Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Life's not fair

A man walks into a mom and pop restaurant. the place, Jen's Diner, has been around since he was a kid. The guy running the place, Aidan, looks to be ten years his junior, but still shows gray streaking through his hair and a lumbar support belt cinching up his gut. Nobody names their kids Aidan anymore, the man, John, thought. That craze was over almost before it started and now schools were filled with Johns, Jims and Toms again. John sits at the bar and begins toying with a pen. He rolls it through his fingers, checks this side and that. The pen is gold colored, and says 'for 41 years of service, thanks.' On the other side is the name of a courier service company. Not a gold watch. A gold colored pen. 41 years. They couldn't even splurge to spell '41', as if the extra seven embossed characters would have made the gift too classy. 41 years, and a retirement package that will supplement John's annual social security payment enough to pay the rent for his mobile home space in the old part of town. Take it or leave it, was the implication, but they'd already rigged the whole fleet of trucks to drive themselves. Making a smarter planet. The man sighs and signals for a beer. Jen's is quiet. A few kids at a corner booth, Dave, Dan and Mary, John surmises. Some stragglers, older, probably truck drivers or some other dying breed. Connors and Parkers no doubt. John sits alone at the bar, until another man walks in. This man looks to be about the same age as John. He could be an Aidan to whom time wasn't kind, there were plenty of those, but he had the walk of an older man than that. His walk said 'I'll get there when I get there', and the Aidans didn't have that.
  "Howdy." Barkeep/waiter Aidan says, just like his mom used to when she ran the place.
  The newcomer smiles. "Howdy pardner." He sat at the bar next to John.
  "What can I get for ya?" Aidan asked.
  "You don't have a Bass pale do you? I used to get those in London, long before the revolution. Fun place back in those days." The man says.
  "Bass pale? lemme check..." Aidan starts winking his right eye furiously, "that's a beer right?" His left eye stares while his mouth hangs slightly open. Was there anything fundamentally wrong with tablets or smartphones for taking orders? Even notepads got the job done. These Eye-pads might have looked cool from the inside but from the outside they made you look like an idiot.
  "It's okay. I'll just have what this guy's having." The man gestures to John.
  "Sierra Nevada. Not Bass. Maybe the bass of America." John shrugs.
The man laughs, "I know what Sierra Nevada is." Aidan brought the the cold beer bottle and a receipt. The man is dressed casually, but well. His clothes fit him nicely and have a workman's look to them. Not a real workman's look, but at least he tries. Nobody tries anymore.
  "I don't have a pen." The man replies.
This time John laughs. "Here, This has to be good for something." John pulls out his gold colored pen and hands it to the man, who thanks him and looks at the pen. His lower lip furrows and he nods.
  "Forty-one years is a long time. Congratulations." The man says.
  "Yes it is." John replies, "but it beats unemployment. Barely." John takes a sip of his beer.
  "This pen doesn't work." The man replies, which causes John to snort a laugh and nearly spray beer all over the counter.
  "Oh. uh, under a hundred bucks, no signature required." Aidan says, and grabs the reciept. "Sorry."
  The man waves Aidan off, and raises his glass to John.
They drink together.
  "Forty-one years, eh?" The man says.
  "Forty-one years." John agrees. "But that's all behind me now."
  "Newly retired?" The man asks. John nods.
  "Good thing too. They taught the trucks to drive themselves. How about you?" John asks.
  The man takes a sip of the American pale ale before responding, "I suppose I've been retired for some time now."
  "What did you do?" John asks.
  "This and that." The man responds. John frowns. The man sees John's reaction and elaborates, "Nothing terribly interesting or important, I suppose I haven't worked in about thirty years." John looks at him uncomprehending.
The man takes a longer sip of his beer and smiles, "Years ago, me and my friends had a band, one night I walked in on a jam session with some words I wrote on a napkin." The man softly sings the last part.
  "So if by the time the bar closes, and you feel like falling down, I'll carry you home, Tonight."
  John scowls at him. "You're buying the next round."

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