This is something that happened this past summer; just a story to tell…
It’s 6:00 in the morning and I’m standing in line at a McDonald’s in Canada listening to a group of older gentlemen discussing the events of the world, the shortcomings of each other, and several morbid or vulgar reasons as to why their friend Paulie hasn’t shown up yet.
“Maybe he’s getting laid!” one of them says, and they all cracked up laughing.
“Jeez, maybe he died!” another says, and two of them laugh hysterically, while another of the friends scolds over the laughter, “Hey, that’s not funny!”
There was a little more laughter, but it was less enthusiastic, then there was kind of an awkward silence.
Then the first guy says, “Maybe he got laid, AND IT KILLED HIM!”
BAAAAHHHH HHHHAAAAAHH HHHHHAAAAAHHHHH! Belly laughs, all in unison, like this was the funniest joke ever told.
This seems like it might be a regular rendezvous for this group; some coffee, some laughter, and some fellowship, for a handful of older guys who maybe don’t want to hang out in a bar. A friendly bunch of guys, wearing their “old guy” uniforms: plaid or khaki shorts, tee shirts, sandals, and black socks. I imagine they get together a couple of times a week – their wives shooing them out of the house to get some peace and quiet. They probably tell the same stories over and over again, and they laugh at every tale like it’s the first time they heard it. I suspect these things, because I find myself trending in this general direction too. It feels like I’m watching an un-official meeting of a support group for getting older.
Things move a little slower in Canada, so I eavesdropped on the conversation for a few minutes as I waited in line for my sausage McMuffin. I envy these guys. As I watch and listen, I wonder how long they have known each other, who the leaders are, who organizes these get togethers …I’m 2,695 miles away from home, (I Googled it for the sake of literary accuracy) so I know nothing about this group. I envy them because even though I am just a distant observer, I can see the closeness and the camaraderie of the group. They are best friends, and they care about each other…they are taking care of each other, and that is admirable.
But this is where it got interesting…
As I’m staring and listening, one of the guys in the group notices my staring and listening…and he doesn’t like it. He looks up from the table where he’s sitting and watches me for a moment, and I see the puffing of the chest and the coldness of the stare, and while I do not immediately make eye contact with him, I feel his need to make eye contact with me.
Shit! This is not what I need at 6:00 AM in a foreign country. This guy is 70 years old if he’s 20, and he’s 150 pounds of weary, aged, skin and bones. Soaking wet he meets my 150 pound estimation. By contrast, I am a rather Large Man. I have a shaved head, a full beard, and steel blue eyes that can cut you like a razor when they have to. I look like a lot of things; somebody that a 70 year old man would randomly pick a fight with is not one of them. This isn’t a smart ass teenager who is showing off in front of his friends or a 20 something year old “boy” who caught me staring at his girlfriend’s ass. This guy has an issue with my interest in the group. I’m sensing a protective thing… from a man. In these situations, the difference between a man and a boy is that a boy will fight you, a man will hurt you. This is not a good set of circumstances for anyone.
I make the eye contact that he is looking for, it’s unavoidable. As soon as our eyes meet, he points a shaking finger at me and asks, “You got a problem?”
His right hand points and shakes with his index finger and thumb forming the shape of a pistol, his left hand is holding on to his coffee cup like it’s an anchor. He is not shaking from nervous fear, he is shaking from the ravages of age and from the adrenaline of anger…he is a grizzly protecting his cubs. He has some steely blue eyes of his own, and they lock onto mine. He has mistaken my interest as amusement, my admiration as maybe some kind of mocking. He is wrong, but he doesn’t know it, and he needs me to explain why I’m so interested in their private gathering in this public place.
As will happen in these situations, the vibe sort of spreads over the crowd; there comes a silence that feels like a gasp, but it’s just the collective holding of breath and the turning of heads towards the energy source. It is felt in the air because while we spend most of our time in our own world – our own bubble, when the electricity of an intense moment becomes bigger than what our bodies can contain, it is felt by everyone in the immediate area. I believe this happens because we are all connected. There may be some other scientific explanation for these phenomena, but it would be wrong. We are all connected. When a moment becomes big, we all notice, and we all become a part of it.
Because I have such a profound command of the English language, and I know how to stay cool under pressure, I responded the only way anyone could expect me to:
He stands up and says in a raspy voice of age, “You heard me Kojak! I’m asking if you have a problem.”
His buddies are looking at me almost in pity, they apparently think I’m about to take the ass-whipping of my life. Fortunately, my respectful reply of “No sir” disarms one of the more jovial gang members; he looks at his finger pointing friend and says, “Lemmy! What’s your problem? The guy just wants a biscuit!”
“Well he should get his biscuit and be on his way then” Lemmy replies to his friend, never taking his eyes off of mine.
“Is there something on your mind young man? Do you think there is something you should be concerned about at this table?” Lemmy asked.
“LEMMY!” the friend shouts with a scolding tone. “WHAT IS HE DOING?”
“He’s staring at us and… and he’s smiling like he thinks something’s funny or somethin’.”
“Maybe he’s gay”, says another of the friends, trying not to laugh. This gets a chuckle from two of the other guys in the group who are just watching. “Maybe he just likes you.” This generates a little more laughter. They are like school kids cutting up in class.
At this point I regretfully have to say that there is another conflict starting up, it’s inside my head. The Dumbass Male gene is engaging me; there is just the slightest tickle in the back of my brain that wants me to say, “Sit down and shut up old man before I bust your 150 pound ass. I’m not bothering you, and you have no idea what you’re stepping into”. That gene is wrestling with the Fear gene. The Fear gene is saying “Look at this dude, Large Man! He has NO fear! This is intense! You haven’t been in a fight in over thirty years, man…and you lost that one. This dude could be some kind of war veteran or something. He’s gonna fuck you up in a foreign country, get your clothes dirty, and you’re gonna miss your 8:30 appointment. Mess with this geezer and you’ll end up in a Turkish prison (yeah, I know, it’s Canada) like that dude from Midnight Express. Turn around and ignore him. Save yourself! You are a coward, and there is nothing wrong with that; jail would be difficult for a guy that looks as good as you!”
The Common Sense gene (a fairly dormant gene for me) stepped in and pushed Fear and Dumbass Male aside, and forced me to say out loud to Lemmy, “Sir, I was just admiring you and your group of friends. I was probably staring and smiling, but I promise you I wasn’t laughing at you. You look like a close-knit group, and I was just admiring you. I’m no threat to you.” I said these things while keeping eye contact with my challenger. I was trying to send a message of no threat, but no fear…so my message was only half of a lie.
The guy who was trying to be the peacemaker says, “See Lemmy… He admires you. Now sit down and drink your coffee.” Lemmy just stares at me.
Total silence takes over the McDonald’s in Surrey British Columbia. As we stood on that terra cotta floor, the smell of conflict hung as heavy in the air as the smell of the McHash Browns in the McFryers. It looked like somebody was about to get into a McFight and nobody knew what to do. The citizens gathered at this fast food emporium in this peace loving nation were waiting for the next McMove.
What will happen?
Will the old guy attack?
Did the bald guy say enough to quell the situation?
Will the McRib ever return to Canada?
“Just leave us alone.” Lemmy says, and he sits down.
“Sure” is my reply, and I turn around and wait my turn for a Sausage McMuffin and medium Diet Coke.
At that moment you could feel the air start coming back into the room. Crisis averted.
By the time I got my meal, Paulie, the absent friend whom they were so concerned about earlier shows up. I’m not sure if he was late because he was getting laid or not, obviously it wasn’t because he died. I got my sandwich and drink “to go”, and as I grabbed some napkins and a straw, I could hear the friends filling in Paulie about the potential rumble, while razzing Lemmy about what a “badass” he was.
As I walked out the door I heard, “Look Lemmy – you scared him off! He’s so afraid of your left hook that he got his biscuit to go!”
BAaaahhhhhaaaahhhh…they all laugh. While they laugh, Fear and Dumbass Male continue their debate inside my head, and Common Sense is keeping my legs moving in the opposite direction, and I’m good with that. I made my 8:30 appointment, with clean clothes…and it’s much better telling you this story from Ray’s Place in Kent Ohio, than from a Turkish prison in British Columbia.
Happy New Year & Thanks for reading…
The Large Man