“I was here last week. I had the peanut butter chocolate pie.” He put down his menu and searched the tabletop for a spoon to stir his coffee. “This is the second restaurant I’ve been to in 2 days that didn’t give us spoons. What’s with that?” He vertically flipped his fork and stirred the sugar.
He perused the menu and spoke from behind it. “Why are you so upset today?”
He leaned into his elbow that rested on the table. He held his hand like a vice and pinched his temples with his fingers. He wiped his face from forehead to chin and settled his head on his palm. “Uh, I’m just fed up.”
“I think I’ll have the Elena Ruz.” He elongated the Z.
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“It’s under sandwiches.” He closed the menu and placed it on the edge of the table. “So. What’s going on?”
“I’m just having a bad day.”
The waitress approached; both men ordered a meal.
“So you’re having a difficult day.”
“Yeah Padre I am. Okay so. You know Frattallone’s on Grand?”
“Sure. It’s where I go.”
“It’s like the perfect hardware store. Anyway. So I’m in there looking for caulk rope and I see a neighbor of mine.”
“Now this is a guy I used to hang with all the time. And I wasn’t in the mood to deal with him so I nodded and started walking to the weather stripping aisle.”
“So he comes up to me and says,” he adopts a different voice, “Hey! Long time no see! How’ve you been? And I told him I’m okay. And he says, yeah I’ve heard about you being sick. Is everything okay now? And I said, yeah I’m fine. And I told him I was in a hurry. And he says, so the heart thing’s okay? And now I get mad and I said, I’m fine. It’s all good. And I just wanted to get away from him and he says, well, what was it? And now I’m livid. I haven’t heard from this fuckwit in a year. So I said, it’s a private thing. I don’t want to talk about it. And he acts all mad.”
“Maybe he was concerned.”
“I don’t care what he is.” He sat back in the booth and crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t owe him the details of my life.”
“Did it occur to you that maybe he just cares about you?”
He sat straight. “You know what? I hung with him a couple of times a month. We texted at least a couple of times a week. I’ve had three procedures on my heart. Unsuccessful by the way. My Father’s been in the hospital three times this year. My Mother’s been hospitalized three times this year. Shit I’ve been hospitalized four times this year alone!” He punched the air with his index finger, “He knew it. All my neighbors knew it. It was in the Highland Villager. I haven’t heard from a single one of them! I had to hire someone to shovel my sidewalks, mow my lawn, and deliver my groceries. And they all know I’m sick. So you know what? I’m not providing the goddamned details of my life so that they can have something to gossip about. I don’t owe it.”
“I can see why you’d feel hurt but I think you need to realize that sometimes people can’t be what we need them to be.”
“You know what? I don’t need them to help me. But I don’t need to be their entertainment either.”
The waitress approached and refilled their coffees.
Her interruption made him regain the rhythm of his breath. “Look I had a redefining moment last month.”
The priest set his cup down. “Tell me.”
“So my play is over one night and I walk out into the lobby and I see my friend. He’s standing there waiting for me. He’s worked all day. Married with kids. Doctor. And I see him standing there. He took tickets for me that night. And I could see how tired he was. And I know he has to work in the morning and I thought, that’s a friend. Look what he gave me.” The waitress set their plates on the table, asked if they wanted anything else, and left. “So I thought about it. If he’s my friend, and by Christ he is, then that guy today isn’t. And I’m not treating them the same anymore.”
“Okay but does that entitle you to treat someone else rudely?”
“Okay Father, I don’t think it’s rude not to cast myself as the zoo exhibit. Show me in the Bible where it says I’m required to be the entertainment.”
“Let me ask you something. Which is more important to you, kindness or pride?”
“My heart’s too broken to offer every fuckwit a piece of it. I’m not doing it right now. I’m not.”
“As your spiritual advisor I feel compelled to show you your error.”
“I know you’re right Father. I do. But I’m not good enough to be that selfless. I’m not. I’m going with the Old Testament thing right now. The whole eye for an eye thing. Right now I can live with them being blind.”
“It’s not your place to distribute justice.”
He took his elbows and made a pyramid over his plate and rested his eyes in his palms. “I know. I know. I know.” He began to cry. “I know,” he whispered.
“Listen Mark, I’ve known you for 35 years. Don’t become this.”
He looked up. “I’m trying man. I’m trying. I really am.”
(Photo courtesy of Yelp)