As I’ve documented many times, I’m prone to the occasional social faux pas in food service establishments. I think Meagan Briggs wrote the following piece just for me.
In the movies, it’s called a meet cute.
The boy rounds the corner and knocks the books out the girl’s hands. They bend down to pick them up and before they know it, there’s a spark. There’s an awkward, yet endearing conversation. She smiles as he watches her walk away. You know right then where the story is going. It will be – eventually – a happy ending.
That’s the movies. Let me tell you about my real-life meet cute.
It was in the coffee shop. No surprise, right? Almost a cliché in itself. But I like coffee shops. I’ll tell you why, but truthfully, if I have to explain this to you, you might was well stop reading right now and jump on over to check last night’s scores. The other day I overheard a co-worker tell someone that he didn’t like coffee, that he would have no reason to stop by the new coffee shop on the west side. I find it hard not to hold his dislike of coffee against him. You’re really missing the point, man. You don’t like coffee? Fine. There are options.
A couple of years ago my nephew spent the night at our house over Christmas. When he said he didn’t care what he had for breakfast, my wife started making oatmeal. We didn’t learn until he was finished eating that he had been lying. He should have said he didn’t care what he had for breakfast, as long as it wasn’t oatmeal. Too late. But the oatmeal he ate that morning was unlike any oatmeal he had ever eaten. If you take plain oatmeal, bland as it is, and add a little brown sugar, some raisins, apples and walnuts, topped with a little cream, what you end up with is a big bowl of oatmeal cookie. Who doesn’t like oatmeal cookies? My nephew sure did.
So, co-worker man, if the coffee is a little too bitter for your still-developing child-like palette, they can foo-foo it up (as my wife would say) and give you something sweet and mushy. But then again, going to a coffee shop isn’t really about the coffee. It’s about people. Seeing people, talking to people. Just being among other human beings.
But back to the meet cute.
This coffee shop is a relatively new establishment, just a couple of blocks from my office. I don’t always stop there in the morning because they’re not open when I usually go to work. It’s a quiet and peaceful place. Music is always playing softly. People doodling on their laptops. Quiet conversations.
It’s a Friday morning a week and a half before Christmas. I had skipped my early cup of coffee and I find myself at a good stopping point in my work at the office. The sun is shining and it’s an unusually pleasant day for December so I grab my coat and head out the back door and make my way to Main Street. I’m going to get a cup of coffee, maybe a muffin, and sit at a table by the window and watch people go by. I can just take off from work like that because I’m an important executive and I’m a salaried employee and I come to work early and stay late and if I want to take a few minutes for myself in the middle of the morning I have the moral right to do so. I also have so many weeks of vacation built up that it would be nearly impossible for me to use them all. For those of you who have a propensity for delving into a person’s psyche, this little tidbit about my inability to use my vacation time will tell you something about me, though I don’t think I would care to know what this tells you. Not that it matters. Let me save you the trouble of the analysis: I’m boring.
I get to the shop around 10:30 and stand in line for a few minutes and then it’s my turn and the owner of the shop says hello, calls me by name, and takes my order, a small black coffee. No nonsense. No cream, no sugar, no flavors, no steamed milk, no holiday blend. Because I’m a man. A grown man. It’s an ego-boosting construct, this notion that drinking plain, black coffee makes me any more of a man than the hipster in front of me who ordered a skinny latte with cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. Clint Eastwood drinks his coffee black. Maybe. I don’t really know. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, this hipster, and I’m sure not all the world’s problems result from his generation’s socialist leanings, but I’m getting old and my time has passed and it’s the role I must play, the only other option being the teetering, out-of-touch relic from another time. But I don’t teeter (yet) and if I’m going to be an out-of-touch relic, I’m going to be a hard-edged Eastwood-type who the kids actually fear when I tell them to get off my lawn. That’s right. Black coffee. And one of those scones. Cranberry.
I’ve moved down the counter now, standing, waiting for my coffee. And my scone. The hipster stands to my left. He’s wearing a nice-looking jacket and a knit cap. A backpack hangs from his left shoulder. He’s texting on his phone, his fingers flying. He’ll take a table near the window, maybe my table, and pull a laptop from his backpack and begin to do whatever people do when they have a laptop in a coffee house. Facebook? No. He’s young. Instagram. Or maybe some other app that I don’t even know about. A young girl who looks like she’s fifteen but is probably twenty-five – I can’t tell anymore – shakes a can of whipped cream then squirts a mound of foam on the skinny latte with cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg and the contradiction of the skinny latte and the whipped cream is lost on the poor hipster boy. She hands him the drink and he goes straight to my table.
Get away from there. I shout this across the room. In my head.
The girl hands me my scone in a paper bag and I’m waiting for my coffee, wondering why it takes so long to pour a simple cup of coffee. She finally hands it to me, my name illegibly scrawled on the side of the cup.
There’s a stack of napkins to my left. Had they been to my right, I probably wouldn’t be telling you this story. But they were to my left. I’m holding the scone in my right hand, the coffee in my left. I need my left hand free to grab a napkin, so I transfer the coffee to my right hand, holding it just with my thumb and index finger, the scone in the bag below the cup. Not a good grip at all.
And this is when it happens. My meet cute.
I didn’t see her come in. I didn’t know she had been behind me when I ordered. I didn’t know she had moved down the counter to wait for her order. I didn’t know she was standing so close to my right.
And I turn to go toward the front of the coffee shop, and before it even registers in my mind that she is there, I bump into her and my coffee falls from its high perch, tumbles toward her, hits the front of her coat – her beautiful white wool coat – and the lid pops off and the coffee flies everywhere and I watch as the cup empties itself completely, and a horribly beautiful, artistic, brown stain flows downward to the hem of her coat and drips onto her brown leather boots and finally puddles on the floor.
I hear gasps from the people nearby. Then the entire shop goes quiet, except for me, mumbling an apology, grabbing the pile of napkins on the counter.
She hasn’t moved, this young woman, save to hold out her hands, coffee dripping from her fingers. I start there, wiping her hands, apologizing the whole time, and when her hands show no more signs of hot coffee, I start on her coat, trying to soak up the brown stain, and I realize that I have to stop because my actions are highly inappropriate, even if my intent is plainly obvious.
By now the shop owner has made his way from the other side of the counter with a handful of paper towels and he faces the same dilemma I faced but he thinks more clearly and asks her to take off her coat which she does and he lays the coat on the counter and begins sponging up as much coffee as he can. It’s a losing battle.
She hasn’t moved.
I’ll see if I can rinse it out, he says, and without asking, he takes the coat to a back room.
She still hasn’t moved, but she turns to look at me.
She’s a lovely woman, much younger than I, though not so young that I shouldn’t notice her loveliness. She appears to be of Asian descent. And her eyes are filling with tears.
I’m so sorry, I tell her. I don’t know what to do.
The young girl on the other side of the counter hands me more paper towels and I kneel down and start to sop up the puddle on the floor. She takes a step back, allowing me to get to the puddles that have pooled behind her and I see the coffee in drips and runs on her boots and without thinking and without asking I start to wipe off her boots, first the tops of her feet, but they’re boots and they rise over her calves and again I cross that boundary of appropriateness without thinking and without any intention other than trying to right the wrong and clean up the mess and I’m on the floor where shoes have trod and spills throughout the day have dried into dark circles and crumbs from scones and muffins and cookies are scattered like microscopic boulders and my hands are getting dirty and the knees of my executive slacks are wet and gathering grime and I no longer feel like Clint Eastwood but more like Willy Loman and I feel the blood rushing to my face and now I want to stay down among the other shoes that I see gathered around because to stand will reveal my reddened face and expose my shame and confirm my humiliation.
But I rise to my feet and again tell her I’m sorry and she’s not quite crying but there are tears and she is sad. I take off my coat and put it on her shoulders because everyone else has a coat except her and she looks cold and lonely and though she probably isn’t, I don’t know what else to do. I tell her I’ll go check on her coat and I walk to the back of the shop where I imagine a food preparation area but there are only bathrooms. The door is open and the shop owner is trying to dry the coat with paper towels. It looks like the coffee has washed out but I look closer and see the stain, lighter, but still there. The shop owner has done all he can. I thank him and take the coat.
The young woman is sitting at table by herself, her own coffee drink in front of her. She moves it away from me as I approach, carrying her coat draped across my arm, holding it out from my body as if it’s a blemished lamb, because that’s exactly what it is. I shake my head. I lay it on the table and sit at the table across from her.
I’m so sorry, I say again for what seems like the tenth time and she manages a smile and tells me it’s ok.
I’m really sorry. Eleven.
I’ll pay to have it cleaned. And I’m already thinking that I’m going to buy her a new coat because the stain is likely there forever.
She puts her hand on the coat and strokes it lightly. It was my mother’s coat.
The phrasing of the statement is not lost on me. It was her mother’s coat. Her mother has died.
I’m so sorry. Seventy times seven will not be enough.
I don’t actually remember her wearing the coat. Or her, for that matter. She died when I was a child.
I stop myself from saying I’m sorry again.
Old photographs my father had. The three of us. Mother, Father, me. Mother wearing the coat. I thought it looked so sophisticated on her. After she died, my father held on to all of her things. He died two years ago and it was all left to me. I found the coat in a trunk.
So, I’ve not just ruined a coat, I’ve ruined an irreplaceable keepsake. I’ve ruined the one connection this poor woman has with her mother.
I had it cleaned. Sewed some seams that were coming apart, and then just hung it in the closet. And this winter I thought it would be nice to wear it, to think of her, to let her live a little through me.
I’m trying to think of something to say, something other than I’m sorry, thinking there must be a phrase or an expression of remorse that goes beyond mere sorrow, one that puts me on my knees, not to beg forgiveness, because what’s the point in that, because it’s not about me feeling better, it’s about somehow finding words or actions that can make up for what I’ve done. But it’s done and can’t be undone.
I just shake my head. I tell her again I’ll pay to have it cleaned. I’ll buy her a new coat, I tell her, and I feel stupid as soon as I say it, as if a new coat would have the same connection to her mother. But what else can I do?
It doesn’t quite fit. She was a little smaller than me, apparently.
I’m silent, because there are no words.
It’s only a coat. It was my mother’s coat, not mine. I’ll have it cleaned as best they can. Then I’ll keep it in the closet. I’ll bring it out now and then, and think of her, but really, I have no memory of her to recall. Just a mother and father and a little girl in a photograph. That’s all.
She’s smiling now. A sad smile, but a smile nonetheless. She reaches for her coffee and I move her coat away from the table and lay it across the back of a chair. She laughs a little. We talk.
Her name is Janine. She lives in New York. She’s an accountant in town performing an audit of the local bank. She travels a lot and likes to explore the towns she visits. She’s traveled to Japan twice to visit the families of her mother and father, but there are fewer of them now, and in Japan she is a stranger in a strange land. And here she is, in a small town coffee shop, with a coffee stain on her mother’s coat.
She needs to get back to the bank.
I apologize again and I’ve lost count of how many times, and she assures me again that it’s ok, that I don’t have to pay for dry cleaning or buy her a new coat or in any way try to make things right. Because we both understand that I can’t.
How can you be so gracious after what I’ve done?
She offers no answer. She stands and realizes my coat is still around her shoulders.
I believe this is yours.
She hands me my coat.
And this is yours.
I help her into her mother’s coat. The front is still damp and she looks at the stain and sighs. It’s all I can do to keep from apologizing again. Instead, I thank her, and in the moment, I’m not sure what I’m thanking her for except that the kindness and understanding she showed to me was so undeserved.
We walk out of the coffee shop together, our conversation now just the usual chatter that people who really don’t know each other make as they’re about to leave each other’s company. The ordinary, the forgettable. Nothing witty, nothing charming.
It wasn’t that kind of meet cute. Meet truth is maybe a better description. She’ll go back to the bank, back to New York with a story to tell.
And me? I’m still here. Still drinking my coffee black. Still imagining I’m Clint Eastwood. Still working too much.
But this Christmas is a little different. I understand a little better. I’ve experienced grace.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
copyright 2018, joseph e bird
Come for the scenery, stay for the food.
He took another drink of coffee.
“I think a lot about that guy I hit upside the head with the shovel. Think about how I ruined his life. Destroyed his family. I feel bad. And you don’t know the depth of how bad. Cause there’s nothing I can do. I did it. It’s done.”
He ignored her.
“When they sent me to prison, I just wanted to survive, like I told you before. That’s why I was lucky to find Pops. Do my time under his wing. Yes, ma’am, I was real lucky.”
She didn’t even try to stop him.
“But prison turns you into yourself. By that I mean, you have so much time to yourself, you can’t help but to think about things. Now the old guys, guys like Pops, they just live moment to moment. They know their time has come and gone and all they care about is their next cup of joe. But everyone else thinks about themselves. Why they did what they did. Whether they meant to or not. And how bad they think themselves is. They look inside and see that dark speck on their soul. And generally, it goes one of two ways. A lot of guys see that dark speck and think that’s who they really are. And they accept it. And that dark speck grows until it eventually just takes over. Black, Miss Heather. Black as night and twice as scary.”
“And you went the other way.”
“I know I did wrong and I can’t do nothing to change it.”
“What am I supposed to do, just pretend none of this ever happened? Forgive and forget? I’ll forget when he’s gone.”
“No you won’t.”
“It’ll be a step in the right direction.”
“There’s two kinds of forgiveness. The one where you suck it up and forgive the one that done you wrong. That can’t happen unless he comes to you and tells you he’s sorry. Even then, it’s a hard thing to do. But your daddy can’t do that. I mean, he can’t even remember what he did. Before he went all loose in the head, he had that dark speck, and it was growing. It was slow, but it was getting worse. By and by it gave way to mindlessness. But that ain’t what I’m talking about, anyways.”
“Good. Because that’s not going to happen.”
“See, that first kind of forgiveness is for the benefit of the one that done the wrong. So that he can move on. The other kind is for the one that was done wrong to. God says to let it go and let him be the judge.”
“Really? You’re preaching to me now, Booger?”
“I ain’t preaching. Just telling you truth.”
“Well, thank you for that. I’ll take it under advisement.”
“You’ll be dead soon, too.”
“What the hell, Darnell?”
He shrugged. “We all will be. You have Huntington. I might drop dead of a heart attack sitting here at this table. Then again, we might have twenty years ahead of us. Maybe more. That’s a lot of time for that dark speck to grow. Best to let that bitterness go.”
“You think I’m bitter?”
“Best to let it go.”
“That’s easy to say when you have a future.”
He didn’t have an answer for that. As much as he screwed up his life, and in spite of his dire predictions of death at the kitchen table, it was very likely that Booger had another thirty or forty years to do something with his life. So, yeah, choosing a positive outlook made sense.
But his sermon had nothing to do with her situation. She was dying. In so many ways.
copyright 2018, joseph e bird, from the novel Heather Girl
Not the beginning of a joke.
Not the beginning of a tragic story.
Not the beginning of a world-changing summit.
Just strangers meeting in an Italian coffee shop in West Virginia, of all places.
Joe and Gloria, the Americans, trying gelato for the first time. They take their little dessert cups to the sunroom and wait for their coffee. It’s a cozy little room with seating that’s just right to encourage conversation, even with people you don’t know.
Enter Nadia and Ester. Young ladies in their twenties. We exchange hellos and other pleasantries.
Ester is outgoing; Nadia a little more quiet.
Gloria is outgoing; Joe a little more quiet.
So Ester and Gloria talk. Ester says she will soon begin working at the Italian coffee shop we are now in. Gloria inquires about her accent. Persian, she says, but everyone thinks she’s Italian because she currently works at a local pizzeria. She is from Iran. Nadia is from Iraq. They’ve been in the United States a few years, each coming under different circumstances. They met here and became friends.
Gradually, Joe and Nadia enter the conversation. They all talk about language (Farsi, Arabic, English, and Mandarin), they talk about work, they talk about coffee. They don’t talk about politics.
Until Roberto walks into the room. He can’t help himself. He owns this coffee shop and has worked hard to make it a success. He’s a successful business person. He’s a nice guy and is very, very outgoing. And he has a heart for the less fortunate. He expresses his heart in terms of worldwide political and economic philosophies.
The others listen, the others being the Iranian, the Iraqi, and the two Americans. Geopolitics is beyond their realm of understanding, really. What countries do is beyond their control. They speak of respect for individuals and love and taking care of your neighbor in need. That’s all.
Ester says she is blessed to be in America. Joe says America is blessed to have her.
Roberto would have gone on all night, spirited man that he is. But it’s time to go. Roberto is very pleased with the international exchange that has just occurred. Everyone seems pleased. There are smiles all around. Nadia gives Gloria a hug.
We’re different. We’re the same. We have different perspectives, but we all want the same thing.
Just to live a life with meaning.
This is what the world should be.
Editor’s Note: This is a true story. The names have been changed to respect privacy.
Tuesday – that’s her name – served me a cup of coffee today. I know because her name tag said so. Sometimes it’s Tara. Sometimes Gina. Savannah. George, the Australian. Others don’t wear name tags.
I’ve tried calling them by name. They don’t like that. It’s as if I’m crossing a social boundary and that makes them uncomfortable. So I’ll just be anonymous coffee buyer and you be whoever you are and we won’t let our worlds collide.
The crew has changed. I still see the old crew on the street now and then. The guy with the long hair who wears a trench coat. One of the old girls worked at KFC for a while.
I never knew the tough guy’s name. Wore tight t-shirts to show off his muscles. Friendly enough, but always had a smirk. Like the guy in school who sat in the back of the class, always on the edge of trouble. The guy you thought was funny but you always wanted to keep your distance because you didn’t want to be the center of whatever mayhem was brewing.
One morning he has a big bandage on his arm. I ask about it. He gives me the smirk. Then launches into his story. Some kind of altercation at the drive-through window. The other guy had a knife and cut him. But he got the knife and the guy drove off. Big smirk. Just another tough-guy story.
The franchise changed hands about a year ago. The old manager left. The old crew was replaced. Where are they now? What’s trench coat guy doing? Tough guy?
The new people are ok. I haven’t seen Tara in a while. She’s probably moved on.
Tara’s a little shy, but I get the feeling she wants to be outgoing. She has a slight speech impediment. Can’t pronounce her Rs. I had the same problem when I was a kid. My mother and my sisters tried to help. They started out with good intentions, thinking they could really help me, but when I continued to fail, I became a source of great amusement. Uncontrollable laughter. Not cruel, just fun. Eventually a school speech therapist helped me figure it out. I always wanted to talk to Tara. Because we had that in common.
In the world of #MeToo I think it’s important to point out that I am so much older than the kids that work at the coffee joint and I know I’m older and I’m very happily married and have no intention of being the old man creep. Just to be clear.
I’ve never been one to have many friends. I never have long talks about life. Maybe that’s the difference. Other people have friends and the imaginary boundary between coffee server and customer is easier to maintain.
And so I sit at my table, sipping my coffee. I think I’ll quit reading name tags. They don’t really want me to. They don’t want to know my name. I’m just anonymous coffee buyer.
Just a closer walk with Thee.
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.
Darnell downstairs, singing. The clang of the skillet on the stove. Breakfast on a Sunday morning.
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
She closed her eyes, tried to find more sleep, but the sun was lighting the room and Darnell wouldn’t stop singing, though he just kept repeating the same refrain, and the banging pots were like an alarm set to repeat every two minutes. So she got up and put on her clothes from the day before and made her way downstairs to the kitchen.
I come to the garden alone.
At least he had changed songs.
Her father sat at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in front of him. She went straight to the counter and poured herself a cup.
Darnell still hadn’t noticed her.
While the dew is still on the roses.
She went back to the table and pulled out a chair and sat with her father.
“You boys are up early.”
Darnell turned around.
“This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will be rejoice and be glad in it.”
He pulled three plates from the cabinet and dished out eggs on each one, then two strips of bacon, then toast.
“You’re going to make someone a happy wife someday, Darnell.”
He laughed and took his place at the table.
“Bow your head, Pops.”
And he did, as did Heather, but she didn’t close her eyes.
“Dear Lord, thank you for another day of life, another Lord’s day, and for this wonderful food you have provided. Be with our family, Lord, and bless us and draw us closer to you. Amen.”
She looked up. Her father’s head was still bowed. Maybe he was praying.
“Ok, Pops. You can eat now.”
He looked up, first at Darnell, then at Heather.
“Good morning, Daddy.”
And they ate.
Her right arm felt funny. Under the table, her right leg twitched. She switched to her left hand.
“You prayed for your family. Back in Texas?”
Darnell was about to take a bite of his toast, but stopped and put it back on his plate.
“No, ma’am. I don’t have family in Texas. I mean I have relatives, but no family.” He held his hands out over the table. “This family. Us.” He picked up his toast and took a bite.
There’s different kinds of family.
So said the roughneck-turned-tackle shop owner.. The full-time philosopher and quiz show aficionado. Lucas.
Well, this one was different, for sure.
“What constitutes a family, Darnell?”
He took another bite of toast and studied on an answer.
“I don’t know if I can proper answer that. It’s not like I been studying on the situation and come to a conscious conclusion. It just feels like family. You’re like a sister. Maybe a little like a Mom. And Pops is Pops.” He shrugged. “Family.”
Part of her wanted to argue. This was no family, despite the fact that there was a biological link sitting right across the table, staring at his eggs, chewing on a strip of bacon, completely unaware of the conversation going on right in front of him. Her father? No. At best an empty shell. Worse, a selfish, uncaring man who took away her mother. Her father was just a dusty memory. And Darnell a brother? Just because he takes care of her father and helps around the house and runs errands for her and cooks breakfast, doesn’t mean he’s family. She could get the same service from a temp agency. And besides, it was all temporary. They’d both be going back to Texas before too long. House guests was more like it. And guests was being generous.
Still, the eggs were good, and the morning was peaceful. And if she were being truthful, it beat having a bowl of cold cereal by herself.
Darnell was humming Just a Closer Walk with Thee.
“Wish I could remember the words. All I know is the chorus.”
“Can’t help you there.”
She knew the hymn. At least it was familiar. Maybe from the times she went to church with her mother as a child. Maybe from the radio or television or a scene in a movie. The tune was easy and soothing and the kind of melody that would find a home in the mind and drift to the heart and grow into the soul and become a part of the collective memory that would come forth unexpectedly and bring with it a wash of sentimentality.
The smell of bacon would linger as the eggs disappeared and the coffee cooled. The last bite of toast with strawberry jam. The quiet clinking of silverware on the plates ceased and all was quiet. Soon the day would begin in earnest. Even if this were Darnell’s contrived family, it was nice.
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
“You’re welcome. Me and Pops are going to church this morning. You should come with us.”
And there was the other aspect of her unknown father she hadn’t taken the time or made the effort to reconcile. He had never been a church-going man. He was, at first, her good father, always there for her, always including her and making her feel special. He just didn’t go to church. That was her mother’s thing. And their family had been just fine without church. Although looking back she wasn’t sure how true that was. Then he murdered her mother, went to prison, and found religion. It was a cliché that hardly warranted consideration. And it wasn’t like she could have a conversation about it even if she wanted to. His mind was gone, and with it, all memories, logic, reason, and explanations of anything that would make sense of his life, or his life with her mother, or his role as a father. If it was all incomprehensible to him, how could she ever understand?
copyright 2018, joseph e bird; from the novel Heather Girl
In this time
just after dawn
I can smell the dew
lifted from the grass
by the early morning sun
as the birds call
to one another
and the cool air
moves across my face.
My coffee is never better
and the peace never so serene
and the problems so far away
in this time just after dawn.
Time is limited
and there are
words to write and
songs to sing and
work to do and
people to see so
I have to move
and get about
of getting about.
Even the robins will
and the wind
will be still
and the grass
in the heat
of the day.
And the pavement
as the trucks
and the heels
in the heat
of the day.
So one more
in this time
just after dawn.
copyright 2017, joseph e bird
He’s pretty much lying on his back on this unique contraption, part wheelchair, part gurney. He’s in the sun, because when it’s not too hot, it’s good to get out of the building, out of the darkness, out of the smells. A lot of people are out. Some are by themselves, smoking, some are just sitting. They all acknowledge visitors, maybe with a smile or a sideways glance, but they all notice. Even the guy on his back, strapped in so he won’t fall off, follows me with his eyes.
He’s wearing a Cowboys jersey. I offer a quick hello as I walk by. He returns the greeting.
Are you a Cowboys fan? I ask.
I can’t tell if he can move his head or his arms, but he pushes the joystick with his fingers and his chair moves to face me.
They looked pretty good at the end of the season, I say. They have a good quarterback.
I want to talk specifics, but I can’t remember the quarterback’s name.
Yeah, he says. Dak Prescott. He’s going to be good.
And the running back? What’s his name?
Elliott, he says.
Then he says the defense has to get better.
I say something about how the Cowboys are fun to watch, but my knowledge of the team is limited. Like all conversations with strangers, this one has run its course.
I’d better get inside, I say, not really wanting to. I turn to go and remember to ask.
What’s your name?
Hey, Del. I’m Joe. I’ll see you around.
After my visit inside, I leave, but Del’s no longer outside.
I see him again a few weeks later, in the same chair, the nurses taking him in for rehab. I wanted to say hello but before I reached him, they had pushed him on down the hall.
I go on and make my visit. The usual ten minutes.
Then I leave this world of offensive odors, vacant looks, cries of loneliness, incoherent conversations, and people who depend on others to help them eat pureed food or drink juice through a straw, and guys like Del who have no other options.
I walk to my car and drive away. A few minutes later, I stop for coffee, maybe drive around a bit because it’s such a nice day. It’s Sunday, and I have no other obligations. For me, it’s a day of rest.
I think about privilege, and how that term is used today. It’s become a pejorative. I have able-body privilege. I have sound mind privilege. I have the privilege of good health and mobility and the privilege of being able to make my own decisions and act on those decisions.
I have all of that. Del doesn’t. And there’s nothing I can do about it.