Angie and I were killing a Saturday afternoon eating banana ice cream in some Cold Stone window seats when we saw him – the man who would make us glad there hadn’t been any good movies showing that afternoon.
“What is he doing with that toilet paper?” I asked, “or is that ticker tape?”
Angie followed my gaze, “Ummm, yeah, like receipt paper, I think.”
He was sitting on a bench directly across from us unrolling a roll of narrow paper, occasionally pausing to make a not on it with a pen. Pretty quickly the wind had draped the bushes and bench to his left with yards of his notes. When he reached the end of the roll, he did the only sensible thing: he licked the edge of the paper for a moment, folded it over, and then released it to the breeze.
Angie and I looked at each other and laughed.
“That was crazy.”
“I wonder what he was writing.”
We kept eating our ice cream. I found myself staring at him. For the sake of convenience, from here on out I’ll call him Crazy#1. Crazy#1 stood up and paced for a few minutes, spotted an unfinished cigarette butte on the ground, then sat down to smoke it. His hair was nothing short of wild, and his dark suit and shirt looked like they’d be pretty nice if not so worn and dirty. Next to him were a quality looking duffle bag and backpack.
Also, he was staring intently at something, something in my direction. Wait … me! Crazy#1 was staring at me! I turned to Angie and hoped he hadn’t noticed my staring, but we’d been staring at each other long enough that I was pretty sure it hadn’t escaped him. Angie was staring at him, too.
We returned to our ice cream and laughed the whole thing off. A few minutes later, we were both staring at Crazy#1 again, because he was in motion again. He’d caught the end of the ticker tape and pulled it over his shoulder, as though it were a heavy sack, and was walking down the street with it unraveling out behind him. When the tape was completely stretched out, he turned around and came back, still pulling the tape behind him.
A pedestrian behind him accidentally stepped on the tape (probably mistaking it for, say, an ordinary piece of trash) and it broke. Angie and I both gasped. Crazy#1 was not deterred. He dropped his broken end found the new end, threw it over his shoulder and kept walking. A second person stepped on the tape. “Don’t give up!” Angie cheered next to me. He didn’t, he found the end and made it back to his seat without further incident.
Enter Crazy #2: A little old man wandering past stopped to pick up the broken pieces that Crazy#1 had dropped on the ground. Crazy#1 had been scribbling intently on his remaining tape for several minutes, occasionally stopping to review some of what he’d written and nod approvingly. Crazy#2 probably would have escaped our notice entirely, but we were curious to see if Crazy#1 would react to the confiscation of some of his paper, even if it was a discarded portion. He didn’t even seem to notice, but the damage was done, we were watching Crazy#2 now. We watched as he crumpled the paper in his hands, walked past Crazy#1, and hid the papers behind a bush.
“He just hid those papers behind a bush, right?”
“Yes he did, yes he did!”
“What is he doing?”
Crazy#2 walked past Crazy#1 again, walked halfway along the stretched out tape, looked back over his shoulder to where Crazy#1 was still not watching him, bent over, and tore the long end off of the paper, gathering it as he walked away and disappearing from our view.
For the next 15 or 20 minutes we watched, empty ice cream cups in front of us, as Crazy#1 maintained his stance of focused writing. Every few minutes Crazy#2 would come back, walk a circle around Crazy#1, and vanish again. Then, during one of his laps, Crazy#2 noticed us, sitting in the window staring transfixedly at Crazy#1, and at him. He laughed, shrugged his shoulders, then nodded in the direction of Crazy#1 while shaking his head as if to say, “Yeah, check out the crazy guy.” Then continued walking.
Angie and I could barely stop laughing. “We watched him hide trash behind a bush!”
“Yeah, and he’s been pacing this block for twenty minutes!”
We shook our heads as if to say, “Yeah, check out the crazy guy.”
Curiosity overtook us. Crazy#1 was still writing. He’d been at it for ages and was only growing more and more intent and pleased with his work.
“That other guy totally tore a piece off and he didn’t even notice. We could get a piece, just to see what he’s writing.”
“That would definitely go in my journal.” We laughed. We were joking.
The wind picked up a little and started blowing the paper off to Crazy#1’s left again. It reached a couple sitting at the other end of the bench. They stood up and moved as soon as it touched them.
Angie and I looked at each other.
“It would be really easy.”
“I’ve gotta have a piece of it.”
We picked up our bags, and went outside, trying to look laid back and casual as we crossed the walk to the bench. Crazy#2 passed us, smiled, and nodded. I don’t know if Crazy#1 saw us, because I was avoiding looking at him as we sat down in the recently vacated seats. I set my hand on the bench beside me; it was resting on the end of the paper.
I turned to Angie, “Is he looking at me?”
“No, he’s still writing.”
I tried to bring myself to do it.
“He’s not looking at you.”
We were both giggling. “I can’t do it.”
Crazy#1 stood up. He had his paper over his shoulder again, but this time instead of walking into the wind, he walked away from it, past us. The tape draped itself across our laps. He returned to his seat, raised the end into the air, and released it to the wind. We were holding it now, all of it. Re ran it through our hands.
“He was doing math?”
“’6+6-1=5’?, I’m not sure I’d call it math.”
“Is he looking at us?” I asked Angie.
“Does he look angry?”
“No, he’s smiling soooo big right now.”
“What do you think he’d do if we just rolled it up and took it?”
I don’t know why I even suggested it. All I really wanted was to know what he’d been writing, and maybe to have a little piece as a keepsake, but there we were, killing a Saturday afternoon accordion folding ticker tape on a park bench in Seoul. According to Angie, Crazy#1 never stopped smiling. Before we were finished he stood up and wandered away. Then I looked up. A young woman sitting in the Stone Cold window was staring at something … something in my direction. The story had come full circle. For convenience from here on out I’ll refer to Angie and myself as Crazy#3 and Crazy#4.
I tucked the bundle of paper into my bag, we stood up, and we walked away. As we left, Crazy#1 sat back down, Crazy#2 smiled at us and waved, and Crazy#3 and Crazy#4 looked at each other and laughed.