“Bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs…”
He’s talking before he’s even entered the store, as if our conversation had started up by Aahs! and continued down the escalator into my store. He was looking at me as he walked in, expectant, me having no idea if this convo had started with the word “bugs” or if that was the final punctuation to an entirely different discussion.
He was holding a cup of Gloria Jean’s, a large, and the smell of hazelnut preceded him, like his conversation. He was a few years past middle-aged and walked with a halting, arthritic rhythm. He had a pale, wrinkled face and bright white hair, so remarkably vivid that I was reminded immediately that this man was once my age.
“Bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs. I got so many damn bugs. I got like seven, seven, seven or eight of these little things, like all over my house.”
He talked with extraordinary speed, but he didn’t stutter, nor was he hard to understand. But there was no pause between any single word or thought. And he never took a breath.
“I’m out of work now Workman’s Comp case got me like a week ago. I’m all out but I’ve got something better than that last gig now. Pays me under the table, cash, pretty good money for case work, especially for a Workman’s Comp con like me.”
He was admiring one of the toys we had displayed by the register, tiny motorized bugs the size of a peanut.
“Man I got so many of these bugs. They’re so funny the way they don’t stop. Never missing corners, always in motion, in motion. I like that.”
I tell him they’re our best sellers.
“This a great store here really great. I’ve been to almost every store in the mall and I like what you guys got going here. Makes me wish you had a store like this when I was like this (holds hands to his shins), not now that I’m like this (holds hands perfectly parallel with his head).”
He reflects for a split second.
“But it makes no difference, height. I’m 55 now but I feel like I’m, you know, I’m 55 now but I feel like I’m 5 and 5, do the math. What’s this one do?”
“That’s remote-controlled. Moves left and right, or spins in a circle.”
“I like that one, like me, that used to be me, always spinning, spinning spinning spinning. So full of stuff when I was younger.”
His nervous energy is making me uncomfortable. We’re going to close soon, and I think about closing up early so I can get this guy out of the store. But the customer’s always right, and besides, he seems truly harmless.
“I got this nerve condition now,” he continued. “Every time I walk it gets me everywhere, all the time. Because I’m bipolar, you know, either way way up or real down, so low, low, low. They got me on two medications now, green, and something else with a really long name. But the green, every day, every day I take green. Smoke it, drink it, eat it…”
He’s talking about his medicinal marijuana card. He asks me if I want to see it. I hadn’t ever seen one in person, and I admit, I was curious. It looks like a driver’s license. His picture is in the lower left corner and the Seal of California is in the upper right. It’s very plain. Kind of innocuous when you consider the debate the card inspires.
“I’ve been smoking for 40 years now, the first cleanse I ever did. Now I’m always cleansed, not like before, always spinning. They got weed water now. You know that? Peanut butter, brownies, cookies, every day. Every day. Keeps me cleansed.”
He talks about marijuana for another five minutes. Then he decides it’s time to leave.
“Hey, I like your store here, it’s the best one here. When I get my next cash under the table I’m coming here to spend like 200 or something. How about that?”
He asks my name. I tell him and smile. He smiles back and shakes my hand. When my hand touches his I can feel his body calm. He grips my hand lightly and brings it up, then down, very slowly. He takes a deep breath.
“Thank you.” Then he starts walking out the door. He continues talking as he walks down the hall.
“I’ll be back for more bugs. I love those bugs. Never stop for anything. Always spinning, spinning, spinning…”
Word is that Prop. 19 organizers are pushing to have another legalization initiative on the ballot in 2012. The day I vote I’ll be thinking of this man. Weed smokers might make you uncomfortable, but are they harmful? Not any more than those spinning toy bugs.
Alex Isao Herbach is a freelance writer and sales director for a Southern California toy store. He can be reached via email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.