72 Gypsies File Past


Imagine one rootless gypsy per year, each of them carrying a sign reading “Now This Way.”

As my birthday wish, I have a true story. When I worked as a cashier at Barnes and Noble #1979, one of our regular customers was a fellow with a soft moonface who wore every day a neat drab shirt with a nearby address embroidered over the pocket, and neat drab slacks that jangled with a large key ring. He was the maintenance man for a large apartment building in the neighborhood and liked to visit the bookstore on his breaks. Whichever of us was not occupied with a customer he’d approach with the little smile of a guileless child about to demonstrate a card trick: “Do you want to hear a joke?” he would ask every time. The first time unnerved each new cashier because of the possibility the joke would be obscene, but it never was. “Why are fish so smart?” was one I remember hearing four or five times myself. “Because they live in schools!” And I would make the  “You got me!” face and laugh just enough and then ring up his purchase which was either another inexpensive little wordplay book or an inexpensive blank book. There were days when I couldn’t bear my own pity imagining this lonely simple life; there were days when I suspected that a moonfaced simple man might be more aware than he let on of his ability to command indulgence from someone like me; there were days I was glad for a simple cheerful encounter especially when I couldn’t figure out the punch line.

My supervisor at the store was a mensch who allowed me to decorate the cord of my name tag with little buttons: one with Bob Dylan’s high school yearbook photo, one with the cover of The Times They Are A-Changin’, one simply stating Bob Dylan… One day I was the cashier available for a joke, and when the janitor approached, I looked up with the ritual grownup encouraging smile.  But this time he said to me, “Do you know what my favorite Bob Dylan song is?” I froze—half disoriented and half expecting to hear “Blowin’ in the Wind” and preparing a politely impressed response to that.  The janitor smiled his mischievous child smile and said. . . “Everything is Broken.”  The moment split open wide and I burst out– “Because you fix things every day!”

Martin Buber wrote, “…everything broken points to the unbroken…”

Happy birthday, dear Mr Dylan.  Keep your distance. Try not to underestimate us, and we’ll try not to underestimate each other.



2 thoughts on “72 Gypsies File Past

  1. Love the Barnes and Noble story. Imagine the realization that even your moonfaced janitor was getting the same joy you are from the catalog of Bob. I say stay on top of us all Mr. D
    Keep no distance, and one day maybe, someday baby, we;ll all be free, to just be and be and be. I know he wishes we’d all just drop the whole B-day hoopla anyway. Noone wants to be reminded they’re getting older. But perhaps we can remind him he’s still the top cat.
    Find me, remind me, of where I’ve once begun………..

    1. I think every good living thing wants bday hoopla. I am so glad to find another Emotionally Yrs fan–I love that, er, simple song more with each passing year. Have you seen the video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giidVZLhYAc. Enjoy!!

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