The Sad Man

26 Feb

This project came about from a short fiction writing contest sponsored by NPR.  Writers were given a picture to inspire a story. The picture inspired me to write a story about a sad man looking through personal ads.  I made it a multimedia project and decided to continue the story. As I thought about where to take Episode Two, a rush of usable images shot through my head.  So finally, I have a use for some of my pictures!  Sometimes the images drove the story and other times I searched my archives for a suitable image or video clip, or went out and shot what I needed. The man will be sad and bitter for quite some time, but eventually he will heal—maybe. Stories such as this one remind me how everything is about balance including emotions.  Read the stories or sit back and enjoy the video readings.

Original Photo Prompt Provided by NPR (Rob Hill Photo)

Episode 1

Brown haired Becky likes staying in bed until noon.  Short but cute Carey likes cooking and long walks. Holly? Could this be the same Holly who told me she found someone? I exhale. The air grabs at my throat and my heart settles into an expanding void. It is her; she was being nice.

I flip to the next page finding solace in the newsprint’s aroma. I roll the corner of the paper between my thumb and index finger while scanning the next few personals ads. My kneading of the paper quickens and it softens between my fingers.  I turn another page, and then another. These pages turn like blind corners. Maybe one day I will crash into someone: She will replace my blessed Karen, she will walk and laugh with me, she will hold me.  How long has Karen been gone now?  If any more air leaves me, no one will know I’m here.

I tip my mug and power through a slug of cold coffee. Normally, I’m done ‘looking’ before I need a refill, but not today.  My reflection catches me as I stand and dig in my pockets for some change.  I lean towards the glass rubbing and twisting my two-week old beard.  The salt and pepper strands remind me of newsprint, smells like it too. After thirty years as a newspaper editor, ink runs in my veins.  Karen used to tell me to shower as soon as I came home; ink was an odor to her not an aroma.  My reflection ages with each twist of my beard–my reflection will not smile. Karen would tell me to shave; she hated facial hair.

I cut in line and flip a quarter and three dimes onto the counter. The barista nods and slides the change into the tip jar.  As I make my way back to my seat, a man picks up my paper, frowns, and sets it back down.  I check the date on the paper. Over two weeks old! That explains why Holly’s ad is so familiar.  I step back and tip my mug; the coffee burns my throat and I wince at the pain.  There’s a newspaper stand and a bar down the street. The pain will be gone soon.

Episode Two

I rush out to the street leaving the café and the newspaper behind.  Reflections seem to have more life than the flesh surrounding me, and every sound swells with its own existence. The squeal of a cab’s overheated brakes, the impatient pounding of crosswalk buttons, the ensuing beep signaling it’s safe to cross, and the sounds of feet anesthetize what little feelings I have. I can separate the clicking high heels from the scraping shuffle of men’s leather soled shoes, and can even hear the hushed squish of sneakers. A couple of barefooted hippies pass by, and I shoot them a glare as if they had interrupted my ballad.  Silence is the loudest note.

I stare down a subway tunnel and think about how cities are called seas of humanity. Seas have life, seas have cycles that never waste.  Every organism in a sea has a purpose.  So how can this be a sea? Is this life? Our greed and our disconnect will lead us to decay, and only then will we give back what we have taken.

As the skys darken, I can feel Karen next to me looking for the exact place where the sun would shine. She had a way of finding beginnings where most would only see the end.  Places where things were burnt, raw and desolate were the places where she felt most alive.

Why isn’t she alive? She would chisel through these clouds, remind me how darkness is temporary.

A tug on my pant leg startles me and I look down at eyes.  Eyes that scream I can and I will. I know those eyes; I used to have them. A Latin American boy is looking up at me, his bright-orange garb and his soft smile brings warmth back to my body. The boy’s hands are a different shade than his face, not just dirty, but caked with the layers of survival and determination.

He sets down a bucket of flowers half as tall as him and asks, “Excuse sir, what you look at?”

I reply, “I’m looking for the sun kid, looking for light.”

“You look too hard sir,” he shoots back still holding onto my pant leg.

“Yeah, you may have something there…”

“Flowers?” he asks.

My voice cracks, “Sure kid.”

He clutches my ten-dollar bill and grips my pant leg even harder.

I smile and nod, “Keep it kid.”

The bucket leaves thin white trails of plastic on the sidewalk as he trudge off. Parts of the bucket are worn through and some of the flower’s stems stick out of the holes.  Without turning around he points at the light in the sky and shouts, “See sir! You look too hard!”

Sad Man Extras

The Latin American boy: The boy who sells the Sad Man flowers is a picture of a Peruvian lad that Lori and I met briefly during a trek in 2008. Our guide was annoying us so we lagged behind the group on purpose. As we stumbled along in the last light, a boy came bounding up the trail humming a tune. He was blissfully at home: charging along the only path he knew.  I’ll never forget the freeness bursting from his eyes.  We were trying to conceive at the time so we took it as a sign and now, two years later, we have a baby boy!

Lori taking in the Andes right before we met the boy. 

The Subway Tunnel Shots: I shot and edited this sequence for a short film back in 2004. The piece, Herded, was accepted to three short film festivals including the Oakland International Film  Festival. Here’s another sequence from Herded.

Burnt and desolate places: Karen, the Sad Man’s deceased wife, loves places that are “burnt raw and desolate.”  Although I love the lush green forests of the Northwest, there’s something about clear-cuts and burn areas that I love as well. Old stumps in general get me all gooey. Maybe it’s the potential, the history, or the how it reminds me of cycles. When I shot my promo video, Keep Going, with my mate, Brett Neiman, we chose a clear-cut as a location and got some fantastic shots. Check out the shot of me sitting on a giant stump with my laptop at the 2:20 mark. I think the stump was happy to provide me with a seat (Giving Tree…).

Sad Man production challenges:  I started writing Episode Two while Lori was in Labor (after the epidural when she was nice and cozy). Having a newborn in the house has made me reevaluate my expectations even more. The idea of glacial progress on a project has had to be adjusted again and again so I can keep going. Cliche’, I know…but it works!  This piece was created second by second in between diaper changes, rocking, bouncing, and tending to Lori, three cats, a dog and a 100 year old house. And then was the ongoing work on my multimedia memoir.

So when it came time to get the last shot (four months after starting), it felt more than celebratory.  At midnight last Friday, after giving Lori and Rayden a smooch, I hopped on my old crusier with a backpack full of cameras and my computer. Dahlias from the garden picked by Lori’s gentle hands brushed my wrists as they flopped back forth in the basket; music from my I-Phone serenaded me.  The river glistened in the almost full moon as wind waves fought the slow currents. City lights twinkled and homeless people mumbled and peed in the bushes. As I set up my tripod, a man asked me what I was doing. I smiled and replied, “Just playin’ man. Just playin’.”




10 Responses to “The Sad Man”

  1. Mary Scriver February 26, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    Amazing, Ryan! I’m SO impressed!

    Prairie Mary

    • Ryan Chin February 27, 2010 at 12:46 am #

      Thanks Mary. I’ve been visiting your site here and there and I can’t believe you are pushing out 1000 words a day. I didn’t hear about this contest until I saw your post about it, so thank you. Your story actually would have been fun to shoot a few images for. Close up face shots of ex-partner meeting ex-partner’s new partner (does that make sense?) could be fun. Cheers.

  2. Fran soltys February 27, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    Ryan I can picture the whole story . You get better all the time I always want to read more . You have a great voice I think that it adds so much to the story when you do the reading and one can watch the video and just listen. Great job

  3. Roberto February 27, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    You carved that story out of pic? ….Amazing! it is well formed and the composition of place and oddities of time, is in a sense brilliant. Loved the story.
    More of such please…..

    • Ryan Chin February 27, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

      Thanks Roberto. Yeah I looked at the picture and thought of an old and lonely guy looking through the personals. Once I started it sort of went the direction of the Newspaper being his security blanket. Like I mentioned, it was really fun writing fiction for a change, being able to take it ANYWHERE I want instead of being concerned with fact and a pre-conceived message. I think I’m going to try and continue this story and produce more videos with the same structure.

  4. maiz February 27, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    Chinman, great stuff! The photo, the story, the video, your narration come together to make a dark-roasted, flavour-rich experience. It’s like drinking a single shot espresso with a fork.

  5. Becky February 28, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    Your story was incredible. The narration and music added so much to an already well delivered story. It left me sad, and wanting it to continue. It is one of those places in life we don’t want to find ourselves.

  6. Tim March 3, 2010 at 4:49 am #

    Wow. Knocks my socks off. You are quite the writer. And then you wrap it up into the package and bring the whole thing home. Yes!

  7. Greg March 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    Well done. Your pacing is really effective in this. Great video too.

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