Earlier this week I was sitting in Starbucks, waiting for an afternoon appointment to show up. I settled onto one of the stools near the window, took out my phone and my iPad and began to read the last pages of my book (I picked Gone Girl, by the way—thank you for your suggestions!—and I liked it enough to speed through it, but wasn’t a fan of the ending). But as usual, I got distracted by people-watching: school kids ordering sugary Frappucinos, besuited lawyers from the firm across the street jonesing for their 3 p.m. espressos, pretty young women in high heels ordering skinny vanilla lattes, the smattering of people hunkered down with their laptops and tablets, pecking away at the keyboards while clutching their paper cups.
In one of the leather seats closest to me sat a middle-aged man doing just that. He was wearing a button-down shirt, shorts and sneakers, and his round glasses took turns living on the bridge of his noise and the top of his head. He had a gentle air about him; he looked like he could easily be the doting father of one of the aforementioned Frappucino-ordering children, and his voice—he was talking on his cell phone—was deep, almost booming, but kind.
I’m a bit of an eavesdropper—I just really like to know what’s happening around me—and since I was still waiting for my appointment, and the buzz of conversation and the espresso machines were making it hard to concentrate on my book, I kept my eyes on my iPad but my ears tuned into what the man was saying. The word “headhunter” came up a few times, so I figured he was recruiting someone for his business, whatever it may have been.
But then he said, his voice lower but still loud enough for me to hear, “If they call me in for a second interview, I just want to let you know that I’m not going to be able to dress up for it.” Beat. “Well, I’m living at a homeless shelter right now.”
And it was one of those moments where you just have to pause for a second. Sarasota is known for having a bit of a homeless problem; the city is kind of notorious for not being particularly kind to vagrants, and groups of them often gather to sit in the park across the street from Starbucks (the people with their pets make me the saddest). And you know, and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying this, there are certain stigmas associated with the homeless: dirty, lazy, crazy, drug-addicted. They’re sad, they can be a gross generalization and often very misinformed, but they exist.
But this man—this clean, well-dressed man in the sneakers with the kind voice—was, as far as I could tell, just down on his luck. As a young woman who’d recently graduated from college settled in to one of the chairs next to him and started chatting brightly about how she was looking for a job in “sustainability,” he took her through a litany of past careers—a list that began at entry-level and then moved up through the ranks. And I found myself hoping that whoever was potentially calling him in for a second interview would follow through, and that pretty soon he’d be one of the people dashing into Starbucks at 3 p.m. for a quick coffee—to go, of course, because he had to get back to the office.
My appointment showed up not long after, and I couldn’t eavesdrop anymore. But for the rest of the day, I was reminded of one of my favorite things to say—one that I think is so true: Everyone has a story. And you never know what it is.
I really hope he got that second interview.
Photo: Olivia Rae James