Sidewalk dining has become very popular and pleasant, weather permitting, and my friend and I are about to have some lunch. Please join us – it’s on me.
“This table O.K. with you, Bruce?” asked Will as he set down the little statue holding the order number.
“It better be O.K.,” replied Bruce, “since it’s the only empty table out here, but it needs clearing.”
“The waiter’ll do it.”
“Or the waitress,” offered Bruce.
“Well, I sometimes like to use the generic, for example – ‘God is a He’.”
“Or a She,” countered Bruce.
” How about an It?” suggested Will, knowing he would get a reaction from Bruce.
Bruce sighed, and said, “God made man in his own image, so I guess it could be either a man or a woman.”
Will quickly replied, “Oh, I thought man made God in his own image.”
“Let’s not get into religion again. I know you’re an atheist and I’ll never convert you, and you sure won’t convert me. I ‘m very happy with my beliefs, but, I sometimes think you argue the way you do just to be arguing.”
“I’ll sit over here,” said Will. “The sun won’t bother me.” Then “Oh, excuse me,” turning to the three women sitting at the table behind him, as he shifted his chair to a position between his table and theirs. The woman he bumped turned, gave him a blank look, and continued talking with her friends without shifting her chair, apparently oblivious of the problem. I’m sorry I apologized, he thought to himself, and then, turning to Bruce he said, “Here, I’ll lay your cane on this chair on the other side. You’re walking pretty well,” he continued. “Do you think you’ll ever get knee replacements?”
“No, the doctors say that at my age it would be dangerous and no assurance of success. After I had that fall on the court, – God, how long ago was that?”
“It must have been twenty years, at least,” suggested Will. “You were a damn good player then. You always beat me in singles.”
“Well, that was then, this is now, and I just hobble around. But you, you’re still playing tennis, singing, travelling, and remember how we four would go to the opera together? Who do you go with now?”
Two yapping dogs interrupted the conversation, and Will’s thoughts moved on without answering his question. “I hear you sold your home and moved into a retirement home. How do you like it?”
“It’s great. No more worries. No garden to take care of. We cook breakfast, but we eat the other meals in the dining room. I don’t know why you and Mary don’t do the same,” Bruce said. “Look,” countered Will, “you worked all your life for Standard …”
“Chevron,” corrected Bruce.
“Well, it was Standard Oil when you started there, and you must have ended up with a good pension and some nice stock options. I worked for a dozen different companies, and none gave me a pension. We can’t afford a retirement home. Besides, I like gardening and repairing things around the house.”
The waiter came out carrying an order and glanced around at the tables for the proper number. He placed the plates in front of them, which Will immediately switched. The waiter picked up the dirty dishes and left the two of them alone. There was silence as they organized themselves, unfolding the paper napkins and placing them on their laps.
“Why do they always give us such small napkins?” asked Will, not expecting an answer, as he held up the one on his lap and placed another by his plate. Then added, “What do you two do for entertainment?”
“Well, on Thursday night we play bridge at the residence. – Do you play bridge?” Bruce said.
“Never got into it, though once in a while Mary will play with some of her friends. Look out! That dog is about to get your sandwich!” exclaimed Will. But the dog passed on with her master’s tug. Bruce continued, “Joyce is a damn good player and gives me hell if I don’t count right. But win or lose I enjoy it. We see a few movies. Saw one the other night – something like Brugles, no, I think it was Bruges. We walked out after twenty minutes. One guy had to put at least three F words in every sentence. It was disgusting. How about you?”
“I see about three a year, though Mary will go with others when I won’t go with her. My favorite, still, is ‘The Singing Detective’. I’ve probably watched it four times. It’s like I personally know all the characters and they all know me, like I was part of the movie. Remember, I suggested you rent it.”
“Oh, I know you did, and we tried to figure out what was going on, and then that F scene in the woods – Joyce said turn it off!”
“You don’t have to use letters with me, you can say ‘fucking’.”
“Don’t talk so loud, those women can hear you” warned Bruce.
“No danger,” countered Will, “they’re so busy talking they don’t know what’s going on around them. And they’re all talking at once. Mary tells me that you can have six women all talking at once and none of them miss a thing. But that scene of his mother in the woods, while he was in a tree watching was important; it was one of the many flashbacks in his life that had him so disturbed. Another of my favorite movies is ‘Some Like It Hot’. Do you know it?”
“Know it! Joyce loves it. She loves Tony Curtis and that scene on the boat where Marilyn tries seducing Tony. She keeps imitating that clipped voice of his with ‘not very likely, not very likely’.”
“I think he was imitating Cary Grant,” suggested Will.
“Probably,” agreed Bruce. “Not very likely. not very likely,” he kept repeating.
“That was a pretty sexy scene. I’m surprised she liked it”, Will said.
“It was romantic. She likes romantic stories and movies,” explained Bruce.
“You know, we haven’t seen Joyce in years. We used to have some pretty good parties.”
“Well, I might as well tell you,” returned Bruce. ”Joyce thinks you have a dirty mind. You’re obsessed with sex. You sing those dirty songs, and tell dirty limericks, like that one about the guy from Boston and his car – I don’t exactly remember it.”
“I’m glad I didn’t tell about the guy from Nantucket. Want to hear it?”
“No, thanks. And then you have all those crazy ideas about economics. You think you’re right and every one else is wrong,” Bruce said.
“Well, aren’t they?” Will added, needling Bruce some more.
“Don’t be funny. I’m serious. You talk about a guy named Henry George who wrote a book about economics over a hundred years ago. He seems to be your God. And you don’t like Proposition 13. Do you know, we were able to transfer our assessment on our old house over to the condominium? It saves us a lot of money.”
“Man tends to satisfy his desires with the least effort, and man’s desires are never satisfied,” declared Will in a stentorian voice.
“What does that mean?” asked Bruce.
“Those are two universal economic principles and mean we are all greedy. You think it’s great that your neighbors must pay ten to fifteen times the property tax as you, yet you receive the same benefits.”
“Well, that’s the law. And she thinks you’re a Communist.” Bruce added quickly, trying to drop the subject of Prop 13.
“Do you?” asked Will.
“No, but, at least a Socialist.”
“Well, aren’t we all? I’ll bet if you opened Marx’s grave now, you’d find him smiling.” Said Will, himself smiling, and deciding to end this subject.
The two were quiet for a short time, both uneasy about the turn in the conversation. Then Bruce asked, “Is there a restroom here?”
“Just go through that door and straight back. Want your cane?”
“No, I’ll navigate without it,” and Bruce disappeared from sight.
Will re-positioned his chair. The three women had left, and he shifted around so he could see up and down the sidewalk. He thought, This is a great place to see the passing parade, the people with dogs on a leash, the mothers with their young children, and baby buggies, many of them doubles. And the children, so cute and well dressed, while their parents are grunge. It was the ‘Mao” jackets in China years ago; and now its “Mao” trousers in the U.S. The government has decreed ‘denim jeans’. Lots of Asians, not many blacks. And men – they all seem to be wearing beards now. I like sidewalk dining. It’s like being in a European café but, here, instead of being a tourist I’m the native. And then, he thought, I’ve got to be more civil with Bruce. And everyone. I’m such a curmudgeon. It’s a wonder I have any friends – or do I?
Bruce navigated himself back to the table, thinking it was time to leave. He was not happy. Why did Will have to be so annoying? Why can’t he accept things as they are? Why can’t he grow old gracefully?” As he sat down he said “There are two restrooms but they are both uni-sex. Joyce doesn’t like that kind.” Then he added, “I’ve got to get going. Joyce went to have her hair done and is having lunch with a friend. I’d just as soon get home before her, so I don’t have to tell her where I’ve been. And then we’re going to pick up our son at the airport.”
Will couldn’t resist. He said “Did I ever tell you about the English gentleman who took a client to dinner at his club?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but continued. “Before dinner he said ‘I’m going to have a Scotch and soda, what will you have?’ The guest answered ‘nothing, thank you, I don’t drink. I tried it once and didn’t like it’ So they proceeded to eat and after, settled in the lounge, where the host pulled out of his inside coat pocket a brown leather cigar case. He slid off the top, exposing four cigars in the base, and offered one to his guest. The guest announced that he did not smoke, had tried it once and didn’t like it, and though he hated to run, he had to pick up his son at Victoria Station. The host replied ‘your only son, I presume.’”
Bruce smiled, but really thought, “I’m not going to pretend that was funny. I think he was digging me in some way, sure, we only have one child, but that’s because of Joyce’s condition.” He decided not to reply to the story. Instead he said, “This has been nice; we should do it again. I’ll give you a call; it’s better that you don’t phone me.” He stood up, turned away from the table and navigated his way through the men, women, dogs and children, zigging and zagging his way on the sidewalk.
Will took one last shot and called out, “Tell Joyce I said hello!”
Bruce stopped; half turned, and replied, “Not very likely.”