By Kirk Boys
That Tuesday, there was a cold rain, and Calvin’s arthritis was flaring like a motherfucker, but he knew to shut up about it. Marcy was sick of his complaining and her sympathy was not something to be squandered.
Sixty-nine years held few rewards for Calvin; there was Social Security, Medicare and AARP, senior discounts at the movies and bowling alley, none of which really mattered anymore. He felt irrelevant. People talked up the volunteer thing, claimed it gave them a new purpose. Chumps. They were kidding themselves if they thought anyone appreciated it. He’d volunteered at a local food bank.
“Do something for someone beside yourself. You’ll feel better,” Marcy told him. So he gave it a try.
It had been a joke, a bunch of immigrant freeloaders scamming free groceries as far as he could tell. They treated him like a bagger at Pack-and-Save, especially the Russians.
“You gimme dat, more of dat, and you put in bag for me carry home, stupid, old man,” one mumbled. That had done it. He didn’t feel better, he felt worse. As far as he was concerned, the Russians were doughy-faced cabbage-eaters that reeked of vodka. He’d heard they took the money they saved using the food bank and threw it away at the casino. He hated people who threw money away on gambling. He didn’t trust easy money or those who did.
Marcy said he had a horrible attitude. That he could “find the downside in most anything.” Not Tuesdays, though. Tuesdays he met Mitch-man at Starbucks. They drank overpriced coffee and talked about the good old days, or who had cancer, how long it took to pee, or why they tore down Albertson’s for Whole Foods. They’d complain about the weather or how global warming was bullshit. Man-to-man talk between best friends.
They kept each other company.
Marcy baked and knit, tutored dumb kids, and went to Bible study.
“There’s good out there, Calvin,” she’d tell him. “Look for it.”
“How do you go out there and pretend you’re enjoying yourself? Explain that to me?” His hand propped up his sour face.
“Being bitter doesn’t help. Try to be more empathetic. Be thankful you have Mitch. You still have hair and money and grandkids who love you. I want to hear something you’re grateful for by dinner,” Marcy said, narrowing her eyes at him before leaving for the grocery store.
Calvin was grateful for Marcy and Mitch-man and the grandkids, but there were so many idiots out there, too. He pushed himself up slowly from the kitchen table and wandered over to the kitchen window. Time had flown by while he waited for things to get good. His knee ached and his fingers felt stiff. He leaned against the sink, took a deep breath, and watched the neighbor’s fir trees bend against the wind. Rain splattered the window and ran down the glass. It always seemed as though happiness was just around the corner. When the kids were out of diapers or the house was paid off, when they could travel. It had all come and gone. Nothing changed. Life became something to endure. What good thing would he tell Marcy by dinner?
All was not lost. It was Tuesday. Mitch-man, Starbucks, coffee. He pulled on his raincoat, careful not to jolt his sore shoulder. It helped to be around active people, people with purpose. Working jobs. Taking kids to school, grocery shopping. It bothered him they all stared at cellphones. No one talked. Human contact had become limited to bits of data in space.
“Hey,” Mitch-man said, pulling up a chair, beaming with optimism.
“You get some last night?” Calvin asked.
“In my dream,” Mitch-man laughed. “You hear about Jenkins?”
“No. He die?”
“Won ten-grand at the casino. Says he’s taking Patty-Jo to Italy to celebrate their forty-fifth in style.”
Calvin didn’t care for Jenkins or Patty-Jo. Italy sounded awful, and he hated that they were gamblers. “Is Jenkins Russian?” he asked.
“No. Irish. Good news for a change, right?” Mitch-man said, swatting away pastry crumbs from the table.
“I guess,” Calvin answered.
They sipped coffee and watched the women in Spandex wander past.
“Screw it. Let’s head out to the casino. We could get lucky, too?” Mitch-man blurted.
“Fuck no!” Calvin said.
“You can sit here and mope or come with me. Your Choice.” Mitch-man pushed hard away from the table.
Calvin prepared for the worst. That often worked for him, the worse he thought something would be, the better it turned out. “Expect the worst and anything better is gravy,” he always told his daughter. The casino had been a prime example of that. He had a great time. He told Marcy about it that night at dinner. They played slot machines. Calvin won $34.85. Mitch-man played a game called Glitter Kitty and won a hundred dollar mini-pot. Player’s cards got them free soup and crackers and all the coffee and tea they could drink. They bought cigars and wore free casino ball caps backwards, then tossed them in Mitch-man’s trunk for the next time. They were sure there would be a next time.
To Calvin’s amazement, he had fun. He developed a cough from smoke, but his arthritis disappeared. Tuesdays thereafter they headed out like thieves. Calvin finally had something to look forward to.
A month later, in the car, Mitch-man was off his game. Cal could tell right away.
“You know, Jenkins never made it to his trip to Italy.” He glared at Cal.
“They got sick.” Mitch-man stiffened.
“Nobody told me.”
“Yah, well, I visited them in the nursing home. He just mumbles. Her left arm is worthless.” Mitch-man looked weepy.
Cal stared out the side window. It could have been he and Marcy that were sick.
“I’m playing Monopoly Madness today,” Mitch-man said, wiping his eyes.
“I loved playing Monopoly with my kids,” Cal whispered.