The man walks up to the counter of our stand at the fair and I know he will be a talker. I don’t know how I know this, but after years of waiting on people, I know. It is like a sixth sense. Perhaps it is something in the eyes, something lost or weary. Perhaps it is something in the shoulders, something heavy.
“You know,” he says, rubbing his beard like a sage, “I’ve been out of work now for 18 months. I’ve seen a tough stretch. A tough stretch indeed.”
He pauses. I wait.
“You sure you don’t have any pumpkin pie?” he asks, a sidetrack, a rabbit trail.
“No, sorry about that,” I say. “We don’t have enough space to carry refrigerated pies.”
“Oh, I’d just need one,” he says. I don’t say anything, because I know he doesn’t want to talk about pies.
“I love a good pumpkin pie. So anyway,” he says. “It’s been a tough stretch. I called up to York fair and they said the carnies hired people on a temporary basis, you know, to help set up the rides and run the food stands. So I showed up and applied and worked for two days.”
“Did you enjoy it?” I ask.
“It was work,” he says. “It was money. But after two days, that woman comes to me and says I can’t work for her and keep my beard on.”
“Can’t keep my beard on! Well, I’m not shaving, not my beard, and I told her so, so she told me to take a hike. I called down here to Frederick Fair and applied to work down here for the week.”
“So you’ll be here this week?” I ask.
“And they’ll let you keep your beard?”
“Yep, I’m running a fryer, just making french fries and corn dogs. That sort of thing. I done it before and I suppose I’ll do it again.”
He rubs his beard.
“Said I could keep my beard, you know. I have to wear a hat though. Can’t stand wearing hats, but I suppose I can respect her, wear the hat. I could use the money.”
He walks away. I can tell that, for this man, walking away from a conversation is like peeling off a scab. But I also know I’ll see him again. It’s something in the way he walks away, the slow movement of his gaze, or the way he shifts his hat nervously.