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So I say to my neighbor Nabe as we sit on my couch after my first day back to school, “I got into an accident this morning! Some guy rear-ended me in the parking lot and I was almost late to my first class!”
“Can I have a cheese stick?” Nabe says, using his usual low-key approach to eliciting more information out of me.
“Go ahead,” I say. I raise my voice to tell the rest of my story, addressing the back of Nabe’s head and t-shirt as he pokes around in my refrigerator. “So like everybody’s racing around these parking lots trying to find a spot because nobody wants to be late to class. I come up behind this kid getting into his car, and I motion to him, asking if he’s gonna pull out. He motions yes, so I just sit there waiting for him. All of a sudden I feel this bump and my car starts bouncing. Somebody hit me!”
“Yeah?” Nabe says, back on the couch, peeling his string cheese and dangling it into his mouth. I’m encouraged by this show of interest on his part, so I forge ahead.
“Well by then, the kid wants to pull out and I have to back up, so I motion to the guy who hit me and he backs up, then I back up. The kid drives off and I pull into his spot. I get out to go talk to this guy, and here he’s another teacher!”
“Teachers make mistakes too,” Nabe says in hopes of ending my story. I know he hopes this because I tell long stories and Nabe always tries to hurry me along. But there’s more to tell, so I continue.
“So this teacher guy, somebody from computer something, I don’t know, he’s all dressed up for the first day of classes and he says to me, “Didn’t you see me?’ Didn’t I see him!? He flew around the corner like a bat out of hell and was sitting on my bumper! I didn’t even get a chance to see him!”
Nabe partakes of our semi-legal substance, which I take as a cue to continue: “So I said to him, ‘You were going way too fast.’ I almost said ‘I’m sorry’, but then I remembered that you never say you’re sorry when you’ve had an accident because that sounds like you’re admitting guilt.”
Nabe thinks this is uproariously funny. “The things I’ve been guilty of don’t even compare to this! Ha ha ha!”
While I know that Nabe has many colorful stories involving broken laws and accidents, I really want to finish my own. I push ahead before Nabe takes over. “So we call campus security and exchange information, take some pictures, and then I just took off. I mean, I had to teach!”
“So it wasn’t that big of a deal, right?” Nabe asks.
“I guess not, not in the large scheme of things,” I say. “But it almost made me late to class.”
“‘Almost’ doesn’t count,” Nabe says, leaning forward to work on a refill of our substance. “I’d forget about it. I remember flying past a stop sign in the middle of the night one time when me and my friend had been partying on the west side and this cop came right up on my….”
And with that, my story is over and Nabe’s has begun.
One nice thing about Nabe is that he puts everything into perspective. If something doesn’t matter very much, it’s not worth talking about. If something does matter, it’s only worth talking about for a little while. Nabe’s problems are sky-high; my problems are knee-high, if that—anklets compared to Nabe’s tsunami robes. And still, he is relaxed.
I don’t get a chance to tell him about the rest of my day: the three classes I taught, the interesting students I met, how tired but happy I was when I walked off campus at the end of the day. This used to bother me about Nabe, his not-listening habit, but I keep in mind what Annie Dillard once wrote about her parents’ habit of not paying attention to her: “Mother...gave me to understand that she was glad I had found what I had been looking for, but that she and Father were happy to sit with their coffee, and would not be [fawning over my biology experiment in the basement]. She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee) and I had mine…that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself….I had essentially been handed my own life.”
I like to think of Nabe in this way, always handing me back what I naively offer up so we can talk about mutually interesting topics instead, like the video game in which he lives, and his philosophy on people.
Sometimes thinking about Nabe is even better than actually spending time with him.