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.