And then there was Thomas
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I must have a friendly face.
Yesterday after over twelve (12) years of marriage, I decided it was time to get my Social Security Card updated to reflect my taken name. It had honestly never occured to me before now. It was a brief issue after I filed for unemployement and received six months worth of checks when the State of Michigan threatened to make me pay it all back because the name on my SS Card didn’t match the name I filed under. Faxing them my marriage license fixed that problem, and I stopped thinking about it. Then came the new job and while it’s not a problem per-se, my checks are issued under my maiden name. Getting a new teller at the bank is always a challenge.
So yesterday, I gathered my applications and my documents and scooted on down to the local office. It wasn’t busy and I found a seat quickly enough behind a man who immediately turned around and asked me where I went to school. Royal Oak being a Catholic town, despite the shrill protestations of the Free-Will Baptists, has quite a few parochial schools. I attended two of them, and my outfit yesterday reflected another twelve (12) year block of hard-coded dress-code – a nice Ralph Lauren plaid skirt and white blouse.
We had a brief but slightly irritating conversation about my outfit and my education and then my work environment. I don’t go to government offices to make new friends and if I can help it I don’t want to touch anything.
He asked after my name and after I repeated it twice and then spelled it, he introduced himself as Thomas and then called me Natalie. Thomas is a handy-man and talked to just about everyone in there. Most people were irritated by him and would wander to look at the posted signage, but I always like to look people in the eye when they talk to me. I gave him my attention, even if I really only wanted to read my book. He was the kinda guy you know knocks back a few beers after a day’s work and doesn’t get too deep into anything. He was uncomplicated, and there aren’t enough of people like him anymore.
Thomas launched into a story about his latest job rewiring a kitchen outlet. I gave him my “bored but I’ll listen to be polite” look which he took for “rapt interest”. My bored look invites more people than any other, as looking keen makes people nervous, like I’m going to slip into their skin when they aren’t looking and take over their lives.
Thomas even told me that the swelling on the side of his face was from a fight he’d gotten in a few nights prior. When I asked him if it was from running his mouth, the person behind me snorted and Thomas smiled. He either didn’t hear me or didn’t get the good-natured jab, but it didn’t stop him from finishing his re-wiring story. It was that important.
His number was called and he took care of business, deciding that it would be easier to call me by my middle name. “That’s unique,” he kept saying. “Dolores is Biblical,” I reminded him, “like Thomas,” and he had to think about it before deciding I probably wouldn’t lie to him. Business completed, he said goodbye to everyone, and because it tickled me to do so, I said, “Goodbye, Thomas” not intentionally the way you say farewell to someone you know you’ll soon be burying in an unmarked grave by the side of the road, but that’s how it sounded, all sinister-like. Names have power, like rhymes that keep the haints away. It made him stop and turn and give me a goofy, lopsided grin. I hope the rest of his day went well.
People like to talk to me and I don’t do enough to discourage it because everyone has a story swirling around them. What’s banal and ordinary to some is Must-See to others. It’s why I people-watch at the coffeehouse or eavesdrop on the elevator. I must have a face that says, “tell me your story”, because random people do. They turn around in their hard plastic chairs and tell me a story.
This, I think, is the most important part of writing: the listening. I like that I have a friendly face because it means the stories won’t stop coming.