I'd seen him walking through the park before, but only remembered being slightly annoyed that he walked his ginormous dog without a leash, turning Toby into a nervous wreck. Last Friday evening, when he passed by my bench the second time around, he stopped to ask about Toby and talk about his monstrous - yet incredibly trained - Matiff-Pit dog.
"A dog is a reflection on its master," he pointed out.
"That's just...great," I said as I looked down at the whiny, squirmy pup on my lap.
And so it began. We spent the next 40 minutes talking about Singapore's beauty and disciplined people (though I don't remember how we got there), about Egyptian camels trained to run off with those who refuse to pay, about the holy presence that surrounds you when you walk on Israeli soil. He talked about how he almost married a Grecian woman and why I should visit Mykonos and party with gay guys (he made sure to point out his heterosexuality here).
He stood the entire time, his stance strong and his demeanor intense. I assumed he'd been involved in the armed forces or was with the police department. And even though it was getting dark and I was getting tired, my book laid ignored on the bench beside me, the pages flipping in the breeze. I wanted to hear more. So there I sat in the park listening to this 30-something-year-old stranger talk about places I'd always dreamed of visiting.
When we moved onto Italy, I mentioned my lessons to learn the language. Wouldn't you know, the guy seamlessly broke off into Italian! I understood him, but couldn't speak la bella lingua as quickly as he could. When I said knowing Spanish and French often added to the confusion, guess what he did? Yes, he started speaking French to me.
"Geez, how many languages do you know?" I asked, visibly impressed.
"Five," he replied before adding Hebrew to the mix. (Plus he's Puerto Rican and fluent in Spanish.) "Do you know why I need to know so many?"
And then he showed me his agent badge.
"What's your name, by the way?"
"Dorkys," I replied.
"Nice to meet you. I'm Secret Agent Man. You have really nice teeth."
Apparently he'd been thrown into learning about these places, its people and languages during his time in the military. As we talked and slowly made our way to leave, a guy stopped to say hello. Soon after, a teen passed by to give him a pound. When I noted that he must be well-known around here, he mentioned being away for a stretch.
"So what exactly do you do?" I asked as we exited the park. "Or is that top secret information?"
"Let's just say I could be around for a while and then go missing for two weeks."
Before leaving, he said that now I had a new friend in the neighborhood, someone with whom I could practice my Italian. And we parted ways with a "Ciao! Buona sera!" as he crossed the street and I walked Toby home.
"Italian? Ha!" I thought with a smile. "The next time we meet I'll be ready - in all four languages."