It was a normal Friday morning. Normal because, as usual, my friend and I were meeting for coffee at a local shop, a practice of longstanding stretching over a number of years.
Having met at our usual time, we were a good forty-five minutes into a conversation that was…well, if you want to know the truth, it was quite somber as we delved into the pressures we both continually encounter being men of some years. In particular, he had just been telling me about the hospital system by whom he is employed that had just granted over eight hundred exemptions to the mandatory vaccination orders.
He was just saying, “Imagine that. Eight hundred doctors, nurses, lab techs—all medical professionals—who felt so strongly about not receiving the jab that they were willing to lose their careers. So many that the hospital system had no choice but to grant exemptions—”
When “the dude” sat down about three feet from us at the next table.
A man of inconsiderable stature and substantial girth whose age, if I had to guess, would have been somewhere in his early forties, he immediately pulled his phone out and began wheeling and dealing.
Apparently, he was in mortgage banking. Actually, there is no “apparently” about it. I knew that for a fact as I knew his phone number, his address, the code for a particular customer’s account.
In short, the dude was a loud-talker.
I’m sure you have encountered the species in the wild on occasion.
Perhaps you live with one. (Please, if you are reading this with your significant other, no elbows during this portion of the narrative)
Anyway, so grandiloquent was his end of the conversations that my friend and I literally had to shout to hear each other.
Now, my friend has been known, on occasion, to, well, exhibit a lack of self-control when vexed.
And given that vexation was present in abundance thanks to our socially oblivious and unmindful neighbor, I was just about to suggest that we call it a day and move on when my friend leaned over and very politely suggested to the dude that he turn down the volume on his phone that was, at present, playing the ever-dreaded and mind-numbing call center hold music—the “extra-shrill” version.
Dismissively, the fellow replied, “I can turn it down, but it has to be loud enough for me to hear.”
Not, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was disrupting your conversation by my insufferably loud and obnoxious, entitled and self-important bellowing.”
Or something like that.
Another fellow had joined him by this time. An older fellow that was perhaps a colleague, perhaps a friend. As it turned out, I never got to know which.
My friend countered, “Right. But, the thing is, we can’t hear ourselves speak without shouting.”
The dude said condescendingly, “This is a public coffee shop and people do business here and if you’re going to come you need to not complain about it. I’m doing work right now. Important work and I don’t really want to be bothered by this nonsense.”
And then without so much as a parting glance, went back to his “important work.”
I find nothing quite so off-putting as arrogance and especially when it is attached to pompous and supercilious dismissal.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I suddenly found myself channeling my inner Chili Palmer and saying sharply, “Hey! Look at me.”
He glanced up from the mesmerizing hold music and said, “Why are you being so aggressive?”
At which point I stood and took two steps toward him, leaning forward with my face about six inches from his and said quietly, but intensely, “You want to see aggressive, son, just keep talking.”
I know. I know. Not my finest hour. But, hey, you had to be there.
His eyes wide in surprise and confusion, he stammered, “What did I do? I’m just using words and you’re threatening me with violence…son.”
His pal, gesturing furtively said, “Hey, maybe we should all just calm—”
“Stay out of it!” I snapped, cutting him off.
He held both hands up, shrugged and sat back in his seat.
The dude stood to his feet, noticed that he was at least six inches shorter than me and then sat back down all the while keeping a running patter going of how set upon and threatened he was feeling.
I wish I could tell you that I had something of substance to contribute to the ensuing conversation Alas, I cannot. I was enraged. To the point that I wanted nothing more in that moment than to seriously injure that arrogant young man. I simply stood there glowering like a cage fighter ready to pounce on his opponent.
At some point, I heard my friend saying, his hand on my elbow, “We should probably get going.”
I blew out a breath that felt like I had been holding for half an hour, turned to the dude’s friend and said, “I’m sorry,” and then we walked away without a backward glance.
It bothered me.
It bothered me a lot!
It bothered me all the rest of that day and into the night.
It bothers me still.
Not the fact that the dude had been so insufferably and intolerably socially inappropriate, but how I handled it.
Later on, I realized that it had way less to do with him than it had to do with me and how the past twenty-one months have left me feeling.
There was a novel written in 2005 by Cormac McCarthy (subsequently made into an academy-award winning film) called, “No Country for Old Men.”
I cannot begin to tell you how many times that title has found its way into my conscious mind over these past months and how many times I have breathed those words to myself or spoken them to my beloved.
No country for old men.
You see, the thing is, everything I thought I knew about my country, our culture, our religious institutions, our educational systems, finances—fill in the blank—has been turned upside down and inside-out. And the changes have come so fast and furious that I find it nearly impossible to keep up with it all.
All of which has left me feeling off-kilter, out of balance, out of step and…out of patience and on edge. Thus, the humiliating and inappropriate display of anger at that young man’s expense.
On the drive home, my friend and I had a good laugh about it all during which he remarked, “Dang, RG, I didn’t know you were such a bad-ass.”
To quote my dear friend, Mike Roe of The 77’s fame, “I could laugh, but it’s not funny.”
I’m not sure where this is all going. You know…this! All of it. I just know that what I see when I look around my city, my state, my nation; what I see on TV; what I read in the news…only serves to reinforce the deep-seated and unshakable sense that this is, truly, no country for old men. And I simply don’t know where I fit in anymore. I’m probably not alone.
One thing’s for sure…we need to find a new coffee shop.