Coffee Break Fiction

The New Standard, Part 1

February 21, 2011

“Little bitty tear let me down, spoiled my act as a clown, I had it made up not to make a frown. Oh, but a little bitty tear let me down.” He mumbled and then started humming the song, lightly in and out of notes as he stared straight ahead looking through the train car window. It was a bright day in late spring. A slight hint of sandalwood drifted through the air. His arms were crossed over his cream-colored button down shirt and light blue tailored suit coat. The voice was familiar. He tapped his brown loafers rhythmically on the solid floor. As she appeared to look down into her magazine, she noticed the man next to her seemed youthful in his dark blue jeans. But his voice had the weathered feel of age. No one on the train spoke. The only noise, other than this man, was the screeching of the train wheels from time to time and the overhead announcements of the conductor. People all around either spaced out, had earphones plugged in or like her, were buried in their reading. But this man, sitting next to her was humming and tapping out loud.
She looked over at him, pretending to peer towards the front of the train. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes. His goatee was whitish with touches of grey and he had thinning silver hair. He was still staring straight ahead when he drawled, “New Yorker, interesting. Why are so many people on this train in Chicago, readin’ The New Yorker?”
She hesitated, trying to place the voice. “We don’t have anything like it in Chicago. The New Yorker touches the world, not just New York. I mean, interesting stories from everywhere. Great stories . . .” She stopped short. Like The New Yorker really needed defending. Then she looked directly at him, staring at her. She hid behind her big sunglasses, too. “You aren’t from Chicago, are you?”
He shook his head no. “What’s the story about? The one you’re readin’?” He pointed down at her lap to the open page and then placed a hand on each leg.
“A murder in Dodge City. This guy shot a guy but he says it was self-defense. He said that these other guys were after him because he was Hispanic.”
“I was born in Dodge City,” he chuckled.
“Really? When they say get the hell out of Dodge, is that Dodge City?”
He shook his head yes and crossed his arms over his chest again. “I bet that Hispanic wants ta git the hell outta Dodge.”
“Seems like a seedy place . . . a wild town with gunslingers. Not even modern day gangs but a place where the rules are suspended. Except in this instance. Was it wild when you lived there?” She pried, caught up in the mood of the story and this interesting man next to her.
“Yep, we had ta leave when I was a kid ‘cause my father shot somebody in a duel.” He smirked.
“Cool,” she giggled and then looked out the window as the train slowed. “Oh, shit, this is my stop.” She pulled her bag to her side and stood up to leave, hesitating. It was then that she knew for sure who he was. She stared at him. “What’s your stop?”
“Here.” He followed her out to he train doors. “Where you off to?”
“Work,” she responded and checked her cell phone for the time. “Late as usual. You wanna walk with me?” She cringed as the last bit slipped out, presumptuous.
“Play hooky . . . I’m Dennis.” He held out his hand. She momentarily lost her balance. This man wanted to hang out with her?
“Uffda, I have deadlines.” The guilt of work crept in but for cripes sake, she was in the presence of a master. “Of course, let’s hang out. I’m Amy.” She shook his firm hand and smiled wide. “One sec,” she walked off to the side and dialed her manager to explain that she would not be in because she forgot she had an appointment for cable. They would be coming between the hours of 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, so she’d have to wait around. Part of her wanted to brag to her boss about what she was doing. He liked to brag. She could have had one up on him.
“Merchandise Mart.” Dennis read the train sign on the platform. “Let’s buy merchandise.”
“Okay . . . something for your home?” She looked back at him as she pushed through the turnstile into the building. He followed.
“How ‘bout a kitchen?” He raised his eyebrows. They had stopped so he could put his sunglasses away. She pushed hers up on her head to hold her long bangs back and watched him. He had a sparkle in his blue eyes, pure magic. She relaxed. How is this happening? Is this happening? Amy thought.
As they rode the escalator down to the first floor, passengers going up stared. It almost embarrassed Amy because she was included in those stares. Is that who I think it is and who the hell is he with? It was unlike Amy to give two squats to what she wore or looked like at work, but lucky for her she wore a red, v-neck sweater that her boyfriend had purchased for her birthday. Well, he had purchased it but she had picked it out. She had wrapped a light scarf around her neck to protect against the early morning chill. With this inspiration, she donned her tall black boots and had brushed mascara on her lashes to disguise the redness in her eyes. She made a conscious effort to look good that day thinking her mood might follow. By no means was she a starlet, but her looks were good enough for a recent catcall from a homeless man. “A real looker,” he commented as she passed by. This confused her because it sounded like hooker. She had the boobs for a nice-looking hooker or an actress. And the thought of someone thinking she was a hooker tickled her because she was the exact opposite.
The man beside her, Dennis, had never been her idol and in the game of the ugliest sexy star one would want to sleep with, her pick was Benicio Del Toro. But then again Dennis wasn’t ugly. He had never come into her imagination that way because of his age. There was something about him that was magnetic, a confidence.
Dennis led her into a small showroom crowded with display kitchens. Counters with concrete tops, stainless steel appliances, stone farmhouse sinks, and multi-colored cabinets created a modern atmosphere in the shop. She had gotten trapped behind him through the maze of perpetual, consumer gadgets and sleek design. Normally, she wouldn’t feel comfortable in a high-end store because she grew up modestly, but with him, she felt right.
“You see yer kitchen anywhere?” He turned and placed his hand on her back to nudge her up beside him. Her soft, straight brown hair danced under his palm.
She pursed her lips together. “We have to ask for a fake wood grain plastic countertop, a yellow stove and putrid linoleum. Doesn’t look like they have that here.” Her hand was to her brow, pretending to scan the room to find her kitchen. She giggled.
“Not the one you have now . . . what do you want to have? You can have anything you want.”
“You gonna buy it for my landlord?” She elbowed him. It was weird, she felt at ease around him. He seemed easy within himself and it was infectious.
“No,” he chuckled. “Dream big and make it yours.”
Amy paused, twisting her lips, thinking. She was naturally a dreamer but had the tendency to dumb down what she wanted. Her boyfriend called her realistic which seemed a little depressing.
Light yellow cabinets caught her eyes in the back. Dennis followed her as she darted in and out of the displays. Her black boots clomped through the wood floor showroom. The ovens were built into the cabinets and the brown concrete countertop had a huge farmhouse sink. They had placed a wooden bowl of fake oranges on the countertop. The refrigerator was outrageous with frosted glass doors and the size of her closet. She went up to the countertop and rubbed her hands along it. Dennis stood watching her, smiling. “Why two stoves, really?”
“Two stoves to use twice a year,” Dennis crossed his arms over his chest and smiled.
“Hey, hi, can I help you?” A lanky man dressed in a black suit approached Dennis. His hair was perfectly placed but he seemed a little nervous, star struck. “You’re, uh . . .”
“Who are you?” Dennis laughed a wicked, vibrating laugh. Weird, Amy thought. His whole demeanor had changed. She cringed. “I’m a photojournalist. I’ve covered the war since ’64. I’ve been in Laos, Cambodia, Nam. Ahh, whoo-eee, whoo-wee baby. I’ll tell you one thing, this boat is a mess man, whooo.” He looked around and rubbed his hands together. Amy stood frozen watching the antics.
“Ah, yes. You interested in this kitchen?” The salesman crossed his arms over his chest and widened his eyes.
“Yeah, well, they think you’ve come to take him away. I hope that isn’t true,” Dennis popped his eyes out at him. His stance had gone from straight up to hunched as he rubbed his palms together.
“It has the latest technology and the highest quality in cabinetry. Quite a choice.”
“Him, Colonel Kurtz, these are all his children, man, as far as you can see,” Dennis waved his arm around. “Hell man, out here, we’re all his children.”
“This awesome fridge even has drawers low enough for children. You can put fruits or healthy snacks for them and they can reach it.” The salesman leaned in and pulled open the drawer inside the massive fridge.
“Hey, man, you don’t, uh, talk to the Colonel. Uh, uh, well, you listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind. He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean, sometimes he’ll, uh, well, you’ll say ‘Hello’ to him, right? And he’ll just walk right by you, and he won’t even notice you. And suddenly he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say ‘Do you know that if . . .’”
“Clyde, line 1, Clyde, phone.” Someone hollered from the back. The salesman looked behind him and then back at Dennis, a bit frazzled. He put his finger up to indicate one minute and he would be back.
Amy stood still by the counter. She watched as Dennis pulled himself back into his regular stance. Was he crazy? She’d heard stories of actors getting crazy and breaking things. Maybe he was on something? She wasn’t so sure that it would be a good idea to hang out with him. A woman wearing a purple beret was standing off to the side. She approached Amy.
“Do you think I could get his autograph?” She whispered.
“Did you see that?” Amy squinted at the woman, still confused by his antics.
“I’m not sure what you mean. I’d just like to get his autograph.”
“That performance he just pulled . . . do you think he’s on drugs?”
“What performance?”
“Just now.”
“He’s an actor.” She blushed and asked him for his autograph as he walked up to the ladies.
Dennis happily signed it and then said to Amy, “Want coffee?” Dennis looped his arm with Amy’s.
“What was that?” She stopped and turned to him outside the store.
“Whatever you just did in there.” She crossed her arms across her chest, propping her forearms under her boobs. “That performance . . . if that’s what you call it.” He just looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. “You totally changed into someone else!” She said frantically.
“Oh, that’s public perception, the salesman’s perception . . . not really me,” Dennis looped his arm with Amy’s again as they walked out of the building. He seemed normal, so she decided to go with it.

To be continued . . .

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