The man, on this bright, crisp Saturday morning, stood facing a utility pole outside the Central Square Starbucks tearing down a flyer. For a moment, it seemed as if he would replace it with an announcement of his own. By the look of him — middle-aged, carefully sculpted beard, wrinkle-free, white button-down shirt — you’d have pegged him to be promoting a church service or a garage sale.
It fast became clear, however, that this man’s business wasn’t advertising but rage. It was in his eyes. In the tight little look on his face. And in what he did next, which was to take down another flyer. And another. And then another. Until he had amassed a fistful of paper, which he hurled into a nearby garbage can.
You couldn’t tell just then, but prior to this episode the guy was actually having a pretty good morning. He’d been in and out of his Inman Square barbershop in 20 minutes, a personal record for a Saturday morning when the place was swamped with customers. Afterward, he’d scarfed down a hefty plate of pancakes and eggs at Zoe’s Diner on Mass Ave. On his way out the door, a pretty waitress had struck up a conversation. He was not so deluded as to think that he stood a chance, but it felt good nonetheless to think he was charming enough to compel her to stop and chat.
As he left the restaurant and waited to cross Mass Ave, something caught his gaze. It was the green eye of his cat, Ulysses, staring out at him from a pole covered with fliers. For a moment, the image failed to make sense. Then it dawned on him. What he was seeing was a patch of the missing-pet poster he’d drawn up a month back when Ulysses had disappeared into the night.
The memory of that evening in late May came at him then like a stone to the gut. He had been on the porch of his house brushing out his cat’s excess fur. Ulysses, never truly accustomed to this activity, was stirring in his lap. The man was aware of the pet’s growing distaste, but knew he was doing it for the cat’s own good — after all, the warmest months were coming. Suddenly, a German shepherd passed by the porch and Ulysses, wriggling free, made a run for it across the street and out of the man’s life.
When his head returned from the past, the guy went to work on the pole, stripping away everything — an announcement for an MIT event, concert listings for a club down the street — except his own contribution, before moving on to do the same with a second pole nearby. He didn’t care that his poster wasn’t affixed to this pole — or that its leaflets were better glued, so that he had to dig his fingernails into the paper. The truth was, it was all he could do not to punch someone out right there on the corner.
He proceeded then to cross the street in order to tackle a street sign. He scrambled to erase all traces of a red sticker bearing a cryptic message he could not decipher. Turning his attention to somebody’s abstract doodling — an oddly shaped head with a mouth and one eye surrounded by a series of squiggly marks — he suddenly realized a scattering of folks had stopped to watch him. Considering this for a moment, the man stormed further down Mass Ave, leaving the polls he passed untouched. Then he disappeared from view. The show, it seemed, was over.
This is the third in a series of mini fictions based on real-life street observations. Previous installments can be found here and here.