Part 1, Bullshit Self-Esteem
October of 2019
Where else could I have been when I spotted Ken? At the bookstore, of course.
The memorial was underway. Bookstores are where recently passed poets are remembered these days. Across the room, on the other side of the History shelf, a tastefully dressed woman was speaking into a microphone.
Tiptoeing like a thief across the room, Ken passed between two shelves, History and Fiction. He seemed to be slipping out at the very moment when the reverence of the crowd was just building to a somber crescendo.
“Ken!” I whispered.
“Oh, hey!” He changed directions and dodged over to me. I had been sharing a bench with a black woman who was in the bathroom at the moment.
Ken wore biking pants and carried a helmet under his arm. He’s 72 years old but gets around by bike, even in winter. He’s one of these admirable people who manage their health proactively. He’s also Chinese-American, and a touch…fringe, shall we say.
To treat cancer in his prostate, he’d paid the city to replace the lead pipes leading from the water main to his house, and applied relentless positivity, and installed an 8-way reverse-osmosis water filter in his kitchen. Ken had faced many hardships and illnesses in his life, but somehow he kept himself healthy through the power of his mind, his attitude, his words, his intention. As is sometimes the case with these types, it’s true Ken may have conceived of more civic projects than he’d completed.
“How are you?” Ken asked.
“I’m doing all right, I guess,” I said, whispering.
My brave face felt like settled Jell-o. I was twitchy-cheeked and lumpy-throated, meek of voice. All the commas in town couldn’t correct me. I was like a starfish in a bed of sea anemones at this bookstore. Taking cover, hoping I didn’t get eaten.
“What’s going on?” Ken asked, sitting down on the bench next to me.
“There’s a woman sitting there. She asked me to watch her laptop and stuff. She’s in the bathroom.”