Due to last night’s circumstances, it was necessary to galvanize my flaccid corpus with a capacious breakfast — a meal involving an omelet, fruit, and terrifying but tasty potatoes topped with a dollop of sour cream (the latter I partially resisted) — that would take me well into this afternoon’s mean. I brought no books with me this time, nor did I call upon anybody to accompany me. I secured the last remaining booth in my establishment and found myself situated between two booths.
I am, as anybody who knows me, an inveterate eavesdropper. It is something I cannot help and that I cannot apparently curtail. I rely upon peripheral vision and peripheral hearing to impart a better understanding of my fellow humans — that is, when I am not directly talking with them.
In the booth behind me, a redolent waft of sebaceous body odor overpowered me. Fortunately, the Kinks were playing over the speakers. And the grand comforts of “Autumn Almanac” and “Waterloo Sunset” were enough to overlook this olfactory intrusion. The aroma came from a man of indeterminate age between thirty and fifty, someone who was now in the process of drinking his life away. He was accompanied by a portly woman in a tie-dyed tee, who I had thought was committing an act of charity by buying this man, who spoke in staccato slurs, a large and tasty meal to sober him up. But I was wrong. No. This was a couple. And she was ashamed. They were apparently going to catch a MUNI bus immediately after and I wondered if they were skipping town. And he slurred his words, beckoning for another beer. And he shouted to the waitress, who was a bit inexperienced and apologetic (I tipped her well), not to “take 200 years” in returning with the change. It was this last solecism, one of many, that caused the woman to demand that he not embarrass her in restaurants like this. Perhaps detecting the upward prick of my ears, knowing that she was attracting attention (although nobody would look at them directly), I then observed her kissing the man on the cheek. From what I can tell, she wasn’t dumb. But I could not stop pondering what it was that made her stick with this boorish man, who showed no discernible signs of intelligence. He had a drunken philosopher’s wit that many years before might have aided him in divagating through dives, believing perhaps that he was charming the bartenders when in fact it was their laconic stances that had brought forth more drinks and bountiful tips. But now this was gone and he was just plain sad. So what made her stay with this guy? Was it a kind of personal altruism related to the tie-dyed tee? Was this a person who had applied a naive idealism to her personal life? Or had she truly settled for the worst simply to belong to anyone? I don’t believe this man deserved her. In the state he was in, he couldn’t take care of himself. And I wondered what positive qualities he could have possibly displayed in private. There had to be something. Nobody is completely evil and love is often a strange thing.
The table in front of me, by contrast, offered an altogether different scenario. A young couple in their late twenties was in the process of charming a mother. It was one of those infamous breakfasts a couple often has about six months into a relationship, where you take a parent out to breakfast in an effort to better acquaint yourself. But I was absolutely fascinated by the conversation’s safe and pedantic nature. The bespectacled woman — her skin unsullied by tattoos or birthmarks, representing the kind of disturbing pristinity you see from someone who is religious with skin cream, her hair cast safely, perhaps lazily, in a blue bandanna, was remarking upon the situation at work, and how callow her fellow employees were in pinpointing the smell of her skin cream and remarking upon it. And in light of what I was observing behind me, I was struck with how trivial this grievance was compared with the broken man behind me. Indeed, this couple, being relatively young and happy in their relationship, had filtered out the entire world beyond that table. And if the woman’s story was the worst of her troubles, then I wondered if she was even aware of the alcoholic-hippie couple behind me. I wondered if this trio was cognizant that such people exist and that these kind of comparisons really put your own troubles into an appropriately insignificant perspective.
© 2006, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.