NOT A CALF

After a weird little windfall I had a pocketful of cash and a little time to think about things. So, I went over to
a little redneck diner where they served people of my sort. The woman who ran the place stared at me
with icy eyes and never uttered a word as she took my order. By this method she made it clear she didn’t
like me but she had no objection to my money. That was an acceptable arrangement for me in those days.
These days I don’t deal with anyone I don’t want to see prosper. So, it’s a bit awkward for me looking back
and discovering that that redneck behind the counter was more open minded than I am now. She listened
to my order and did her thing and placed the bill in front of me and took my money and gave me my
change and put the two dogs and the carton of milk in a bag and turned her back to me, all in chilly
silence. Not a word had been spoken, but volumes had been conveyed. (Mimes could have learned a
great deal in that joint.)

I was on my way home with my two dog lunch when I saw Slim slumped over on one of the park benches.
Like a magnet, I was drawn.
“Are you OK?”
“I’m not feelin’ too good.”
“Can you eat?”
“I don’t want to waste my money on that stuff.”
“No, no, I got you something right here. I got you a hot dog over at Harold’s Diner.”
“I bet that fat woman sliced them dogs down the middle and dumped ‘em in the deep fryer.” I was
astonished.
“She always does it," he explained. "She’s been doin’ it that way since the beginning of time. She’s been
there for thirty years.”

He looked up at me and I could see that he was wracked in pain of some sort.
“You look like a cowboy,” he said.
“A cowboy!” I laughed. “What the heck…”
“Cowboy fella; squints and whispers; hit people in the face with frying pans and such.”
“OK,” I said. “I have NO idea what you are talking about.
“Me neither. But,” he said after some thought, “You do. You do,” he insisted, “You know the one. Drove a
train into a bar; took on the entire Mexican Army with only a slingshot and the right to bear arms.”
“OK,” I said and reaching into the bag I pulled out the carton of milk. “Can you drink this?”
“Not a calf,” he said.
“Try it,” I said.
“I never liked it.”
“It might do you some good.”
“I don’t like it. Never will.”
“It might do you some good.”
“I’ll try but I want to get some real juice later, if my stomach can take this stuff. I’m in a lot of pain.”
“Try it…”
“Don’t like it, but I’ll try.”

He took the carton and was fumbling with it with his dirt-encrusted thumbs for a long time until I took it from
him and opened it for him. Then he poured it in a single gulp down his throat, down the front of his chin
and on to his suit front. Then he held the empty carton in his lap and stared straight ahead for a while.
“Still don’t,” he said.

That cracked me up. And, at that moment I was filled with tremendous compassion for this old guy. I mean,
I liked him before. I mean I thought he was a pretty good guy who somehow had gotten himself into a bad
situation and no longer cared to get out, but, at that moment my heart went out to him. My eyes filled with
tears and my jaw quivered a little as I looked at him sitting there with that empty carton in his lap.
“I’m pitiful,” he said, and I had to agree, he was a pitiful sight.
“I’ll take that,” I said and, “How’s about a dog?” I produced one of the dogs from the bag.
“I don’t think I can do it. I’ve had enough until my stomach settles down.”
“I’m gonna have one,” I said, “Are you sure you don’t want one?”
He looked at me coldly. “How old are you?”
“Almost twenty…or so.”
“You think almost twenny or so is old enough to listen when I talk?”
“OK,” I said, “I’ll eat them both then. I just thought you might want one. I know that sometimes you’re
hungry.”
“Sometimes I am.”
“Did you sit out here in the rain long the other night?” I asked while chewing on the dog. Just conversation
between acquaintances.
“Long enough.”
“I was up until 2:30 and you were still out here. I could see you from the window.” I pointed out my window
across Harrison Street.
“Don’t do it. Don’t ever come out here in the rain again.”
“I didn’t.”
“Don’t ever.”
“I won’t.”
“Or I’ll stop teachin’ you stuff.”
“OK, I promise.”
“Don’t promise, just don’t do it.”
“Last chance on this hot dog before I eat it,” I said, but he just stared at me.

After several minutes he said, “Mind if I talk?
”That’s what I’m here for.” I said joyfully, and he just got up and walked away.
“See you later!” I shouted. But he just waved me off with a gesture of complete disgust and kept walking.

The hot dog was cold, but it tasted pretty good anyway,
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