“I shouldn’t care what he thinks,” I tell myself …. But I do care.

Why is it?  Everywhere I go, I seem to be stalked by breathers! I go to the library with purpose, find a seat all alone at a table in the middle of the large room where there’s not another living soul … nice and quiet.  If I try, I can likely hear the hair on my arms growing. Abandoning my head like rats off a sinking ship, they thrive on my forearms in long, curly white tangles for no discernible reason.

Open my laptop and start to work. Trying to do something creative with my thoughts, hoping the activity will survive the long loop from my synapses to fingers to keyboard so that I can reorganize them in a coherent form that might become a story. Then three breathers emerge and disjoint – no, destroy – the quiet. Their breathing overwhelms me.

The guy to my right, an old codger who slumps into the room in a well-worn, sweat-stained cowboy hat and new jeans that sag off his waist straight down behind because he has no derrière, jeans that have to be scotched in place by a tightly-drawn western belt and large buckle, noisily situates himself in the next chair at my table. A newspaper’s under his right arm, and he spends the next three minutes and forty-nine seconds rattling and folding the pages to get ‘em right, to educate himself for the day. Within fifteen seconds, his shaky right hand starts plundering his snap-flap shirt pockets, finds his glasses among the nest of more paper evidently there, and perches them on the end of his schnozz. Then while looking over the top of the glasses to read and holding the paper very close to his face, he begins to breathe through his mouth – LOUDLY!  He resembles a skinny Kris Kristofferson, and there’s a bit of a rattle to his mouth-breathing. I catch myself sneaking repeated looks at him to make sure it’s not the death rattles.

At table next, a young woman has just blown into the room like Kramer and taken up residence with her laptop and large handbag. Notably, she sniffles every four seconds, occupying the time between each bubbly repetition with loud mouth-breathing. It’s spring – I get it. Allergens abound, and I appreciate the fact that ample oxygen is required for life, but someone in her shape should be at home – better yet, in a ward – getting medication, lots of warm fluids including chicken congee, and breathing assistance.

“Hey, bucko,” she suddenly rasps into her phone — sniff, sniff — “can I use you for a reference on my job application? Oh, and did I tell you I’m moving out by the Dells tomorrow?”

A muffled, mechanical “Wanh-wah, wanh-wah, wanh-wah-wah” comes back over the phone.

“Okay, great!” sniffs the young lass. “Now what’s your last name?”

Just then, the third character half-stumbles into the room. Mind, the room is large enough to comfortably house sixteen generous wooden library tables with six chairs each, plus another dozen or so easy chairs sprinkled around the glass-wall perimeter of the room for casual reading.

This particular soul, though, is undecided and, so, paces the perimeter loudly turning the air blue with his profane dissatisfaction about what’s available. In spite of my resolve, I glance up, see by his dirty beard, overgrown bed-head and outsized, filthy clothing that he’s come off the street to warm up. He has nothing to read, is making no pretense of using the library for its intended purpose. I am now totally distracted and can feel the creativity slinking slowly away from my writing project like a cat caught on a kitchen counter. My attention is shot to hell by the commotion.

Even as I cannot fathom why someone in his condition would complain at all about the library’s comfortable environs, my heart goes out to him, realizing that he’s likely spent the night just passed half-freezing on the cold ground somewhere. It’s still cold in the high desert at night, I remind myself. But then he indignantly circles the room one more time and chooses the chair immediately across from me – my table – which lurches and vibrates as he pours himself into the wooden chair.  I glance up again and manage a half-smile, but as he settles in I am overcome by the nauseating stench that settles with him.

Immediate guilt assaults my mind. My olfactory nerves are in high alert, but how can I, with any sense of decorum, remove myself to another faraway table to avoid physically losing my breakfast? “It’s that bad, so bad that I shouldn’t care what he thinks,” I tell myself. And he’s breathing – mouth-breathing – with a wheeze. But I do care. Seattle Urban Portraits

I stand up to go. I just can’t take it. Someone whispers, “Your left jeans pocket,” but I don’t see anyone who is whispering anything. My left hand dips in my jeans pocket and draws out a rumpled fiver and a one – all the cash there. I carefully lean toward the guy across from me, the smell, and catch his attention without a word, hurriedly tell him I’m going to leave the cash (I’m showing it to him) at the little coffee stand on the far side of the library, where he can get a cuppa joe and a pastry. He flashes a snaggle-tooth smile, wheezes and coughs as he wrenches free of his chair and shambles toward the coffee stand close on my heels.

It’s spring, but a storm is coming and it’s cold outside today.

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!

© March 22, 2016, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved. Photo by Steve Paxton of Seattle, WA from Urban Portraits. http://fstopspot.com/main/free-guides-for-photographers/questions-and-answers-for-capturing-high-impact-urban-portraits-and-street-photography/

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