Bob was sitting with his legs crossed on one of the leather chairs at the fifth-floor landing for the escalators at 900 North Michigan, watching the small number of midafternoon weekday shoppers moving quietly through the mall. As he had for years he was wearing his little white bucket of a hat, sporty summer style with a narrow brim, horn-rimmed glasses, button-down oxford shirt and light-blue gardening jacket.
He looked up at me. “Well, hey,” he said, forgiven if the bounce in his voice was a little too practiced and he didn’t remember my name. Bob was ten or fifteen years older than me, probably in his late fifties.
“Haven’t seen you for a while,” I said. “Still over at Thirteen-Sixty?”
“Oh no, not for five years now,” Bob said, stretching rubbery vowels in his deep, Midwest patrician tone. “I’m at Sandburg Village now, a few blocks west. How about you?”
“I moved to Uptown, way up north of Irving Park, but still on the Drive. The neighborhood’s all right, I guess, just a little too quiet. I miss walking around here, all the excitement.”
“Oh, walking in this neighborhood is wonderful,” Bob said.
“Oh no, computers put me out of business.”
I noticed a smear of dirt on the brim of his hat and my heart sank a little for old Bob. “I remember you used to draw ads with markers.”
“That’s right!” he said. “Everything by hand, for years and years!” He made a sketching motion in the air. “And then it all went to computers, yeah…” He looked toward the Williams-Sonoma store and then back at me. “How about you, still writing for the… what was it, the Tribune?”
“No, not anymore. Newspapers have all gone down the toilet, because of the Internet. Most of the magazines, too.”
“Oh, I know. It’s terrible.”
“I’m mostly writing corporate stuff now, hackwork to put dinner on the table. Trying to get a novel out there.”
“Oh, a novel, well…”
We were silent for a couple of minutes and then I said: “What are you up to these days, Bob?”
“Well, I’m a caregiver for the elderly now, yeah. I have a nice old woman that I take care of. Oh, real nice! Sometimes I even take her on car trips up to Wisconsin. It’s fine.”
I was hoping Bob would have said that he’d retired. “Well, that sounds good,” I told him.
There was a high-end toy store on the level just below. A young mother and her two small children hurried past on their way down the escalator.
“I’m so glad I never had kids!” Bob said. “They’re always screaming!”
I decided not to mention that I was a father now. “Well Bob, I’m going upstairs to get my hair cut, but it was good seeing you again.”
“Oh and you, too!” He looked up at me and smiled. “I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure you will.”
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