Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!


How Men Are

It’s three o’clock in the hot afternoon, yet I sit in a coolness away from the 100 degree heat.  I’m inside the Wendy’s in these parts, new, and just opened spic-n-span.  And after their busy lunch, the counter girls lean this way and that, tired but glad the noontime burger-rush is over.  Only a few eaters at the tables now, pausing, sitting away from the hot August afternoon.

So, you see, I’m just sitting there watching casually through my 99-cent salad.  Next to the east window, the one plastered in blaring canary decal, a little boy sits with his father.  I know the boy’s age because I’ve known 3-year-olds before.  Actually, at three he comes out with dad all little man.  Never mind his just-three-weight and size zero sandals, or the bunny leaping across his tiny Walt Disney T-shirt.  As anyone can plainly see, this little boy has no idea of small in his immense imagining mind, no, not when he comes all this way out with his dad.  Yet, I tell you, he was little, as little as he could be.

Looking left, in from the north window, the one with the blaring blue decal, sat another man, alone, and as big as King Kong.  Poor fellow, wet as rain after being dropped off by the scorching sun.  You can see he’s a workman, a man who works outside in every degree.   I feel sorry again, because he’s dressed nearly all wrong.  It’s a “man thing” girls, men in heat-trap dark colors.  Well, he’s not dressed for Mass, but for work, yet if he had a wife she’d dress him better.    

Half my salad is gone; where’d it go while I was just looking around?  And what’s that shredded yellow stuff they put on my 99-plastic which wiggles pushed off to the side?  Well, never mind, because my cool 99-deal is fresh and worth every 99-cent.

So, King Kong gets up and returns to the counter -- something more?, or something the leaning and tired girls forgot?  We all love watching people, but I always try to watch more.  You must keep looking away to see, never thinking of your disappearing 99-deal lest you miss the telltale detail.  You see, I liked this big man, and now let me tell you why.  He stood humbly one step from the counter, his six-foot-five frame and hard work arms bulging a match, yet speaking so softly I couldn’t hear a thing from only ten feet away.  It’s a “man thing” girls, how we men tell each other apart, how we choose by eye and instinct whom we will like.

Meanwhile, the “big” little boy is trying mightily for a man size bite, but his bun’s going west, his meat patty north, his catsup dribbling south.  But I’m still watching the other man,  the workman, King Kong, not yet dry from the sweating sun.  So humble and quiet, I want to tell him all about heat-resistant white garments. 

It’s the little things, the way he returns to his chair, beat from eight heavy lifting hours out in the heat.  Poor fellow, he worked in summer’s oven and he longs to sit down in any cool shade – just to sit in peace, a man who works hard through his life wishing to bother no one.  A big job for such a little dollar meal.  Our eyes meet, he smiles, then he looks easily away.  You see, he doesn’t want to intrude, wishing again to leave others as he wishes to be.  I knew why I liked  this man, and will not refer to him again as some made up false character.  Let’s just say he’s the man who wears dark shirts, and wide gray suspenders pulling rain and black pants up.

I hardly noticed the other man then sitting down at a middle table, the table removed from all decals in every ad-man’s color.  Not easy watching everyone at once when our little man is losing the battle with his meal.  Bugs Bunny is bleeding from catsup, but it appears only a fur wound.  That’s what good fathers are for, to assure little men that their bunny is okay, that Walter’s cartoon will make it fine through another red-stain, catsup-spilling day.  Just then the boy manages a man-size bite, and I remember not to fall off my chair.  He’s bitten off so much he can’t even chew.  His little cheeks are blown up like balloons ready to explode, yet he doesn’t seem to mind – and neither does his dad.  It’s another “man thing” girls, things all men do.

Meanwhile, I look down to see my salad disappeared until it was gone.  Maybe I’ll eat that shredded stuff still wiggling off to the side.  No, I’ll leave it stay on my plastic knowing I can’t get the whole world on a 99-cent deal.  I’ve also got better things to do besides just sitting there gorging on all I can eat.  The man in the middle, he bought Wendy’s super size deal like he hasn’t eaten for days.  Interesting fellow though, shirt with tie too tight around the collar, the tail of the knot laying up and over his left shoulder. 

The girls are leaning on the counter giggling about love stories and a handsome young man who had stopped in for lunch.  “I’d park my shoes under his bed and tell’em my name toooo-ma-ROW!” one exclaims.  They’re jumping around at the thought, laughing, and on the same thought they each wished back during the busy noontime meal.   Now, this is a “girl thing”  girls, so I switched my ears back to the nearly empty tables.  The fellow in the middle, the one with tie, well, I suddenly see his story written all over his pleasant face.  Never mind his shirt and tie, because he works hard too – and never a man more grateful to be eating a Wendy’s big deal.  So, what hard work does a man in a shirt and tie do for his living?  You see, his shirt fit very nicely, except for the tight collar. 

“I almost forgot, you get saltines or croutons with your salad” the smiling and joking counter girl says now standing next to my table.  What service, I think, to remember me after I had already handed over my 99-cents.  Remind me to marry her one day, because she’s thoughtful while being pretty, and I was hers just for her “shoes under his bed”  wit.

A lot going on while sitting there in the middle of a quiet afternoon.  And her saltines kept me riveted to my seat since Wendy’s cool matinee wasn’t quite over.  The man in the middle, the one thanking God to be eating while other things ate at his thirty year mind?  Life had done him some unforeseen wrongs, and the wrinkle on his heavy brow reflected a high price.  Look at him, see for yourself.  Look at his eyes, looking but not seeing, open but nearly blank.  And the way he eats, hungry as he is, as if this one meal won’t  hardly matter.  Like he had made a pact with himself, that if he earned enough for a hamburger, he’d eat it.  You could see it, he didn’t want to be hungry, yet how much he had consumed just to get where he was; you could see it in his  eyes, he’d not gotten much for all the food he’d used up while searching for hard work.  Yet, I liked this man and was happy to see him there eating Miss Wendy’s biggest big deal.

Then, the father is preparing to leave, but his tiny son is still trying to clean his manly  plastic plate.  A little toy there, too, and small enough to fit into his two-inch pocket.  But I didn’t tell you something else I saw father and son do.  It was back when I was first looking, just before the big gentleman sat down away from summer’s heat.  But what I forgot to tell you is easy to remember, because I believe most people who sit to watch people have spotted this before. It’s the way a little boy “is” with a good father, and the way a proud dad sits  with his son.  Well, just look at the boy’s face, glowing above his catsup and bunny, his little soul bubbling just to be sitting there like a boy with his father.

It was getting close to the time to go, but I wanted to remain seated as if I had worked hard too.  And I wanted to wait for the little boy to walk by on his tiny way back to his dad’s car.  So, he’s standing at the edge of their table while his dad cleans up – figuring out with his 3-year-old eyes how he’s going to carry all he must take.  He wants one more french-fry, too, and carefully reaches up to pick the best one.  But now he’s got his drink, both tiny hands bringing it down till it’s tight between his and Bugs Bunny’s chest.  Then the disaster, the plastic container won’t hold and down his drink goes.  Now his hands are suspended apart as a puppet’s held in midair, his little head looking down at the soda and ice glistening on the floor. For a moment he doesn’t know what to do, yet this is where you see all there is to know about real fathers. “Oh, son, that cup broke right in your hand!”  And the little boy looked up as his father’s concerned and caring face and instantly knew that what his father had just then said was all totally and completely true.  Then dad lifted him back into his Wendy’s seat, taking a napkin to dry off his son’s tiny sandled feet.

Remember the counter girl I wanted to marry, the one who thoughtfully came over to serve me crackers on the side?  Well, here she comes again before a father could ask -- with a brand new cup filled with brand new soda.  Now, pay attention to this “man thing” girls, because this where you learn how real men are.  The pretty counter girl, doing all she could and more, handed the new cup right to the father as Dad and son stood to go.   Without a thought, dad immediately handed the new drink down to his son, because men carry their own drinks – because that’s how real men are.

© 2003 by David M. Molloy


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