Herb Benham column

Herb Benham

Last week, I took out the trash. It was early in the morning, still cool, beautiful and the day was filled with hope.

I looked up the street and saw a man walking toward me. I knew him and although he didn’t live in the neighborhood, he was a regular walker downtown or had been.

It had probably been a year or two since we had seen each other.

We had a lot to catch up on it. A lot happens in a year. Kids, grandkids, it’s hard to know where to start.

I looked at him. I was glad to see him and I suspected he was equally glad to see me. That’s what kind of relationship we had — the equally-glad-to-see-one-another relationship.

I smiled my big welcoming smile. That smile is like the searchlight for the grand opening of a movie. The smile is a blend of light and warmth and it brings them in from far and wide with or without their consent. The smile is like a magnet in the dust, all the metal shavings come a running.

I had caught his eye. I thought I had caught his eye. However, if I had caught his eye why, instead of continuing to walk toward me, did he make a left at the last cross street before reaching ground zero for the meet-and-greet?

Wait a minute. The smile is your cue to keep coming. The smile is not your cue to make a left. How are we going to catch up if you go left and I stay rooted by the trash cans, the smile now frozen on my face?

Had he deliberately turned left so as not to talk to me because he didn’t usually go left? I’d never seen him go left. Left was not part of his routine.

Was it possible he hadn’t seen me, was disappointed and thought “I might as well go left. He’s not there to exchange pleasantries”?

However, his left seemed like a preemptive left. A left to avoid. A left that led toward the free and clear.

That’s my move. You can’t use that move. I have that move copyrighted.

I saw somebody in Floyd’s awhile back with whom I didn’t want to have a conversation so I pretended I hadn’t seen her. It was the “I really didn’t see you" move.

It’s juvenile, I know. Something a fifth-grader would do but sometimes the prospect of an extended conversation can be exhausting and better to pretend the sighting never happened.

“I’m sorry. Had I seen you, of course I would have said something. We have so much to catch up on.”

I’m usually on the business end of that move. I’m pulling the trigger rather than taking the bullet. Now, I had a sense of what it felt like to finish second in a gunfight.

Who doesn’t want to talk to me? I’ve had a few off moments when I have noticed somebody’s eyes glazing over in the middle of a conversation but when that happens I usually talk louder and faster in order to retake the high ground.

Nobody avoids me. Nobody turns left on me. I’m jolly and no one avoids jolly.

I stood there for a minute thinking he might double back, walk by and we could forget this little incident.

One minute became two, and two, five and now it was just an empty street and a man standing by his impressive row of bins waiting for somebody to show up. I was a man waiting for a bus that would never come.

I turned around and went inside. He must have had better things to do. I can’t figure, for the life of me, what that might be.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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