I haven't posted anything in a while as I've been consumed with other things, including recently being separated from my wife and kids (against my wishes), which I'm sure I'll write about when I feel like it. Until then, here's a piece of flash fiction I've been unsuccessfully shopping around. It's pure fiction but based on someone I went to college with whom I noticed frequently but, as you'll read, never knew.
by Jason M. Rubin
We called him Kegger. There were two reasons why we called him Kegger. The first was that we didn’t know his real name. The second was because he had some kind of physical disability that made him walk in a jerky fashion so that he looked like someone leaving a “kegger” (that is, a keg party). In other words, he walked like he was drunk, even though he wasn’t. We used to joke that when he was shitfaced, he probably walked perfectly.
He was a classmate of ours in college. That was almost 10 years ago. We didn’t know what his ailment was. It could have been something like muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy, but to tell you the truth, I can’t distinguish among any of those diseases. He could have sustained a brain injury in an accident or maybe there was a problem with his birth, like the umbilical cord tied around his neck or something. It would have been so easy to get the answer…no, strike that. Even had I introduced myself to him at some point during our shared tenure in college and learned his name, I don’t think I would’ve had the nerve to ask him the nature of his disability. “So what’s with the funny walk: brain damage or incurable disease?” No, I don’t think so.
The strange thing is, ever since we graduated, I see him around the city every so often. Maybe once every other year. I went to a large state university and for all I know I’m constantly coming into contact with people from my class – but I wouldn’t know them from Adam because there’s nothing about them that distinguishes them in my mind. Not like Kegger. I’d know Kegger anywhere. It’s true, because I’ve seen him with and without a beard, and there’s no question it’s Kegger.
It’s kind of ironic, how someone whose name I don’t even know cannot be anonymous. Because not only did I used to stare at him walking across campus, I would notice other people staring at him, too. I’m sure lots of people recognize him because like me, they routinely stared at him. But it’s human nature, right? If an eight-foot-tall woman walked by, I would turn and stare. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s an unusual sight. You can’t judge a person for being curious. It’s a little different, though, with a person whose difference is somewhat more gruesome. For example, burn victims drive me crazy. You can’t help but stare but then you wish you hadn’t. The same thing with people missing limbs or digits, children with no hair, the morbidly obese. Compared to them, Kegger was no big deal. After all, he just walked funny.
One thing I always found odd was that not only did I not know him, but I didn’t know anyone who knew him or who knew anyone who knew him. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was a popular game when I was in college, but with Kegger, there were no degrees. There was just Kegger. Thinking of that makes me a little sad for him, but he must have had a roommate and that roommate must have had friends, so there has to be some number of people who can link themselves to Kegger. Looking at it this way, suddenly I’m the one who feels isolated. I mean, what does it say about my social network if I have no connection whatsoever to a guy I went to college with? Maybe I’m the one with an issue. Perhaps it’s me whose life is unfortunate.
I’ve been thinking this way for the last 24 hours because I saw Kegger again. Just yesterday. Only this time, I talked to him. Yes! After all these years, I finally got up the courage to speak to him. Although I can’t take all the credit for the courage because our encounter was somewhat unavoidable. It turns out he works at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and I was in to get a new license because my wallet had been stolen. (Yes, having my wallet stolen and all the bullshit I have to go through to cancel credit cards and change passwords and stuff would probably make for a better story, but I’m too pissed off to write about it. Again, Kegger is an easy mark for me.)
To be honest, when I walked up to his window and began dealing with him, I didn’t recognize him because he was sitting down. But then he had to go over to the printer and there it was. The walk. It was Kegger. No question about it. I smiled. Nothing to lose, I thought. So when he lumbered back to me, I introduced myself and said that we went to college together.
“I know,” he said. “I see you around town every so often.”
“You do?” I replied. (What the hell was so distinguishing about me?)
“Yeah,” he said. But he didn’t say anything else, and I couldn’t think of anything else to say to him. Then he handed me my license and called the next number.
I walked out of the building feeling very strange. Are any of us really anonymous? Though we walk with our heads down and text more than we talk, somehow we all notice each other and for some of us, there are certain characteristics you make note of and file away. As I made my way back to my office, I began to notice the way I walk. It’s funny, when you think about how you walk, when you really concentrate on your gait, you can’t walk right. The attention you pay to it messes you up. Maybe the attention I and others paid to Kegger messed him up somehow. I don’t think so, though. Old Kegger (I forgot to ask his name!), he doesn’t even have to think about it. He just walks.