Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Peter and Tim

Tim was 15 when he met the love of his life.

Peter was 33 when he met his.

They happened to be in the same tiny Huntsville diner, on the same gravel street, sitting at the same maple syrup covered table, both having an accidental conversation about the crispy, salty joys of bacon when love struck.

They didn’t arrive together, nor did either of them intend on sitting together. In fact the table that accommodated their fortuitous encounter was empty and unused for three whole days before they warmed its lonely seats. Table 11 at the local eatery was notoriously the worst table in the place; it was a staging slab for waiters to get their bearings before shuffling their piping hot dishes of pigs feet, or beef hash, or buttery grits to tables two, four, seven, nine, and everyone’s favorite: table five. 11 was a table with two wobbly leg and stains so thick they couldn’t be chiseled off with a razor blade. It was said to be made of layers upon layers of cheap impressionable balsa wood with only a thin pine top layer and a wax and shellac finish to disguise it’s shoddy craftsmanship. All the other tables were constructed from Ironwood taken from the most stubborn tree in the forest, the Ebony Tree. 11 was a table in desperate need of repair and a table only used on Sunday mornings after church when the influx of locals was at its most resplendent that it necessitated the use of a menial dining station. The waitresses would sometimes seat travelers and businessmen at the inferior table causing the locals to snicker amongst themselves because surely the wobbly, dirty, wood square promoted inferior conversation and an inferior meal as well. The table was so notorious at the diner in the bustling town that “table 11” became an expression, a local phrase slipped into everyday rambling which only the locals would understand. They would use it when talking business, such as: “hey don’t pull my leg and give me a number 11, when I am asking you the honest to God truth,” or “Charlie I ain’t going to the dance with you, why would I go with table 11 when I can go with the captain of the football team?” The table was an eyesore to say the least and surely not an appropriate place for such a serendipitous first encounter.

Tim happened upon the diner on that unseasonably warm fall day due to the intense post-football-practice-hunger of his inappropriately matched friends, Greg and Nicky Meadows - local star athletes, twin brothers, and class dunces. The boys matured much faster than Tim and often teased him about his lanky frame, soft cheeks, and flowing wheat colored hair. Tim didn’t mind though, he knew as other local teens knew, Greg and Nicky Meadows would stay in Huntsville their whole life, probably work on their fathers farm, have children much like themselves, and retire never having cared or lived up to their full potential. Alternatively, Tim would go to College and he would live in one of the big cities on the coast and he would continue to set goals for himself, constantly striving to be better as his potential would increase with his achievements. His ambition for himself was to mock the shelf life of a fine wine. Tim prided himself on his ability to focus and retain details others would overlook or simply find uninteresting. These were the precise skills he was currently using to excel into all AP classes at Grisson Virgil High School. This was a feat that Tim found particularly easy, and felt it could only bode well for his future endeavors. He never understood how he had maintained his friendship with the Meadows past their initial introduction at age two in the daycare center at Huntsville Memorial Hospital where their mothers worked the noon to midnight shift. As two year old Tim sat in a corner and put the finishing touches on a fire station built from outdated and worn Lincoln logs, the Meadow boys, in a roughhousing haze fueled by shot-gunning a 12-pack of Strawberry Kiwi Capri Sun’s, threw each other sidelong into Tim’s architecturally sound little building. To Tim’s chagrin they destroyed every log like oblivious, adrenaline fueled, toddler Godzillas. Tim was not one to hate or discriminate and the boys were no exception, he felt obliged to accept their sincerest apologies and indulge them as they insisted on using their Neanderthal-like little hands to re-construct that which they had obliterated.

This was the start of a relationship that was fueled by juxtaposition; Tim would paint a canvas of a peaceful stream and the Meadows would drown bugs in his oil paints. Tim would rehabilitate crippled animals he would find in the wild; the boys and their pump action bb gun were responsible for putting them there. Tim tried out for theater; the boys fell into football. Tim had never had a girlfriend; the boys had gone through nearly half the school, including two teacher aids during their 7th period gym class after being provoked by their football coach Mr. Fresco. Tim helped out at the Cedar Creek Home for the Aged, and the Meadows drove a few lucky octogenarians to senility with calls of “Old Bag,” or “Old Fart,” or “You’re more rickety than table 11.” Though for better or worse the three boys were bonded. The Meadows looked out for Tim and Tim told others of their often hidden soft side. He assured teachers, mail men, the local preacher, even the boys parents that they weren’t quite as cruel as they seemed. It was a friendship fueled by outsiders misunderstanding; nobody quite perceived them for who they really were. And on that specific Tuesday the Meadows and Tim entered the diner high off of 100 meter dashes, Redbulls and high school theatre respectively. Greg gave Tim a gentle yet annoying shove as they entered and Tim called him a freakish oaf, this was their relationship. The boys nodded to the day hostess Jenny and took their normal seat at the clean, pristine, and lucky table number 7; this had been their usual table since grade school only to be left for table 9 on particularly popular Sundays.

Peter went to Bluegrass diner every Tuesday to work on his writing, (usually fan fiction for defunct tv show Northern Exposure that he managed to get published in the local paper), but on this particular Tuesday he was meant to meet a client who never showed. Usually Peter met his clients on Thursday afternoons, but this high profile customer, (the mayor!), had requested a Tuesday meeting to accommodate his already scheduled Thursday bowling league. Peter would write on Thursday this week, he was nothing if not agreeable. He preferred to meet his clients at table five since it was closest to the restroom and a sensitive bladder was one of the many faults his father’s line of genealogy had blessed him with. Table five also overlooked a small oak tree in the front of the diner and was off the well-treaded path of the main aisle. It was quiet enough to hear his clients discuss their W-2 and the misplaced receipts from the money they donated to charity, but noticeable enough that service was prompt. Peter had misplaced the mayor’s number and decided, knowing full well that the mayor had a tendency to make people wait, that he would hold his table for 45 minutes before dismissing the meeting as a wash. He ordered coffee from his normal Tuesday waitress Tammy and sat nervously tapping his foot, this was his third cup of coffee today. He looked like a man waiting for the other shoe to drop in a room full of barefoot people; antsy to say the least.

After a good thirty minutes of waiting Peter decided his guest wasn’t going to show. He took out his notebook, asked Tammy for a glass of iced tea with a wedge of lemon, and was then perplexed with the question of what to eat. He thought of the other gift his stoic and emotionless father had blessed him with: high cholesterol, and he weighed rocketing blood pressure against the thought of chewing on wilted lettuce and shreds of carrots much like a frail rabbit. He’d been waiting long, he’d had oatmeal for breakfast that day, he’d taken his medicine already, his wife wasn’t here to monitor him; what the heck. He asked for two flapjacks, a pad of butter, two eggs over easy, and three pieces of crispy country bacon. He sat and salivated at the thought. As he begin to jot down musings on the joys of southern life two rambunctious hulks followed by a lanky and reserved teen entered the restaurant. They were seated two tables down from him in what he overheard very clearly was their normal spot. As he came to terms with the fact that he wasn’t going to get much work done with thing 1 and thing 2 shouting from their perch, he wondered if there was a record in the Guinness book for fastest consumption of bacon and eggs. Peter made brief eye contact with the quiet boy and when it was returned he looked away immediately; if Peter was annoyed by his friends he surely didn’t want it to be obvious. He looked up again and the boy gave him a sympathetic nod that read “please don’t blame me for my dogs behavior.” Peter smiled and looked back down at his notebook, he decided not to judge this young man by the company he kept.

Of course society frowned on the mere interaction let alone a romantic love between an adolescent boy and a mature man of no relation, but fate is fickle and works in devious ways. It didn’t happen like you’d think, there were no predatory advances from Peter. In fact Peter was a perfect gentleman. He was the town treasurer for four consecutive terms. Paul Bishop challenged him once in the fall of ’07 preparing himself for a long, heated, turbulent, debate only to be swept by an 85% margin. Peter was the kind of guy who would mow his neighbors lawn because he already had the Craftsman out. He was the kind of guy who would let you have the parking spot at the grocery store if both your cars happened upon it at the same time. He was not a pushover, just a generous kind man who didn’t see the point in rushing through life. This was exactly the sort of thing his wife Nancy had at first loved about him but eventually came to loathe over the course of their ten years together. She wondered why Peter never got around to painting the family room like his brother did for his wife. She wondered why he had worked for the same accountant firm since she’d met him and never even entertained the thought of going off on his own. She even wondered why their routine in bed had become so routine she was able to make full detailed mental lists as to where she wanted to send their three year old daughter to preschool. She couldn’t find particular fault with Peter; he was a good father, a good provider, and a generous man, but she had stopped respecting him. This one thought ate at Nancy all day long and the more Peter tried to correct himself, to be bolder or more brash, the less Nancy cared about making their relationship work. As the situation escalated Peter began to enjoy his time in the office, at the diner, or alone time with his daughter more and more. Nancy was someone he still loved but no longer understood. They had met at Ohio State their sophomore year of college and hit it off instantly. Coming from similar backgrounds and both having an interest in the arts, (a major they both switched out of their junior year), their attraction was undeniable. College was a time to reinvent oneself. Little did Peter know that back home in Indiana Nancy was known as the “Harlot of Hebron,” and little did Nancy know that back in Kentucky, Peter was known as “The Dork of Danville.” He was a quiet boy who floated through life with books as entertainment, a mother who was a mute, and a father that never took an interest in him. Peter only now started to question whether people could be right for one another for allotted amounts of time. Were there expiration dates on relationships? This was a thought he often tried to work through in his notebook during the long hours he spent away from his home. No conclusion had been reached yet.

Tim couldn’t help but feel sorry for the clean-cut, bookish, man that sat two tables away from him and the Meadows. He knew how off-putting their behavior often seemed, and he felt horrible every time they so obviously disturbed someone. He tried to send looks of apology his way, and received shy glances back that said this strange man understood he couldn’t leash his dining partners. It only occurred to Tim after he had ordered an orange soda and a turkey club, and after he and his buddies were munching on fried okra that the man who kept giving him sidelong glances was none other than Peter Tearney, the town treasurer. He’d seen him at town hall meetings when Professor Grant offered extra credit for his AP American History class to attend. He’d seen his face plastered on yard signs when he was up for re-election. One wouldn’t go so far as to call him a town celebrity, but he was slowly making his way up the D-list.

Peter couldn’t understand what was taking his food so long. All diners specialized in breakfast, he hadn’t asked for turkey potpie, or chicken Marsala, or even Blue Grass’s special Pineapple Spam burger. This was bacon, eggs, and pancakes, it was like warming up a pop tart for any short order cook. Nonetheless his stomach continued to grumble. The only thing distracting him from his hunger was the game of “look and look down” he was playing with the young man two tables from him. He felt as if they were on the same level, like if his two giant counterparts weren’t there they would be sharing an intellectual conversation about foreign policy. Sure their conversation may start casual with a simple how’s the weather but they would instantly share a rapport that would lead them to commenting on the immense cumulonimbus cloud structures that had struck their town as of recent. The same clouds that brought intense rain and thunder which threatened to flood through the streets wiping out the small community forcing them to start from scratch like a modern day Noah’s Ark in a town-wide deluge. But his hunger consumed him, so he decided, even though it wasn’t in his character, he would take action. He looked for Tammy’s familiar crooked smile and peroxide blonde pixie cut, he even tried to wave one of the newer waitresses over. No success. They must literally be strangling a fresh pig for him he playfully thought to himself. Only upon a thorough gander around the diner did he spot two lone plates sitting on the crooked staging slab that was table 11. He put on his glasses and stood up to get a better look. Sure enough a plate with two pancakes, crispy bacon, and two large farm fresh eggs stared back at him like two giant sunny nipples.

Where the hell was Tim’s food? The twins had already consumed their massive, bloody, bacon blue-cheese burgers and moved on to rhubarb pie, but he hadn’t even received his meal. He sat there patiently as the twins played bloody knuckles in between bites of fruit and cream. This had been going on for some time and Greg’s knuckle had already popped releasing a flap of thin skin that hung like the plastic peel on the top of a cup of yogurt. Nicky’s knuckles had already bled over and started to scab but they continued to pound at each other like there was a pot of gold in the center of both of their palms. Tim looked around the diner, hoping to get someone’s attention. He glanced over to the man he now recognized as the town treasurer but he was no longer there. His notebook and briefcase were still propped open on his table, but where was he? Tim stood up to try and track down their waitress; he had never waited this long for a sandwich before. He walked towards the kitchen and saw Peter sitting at table 11; nobody sits at that table. Across from his plate of eggs was a perfect, fresh looking turkey club next to a heaping pile of steak fries.

“Is this yours?” Peter inquisitively asked. If his food had been left in the trenches perhaps this young mans had as well.

“Yea, I think it is, just left here huh?” Tim picked up a fry and eagerly crunched on it.

“Guess they just forgot to run it, this tables practically invisible to them sometimes.” Peter added.

“Mind if I sit,” Tim forwardly asked “I don’t want to get blood in my food.” They both laughed as they looked at the twins smashing their fists together and wincing with pain. Tim sat, and Peter settled into the booth further.

“Name’s Tim,” he confidently pronounced.

“Pleasure, I’m Peter,” was the retort. But Tim knew, he’d seen his face plastered all over town throughout his childhood.

Perhaps they would discuss clouds today; maybe they’d discuss a foreign conflict. Who knows what fate had in store for a love between a 33 year old man and a 15 year old boy. Maybe theirs was a relationship with an expiration set at 30 minutes, or maybe it would never expire quite like the always-fresh Twinkie. Either way both men were happy to speak to someone with something to say, to sit with someone who wanted to learn, and to eat across from someone who wasn’t shouting obscenities and beef patty into their face. The connection between them was evident and maybe people stared, or maybe nobody looked at them at all. Perhaps their meal was held at a dining station that was quite like a black hole sucking the small towns dirty secrets into it. As Tim picked at the bacon in his sandwich and watched Peter pour ketchup on his eggs he felt obliged to say, “So this is table 11 huh? It’s not so bad.”

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