Breakfast in Payson

 Posted by at 9:51 am  No Responses »
Aug 312016
 

I'm a big fan of Garrison Keillor. He once said that if you drive around the country, stop in small towns, and sit down with the locals in their breakfast cafe, you never know when you may hear something interesting, surprising, or even profound. John Steinbeck also believed that. He took his dog and drove across America, talking with ordinary people and collecting stories. They went into a thoughtful and entertaining book titled "Travels With Charley."

payson azWell . . . I came to the desert town of Payson, Arizona. I ordered breakfast in a small diner there beside the road. The adjoining booth was occupied by a local man, sitting by himself, talking on his cellphone, his voice lowered. He had long, unkept hair and a long, unkept beard. His clothes looked as worn and tired as he did, and his speech had the lingering of alcohol about it. I heard him use the word "innebriated," a term less confessional and more respectable than the word "drunk." But meaning the same, of course.

The man was talking with a woman. You could tell she was someone he missed, someone he owed something to, someone he needed to have around and planned to see again.

The man was doing most of the talking, mostly about nothing, until the end of the conversation. The woman on the line had apparently said, "I love you."

Now, a man in those circumstances must say something. As a man myself, I know about this moment, that pause that needs a response, as the woman awaits one. I didn't expect a memorable response from this man, but I heard one.

There was a moment of hesitation, and then: "I love you . . . no matter what I say or do."

I love you no matter what I say or do.

Payson, Arizona

Payson, Arizona

It was said wistfully. Like saying you don't want to borrow money again, but you really have to. Wistfully, like thinking of an old friend and remembering your last words were something you wish hadn't been said. Wistfully, like remembering that opportunity of a lifetime you missed out on, because you were so stupid, stupid.

"No matter what I say or do," remember I love you.

The man is admitting his sins of the past, but also anticipating their repetition in the future. He's disclaiming in advance the hurt that he may cause. He's professing both his love, and his liklihood of acting contrary to it. In essence, he wants forgiveness in advance, saved up for a rainy day. What a deal!

I tried to imagine . . . what were those words and deeds that had passed between them, out there in the desert?

Did he verbally abuse this woman? Call her names, or fat, or ugly? Had he insulted her family, her friends? Had he sworn hatefully at her, unprovoked?

Did he maybe wreck her car, steal money from her purse, break up her furniture?  Did he hit her? In the face, or somewhere else?  With his fist, or with something else?  And whatever that history was, it's one thing to own up and ask forgiveness, but how, at the same time, do you say you'll be repeating such things in the future?

Pathetic, I thought, sitting there listening. "Believe that I love you, no matter what I'm about to say or do to hurt you?" Can his woman accept that, and live with it? And if she does, is she to be admired or pitied?

It may well be that she did accept it, did believe it, and was willing to live with it. It may well be that in spite of his drinking and all his flaws, she loves him. Maybe she knows and appreciates qualities of his the rest of the world has missed. There are women like that. There are women devoted to deeply flawed men. There are women who feel they have no choice except to go along and make the best of things. I imagined that maybe the woman on the phone line was that sort of woman. And not knowing her, I felt sad for her.

I felt sad because her fear of loosing him may be greater than any fear of him. She can put up with his drinking and abuse, because her greater fear is being without him and alone.

But then . . . hold on . . . who am I to know or to judge about any of this? 

Could there be another side to it, I've asked myself since then? Should his words be viewed in a more positive light? Was this the true confession of a down-and-out man who knows and freely admits his failure and weakness? An honest man. Honest to a fault, and about his faults. When he said "no matter what I say or do," did his woman smile a knowing smile, or even laugh out loud? I imagined that happening. Did this woman love him truly, despite anything he'd said or done, anything he might say or do? 

If so, we onlookers would say he's lucky to have her. But she may consider herself lucky to have him, even him. He may be the best she can do in Payson, Arizona.

The man left the restaurant ahead of me, and I observed him as he went. The kind of man people glance at, but then away from. Who appears sad to the world, and is. The kind of man you might want to forget, but can't.

I did take something home from this. When my own woman says, "I love you," and a reply is called for, I've tried out those words of his. I say, "I love you . . . no matter what I say or do."

Sometimes she laughs, but not always.


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Mar 272014
 

Our men’s locker room at the county swim and fitness center is the old-fashioned kind. It’s an open, communal space. Unlike the trendy commercial fitness centers there are no private dressing rooms or privacy screens. We see each other and hear each other. And the locker room sometimes takes on a social media aspect. The extraverts talk out loud, even to total strangers, as the introverts listen and analyze. It was that way this morning.

imagesThere was a man slumped down and panting on the bench in front of his locker. He was a large and overweight man with an alcoholic appearance. Even though he’d been sitting for some while, he was still breathing heavily. The locker room was quiet except for this loud breathing.

A nearby man spoke up then. “You must have had a tough workout, huh?” he said to the slumped man. “Not really,” the man said, “I feel so bad I don’t do that much. I have a lot of pain.”

“Well, every little bit helps. The main thing is that you’re staying active,” the other man said cheerfully. He was obviously trying to be positive about the situation. But his effort was in vain. Everyone in the locker room heard the next thing the slumping man said.

“I’m ready to just go to sleep and not wake up.”

The words hung heavy in the air and seemed to last on like an echo. There was a silence in the room that also seemed to go on for longer than it actually did. What are fellow humans supposed to feel or say when one of us speaks of wishing to die? What would it take for others of us to want to die in our sleep? Did the slumping man really mean this, or what? Should someone be notified?

Another man spoke up then. “Things can’t be that bad,” he said, “what kind of pain do you have?” The man on the bench said he had back pain and his knees hurt. It was easy to look at him and imagine that being the case. “Well, lots of people have those things,” he said. “Just think about those people on dialysis or who lie in a bed and get fed through a tube.”

And the first man put in that dying in your sleep is certainly a good way to go, but he wasn’t ready to schedule it any time soon. Then he laughed and said, “I think you’re just talking trash with us anyway.”

I wasn’t so sure.

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Repetition

 Posted by at 6:33 pm  No Responses »
Feb 022013
 

The man would wake up early trying to remember the night before. There was always a nagging fear that he had messed up. But he must get dressed now and get to work. The man was well thought of there, a nice man, everyone said. And he did his work well, so ¬†things were good apparently. But as the office morning turned to afternoon, the man’s thoughts were drawn to leaving work and to the evening ahead. The day was about the evening.

repetition-champane-glassesHe had quit keeping liquor in the house because he drank too much if a supply was present. Getting some at the store and drinking in the evening became a day-to-day decision. He had more control that way. Often he would start the day determined to drink nothing. But by afternoon the urge would take hold and reasons appear as to why he deserved it today. Something bad had happened, or something good to celebrate, it didn’t matter. Any reason was a good reason. Always it seemed justified.

His present routine was to get two large bottles of fortified beer for the drive home, and a jug of wine for the evening. White chablis was his current choice. As he drank the beers in the car, bottle between his legs, he timed it so other drivers would not see, especially policeman drivers. And as the familiar feelings appeared, he reminded himself often to drive carefully. He considered himself a skilled drinking driver.

The man was always eager to get home and get started on the wine. Anything that might delay this could wait. If a neighbor waved and seemed to want something he would fail to notice. Once inside the door, all seemed right with the world. There was plenty to drink and an evening ahead.

The evenings were predictable. They began with drinking along with other activity such as eating, music, reading, writing, and thinking. They ended with unconsciousness and sleep. Drinking was a way to get to sleep. They were also predictable in that things generally moved from pleasure to misery. The welcome effects of the alcohol were pleasant at first. A time for writing poems and singing songs. But as the hours wore on and the supply diminished, a gloom settled in. The gloom had many faces that came and went like slides changing: guilt, shame, self-pity, rage. In a world now filled with enemies, the glass was his only friend.

Each evening proved again the unfairness of life. Only the list of hurts varied, some replacing others, others returning. Old hurts were revisited like favorite tunes. Except for these variations, the days were always the same. Even days when the man decided he should quit drinking and did so for a short while were the same, because they had happened again and again. The man reflected on the curious fact that in his daytime work he did many things successfully, but in the evenings he was unable to keep himself from drinking heavily.

He never talked with others about his drinking, and he thought of it as a secret life. But friends who had called him in the evenings soon learned to call early instead of late.

The man liked to write and would often do so while he drank. He had taken notice of the great writers whose drinking seemed to enhance their gifts. He imagined it did the same for him, and indeed there was some evidence to that effect. After a night of drinking, he sometimes read what he had written as if it came from a different source. And sometimes he was greatly impressed.

The one thing he tried not to write was emails. Many of those he wrote late at night he had lived to regret. He finally set himself a rule that he must save them in draft to be reviewed when sober. But like all the rules he established for his evenings, it only worked now and then. He wondered that he could not even keep such a simple rule.

repEvery morning the man wondered about many of these things. He accused himself of being weak and stupid and lacking in character. He made lists of  steps that needed to be taken. But then every afternoon he began planning for the evening. And every evening he drank.

Weeks became months, and months became years, and years repeated themselves. The days did not vary.

Actually, looking back on it now, there was only one day for this man.

His life was this single day, repeated over and over.

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Breaking Off

 Posted by at 11:35 am  No Responses »
May 192009
 

I remember exactly where we met.  I remember the intimate lighting and the view outside of all the expensive yachts.  A marina restaurant on Chickamauga Lake in East Tennessee.  I kept looking around to see if anyone was there who knew me.  Yes, I was concerned that someone might see me doing this. But the more I got to know her, the less I cared about that.  There are times in your life when you try something you've held back on in the past, and you cross over and find yourself in a new place.  She was that place. Continue reading »

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