I’ve had the opportunity to glimpse my future every few months or so throughout my career. It clumps towards me, stumbling through traffic. I’ve come to recognize it from a distance. My future takes on the shape of a slightly different man every time, but his approach never varies. He first appears as a lumpen mass going nowhere in particular, and in no particular hurry, and then he spies me and tilts across the street with a little more purpose and a spring in his mosey. “HEY!” he’ll start out, projecting from about a block away. “ARE YOU ON YER AUTHORIZED TEN-MINUTE BREAK?” This is followed by a deep, phlegmy chuckle. He is nearly overcome with hilarity by the time he has ambled all the way over to my position, clapping a soiled paw on my shoulder to steady himself. His trousers are puckered up on the sides where the stripes have been torn off. He has a sidewise grin, leaky eyes and a throat full of loogies, and he looks really pleased with himself, because he’s about to deliver his punchline. “Ah used to do what you do,” we say in unison, not that he notices.
I smile and tell him that I’ve already taken my break and am sorry but I have to be moving along, although I haven’t and I’m not, but he’s having none of that. He’s faced down dogs, postal supervisors, and his own personal Kryptonite in the form of laundry detergent, and he’s not about to be fended off. He has spent a lifetime developing two or three conversational themes and he has his wheezy heart set on running them by me. The man--every one of them--is as tenacious about his monolog as a crow attending a freshly-squashed squirrel. You could drive a Buick of distraction right towards him and he’d just hop aside for a few moments and then he’s right back on it. I settle in.
“You’ll never catch me back there, nosiree,” he starts out. “Nope: free as a bird. I did my time. Now it’s time for the good life,” he continues.
“I can see you’re dressed for it,” I say.
“Thing is, they can only ask so much of a man, and then there ain’t no more. It’s like gettin’ blood from a tune-up. And we didn’t have it so cushy back in ‘sixty. Not like you all have it now. Yer own Jeep, and I don’t know what-all.”
“You’ve got something hanging off your chin, there,” I contribute, pointing. The man wipes off a curtain of slime on a crusty sleeve.
“Thing is, they’ll take whatever you can give ‘em, and then they’ll just keep asking for more. You gotta learn to stand up for yerself. ‘You cain’t fire me,’ I tole them, ‘I didn’t do nothing.’” He hikes up his trousers, squints up into the sun, and shoves his arm into his pants up to his elbow for a prolonged scratch. “But they push, and push. It’d make a drinking man out of you, if you didn’t already have the knack,” he concludes.
“You shouldn’t talk with your pants full,” I say.
“Haw. You sound just like my ex-wife, Irma. Anyway,” he continued, “That’s why the boys went on strike back in New York back then. You wouldn’t’a had none of what you got now if it weren’t for the boys in New York.”
“You should have those boils looked at,” I say. “They’re going to start pussing up and you’ll end up stuck to the park bench.”
“Anyway,” the man continued, “I’m done with all that. Free as a bird. No one telling me what to do. Not that they don’t still try. I’m sittin’ at home, minding my own business, and the man come right up to the window and tell me to move it along. What? A man can’t enjoy a little peace and quiet in his own home? After forty years service to his country?”
“You smell like poo,” I observe.
“Seriously, it’s like something died.”
“Haw. You sound just like my ex-wife.”
“Naw. Bootsy. Anyway, I ain’t taking any crap from Mr. Fancy Pants Cul-de-sac about where I should and where I shouldn’t be living. It’s a free country. If he thinks it’s so important I ‘move it along,’ then he can just bring his own rope and haul me out of there, because that Econoline ain’t turned over since the oil run out. And that wasn’t my fault.”
“My, look at the time,” I say.
“There wasn’t a thing wrong with the crankcase until my ex-wife Doris got it in her fool head to ‘express herself’ with the .22. Use yer words, I always say, but does she listen?”
“Gotta go,” I insert.
“Haw. You sound just like my ex-wife.”
The man scratches and ponders, ponders and scratches. “All of ‘em,” he admits, and then my future claps me on the shoulder one more time, turns, and heads off in the direction of the tav.
To be continued.