Here is something I wrote this morning. If you’re Catholic, please regard the following as either a reflection on Saint Patrick’s day (if you like the piece) or as five minutes shaved off your stay in Purgatory (if you don’t).
Please Try Again
Five weeks since I quit my job, and already I’ve forgotten the name of my favourite town drunk. Such a cheery fellow, checks himself in at 4 pm most days. A man at a cafe table below me resembles him: jeans, dark nylon jacket, grizzled beard, Moosehead ball cap.
The man is sipping a Tim Hortons large and working in a puzzle book. A high-school girl approaches his table and bums a quarter from him. They both ignore the fountain, its water coloured pistachio in honour of Saint Patrick’s Day.
I’m sitting at another table — adorned with an absurd little parasol, clusters of grapes and apples or pumpkins on dark canvas — on the mezzanine level, waiting for the library to open. I’ve just rolled up the rim on my own Timmy’s. “Réessayez.” Please try again. If I’d won a coffee, at least, it would have made up for being gypped out of the hash browns supposedly included in the combo I purchased.
Over the loudspeakers, Marvin Gaye once again announces that he heard it through the grapevine. I wonder how the teenagers can stand it. I wonder why people my age are assumed to have musical tastes that never evolved past the age of seventeen. I wonder why there aren’t more people in this town who drink mouthwash.
The man with the puzzle book is gone, but eighteen shop clerks and office workers are now scattered among the tables either side of the pistachio fountain. All six women and one man have remembered to wear green tops today. Most of the eighteen are sipping coffee, alone or with a co-worker, with or without food, before beginning their day.
An older gent with red suspenders and a grey snowmobile jacket is not breakfasting. An open jar of petroleum jelly sits on his table. He holds his right boot on his lap, dips a hand into the jelly, and smears it inside the boot.
Finally, someone notices the Saint Patrick fountain. Two middle-aged women park two severely disabled adolescents in front of it. Before one woman takes a photo, the other removes the winter coat of the slimmer girl to display her mint-green sweatshirt and matching trousers. Flash. Then the wheelchairs are turned to face the fountain, and the occupants are handed pennies. The chubby girl flings her coin sideways; the skinny one drops hers at her feet. A second attempt is made, this time a supportive hand raising the mint maiden’s arm to improve her aim. The coin hits the water, and a crooked grin shatters the calm of the girl’s face. In celebration, the group lines up at Tim Hortons.
Now five preschoolers troop by, holding the handles of a bright orange strolling band. Their shuffling slows to a stop as they notice the fountain. One daycare aide sets them on its wide stone edge while the other readies the camera. Then they toddle on again, pausing to admire the stuffed moose in the picture window of the museum.
I wonder where I fit. I wonder what kind of job I can find that I’ll hate less than standby lockup attendant. I wonder if I’ll ever make a difference to anyone anywhere. I wonder if I can learn to worry a little less, relax my knotted cortex enough to enjoy simpler pleasures as others do — a green fountain, a word puzzle, a chance at a free coffee, a 40-year-old pop tune, that first spicy sip of the day’s mouthwash.
Larry. His name is Larry.