“Only the lonely know . . .” Roy Orbison
By Brian Arsenault
I didn’t recognize him at first. Part of my brain knew, but it took a while to float to the surface. I was interested in my book and knew I’d have an hour’s wait for my car to be inspected.
I like to read in waiting rooms; car dealers, doctors, dentists, airports. You’re hardly ever bothered in such places, where everyone is concerned with their own appointment, ailment, flight time. And it’s not creepy quiet like a library. The buzz of noise makes a nice background for reading.
But when I look up, taking a break from my book to get coffee and the guilty pleasure of a Frosty’s Donut, I hear him telling the same story he told me about the Renault he’d owned in Germany. Same words, same details, same everything.
He’s ex-Army, long retired, been about everywhere in the world and what he mostly remembers are cars. Renaults, Volkswagens, Scions — drives one now so he won’t have a car payment.
Couldn’t understand soldiers who had their cars shipped over from the States. Just buy one from a guy leaving the base in West Germany and sell it when you go.
How is it that I’ve only been to this car dealer twice and have seen this guy both times. He doesn’t remember me. I didn’t have a beard the first time. He’s having tires rotated.
His wife is still alive, he says, but she doesn’t like him “under foot” and anyway she is out of the house nearly all the time doing worthy volunteer work. All his old army buddies who are still alive live in faraway places like Florida and Louisiana. He’ll drive for days to hook up with them but it’s getting harder to do long drives. His legs can’t take the journey.
He’s round. Round head, not much hair. Round belly. Round everywhere but not really fat, just settled.
He’s found a lady, also waiting, who quietly listens to his stories of cars, stories of the Philippines, of Taiwan, but always of cars. She looks a little bored with him but she’s kind, I can tell, and she keeps nodding as he goes on. And on.
Nearby, there’s an old hippy showing a little girl his electric guitar. She is just so interested. She knows a lot about music and asks good questions. At least until the guy with the big funny looking dog comes in. The dog is one of those new cross breeds with a lot of curls but the color of a golden retriever.
The dog is nearly as big as a pony and is pulling the guy around but is friendly. The girl can’t pet him without getting her face licked, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Now everybody’s talking to the guy with the dog and the round guy looks disappointed. He looks even more disappointed when the attendant comes in and tells him his car’s ready.
“I’ll pay,” the old soldier says in a defeated kind of way. But you can tell he wishes the car wasn’t ready. He could tell a few more stories, stay a little longer.
He walks sullenly to the cashier window but brightens as he talks to the young woman behind the counter. Old guys don’t get to talk to young women much any more without risking being reported.
When he leaves the cashier window, the round guy goes directly to the lady who’s been listening to his stories to give her one more detail. She tries to look interested. Then he turns and walks slowly away, probably wondering when he can next bring in a vehicle for servicing.
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