Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rainy February Night

I just had the oddest conversation with the graveyard guy at the 7-11 where I usually stop when I'm out wandering around in the wee hours.

I've been stopping in there pretty regularly in the middle of the night for at least a couple of years. The graveyard guy is teaching himself better English by reading old magazine articles. (I dunno where he's from. Somewhere away where people are browner and speak a language that leaves itself marked in English with a musical, lilting accent.) Because it's the middle of the night, there's time to talk about the things he's been reading. Over the last several months, he's taken to underlining words to ask me about, and dog-earing the stories that confuse him or leave him with questions. If I haven't been in for a couple of nights running, he's usually got quite a stack of articles marked up, and a middle-of-the-night 7-11 run can take a good hour or so.

Tonight, he wanted to puzzle through some of the words in an old Newsweek article about Astronaut Lisa Nowak's 900 mile trek--and double check that he had the details and sequence of events straight in his head. But mostly, he wanted to know if I thought it was true. There were a great many more pictures in the print version of the story, including pictures of Nowak and her husband and children. He pointed at the picture of the two little kids, incredulous, and asked if I believed the story.

I wasn't sure, at first, quite what he was asking. In fact, he simply wanted to know if this brilliant and talented woman had indeed thrown away her entire life and career and family for a guy who didn't want her. The diaper thing, the disguise, the pepper-spray in the parking garage--none of that really concerned him, other than as part of the narrative chain of events. He saw straight through the bizarre details to the very human tragedy underneath.

The 7-11 guy is already reading better than a great many American-born English speakers I know. And frankly, he's reading better than many would-be writers I know, too.

9 comments:

Jean Marie said...

Maybe, the "tabloidism" of the story, Mac, is easier to discuss/digest. Otherwise, the fear of, good lord, what if I end up like them, may enter in. Or, if I'm already like them.

That's just my take, anyway.

It's a tragic story, IMO.

Jessica said...

Good point. People seem to accept the intended purpose for what they're reading very easily, without considering implications or other possibilities.

You've always had a way with provoking me to think into something deeper, by pointing out things like that.

I wonder if he ever underlines words for anyone else.

Mac said...

JM, definitely--that's kind of the point, you know? And as writers, we can't afford to flinch at the bigger picture.

Jess, you have a natural knack for thinking deeper, kiddo. I can't very well take credit for that. And I honestly don't know if he asks anyone else about the articles he marks up. I try to leave at least a couple hours a week to go over stuff with him, and the questions he asks always surprise me either at the cultural differences inherent, or just at how hard this guy is working to get it.

Jean Marie said...

It's exceptionally sweet, Mac that you take the time to help this guy.

It will be fascinating to see what he does w/ his eventual knowledge. Maybe, he'll become a writer :) as a result of your influence *G*

Interesting how someone, whose second language is English, was able to go to the heart of the story.

Anonymous said...

Talking of accepting words for face value. I was wondering what the heck she was doing meeting the "graveyard guy" at the 7-11.
PP

MacAllister said...

PP--smart-ass. :D The guy who works the graveyard shift. He's the same guy who sells me your diet Doctor Pepper, y'know!

Mac said...

What a great observation! When he discovers cable news, he won't need you to explain the answer to everything - endlessly.

weasel said...

This is incredibly hope-inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

And now as the unofficial foreign born immigrant who stops by, can I suggest that "The 7-11 guy is already reading better than a great many Americans I know" might read "...a great many American born folks I know"?

We are still a country of immigrants: 7-11 guy and myself are living proof that some Americans are self-selected, not born to the role...

MacAllister said...

Weasel--you're completely right, of course. Going to edit, now...