williamallenpepper

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THE OLD GUY AT THE RESTAURANT

If you’re like me, well, first, let me say how sorry I am for you. Second, if you’re like me, and have young kids, you don’t get out of the house much. Still, on a  recent Saturday night, the family and I found ourselves at one of those local chain restaurants where the music is loud, the wait staff is perky and wears lots of flair and the food is decadently tasty.

The place was loud and busy, but they found us a place “in the quietest part of the restaurant right now” which was a little like saying “your cabin is in the least sinky part of the Titanic.” Still, the service was good, the food was good (I had the salmon. Mmm…grilled salmon), the kid was fairly well-behaved and all was right with the world.

Oh, and I got to hang out in the men’s room with one of the waitresses. But that’s a story for another blog.

Among the crowd of patrons was an old guy of eighty or so sitting at a small, two-person table right next to ours. Alone. He wasn’t obese, but definitely carrying a few extra pounds, which could have contributed to the need for the two ornate canes parked next to his chair. He wore oversized, old man glasses, a black t-shirt, khakis and suspenders. On his head was some sort of cap. I couldn’t catch what the lettering was without staring, but think it might have been some sort of military veteran’s organization.

He already had his food when we were seated. A salad, a half rack of beef ribs and some fries. Parked next to his plate, a tall beer, some sort of ale, mostly untouched. Whenever the twenty-something waitress would come by to check if he needed anything, he would chat her up a bit; not in a flirty, dirty-old-man way, just in a thanks-for-asking sort of way.

He methodically ate all the fries, half the salad, and half the ribs. The beer remained untouched. The waitress came by to ask if he wanted a to-go box. She even asked about a to-go cup for the beer (NOTE TO SELF: THIS IS A THING ?!?!? REMEMBER THAT.) He accepted the box for the food, but declined the cup. “I can’t drink and drive anymore.” But…he put a napkin over the beer and left the table. He left his coat behind, so I assumed he was just in the restroom.

Sure enough, he came back. He paid his bill in cash. The waitress brought him his to-go box and collected the check. She was easily fifty to sixty years younger than him and no doubt had a hundred other things to be doing at that moment, but she stood by patiently while he chatted her up yet again.  He told her about how he’d tried to get his buddy to come out with him that Saturday night. I didn’t quite catch his name, but it was something colloquial like “Stinky” or something. But the friend had declined. “He’s eighty,” the old guy explained to the waitress, “and he doesn’t usually feel too good.” He went on to tell her, proudly, “I don’t either. But today I felt pretty good, so here I am.”

They completed their transaction. The old guy slowly drank half of the very tall beer. No to-go cup today. Whether it was because he wanted to drink it, or because a small prideful part of himself wanted to show the waitress he could do it, I don’t know. Just as well though. (“Can’t drink and drive anymore.”)

Then he left, presumably to go home to whatever life had, or didn’t have, for him there.

Was I totally eves-dropping on this dude? Yep. I’m a writer. Writers do that. (Be warned.) I don’t know this guy. Is he married? Is he widowed? Was he ever married? Is he sick? Just how bad off is his buddy? I’m guessing he’s a veteran of WWII. What’s he done since then? No clue.

I’m picturing a widowed WWII vet who spent the rest of his working years in a factory somewhere, had three kids and some grandkids he doesn’t see nearly enough, retired with a decent, if not extravagant, pension, and spends his time quiet at home with daytime TV trying to cajole Stinky to poke a tentative cane into the world that goes on without them most of the time. Sometimes he’s successful. Most of the time he’s not.

Do I have the right to presume anything about this guy I don’t know? Probably not. On the other hand, if I’m right that he’s a lonely old guy who wants to know he’s still a part of the world, maybe he’d appreciate knowing something spared a thought for him.

That’s fundamentally what we all want in the end, isn’t it?

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