I spent the last eight days traveling in a big circle from Denver, up through Wyoming to Washington and Oregon, then back through SLC and east into Kansas and Nebraska, before finally alighting again in D-Town.
This first little exchange took place in a truck stop outside Aurora, NE. The TV was tuned to ESPN and they were showing a highlights package, which ended with a “feel-good” clip of youngsters racing around the infield of a baseball park dressed as foam-rubber hotdogs. One of the youngsters couldn’t run in his bulky costume and kept tripping and sprawling on his face. It was, I have to admit, funny, in a precious sort of way.
Sitting at the next table was an elderly man. Very elderly. Methuselah, Jr. But, he looked like everyone’s favorite octogenarian – tidy plaid shirt; brown high-water slacks, belted just below his arm pits; even a plastic pocket protector to protect his pocket from pens. As I began to chuckle a bit at the trials of the kid in the sausage outfit, the elderly fellow started laughing a wheezy laugh. I looked his way, indicated the TV with a nod, and said:
“Poor little guy.”
The elderly fellow glared at me through a film of ill-will and cataracts, and said:
“Fuckin’ retard’s what he is.”
“Well,” I responded, “can’t be easy running around in those suits.”
The elderly fellow made a bah-humbug gesture at me, looking back at the TV, where the clip was running again. His tubercular laugh reappeared, gurgling from the hair-clogged drain of his esophagus.
“Lookit ‘im! Lookit that fuckin’ retard!” He almost choked he was laughing so hard. “Why d’they let ‘em out in public? They’re disgusting!”
“He’s just a little kid,” I said, which earned me another bah-humbug finger flick. I wanted to say something nasty to the silly old fuck, but just couldn’t summon the resolve.
“Your kid a retard?” the man asked abruptly.
“Uh, no. No, I don’t have any kids.”
“Yers’d prob’ly be retards anyway.”
I stared at him. He stared at me. And he wheezed. And gurgled.
“Normally,” I said, with a big ol’ smile on my face, “I try to show my elders respect. But you, you are a repulsive old cocksucker, and the world will be a better place when you die. Fuck you.”
As I left the restaurant, he croak-snorted something at my back, but I couldn’t make it out. And I’m glad, actually.
And then I was in Ontario, OR, which seems to be a Mecca for aberrancy and mutation.
I had a night off, and didn’t have to rise early the next morning, so I decided to visit a few of Oregon’s fabled craft breweries, of which Ontario had but one. Oh, well. I put on some decent clothes, my favorite black, fedora-like hat, and headed out.
Parked on a stool at the corner of an L-shaped bar, I was enjoying a rather good barleywine when two guys planted themselves on the other leg of the L. We nodded at one another in acknowledgement, and went back to our own business – them to a wall-mounted TV showing auto racing, and me to my book. Time passed. Then more time passed. More than a few beers passed.
“Hey, buddy!” one of the duo called, but it took me a moment to realize that I was the ‘buddy’ thus indicated, so he shouted again. “Hey, buddy!”
I looked in the direction of the pair. Both were already looking at me. They more or less resembled each other: medium height, gangly, trucker’s caps (who the fuck still wears those dippy things?) wife-beaters, etc.
“I like your hat.”
“Oh. Cool. Thanks, man.”
“You look like Heisenberg.”
“OK,” I said, nodding. “It’s not a pork pie hat, but I’ll—”
The guy raised his voice. “I said you look like Heisenberg.”
“That’s great. All I meant was our hats are different. Heisenberg —”
Right here, the other guy entered into this diverting little tête-à-tête: “You a smartass, or what?”
“Yes,” I answered, “but not in this specific case.”
“So what’s yer problem?”
“I have no problem. All I was —”
Guy One interrupted again. “I said you look like Heisenberg.”
“And I said ‘thank-you,’ and then pointed out that my hat is nothing like Heisenberg’s.”
Undaunted, Guy One aimed a finger at me and declared: “You have a goatee,” as if that fact erased any lingering traces of complication and conflict.
My goatee is nothing like Heisenberg’s. His is tidy, trimmed, and looks pretty slick. Mine is bushy, untrimmed, and makes me resemble a mixture of Kris Kringle and one of the Mujahideen. But there would have been zero profit in venturing down that particular road. Just as there would have been zero profit in my further engagement with this pop-cultural exchange.
“Hey,” I burbled (in so far as I am capable of burbling), “You’re right! I never thought of that. The hat and the goatee. Guess I kinda do look like Heisenberg. Neat.”
Fulfilling all of my hopes, this seemed to satisfy them, as they returned to their Bud Lights, nachos, and shiny things going around in circles on TV. I knocked back the rest of my barleywine, and took my leave.
Should you ever feel like traveling with me, remember this one thing. No matter where I am, or what I am doing, if there is a looney-bird about he or she will locate me as surely as wombats have cube-shaped poop.