The OId Man and the Emo Kid

In the darkest corner of a small cafe, Brian sat alone looking out the window, sipping an iced mocha.  It was a hot day, especially for Maine, and a cool drink was just what he needed.  Today as everyday, Brian wore black: baggy black pants and a black shirt with some sort of cryptic lettering on the front spelling the name of his favorite death metal band.  He wore this color because it seemed to best explain his current state of mind: dark and on the edge of decay.  Sometimes for effect, like today, he drew on his neck with red permanent marker: two blood droplets that indicated that a vampire had just had lunch from his neck.  It felt good to have people’s attention, even if it was disgust.  And as upholding a cause sometimes requires sacrifice, Brian’s crusade for attention was no exception.

As he sat sipping his coffee and wiping the sweat from his forehead, he stared out the window wondering why no one seemed to give a damn about him.  Earlier this morning, he had walked out of the house and decided he was never going back.  His parents didn’t care about him, his friends were all messed up like he was, and there was no reason for him to stay. Besides, he had already missed too much of summer school and knew he was doomed now to repeat 11th grade.  That’s not happening, he decided.

“It’s not my fault,” he mumbled aloud. It’s not that I’m not smart, he thought, I just need a reason to care.

Before he could delve any farther into his self-pity, he stopped, distracted by a car that had just pulled up in the parking lot.  It was a beat up Buick driven by an even older and much frailer looking man. He must be like 100, thought Brian.  The fragile man, opened the car door and began to get out, but got back into the car when it started to roll backwards.  He hadn’t put the car in park.  A second time, he attempted to exit the vehicle and the same scene replayed itself.  On the third try, with much heft, the old man gave the Buick’s shifter a firm shove and the car was still.

Being satisfied that there was no way the car could move, the old man feebly pulled himself from the car and brushed off his ancient baby blue suit.  Brian noticed, with some amusement that the man was wearing a cowboy tie.  The man shuffled to the back of the car and opened the trunk.  After rummaging around for a moment, he grabbed something out and closed the trunk.  Brian watched this from his stool with a mixture of curiosity and humor.  Anyone else watching this scene play out would probably have added to that sympathy, but not Brian.  No, he fancied himself to be a cold-hearted bastard.  It sounded good in his head, anyway.

The man walked into the shop with a slight smile on his face, but his skinny and bent frame made the smile more sad than anything else.  I hope I’m never that old, thought Brian.  The man with the cowboy’s tie asked the woman behind the counter in a weak but pleasant voice, “May I speak with your boss?” The woman behind the counter said that she answered to “boss.”

“Then hello ma’am,” he said. “May I interest you in one of these nifty devices?” He placed the device on the counter in front of him and watched her with a smile.  The woman picked up the small plastic device, scrutinizing it against the light coming from the window.  Brian, trying not to show interest in anything but his inner turmoil, slowly browsed the room to catch a glimpse of the device.  No luck.  The old man continued to  discuss the advantages of having one of these devices.  A large man making sandwiches behind the counter commented on the devices usefulness.  Brian could tell the sandwich guy was just saying that to be nice.

“Listen sir,” said the boss woman, “you seem like a very nice man, so I’m just going to be honest with you.  This, I think, would be more of a nuisance to me in the kitchen than helpful.”

The old man mumbled something, but Brian could tell the man realized his failure.  The old man gave something to the woman and said she could keep it. She looked at it and sighed as the old man began to shuffle away.  The woman’s face showed pity.

“Okay, here’s what I’ll do,” she said. “Give me your number and I’ll think about it.  And since you gave me a sample, let me return the favor.  What kind of danish would you like?” The old man’s face lit up with excitement, he chose a flavor, took his danish, thanked the woman, shuffled out the door, returned his wares to his trunk, and drove away.  I hope that’ll never be me when I’m that old.  Brian felt that he identified with the man: alone and never getting a break.

Brian finished his coffee and realized that he should get going.  It was cloudy and since he didn’t know where he was headed, he better be off.  Any place is better than here, he told himself.  So, off he went to find this better place. On the outside, he still looked just as sullen as always, but on the inside, he was excited.  He wasn’t sure where he would end up or what he would do when he got there, but he would figure it out as he went along.

For several hours, Brian walked south.  He thought about the old man, and about how life was so unfair to people like him and the old man.  He wondered what it was that the old man was selling?  Was it really that bad?  The clouds were gathering thick and heavy now and low rumbles of thunder seemed to be growing by the minute.  Although he enjoyed watching storms from his bedroom window, he wasn’t sure if he wanted such a close encounter this late afternoon.  It was going on five now, but looked more like eight.  After much thought, Brian was realizing that it was much different to be alone in his room than to be alone on the side of a secluded state road.  He actually wanted to see someone he knew.  That’s stupid, he thought.  I finally get what I’ve wanted for so long and I’m wanting what I’m trying to get away from. 

It started to rain.  At first, it was light and tolerable.  Brian enjoyed the thought of people driving by and seeing a poor, soaking-wet kid walking alongside the road.  He wondered if someone might offer to give him a ride.  He reveled in the idea of people taking notice of him as we walked alone in the rain.  That is until the rain grew harder and the thunder louder and the lightning closer.  He tried to keep walking, but realized that no one was going to stop for someone like him–people were always afraid of his kind.  He looked for a place to get out of the rain.  Up ahead, he saw a long-abandoned gas station and decided that this was the place to be.  As he grew closer, he could see through the pouring rain that there was a familiar old Buick underneath the rusted overhang.  The car’s tire was flat.  The trunk was open and the old man was on his tip-toes, leaning deep into it.  Between the thunderclaps, Brian could hear the man’s words to the car.

“The one day I need you and you can’t even hold up your end of the deal!   Why Louise, why?  The biggest break I’ve had and what happens?  You decide that today is the day to have a flat tire. My luck.  Just my luck.”

Brian drew closer and trying not to give the man a heart attack, he gave a hardy cough.  Unfortunately, his cough was ill-timed and drowned out by the rain and the thunder.  He tried again, and this time, the old man heard him.

“Oh,” the old man started.  He lost his handhold and plunged his hands deep into the box of plastic devices.

Brian grabbed the old man by the back of his belt and pulled him (with care) from the trunk.

“Do you want some help with the tire?” Brian asked.

“That would be nice.  These hands aren’t what they used to be.” For a moment, the old man paused and gave a good long look at Brian.  Brian hadn’t noticed before that this man’s glasses were so thick.  As the man looked at Brian and Brian at him, Brian expected the usual judgmental phrase to come next.  Instead, the man said, “Do you know how to change a tire?  Forgive my skepticism, but you don’t look like you’ve done much work in your life.”  He grabbed Brian’s hands, gave them a quick look-over and clicked his tongue. “Yep, I bet you’ve never done a good day’s work in your life.”

Obviously, you’ve never made enough money to retire from your good day’s work, Brian thought.

“The tire iron is in the trunk,” the man continued. “The goal is to get the old tire off and the spare tire attached to the car so that it doesn’t fall off. My name’s Myron, by the way.”

This man confused Brian.  Where was the mild-mannered man from the coffee shop?    How was it that Myron conversed with him as if he was a normal person?  Brian mumbled some sort of “nice to meet you” and went to the trunk to find the tire iron and spare.  As he peered into the trunk, he realized what it was the man was selling.  Plastic lobster can openers.  What crap, Brian thought.  No wonder no one wants to buy any.  Brian dug through the lobsters to find the iron.

“They’re crap aren’t they?” Myron sighed.  “Don’t act like they’re not.” He picked one up, glared at it, and dropped it back into the large pile of synthetic sea creatures.  “I’m on my way to get the rest of these sold to a souvenir company. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it now.  I guess I’ll have to go by tomorrow. What’s your name?”

“Uh, oh, Brian. Brian Dunwoody.”

“Well Uh Oh Brian Dunwoody, why did you put that junk on your neck?”

Brian said nothing.  This was the conversation he was planning on having soon enough. He let out a small breath and continued his work without answering.

“You a thug or something? Naw, never mind.  Not with those hands.”

Brian was taking off the old tire one nut at a time.  Myron leaned against the car with arms crossed.

“You look like you know what you’re doing,” Myron continued.  “Well, what da ya know?  I used to work on cars all the time when I was about your age.  I had an old jalopy and fixed it up to go cruisin’ with the guys.  We had some fun times. Yeah, those were some fun times. You know, you don’t talk much.  Then, heh, maybe it’s because I’m doing all the yapping.  My mother always said I would be a salesman.  She was a wise woman.”

Brian, still working on the tire, and forgetting his heir of sullenness, smiled a minuscule smile.

“Don’t you wanna say anything, Brian Dunwoody?” Myron asked.

“Uh, how old are you?” Brian gulped, wondering why he had just blurted out what had been going through his mind since the first moment he had seen the man.

“You do speak! And straight to the point, aren’t you?” He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you really mean, why am I still selling crap out of my trunk when I should be in a retirement home in Florida having pretty young nurses spoon-feeding me?”

Brian paused and continued working. He was coming to see a large difference between the meek and mild salesman that people felt sorry for and the quick, opinionated man standing before him.  Perhaps this was what made Myron a great salesman.

“That, is a long answer, kid.  But I’ll give you the quick one.  I’m 78 and still live here in Maine because, well I don’t really know why. I just do.  I sell this shit because it pays the bills. What d’ya want me to say?”

“Don’t you have a wife or something?” Brian asked.

“She’s dead.” There was a long pause and Myron continued. “I sell this stuff because I have to pay off all of her medical bills she left behind after a long bout with the cancer.”

Brian looked up at Myron unsure of what to say, when Myron started again. “Hah! I’m joking! My wife divorced me years ago! Never had any kids to speak of. The whole marriage thing didn’t stick.  Listen Brian, if I can give you any advice you’ll actually listen to, here it is: never get married.  If you’ve already got junk drawn on your neck to show how troubled you are, you don’t need a woman to come in and make things worse.”

At this Brian unconsciously touched his neck.

“They make things complicated,” Myron continued, “That’s what women do, they complicate things and tell ya things like ‘What did you ever do before you met me?’ and ‘I don’t know how you ever made it on your own.’” Myron laughed cynically. “I made it because without a woman, life isn’t so damned complicated!” Myron paused for a moment to look up at the rain then continued. “And why not a retirement home? I don’t like old people.  They smell funny, look funny, and their favorite topic is their most recent ailment and who’s had the most surgeries.” Again, Brian smiled with his back turned. “Don’t get me wrong, Dunwoody, I don’t dislike them any more than I dislike anyone else.”

Brian realized that Myron was a vision of the ornery man he would become if he gave up and cut himself off.  It left a metallic taste in his mouth and he wasn’t sure that he liked it.

Brian stood up and admired his work.  Myron too glanced at the work.

“That things not gonna fly off in the middle of the highway on me, is it?”

Brian smirked.

“I’ll take that as a no.  It’s been lovely chatting with you Brian, you really should learn to keep quiet every now and again.” Myron thumped Brian on the back and chuckled.  Brian put everything away in the trunk, shoved aside the large pile of lobster can-openers and shut the trunk.  Myron stood watching.

“Well, I guess I should give you a lift since it’s still raining.  Where you headed?”

Brian thought for a moment.

“Back,” he said.

Myron shrugged, got into his Buick and drove away without a word.

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