If You Knew Scusi, Like I know Scusi...
For most of my life, I’ve been large—tall, and for many of those years, fairly rotund. I’ve always been acutely aware of taking up more than my fair share of whatever space was available.
In theaters, I slump in my seat so that I don’t block the view of those behind me. For the same reason, I stand at the back of the crowd at parades, or when group photos are being shot. Unless I’m standing in the middle of an open field, I wouldn’t dream of swinging my outstetched arms to loosen a stiff shoulder. It’s far too easy to knock out some stranger’s eye with my ham-sized hands… or launch their dentures into the stratosphere. Squeezing into an elevator, or navigating the narrow aisles of a crowded store, is one long series of muttered apologies.
Sorry. Sorry. So sorry. Excuse me. Omigod, was that your foot I stepped on? Sorry.
Today’s apology has nothing to do with my size… but I am inflicting a longish profanity-ridden story—recently written—on you. Mea culpa.
So far, it’s not yet part of any book.
Five Seven Five
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, it’s Saturday, and I’m sitting on a stool in Pat’s Taproom. My wife had kicked me out of the house, and I’m nursing my third boilermaker. There’s some college football game on the tube, at the far end of the bar, but I don’t give a shit.
I have too many other things to think about. I’m thinking, for instance, that maybe I’m well out of this whole marriage thing.
A guy comes in, dragging a big suitcase—no, it’s more like one of those sample cases on wheels. I figure maybe he’s some kind of traveling salesman. He takes a seat a couple of stools to my left, halfway between me and the door. He orders a beer, takes a drink, then looks in my direction.
He turns around to face the shelves of liquor and speaks.
“Walks into a bar.
So many stories to share.
No one cares to hear.”
“What the fuck?” I say.
“Hi yourself. What the hell are you talking about—and who are you talking to?” I’m in no mood for cryptic shit like that, and my third boilermaker hasn’t done a thing to make me more tolerant.
“You strike me as someone who prefers the limerick form of versification.”
“You strike me as someone who should fucking shut the fuck up.”
“No offense intended, friend. Can I make up for it by buying you a drink... or maybe just a coffee?”
“Unless that fucking coffee is Irish, I’m not fucking interested.” I reconsider. “But I will take that drink.” The guy moves over to the stool next to mine at the bar. Apparently, he wants to talk and—since he’s the one who’s buying—I’m the one who’s obligated to listen.
“Do you have any family?” he asks.
“Maybe. It’s complicated.”
“I’ve got a wife and two kids—a daughter, Jennifer, who’s seventeen, and a son, Steven, twelve.”
“I might have a wife.”
“Oh?” He can see that I’m not planning to share much more on the subject, so he switches gears. “They’re the love—loves—of my life. Would you like to see some pictures?”
My “free” drink hasn’t arrived yet, so I have to nod.
“Hmmmm... seventeen. Maybe I should change Jennifer’s name to ‘Haiku’.” He laughs for no reason that is apparent to me.
He reaches into his jacket pocket and takes out a cell phone. Remember the good old days—when guys carried family photos in their wallets? They spent most of their days sitting on their families, their left legs going numb from the pressure of their over-stuffed wallets! Now they carry dozens of pictures on their phones. Cell phones make it harder for us to get away when people drag them out. After a minute or so of leafing through files on his phone, he passes it to me and waits to hear my admiring words.
There are no admiring words.
In fact, there are no words at all.
The people in the photos are the ugliest freaking freaks I’ve ever seen. Eyes too close together, teeth pointing in all directions, hair that wouldn’t look out of place on the business end of a goat manure rake. People used to joke about being so ugly they’d break a camera. After taking his family’s pictures, he probably had to go to the fucking genius bar to get his iPhone repaired. But that isn’t the worst.
In every fucking photo, his family is naked.
Hiding nothing—‘though I wanted to gouge out my eyeballs after seeing them. You think that naked pictures of a teenage girl might be worth a gander? Not this one. I don’t think there’s enough Viagra in the world to restore my interest in sex after seeing that.
My drink arrives. Just in time. “Nice family,” I lie through the free whiskey.
“They are, aren’t they? Did you see this one of my wife?” He hands the phone to the bartender and me.
She is hideous, and just as hideously naked. In the picture, she is eating spaghetti and great gobs of the stuff hang from her mouth. It doesn’t hide enough of her breasts—breasts like flour sacks, grimy flour sacks splattered with tomato sauce—to spare my poor eyes from the sight.
“Oh my...” is all I could manage. The bartender says even less.
“You can see why I can hardly wait to get home. Being on the road, for business, is hard—but it’s all worth it once I get to go home to my Veronica. And Stevie junior and Jennifer, of course.”
“I understand. What I can’t understand is why you’re wasting time talking to me when you could be on your way back to your family.”
“You’re right, my friend!” he exclaims, slipping off the stool and grabbing his sample case. “I must be on my way. Thank you—it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.”
And, with that, he is gone. The bartender and I exchange dazed looks but say nothing for several minutes.
I was only half lying when I told the salesman that I understood. I was beginning to understand something.
I push what’s left of my drink away and look to the bartender. I ask, “Is there a florist nearby? I think I need to pick up something on my way home.”
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