Social Question

Jeruba's avatar

Four people you never actually knew, yet still remember: who were they?

Asked by Jeruba (46093points) October 29th, 2010

You never actually knew them: perhaps they lived in your neighborhood or went to your school, or you saw them on the bus, or they worked someplace where you shopped, or they haunted a certain streetcorner or park bench or restaurant. Perhaps you saw them only once, as in that old poem:

    There is a Lady sweet and kind,
    Was never face so pleased my mind;
    I did but see her passing by,
    And yet I love her till I die.

They never knew you: they wouldn’t have known your name, they might not have even thought you looked familiar. In their worlds, as far as you know, you had no place at all.

Yet for some reason you noticed them and they stuck in your mind. You remember them still. They remain among the characters that populate the halls of your memory. Chances are they’re there for good.

Who were they? and from how many years ago? Tell us about four of them.

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27 Answers

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Holy moly, there was this mime guy I seen on the bart train about 5 years ago, headed into San Fran, he stuck out in my mind.

Another time there was a guy headed into San Fran that was decked out like a Dickens character.

There was this gal in really tight clingy white pants, I guess I remembered her because of the camel toe.

And there was this homeless woman at the bus stop because she barfed her lunch up on the ground very noisily she apologized for it though.

YARNLADY's avatar

A girl on a horse in the park, when I was about 5 years old. She gave me a ride on her horse. I’ll never forget it.

The owner of a flower shop, when I was about 13, I went in with my allowance and asked how many flowers I could get for $2 for Mother’s Day. She gave me about $20 worth of flowers, but I didn’t know that until much later.

A man who pulled over to the curb near me on my way to school and asked me if I have seen his lost kitten. I said “I’ll see if my Mom has seen it” and I pretended to walk up to the next house. He drove away so fast, his tires screeched. We remember back when it was safe to go to the park, and the shopping center, but there are still those dark moments.

The guy in a wheel chair begging for money in the middle of the street, which prompted our city to pass an ordinance against begging in the street, parking lots or other dangerous areas. (P.S. I saw him walking and pushing the wheel chair several times).

fireside's avatar

Around 25 years ago I was out to dinner with my parents at an open air steak place near the Boston Trotters. We had selected our steaks and taken a seat in the outdoor seating area which was cafeteria style. I was sitting on the aisle side and scooted my chair in as an older woman walked between the tables towards me. She stopped and reprimanded me for moving my chair because she could get by on her own. There was a strong odor of alcohol emanating from her as she escalated her rant. She started calling me John, or some other name that definitely wasn’t mine. She told me repeatedly that I needed a spanking and was a bad boy. After what felt like forever, but was probably only a few minutes, my dad stared telling her that she needed to go. She reprimanded him and suggested that he needed a spanking too, but did finally go.

Approximately 18 years ago My friends and I had gotten an apartment shortly after I finished high school. It wasn’t in the downtown area, but it also wasn’t in the suburbs anymore. There was a woman, who was probably homeless, and would occasionally stand on the sidewalk near our house. She appeared to be shouting orders t the cars in an attempt to direct traffic. She seemed to always be twitching due to some kind of nervous tick. The guys who lived above us told us that one time, they had been messing with her by cat-calling and taunting. According to them she had pulled a gun and pointed it at them, which certainly got them to stop and run away.

About 15 years ago I was in the park with a couple friends, walking around a lake on an overgrown path through the woods. We emerged from the path into a clearing and were startled by a person, I believe a younger girl, riding a horse which was out of control and careening bolting from side to side coming straight at us. The horse turned again and I just remember the sheer terror on the rider’s face.

Within the past 10 years The Naked Cowboy in Times Square. Seriously, what’s up with that guy?

weeveeship's avatar

I saw a guy who looked like one of my favorite NBA basketball stars at a McDonald’s. (no, I don’t think it was really him)

I once saw a performer at my high school who could juggle several basketballs at once.

There was this one tall guy wearing a green jacket who was riding a bike past the bus stop. He was ringing a bell on his bike and laughing (in a really corny way, kind of like a Disney villain): “Ha ha ha ha! Ha Ha ha ha!” He then waved to some random dudes.

I saw a guy wearing a hoodie and jeans at the bus stop. He seems to be middle-aged. Anyways, it was a Saturday (around noon) and the guy was singing, “Today is a Sunday, not a Monday, oh yeah!” I found that very funny for some reason as it was neither Sunday nor Monday. I think he was drunk.

Blueroses's avatar

A teenage boy I’ve seen several times during the past few months walking up the sidewalk with an old-school boom box balanced on his shoulder. It isn’t turned on, or maybe not very loud… the incongruity with today’s technology always makes me smile.

An older woman I see often at the theater. She must be a patroness. This is a pretty casual town and jeans are common attire at the opera but this lady is always dressed to kill… evening gown, furs, hat, gloves… oh, and her hair is purple. Literally purple.

Another old lady, not as charming, at the Sunday morning breakfast buffet. She swings her cane into the back of the knees of people in her way not lightly either and when they turn to protest, her eyes shoot daggers at them. I’ve never heard anyone say a word of complaint, they just rub their injuries and move aside.

cookieman's avatar

“Grampy” – the little, old guy who lived across the street from me when I was a kid. He sat on his front porch all hours of the day, rarely spoke, and would smile, nod or scowl at us children as we played up and down the street. I never knew his real name or anything about him. He seemed perpetually old and I’m unsure when he passed away. I’ve always felt guilty about not getting to know him and worse for not being aware of his death. He spent so much of his time watching over us children, but none of us cared enough to learn about him.

“The Man with the Long Fingernails” – another character from my youth. This man would frequently appear in our neighborhood (no one knew where he lived). He lurched as he walked in his visibly worn clothes, long nails potruding from extra long sleeves. He would sometimes wave his arms and yell unintelligible things at us kids. The rumor was that he was a serial killer. Most likely he was homeless and/or mentally ill.

“Mike” – this big kid of an adult lived down the street from me when I was a child. He was often on the street or on his porch hanging out or playing games with the actual kids in my neighborhood. Story was he was a cop on leave for some reason or another (perhaps he was injured in the line of duty). Some kids would even go into his house to watch movies (I think he had a pool table too). I never went – I’m not sure why. Years later he was arrested for sexually abusing his nephew.

“Man with Tar” – behind my house as a kid, was a massive, abandoned cinder block factory. We called it “the brick yard” – it was empty for years. My uncle had worked there before I was born until they went out of business. All of us neighborhood kids would play in “the brickyard”. We built forts from wood pallets, explored the empty buildings, smashed bottles, and set a fire or two. The property was circled with a tall fence but we simply climbed the trees that abutted the fence and hopped over. This one neighbor really disliked us playing back there and would frequently yell at us. We, of course, ignored him – until one day we discovered all the trees up and down the street covered and dripping in hot, black tar. And there he stood, at the end of his driveway with a large black kettle on wheels and some kind of sprayer. There was no yelling. He simply laughed at us.

BarnacleBill's avatar

“The Ya-Ya Sisters”—Two elderly sisters who live in my neighborhood. They wear marvelously outrageous eyeglasses and hats, and drive an green old jag. I see them walking together in the summer, and at the small grocery in my neighborhood.

Jon Roger Davis because he singlehandedly saved the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, and took an abandoned condo construction project in the middle of a historic Louisville neighborhood, and finished it, despite it almost bankrupting him.

“Metronome Man”— There used to be a man that I would see everywhere in town, who would swing his arms in an odd precise cadence, breaking at the elbow. He looked like a homeless guy, except he had a very extensive wardrobe, and I would see him in residential areas as well as in town. When he walked, he held himself quite erect, his gaze fixated on the horizon ahead, oblivious to what was immediately in front of him.

“Hatchet Lady”—An elderly woman with a delightful deep southern drawl, who walked around downtown with a violin case that was rumored to contain a hatchet rather than a violin. She was deeply disturbed, and extremely racist. She would go into fast food restaurants, and ask to have a white person serve her. Once I was behind her in line, and she screamed at the poor girls behind the counter, “My family used to own the likes of you!” Two young men very politely escorted her out of the restaurant, and took her across the street to a different restaurant. When they came back, I commented to them that their actions were kind, and one said that they run into her all the time, and that “Miss Virginia wasn’t right in the head, and couldn’t be accountable for what she said.” They didn’t want any harm to come to her.

ucme's avatar

The cook the thief his wife & her lover. Strange assortment but memorable!

LuckyGuy's avatar

What a great question! I had to clean out the cob webs to answer this. This will be stream of consciousness.

My childhood- 45 years ago. The Chick Ice Cream man – He drove around our neighborhood in a boxy shaped ice cream truck ringing a buzzer type bell. He also sold fireworks to the big kids (not me). 1 dozen Ash Cans for $1.00.

Thailand- 23 years ago. Walking on the street in ChangMai . A young girl with no legs and stumps for arms was on a cart all made up and dressed. Holding a pan for money between her stumps calling “Look at me! look at me!” My then 4 year old son walked up to her and at eye level looked her up an down. Later that day I asked him if he had any questions. He asked one… “How did they make that robot?”

Malaysia – 20 years ago on the winding road in the mountainous jungle between Ampang and the Genting Highlands. Stopped by 2 young guys with weapons (AKs?) They aimed the guns at our heads through the car windows and made the decision to let us go. Drugs? Rebels? Robbers? Still makes me sweat.

Israel – Summer 2000, Driving a rental car on the way from Haifa to Jericho intending to go via Nablus. Stopped by a pedestrian. “Hey you! Hey you! Tourist! Where are you going?” “Nablus” “What rock did you just crawl out from under? They’ll kill you there. Go back. Now!” I listened. The 2nd Intifada started 2 months later. Thank you, Stranger!.
@seazen Rolling eyes, wondering which rock indeed.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ucme A memorable quartet indeed. I took someone on a movie/dinner date to see it. Big mistake… big, big mistake.

Cruiser's avatar

I don’t have any passing in the streets kind of moments so I will pick 4 who really are in my thoughts more than others….
My grandfather who died before I was born, was an avid fisherman and from what I was told a very great man.
Frank Zappa His music shaped my appreciation of all forms of music…briefly met him when I did Stage crew for him in College.
Steve Morse is the greatest guitarist ever and I love to play and I listen to his music pretty much every day.
Willie Wonka I am a dreamer and that story gave me hope that dreams do come true.

lifeflame's avatar

Great question! let me think about this one…
(Do I smell NaNoWriMo around the corner?)

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t know if this counts as not having known, but it’s the only example I can think of, so I’ll use it.

When I was a child, my family took a trip around Europe. We had spent a night in Carcasonne, the famous walled village in France. The porter at the hotel we stayed at is someone I will never forget. Not so much because of his behavior. He was really obnoxious—always in our faces, asking if there’s something he could do, and always brown-nosing.

It was something else that burned him into my memory, and that was a word. A word uttered by my father that I had never heard before, but now will forever associate with this character.

As we drove under the stone archway to get out of the village, my father shuddered, and said, “I am so glad to get away from that obsequious guy.”

“What’s obsequious,” I asked. It was such an interesting word; now forever after associated with that short, unctuous doorman who was actually skittering around us like a puppy wearing a tuxedo that was one size too small.

CMaz's avatar

Karen Valentine, 1986
She was reading a script in our office. She was sitting on the stairs. She looked at me. I looked at her. We smiled and she waived at me like she knew me, I waived back. A lot of communication and connection occurred in like 10 seconds. And, that was it.
She went back to reading. I went back to work.
Never to see each other again. But I remember that moment like it was yesterday.

Homeless Woman, 1984
Crossed paths for a couple of hours. It was humbling. That experiences prevents me from forgetting.

Vunessuh's avatar

About a year ago, I watched a tape of a young girl that was filmed in Cambodia by my friend. He was interviewing her about her life and her home. She was speaking Khmer so I couldn’t understand her, but my friend translated it for me. She was 22 years old (my age) and her mother had sold her to a brothel when she was 6 years old. She went into detail about her first sexual experience at the age of 6 by a man at the age of 40. She talked about how she is required to send the money she makes back home each month to the same mother who sold her. She’ll also most likely never be able to see her family again. She just helps them survive by sleeping with multiple men daily. It was horrifying and sad and it made me sick and I couldn’t help but cry. This girl was beautiful, she had a strong presence and this peculiar radiant glow to her. To me, it translated as strength, even after 16 years of forced prostitution…to her, it was the way life was suppose to be and she needed to go with the flow and help her family and make the best of it. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
I don’t know this woman. I probably never will. She has no idea who I am or that I even know anything about her life. After watching the tape, I realized why she had such a peculiar presence to her. She wasn’t shattered nor weak. She didn’t want to tell this story to gain sympathy or pity from others. All she wanted was to inform and educate people who have no idea that this is going on and to force them to reflect on their own lives and appreciate everything they have. It was as if that was her mission. She never wanted you to forget about her. She took that interview as the opportunity to help others. I think she helped and will continue to help more people than she’ll ever know.

mistic84's avatar

I would say it was about 20 years ago. I went with my parents to the ER one night because some trouble maker in the neighborhood was shooting his gun off and a bullet happened to hit my brother’s hand. As I was sitting in the over-crowded waiting room for the ER and was looking around. I was about 8 or so and I remember thinking how strange this place is.

There was a man sitting next to me. A very pale black man with yellowish hair sitting there while his left eye was looking all over the place and his right eye being perfectly stationary. It was a very weird thing to see as a kid.

Another lady was sitting across from me and she had the longest fingernails and toe nails I’ve ever seen. She could use them as bracelets. It was odd. They were also perfectly manicured in a fushia-colored nail polish.

Around last year or so, I saw a homeless man on the side of a busy intersection standing on crutches asking for money. I looked at him again a few minutes later and saw him talking on a cell phone…

About 4 years ago, I went into a game shop and saw 2 people playing chess. I looked at the guy playing and it was like my soul jumped out to say hi to him. I’ve never met him before, but I remember feeling familiar with him.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Two tragically complicated grandparents who died before I got the chance to know them.
A variety of colorful neighbors whom I see on a daily basis but hardly know.
And finally, believe it or not, the person I perhaps least know or understand is MYSELF even though I have lived with HER for years, I don’t really know who she is or what she wants.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

I can only think of two situations, but they both deal with a parent & their child. So, I’ll cheat & say that this is 4 people.

The first was about 8 years ago. I was at the park with some friends. As we stood by the car, about to leave – a father showed up with his son. The son was maybe 10 years old. The guy handed the son a kid sized football & spread the kids fingers out for proper placement. The guy backed up a few steps & the son threw it. Like every kid, he awkwardly pulled his arm back & tossed the ball. The football wobbled in the air & fell to the ground a few feet short of the dad. The dad picked the ball up, slapped it back into the kids hand & forced the tiny fingers to line up correctly. The dad took a few frustrated steps back & held his hands out. Once again, the boy threw the ball with the same results as last time.

My friends & I had climbed into the car & were pulling away as the father bent down to pick up the ball again. That father/son moment is forever burned into my brain.

The other moment that I’ll never forget, was about 4 years ago. I was at a small restaurant & a mother & son were sitting in a booth across from me. The son was 8 or younger. The waitress came by to take their drink orders & the son asked his mom about root beer. The mother turned to the waitress & asked, ‘Does it come in that brown bottle? He likes to pretend it’s beer.’ That phrase has haunted my brain for years. I could not stop thinking about what that kids home life is like. Why did he like to pretend it was beer? Why was this okay with his mother? A million questions & ideas flooded my head when I heard the mother speak those words.

So, those are the 4 people that have wiggled their way into my brain & will stay in there until the day I die, without them ever knowing it. I often wonder if one of my insignificant life moments is forever remembered by a stranger & completely forgotten by me. It’s weird to think that we have such an impact on one another. Makes you think about what you say & do in public, for you never know who is watching.

Jeruba's avatar


I often wonder if one of my insignificant life moments is forever remembered by a stranger & completely forgotten by me. It’s weird to think that we have such an impact on one another. Makes you think about what you say & do in public, for you never know who is watching.

Bull’s-eye! That is exactly why I asked this question. I think about that sometimes, when I notice someone who makes an impression of some sort on me. Am I stamped on anyone’s memory? It’s an odd thought.

@lifeflame, I didn’t have NaNoWriMo in mind with this question (I don’t disguise my story-writing questions), but it occurs to me now that this thread provides a wonderful gallery of faces, incidents, stories, and mysteries that ought to be good for starters if anybody needs ideas.

Here are my four, out of many possibilities:

[About 50 years ago] When I was in seventh grade, one of the eighth-grade boys had a deep, mature singing voice that gained him a featured spot in the junior high school spring concert. He sang “Younger Than Springtime,” “This Nearly Was Mine,” and “Gypsy Love Song” with such aching ardor and such a soulful expression that he made my heart throb for months. I can’t remember his name any longer, but I remember his brown eyes.

[About 40 years ago] I lived in Boston’s North End for a year. The nearest T station was Haymarket, and when I came home from work I crossed under the expressway via a tiled pedestrian tunnel that led almost to the door of Martignetti’s market. Many a cold night, I saw a man standing in the tunnel on crutches. He was an old, gray-haired fellow with missing teeth, hollow cheeks, and one foot. He always wore a navy pea coat. I assumed he was homeless and managed to scavenge food frtom the numerous restaurants and markets in the neighborhood. I often fantasized about giving him food or money, taking him home with me for a shower and a bed, or even just speaking to him kindly, but I was a single young woman and cautious. The most I ever did was smile. I felt that somehow he was my responsibility simply because I had thought about him, and I still wish I had offered him something.

[About 40 years ago] I used to see an old woman on the subway in Boston from time to time. She had wild, stringy black hair flying out of a loose bun, and she always carried a folded umbrella, which she wielded like a weapon. If she wanted a seat, she lifted her umbrella like a sword and pushed her way in, and people gave up their seat to her, or else she cursed them out. Once I saw her hitting someone with her umbrella. One time I saw her on the street in Cambridge. She raised her umbrella like a banner to halt traffic and marched out into the street, looking neither right nor left as the cars stopped for her.

[About 15 years ago] An old Asian man used to come up our street every week or so, hauling a flat 4-wheeled cart laden with flattened cardboard boxes. He walked slowly and with a shuffle, and he always had a big grin on his face. He hauled the cardboard from hither to thither, always alone, never saying a word to anyone that I could see. One day I realized that I hadn’t seen him in many weeks. He never came by again.

Blueroses's avatar

This question reminded me of a song my mom loved here

wundayatta's avatar

It’s interesting how looking memorable and being memorable are quite different things. Looking merely requires being unusual. Being on the other hand, requires dedication and persistence, I think.

Jeruba's avatar

That’s probably true, @wundayatta (although I’m not sure that memorable characters are necessarily those who have deliberately tried to be so). Another good question might be one that deals with truly unforgettable characters from your life. This one is more about snapshots, and the essence of it is the stranger who left an impression all unawares.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Grounds Guy For the past several years, there has been a man at work who keeps the sidewalks and outdoor garbage bins clean. He wears the same lined jacket and knit cap every day, be it freezing cold or horrifically hot and humid. Every time I passed by him, I would give a ‘hello’. He would just give a nod without ever looking up.

Tuxedo Dude While in my SO’s small industrial town, we passed by the same man wearing a tuxedo mid-day a couple days in a row. I wanted to follow him but wasn’t allowed. :)

Business Woman While working in a hotel, a woman in a business suit checked in. About four hours later (8PM), she came to check out. I asked her if everything was alright, as no one ever does this unless there is an emergency. She said ‘yes’, paid, and walked out. I went up to check the room. There was a half empty bottle of champagne and a note that said, “Bob, happy 40th birthday. I hope you enjoy Cherie as much as I do. Bill”

Vietnam Man I lived in Washington, DC, when the Vietnam Veterans’ War Memorial was erected. After the initial rush to see it died down, I walked over to see it. There was still a bit of a line that slowly moved along. At one point, I stood next to a man who stopped. He slowly reached up and touched the wall. To this day, I’ve always wondered if he was a Vet as well or if it was the name of a family member.

weeveeship's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Interesting stories. I don’t get why the “Business Woman” checked out early though. Any guesses on what happened?

Jeruba's avatar

It sounds to me like she was Cherie and her four-hour stay was Bill’s gift to Bob.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Jeruba Yes siree bob. You nailed it.

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