The friendly extroverted chatting customer grabs his change from me and heads waving toward the door. “Thanks…I’ll be back!” he grins over his shoulder.
Browsers like this jolt me into a reluctant good mood on a slow day, or they confirm what I sometimes suspect: every day is good if you approach it the right way.
I am playing the role of successful, kindly shopkeeper. The customer is playing…well, is he playing or is this his true nature, this chipper, goodfellow façade? Am I faking it or is he?
I file the thought away and go about my morning duties in the aisles of foundling books. When I leave the store for lunch, I wave to Marie, and she takes over.
New York Times under my arm, I stroll toward the diner and prepare for twenty minutes of solitude—just me, my paper, my lunch plate, some really loud static-filled music, and other diners who leave me alone to my dome of solitude.
I glance through the large street-view window, munching away as I turn the paper inside-out, and see, walking along 22nd Street, the jaunty customer who had been in the shop earlier. But he’s somehow different now.
He is usually bright, has good eye-contact, has a ready smile, is joyful and friendly…but when I see him walking outside his environment unnoticed, there is something slightly obscure and unsure about him…his head is slightly cocked to the side, he looks down, he is serious, he is in a hurry as if he’s afraid someone might spot him. He’s not carrying his recent purchase.
His dome of solitude transmogrifies him and makes him nearly unrecognizable. In the bookstore, he was one person, now he is another. He shapeshifts with his locale. What is he at home? Who is he at church on Sunday? What does he become in heavy suburban traffic? Is he a kindly father, a giving neighbor, an angry insurrectionist, a future Nobel laureate, a sentenced felon?
I’ll never know, nor will he ever know who I am and when and where.
To me, it’s enough to know a good customer. To him, perhaps it’s enough to be in the sanctuary of the bookshop for a few minutes before he bolsters his courage enough to brave the disguise he must don to re-enter the city byways.
I return to my paper and my munching, leave my paltry tip on the table, wave to the cashier, and open the door to the street, where I become that other person, that pedestrian who would be unrecognizable to the customer who views me as just the kindly old bookie

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