Ken and Me
Waiting at the rainy bus stop, I looked over and, yes, I saw Ken.
I see Ken at least once a year. I don't know Ken's last name. I mean, I've been told his last name many times, but I can't retain it. I can't retain his first name either. I can only tell you his first name now because I asked him what it was - again - 18 hours ago. This is due more to my narcissism and self-absorption than Ken's personality, which is invariably pleasant.
We stood in the rain, Ken and me, waiting for the eastbound Wilshire bus. I looked over at him. He didn't look over at me. I looked over at him again. He didn't look over at me again. I recognized him on account of his height, his very red hair and the fact that I have been running into him in random places, at random times for 15 years. I was sure that Ken recognized me too - or so I imagined. And I was sure - or so I continued to imagine - that he knew that I knew he recognized me...and so forth. But we pretended to wait for the bus very intently - intensely, in fact - as if this bus trip meant either escape from the invading forces or spending our last remaining months in a detention camp. We both did some very serious, very dramatic bus waiting.
Ken and I attended USC's School of Cinema-TV Production together. Back then I knew his name, maybe even knew his last name. He was part of the extended USC "Cinema House" (self-proclaimed and not in any way associated with the university or the university's fine fraternity system) family of ne'er-do-well film schoolers (many of whom are now doing well - consult your IMDb for details). I remember him as pleasant and friendly - and tall and red-haired. His red hair was much, much longer than. But as we get older, our hair gets shorter - until we begin to lose our hair altogether and complain that we don't have enough hair.
I run into Ken at museums, malls, restaurants, parties, and bus stops. I think the last time was over near the Farmer's Market. I do not know anything about Ken - except that he has red hair and I went to film school with him and that we know all the same people. But he is - permanently, I guess - in my "karass".
"Karass" is a term coined by the great Kurt Vonnegut in his book "Cat's Cradle" to describe that group of people whom you interact with on a regular basis, but with whom you appear to have little or nothing in common. Your destiny is forever interwoven with theirs for reasons beyond both your...well, for reasons beyond...beyond your ken.
The official definition, per Wikipedia.org:
"A group of people who, unbeknownst to them, are collectively doing God's will in carrying out a specific, common task. A karass is driven forward in time and space by tension within the karass."
After some minutes of riding within spitting distance of each other - I standing, Ken sitting - both of us ready to grimly deny our karass to the bitter end, I thought to myself: "This is ridiculous. I met Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan today and I'm not going to say hi to whathisname here?" (Yes, I met Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan yesterday, but this post is not about Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan, this post is about Ken and me) So I screwed up my courage and after waving my hands in his face and clearing my throat like a 19th century heroine dying of consumption, I got Ken's attention. He remembered my name. I had to ask his - once again. We asked what we were up to and what the old gang was up to as far as we knew and that was that.
Fearful of the possibility of mile after mile of uncomfortable silence, I prepared to get off at the next stop and take my Alternate Route home. He beat me to it. "I have to deplane here," he said and exited into the rain. And so I took his seat.
I knew I would see Ken again. And I knew he knew that he would see me again. Or I imagined he did.
I wonder: when I move to London, will I still see Ken? I don't know how such a thing would come about, but I have faith that somehow it will. A year from now, Ken and me will be standing at a bus stop under Big Ben, pretending not to notice each other, and I will be, once more, trying to remember his name.