25 November 2015

A Thursday, Some Years Ago

Standing at the bus stop this morning, 6:40 am, waiting for the #5, just like I always do.  It’s still dark out. I’m caught off guard by the weather. . .it’s colder than I thought it would be.  A lot colder.  I just have a little sweatshirt jacket.  This sucks.  Why am I standing out here, freezing, just to go to some shitty job?  A line from a movie runs through my head:

My life? There's nothing to it. It's the story of a sorry chump. The story of a man like so many others, as common as can be.

Sorry chump. . .like so many others.  Amen.

I ruminate over this, as I slowly freeze.  I see little pictures from my life. There’s Kirsten, unfolding a shirt I’d just folded, and then re-folding it, her way.  A lesser man, that is, a lesser sorry chump, might have given her a beating. . .or worse.  Me?  To this day, I still fold the laundry her way.

The story of a sorry chump. . .I was ruminating over this when a shitty-looking little car pulls over right next to me at the bus stop.  I’ve been riding buses longer than most of the losers on this shitty planet have been alive, and this has never happened to me before.  I can hear some shitty music coming from inside the shitty-looking car.  The passenger window goes down.  The shitty music assaults my ears.

“YOU WANT A RIDE?” the driver shouts.

It sounds like a girl.  Or a woman.  Whatever you want to call them.  I look in.  Too dark.  Can’t tell if it’s ugly or what.  But, Hell, what kind of chick would pull a stupid stunt like this?  Gotta be nuts or trying to pull some scam.

“No, thanks,” I say.

The nut or the scammer drives off, the shitty music trailing in the wind.

I see little pictures from my life: There’s Jerry, my moron boss.  “Can you start using those little ‘Sign Here’ stickers on your paperwork?  I don’t have time to search through these documents looking for the signature line.  I just want to be able to go right to the line and be done with it.”  There’s me, walking over to Sandra’s cube, Sandra, Jerry’s admin.  “You got any of those ‘Sign Here’ stickers?”  There’s me, the sorry chump, sticking the stickers on the fucking paperwork.  The story of a sorry chump.

The shitty-looking little car pulls up again.  Down goes the passenger window.  I hear that same shitty music again. . .it sounds like something Lynyrd Skynyrd might have done, after they had drank a gallon or two of human blood.

“YOU LOOK COLD.  GET IN.”

Where’s that bus, anyway?  It should have been here by now.  I’m a sorry chump, I think.  What have I got to lose?  I open the door.  The dome light shines.  Sometimes you’re the windshield. . .most times you’re the bug.  She’s ugly.  I look down the street.  Still no bus.  It’s cold.  I get in.  No reason not to.

“I’M RITA!” she shouts.

Rita.  A dumb name.

“RITA, WHY DON’T YOU TURN THAT MUSIC OFF, SO WE DON’T HAVE TO SHOUT?”

I watch her reach over and hit a button on the dashboard.  Hmmn.  There’s something wrong with this picture, but I just can’t quite figure out what.  But at least it’s quiet, now.

“What was that terrible music?” I ask.

“Terrible?  I’ve never heard Black Label Society called ‘terrible’ before.”

I don’t say anything.  I enjoy the long quiet awkward pause.

She finally thinks of something to say.

“What music do you like? Maybe I have it."

What a joke.  I don’t like music, but I’m not about to get into that with Rita.

“I like opera.  You got any?”

“Opera?  Are you a professor or something?”

“Yeah.  Something. By the way, you can just drop me off at the corner of Ellsworth and Varsity.  Thanks.”

“There’s a Denny’s a little ways up.  You want to buy me breakfast?”

I laugh to myself.  Denny’s.

“I really don’t have time.  I have to be at work by 7:30.”

“You have to work on Thanksgiving?  That’s too bad.”

Thanksgiving?  Ah, shit.  I was waiting for a bus that would never arrive.  My God, it is Thanksgiving.  People must have been talking about Thanksgiving at work yesterday, Hell, all week, and it just never registered.  Man, I am too withdrawn from my surroundings.  I’m a little unnerved by my degree of disconnection.

I sit there in that shitty little car for a few seconds, totally without thought, brain-dead, nothing to process to bring me back to the here-and-now. . .a Thanksgiving Day vegetable.

Finally that line from the movie creeps back into my head.

My life? There's nothing to it. It's the story of a sorry chump.

In the movie, this guy, this fifty year old guy, just pounds on a pregnant middle-aged woman, really hammers her belly with some vicious right hands. . .and he says something like, *now your baby is hamburger meat.  He’s lucky he’ll never have to see your ugly face.*  At the end of the movie, the guy fucks his autistic daughter.  Yet he can say about himself: “The story of a man like so many others, as common—”

“Hello.  HELLO!”

It’s what’s-her-name. . .Rita. . .she must have been talking to me all this time.

“Sorry,” I say, “I nodded off for a second.  What were you saying?”

“I said it’s your last chance to buy me breakfast.  There’s Denny’s.”

We’re at a red light.  Denny’s is right past the intersection. The only reason to deny her a breakfast feast at Denny’s would be my own arrogance, which seems absurd at this point.  A sardonic chuckle passes through my brain, as I observe my Thanksgiving fate. . .Thanksgiving, the day meant to share warmth and love with family and friends, and to offer thanks to the *Higher Power*. . .Thanksgiving, the day I eat at Denny’s with an ugly stranger.

*****

Look at this menu.  How can these concoctions be digested?  You could shit and out would come the remains of your *Moons Over My Hammy* breakfast sandwich, and it would look just the same as the menu picture.  It makes me slightly nauseous to look at these grotesque creations.  This *Fabulous French Toast Platter* is an insult to the great nation of France.  But I dare not take my eyes off the menu, lest I gaze upon Rita. . .for she is an even less appetizing dish.  She looks like one of those haggard 10 centimes whores that used to pose for Van Gogh.  

Here comes the waitress.  Rita orders something called a *Denver Scramble.*  What an insult to the great Neal Cassady.

The waitress looks at me. It's my turn.  

“Just give me a bagel and a glass of water.”

The waitress reaches for my menu.  I hold on tight.

“I can take that for you, sir,” she says

“I’d like to keep it, if you don’t mind.”

She looks at me like I’m weird, then walks away.

I stare down at the menu.  Every now and then I hear Rita cough.  I see little pictures from my life.  There’s Amy S****, in her coffin.  17 years old.  Not a tear shed for her by anybody.  Her friends just standing around, looking stupid.  Her divorced parents looking aggravated.  I see myself observing the scene there, in the funeral chapel.  All those of no value, alive, going through the motions in front of the dead treasure.  Eighteen years ago.  What a long, long eighteen years.

I look up from the menu.  There’s Rita.  Shop-worn.  Beat-up.  Eroded by life.  

“Let me ask you something,” I say.

She looks happy that I am going to talk to her.  “What?”

“What were you doing out driving around at a quarter to seven on Thanksgiving morning?”

“Nothing, really.”

Frizzy straw-colored hair.  Long chin.  Big nose.  Two day old make-up caked over acne scars.  

“Just driving around, huh?”

“I guess so,” she says.

“You’re an early bird, huh?”

“Not really,” she says.

Gee, what a conversation.  Too beaten-down to say anything of meaning.  If she ever did try to communicate, she’d probably cry. . .35, 40 years of misery come flooding out.  

A couple minutes pass by.  The food comes.

“What’s this?” I ask the waitress, pointing at a little plastic tube of cream cheese on my plate.

“It’s cream cheese,” she says.

“So it is,” I say, “so it is.  But I didn’t order cream cheese.  I ordered a bagel and a glass of water.  That cream cheese better not be on the check.”

“I’ll make sure it’s not, sir,” she says in a patronizing tone.

She fucks up, and I get patronized.  That’s America, for you.  Shoot up a fucking carload of civilians at some check-point in Iraq, and then sniff that they didn’t stop when you waved at them.  It’s the same principle with the cream cheese.

Rita gets down to business with her *Denver Scramble.*  She really can work that fork.  I watch her shovel it in.  There’s something wrong with this picture, but I just can’t quite figure out what.  I’ll say one thing for her: at least she’s not fat.  She’s probably missed a meal or two, in her day.  Gaunt, you would call her.  

“Chow’s pretty good, huh?”

She nods her head while she chews. . .then she just stops, takes a huge swallow, a little sob or a gasp or a burp or something comes up. . .tears well in her eyes. . .her face turns red.  Is she choking?  Or just crying like a fucking baby?

“I have nothing to be thankful for,” she splutters.

Just crying like a baby in her scrambled eggs.  I knew it.  I knew it would come to this.

Man, why couldn’t I remember it was Thanksgiving this morning?  The story of a sorry chump.

“It’s decent of you to come here with me,” she says, trying to regain her composure.  “There’s not much human decency left in the world.”

Human decency.  I want to laugh in the worst way.  But I hold back.  Human and decency go together like oil and water.  Even a sorry chump like me knows that.

“I guess you’ve seen your share of hard times, huh?” I ask.

She nods her head and wipes a napkin across her nose.

There’s no point in asking for the details.  Maybe somebody raped her.  Maybe somebody owes her ten dollars.  A person can only take so much.  Some can take more, some can take less.  Well, I should have been a philosopher.  

“Is there anything to be thankful for?” she asks.

There’s really only maybe two or three things you have to do in this world.  One of them is to tell the Truth.  

“Yeah, there might be something to be thankful for,” I say.

“What?” she asks, wiping her nose again.  

Something just doesn’t look right.  What is it?  I look again.  Son of a bitch, there it is.  She’s missing the little finger on her right hand.  Huh.  Huh huh huh.  What about that?  Maybe a dog bit it off.  Who knows?

I remember when I was in wood shop in high school.  Brent Anderson sawed off the tip of his pinky with a—

“What is it?  What’s there to be thankful for?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah.  Death.  A few will be thankful at death.  They will be with Christ.”

She’s stopped crying now.  Tears have all dried.  No more sad look on her face.  It was a McBreakdown.  It’s the American Way.  She eyes me with suspicion.

“It’s very simple, Rita, very simple.  Jesus said ‘I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.’  That’s all there is.  If you can hear it, you have reason to be thankful.  If you can’t hear it, well, then this is as good as it gets: a free meal with yours truly at Denny’s,” I conclude with a chuckle.

“I wish I could believe that, but. . .”

She’s polite about it.  But, then again, she ought to be. . .it’s a small price to pay for a *Denver Scramble.*

I could tell her it’s not about her ability to *believe* it or not. . . I could say: “lady, this ain’t Ripley’s Museum. . .you either hear it or you don’t.”  But why belabor the point?  As He said: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.”

But whatever drive-thru emotional crisis that led her to seek someone out, someone she could grieve with over a plate of scrambled eggs, well, that has all passed.  She’s *normal,* again.  Ready for another day or two on the Wheel of Life.  She’s back working that fork with her four-fingered hand.  Solomon advised: “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.”  Strong drink, scrambled eggs: same difference.  
“Aren’t you going to eat your bagel?” she asks.

I shake my head.  “You want it?”

“Sure, if you’re not going to eat it.”

“Be my guest.”

Nothing to do now but watch her eat her fill, then pay the check.  

My life? There's nothing to it. It's the story of a sorry chump. The story of a man like so many others, as common as can be.

1 comment:

  1. This ain't Ripley's.

    The McBreakdown is possibly one of many. A lonely traveler, aimlessly looking for company and a free meal, found you on thanksgiving, had a surge of emotions come forth, but it was only a small tremor. For now.

    The Big One awaits us all.

    ReplyDelete