Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.
I could sugarcoat it and say that Clarence was “average looking.” But fact is, most people consider Clarence, well, ugly.
People look through him like he were a pane of glass. Indeed, he called himself “GlassMan.”
And when Clarence looked people in the eye, especially attractive women, they’d avert their eyes.
In retrospect, Clarence said, "I can't believe I actually did this but I was so desperate for attention, I rubbed poison oak all over my face so I’d get the sympathy vote." In fact, people were grossed out and even less likely to look at him, let alone start a conversation. He overheard one person whisper to his friend, “Do you think he has leprosy or ebola?”
And that wasn’t the craziest thing Clarence did. To get attention, even though he was perfectly healthy, he told his family he had cancer. He was not a good liar, so when his family asked, “What’s the course of treatments and prognosis? Can we drive you to treatments? Who’s your oncologist?” his lie was quickly discovered. They yelled and yelled at him, “How dare you make us worry so much and for nothing?! Be authentic,dammit!”
So Clarence tried that. He reached out to people and said things like, “I’m lonely and vulnerable. Frankly, I’m desperate for someone to pay attention to me.” In an ideal world, people would be nicer because of his desperation but, not surprising, that was as off-putting as his poison-oak-covered face.
Then Clarence figured, “Okay, I gotta fake it: Be normal. Smile more. Make small talk.” And it sort of worked. People were a little nicer to him but it remained superficial. He concluded, “It’s not worth being a phony when I’m getting so little in return."
So Clarence bought a solar/propane stove and heater and moved off the grid to an isolated spot near a stream in a forest not far from Mendocino, California. He grew his own fruits and vegetables and drove his bike into town to pick up necessities. He managed to get himself approved for disability so he didn’t need to work: "Thank you, taxpayer!"
That lasted a year. At that point, Clarence was very lonely and so took jobs in town as a house cleaner. His clients were happy with him and some had more extended conversations with him than he had previously.
Like many true stories, this tale doesn't end in a dramatic climax. Clarence moved into a basement studio apartment in town, made casual friends with a couple of the town’s homeless people and bar denizens. He watches movies on his phone, and enjoys Mendocino coast sunsets with his dog GladWrap. At times, he’s even grateful that he’s GlassMan.
I perform this short-short story on YouTube.