shut the door, I said, “Wait! This might be weird, but are you on Facebook? Can we be friends?” He said he was, told me to just search by his name, which he had written on my copy of the receipt. I looked for him later but couldn’t find him, and that made me more sad than I thought it would. He’ll probably never think of me again, but I’ll never forget him.
All night at work, I couldn’t stop thinking about his question to me. I never really give myself the chance to stop and ask myself if I’m happy, does anyone really? But having a total stranger do it really made it swirl around in my brain and I realized that, oh my God, I think I actually am happy. And I can’t remember the last time I could say that honestly, or the last time I was touched like that by a stranger, and I’m not talking about the “your uncle just fingered me under the picnic table” type of touching. Probably Justin the Gay Hitchhiker from 1998.
I’ve felt really calm and good about things since he left yesterday afternoon. You might say it’s coincidental, but I’ll never believe it. Thank you, Ray the Magazine Schiller. I hate Crown Royal, too.