A man with two white dogs just walked by. I’ve seen him almost daily for years. His dogs are longhaired yet always clean. He is in his forties, and has the build of a runner. He never makes eye contact, almost never speaks, and he and his wife are known for an unwavering coldness that easily turns to rudeness. The one time he spoke to me, Baxter—who was off-leash—ran up to his dogs to say hello. Bonnie was close behind. “If you don’t control your dogs, I will,” the man said. “Fuck you,” I retorted in the sure and certain knowledge that hurting my dogs would not bring anything good into his life. “That was constructive,” he replied, and walked on. Three years have passed. I had seen him almost everyday for at least the preceding seven, and I’ve seen him almost everyday since.
I feel more curiosity than hatred. Why are he and his wife so unfriendly that their neighbors refer to them as “those hateful people with the white dogs”? And how does he keep his dogs show room clean? Most of all, why does he never make eye contact?
There is another man in the neighborhood who I have seen almost everyday for fifteen or more years. He is bald, but hasn’t shaved in decades. He rides a cheap bike at walking speed, and collects cans and bottles for the nickel deposit. He is fit, clean, in his fifties, goes hatless in any weather, dresses simply, and appears intelligent; but he too never, ever makes eye contact. Are these men self-contained or just self-absorbed?
I think back to Harry, who I knew in college and considered the coolest, most self-contained person on earth. He too never made eye contact, and I rather wished that I was like Harry because, except for having a wife and child, Harry was like the lone drifters in Western movies. One morning, Harry shot his wife and baby girl as they bathed, and then shot himself. This made me doubt my ability to judge cool. It also made me wary of—and intrigued by—men who are reluctant to acknowledge the existence of others.