Gus: “If I don’t drink coffee in the morning first thing, I get a headache within two hours”
Me: “After two hours of not seeing you, my headache begins to disappear”
So goes the daily conversation between Gus* and I (… don’t need to explain why the “*” is beside his name, right?). We meet almost every morning in a sometimes busy, sometimes not, restaurant located inside a three story hotel at the end of town. “End of town” is “up town”, or “downtown” depending upon who you are, of course. It sits beside what we affectionately call the “diamond” because the configuration of the curbs and streets form .. you guessed it … a diamond (assuming you have a little imagination). Trolley tracks, long since replaced by layers of brick, concrete, and asphalt – would run down over the hill should you turn left out of the restaurant. Across the way is an antique consignment shop, quick copy and print business, family foundation supporting pancreatic research, and an up-start fundraising endeavor. On a given day, you can smell fresh pizza baking through the vents in the roof next door as the cheesy-goodness scent passes by on its way to your likely purchase of same.
It is a hotel that hasn’t changed much over the decades. This writer remembers a time when his grandmother owned a shop next door – between the, now, pizza shop and this very hotel. Her gift shop long since gone the way of trolley tracks and mom-n’-pop businesses. Fortunately, conversations among friends in these days of smartphones and short attention spans, aren’t the hourglasses, iceboxes, telegraphs, or slide rules of our time … yet. We still have words back and forth. And old hotel restaurants ….
This local Hotel is an old establishment. Don’t know how old, however. There are plenty of brochures and smells of age-old memories lying around. Black and white pictures on the walls as you’d expect and well worn carpet stains with stories to tell if only possible. The egg shell paint definitely is in need of a cleaning, but the forty-foot mirror running the length of the wall – as one walks past a dozen or so stools – more than makes up for it. No more than two waitresses (“G” and “G”) scurry successfully between the lunch counter and the mirror filling orders amidst the banter from wannabe humorists and political pundits of all ages. A mixture of a few tables, two booths near the center of this narrow entry room, and two of the same up front under a few drafty windows overlooking the main square complete the interior charming front room.
To live during the high times of this hotel is to not have broad shoulders. The back dining room is a “must see” for first time visitors, but ladies with big, hoopy dresses or stout men sporting manly shoulders need not attempt. The two entryways are …well…narrower than expected by today’s standard measures. Narrow. Not impossibly impassable. It is through one of these doorways, directly to my right, where I saw my friend, Earl*
Earl is usually quiet. His table is, by default, my second choice. I almost always choose one of the drafty tables in the front. Today, however, I had in tow a leftover Chinese food container with three cookies inside destined for Earl and his friends. It was my wish that he and his soon to be arriving adult playmates enjoy a little more Christmas joy. His challenge was three cookies and four friends. Knowing Earl, it was going to be easy. Probably one for each, himself excluded.
The conversation began easily. Just the two of us because of the apparent late arrivals of any other “Earl friends”. I wasn’t in a hurry. I know his friends well … as they are acquaintances of mine.
Earl is an easy talker. I know this. His delivery has always been open and honest with me. With head tilted slightly to the left and back, eyes never shifting, and reticent, somewhat crooked smile, he talks with me .. not to me. Never has there been a time when Earl considered me an inferior. He is twenty years my senior and certainly more experienced in life. Guidance and direction given to me on occasion, when asked for, was direct and compassionate, … and always spoken gently over well placed crossed arms which seems to be his trademark pose – as it was during the telling of his personal conversation with me.
“How was your Christmas?”, I asked, handing Earl his three cookie Chinese container. We exchanged usual holiday banter before words turned in the most unusual direction. Maybe it was a “family” word? Perhaps prompting in a phrase? I’ve churned this over in my brain a few times to no satisfactory end….and it doesn’t really matter. I suddenly found myself being engaged in the most wonderful listening experience of the holiday.
From beginning to end, a story of searching and finding, loss and gain, successes and failures captured my moments and left me almost speechless. The details so far apart from any business or financial endeavors, but infinitely close to family and relationships. Details private enough I can’t share without permission. So easily said today. I don’t believe easily lived by relatives not so long ago. Substantial respect for a man today who can share a step along life’s journey with me. Twenty minutes of time when I didn’t need to talk .. just listen. A GOOD twenty minutes.
Back to Gus. It was fortunate for him my blessed presence sat beside his smaller, older, less handsome body in one of the drafty front booths today – a day after my meet-up with Earl. He wouldn’t use the word “fortunate”, however. “Unlucky”, “miserably cursed”, or perhaps “poorly untimed”, penned in blood on cloth napkins, would be his rapier in the ongoing duel of locution. Heightened recently with his utmost disregard for my aloud readings of “blog-stuff” as he so articulately defines my art form.
But, I, as the superior mature male in this exchange, will not proceed in the dialogue previously written in regard to this matter….
…Because he recently lost a dear friend and the funeral is today. I feel a deep sense of loss for Gus. A conversation today in a hotel front room, a drafty booth, and two friends – sarcastic as both may be – talking over one cup of coffee, one glass of iced tea, and one person I did not know, but he did … very well.
Gus and Carl had a friendship for years. Small town friendship. Smaller town than the the town we sat in today. The tie-in connections between the two are many and I don’t pretend to pass on details still unclear to me. What I do know is the final chapter of a very long book.
Gus is not a man who speaks as Pericles. He is “The Old Man and The Sea” without being the great Hemmingway. Dave Barry is certainly not surging through his veins. Point being, he isn’t – as none of us are – a great orator, writer, or humorist. He’s not on that scale. Some of us, though, can attempt to put a big toe on that scale, with some confidence, hoping that our one ounce little piggy will register with the heavy weight of the aforementioned legacies. Gus is in the other room eating bananas while reading jokes from the enlarged print version of Readers’ Digest.
Today was a sincere conversation between good friends. He would understand my sarcasm should he be in an awakened coma unaware of what he was doing. Even reading my blog today would cause medical exigencies of such catastrophic dimension in his life I would have a difficult time understanding the proper course of treatment forward. Probably read more of my insights, out loud, slowly to him as he drifts in and out of consciousness?
That said, Gus isn’t going to the funeral. He didn’t go to the viewing yesterday. Not sure why…did not ask. It was best to allow Gus the pleasure of his telling his stories. His conversation with me. I know he spent time visiting two weeks ago as Carl rapidly declined in health. I am aware there were bedside conversations – sincere humor and reflection between two good friends. As I suspect there was for years. One day Carl was there. The next. Gone.
Gus probably misses Carl. I’ll never know. It’s hard to tell due to his ever present sarcasm and attempt at hiding his really remarkable, understanding friendship he has with me.
I’ve known Gus a while. In as much as I’d like to know who he really is and why he uses the veil of sarcasm, I understood our conversation today … as I do everyday. I have to believe Carl did as well … for a much longer time than I.
Carl took his seat at the eternal drafty window booth to wait for Gus’ arrival someday. I’m positive there’s a conversation waiting to be continued….