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Barbecue, Bugs, Aliens

I went to the Hazel Park barbecue this week. I missed the kick-off for various reasons, but wasn’t going to miss week two. So, after work on Saturday I hopped in my car, grabbed a couple cases of pop and some cupcakes and drove down 75 to Green Acres in Hazel Park.

I worked my way around seeing all of the different things that were going on. A lot of families had brought balls and games: soccer balls, cones and bats for small-scale baseball, a bean bag toss.  It was a beautiful day so many people from the neighborhood had brought out their dogs so I made sure to meet the ones who were friendly (the dogs that is).

Eventually I settled at a table with a burger and a hot dog in front of me. After a moment I was joined at my table by an older gentleman who kept his eyes straight down, but was obviously feeling me out for conversation.

“Hi,” I started. “I’m Cole.”

“Nelson,” he replied and he cautiously shook my hand.

“Nelson, do you live around here?”

“Well,” he said, eyes shifting. “I don’t know if  I should tell you.”

“Okay…well, um… what do you do for a living?” I was obviously jumping to the next question in the rolladex to inspire deeper conversation.

“Disability,” he said, which isn’t uncommon.

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that.” I said.

“They said I am not fit to work!” he said, pointing to his head. “But I don’t want to talk right now.”

“Okay,” I said.  “We don’t have to talk.”

Without missing a beat, Nelson said, “I live down that street.” And pointed a block away.  “But I shouldn’t talk about it.”

This is how conversation went with Nelson for some time. He would shake his head, tell me he didn’t want to talk, then launch into another conversation point. Once that was exhausted, he would again tell me he wasn’t interested in talking.  Eventually it just became a natural part of the conversation, like a sigh or a hand gesture.  Despite not wanting to talk about it, Nelson told me about his wife, kids, his career in food service and the mental disability that he believes came about as the result of stress after being help up in a store robbery.

He also told me about summers in Hazel Park where he would have to fight off alien invaders. These alien invaders have the whole world fooled into thinking that they are insects called cicadas, but he knows the truth. He told me that the whole world has him to thank for stopping the invasion. He was offered the medal of honor, but refused it because it didn’t seem right for some reason.

Of course, if you’re reading this you begin to understand that Nelson has some issues that I can’t diagnose. But that is okay. From the time Nelson sat down to the time I had to leave was about an hour and a half. I wonder when the last time was that someone was willing to sit and listen to him talk about whatever he felt like and be engaged and ask questions about his fantasies.  It may have been a very long time.  I believe it was because his whole attitude, body language and demeanor changed over the course of our conversation. He became more open, his eyes were more engaged and his attitude totally changed.

I began to realize, or rather reinterpret his “I don’t like to talk about it” to mean “no one likes to hear about it” because it was obvious that he liked to talk about it.

After lunch, we parted ways.  I told him that I hoped to see him next time and he said he would like that very much.


3 responses

  1. jim sterner

    Wow…Cole i just read this. Amazing. Sitting in Starbucks in trendy, oh so well to do Bloomfield Hills with misty eyes! Thanks for sharing. Just WOW!

    May 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm

  2. Pingback: Bugs and Aliens: A Nelson follow-up « Elevate Detroit

  3. Pingback: Bugs, Aliens, BBQ: A Nelson Update « Life After Death (to self)

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