It’s a slow Friday night. I’m reciting the specials on autopilot to a middle aged couple. They look bored and impatient. It’s a long list.
Just as I get around to the lamb shank, Claude, one of the dozen homeless people who frequent our neighborhood, stops in front of the window. He smiles and waves. I halt my recitation, break into a big smile, and wave back. Its a little moment I’ve repeated a thousand times.
I turn back to my customers and start wrapping up my little routine. Before I can finish the lady says to me,
“Who’s who?” I reply
“That man out there.”
“Oh that’s just Claude. He’s harmless.” I say soothingly.
“Well he bothers me. Make him go away.” she responds.
Claude is smoking his cheap cigar and having a low key conversation with himself on the curb.
“Well Madam he’s on a public street. Unless he is doing something disruptive there is nothing I can do.” I counter softly.
“He is bothering me. I want him to go” she repeats unmoved.
The husband, bespoke in his CEO suit of armor, chimes in, “Just do as she says.”
“Make it happen.” he orders without looking at me.
I fall silent. I do not move.
It takes a good thirty seconds before the husband realizes I’ve not left to do his bidding. He looks up. A look of confusion begins to dawn on his face. I skewer him with my patented 1000 yard waiter stare. You know – when I peer into your eyeball, bore through your brainpan, exit your skull, and zip out the window through several parked cars, pedestrians, and buildings fixating on something unseen several blocks away.
“No.” I say simply.
“Now wait one minute…” CEO begins to protest.
In a dead calm even voice I say, “Let it go brother. Let it go.”
“But…” he stammers.
I shrug. My expression is “And what the fuck are you going to do about it?”
This guy thinks he’s tough because he sends sycophantic bonus hungry subordinate drones into a tizzy with a memo. When faced with someone who doesn’t give a fuck he turns into a pussy. I’ve got his number and he knows it.
“Well let’s just order then.” he surrenders.
“Very good sir.”
They eat. They pay. They leave. The tip is a solid 15%.
The night ends. I walk to my car. Claude is sitting on a park bench eating soup from a container with my bistro’s name on it. One of the waiters must have slipped it to him. He looks like he won the lotto.
“Goodnight Claude.” I say softly.
Claude is lost in his soup. Lost in his castles in the sky.
As I drive home I think about that couple. They probably climbed into a hermetically sealed piece of German engineering and drove home to a gated community or doorman building. They pay people to keep their exposure to people like Claude to a minimum. Assistants fetch their laundry, lawyers fight their battles, and security guards keep them secure in their obliviousness. Life’s a journey from one comfort to the next.
People like Claude scare them. Why? Because he reminds them how lucky they are.
Much of what people possess or achieve has nothing to do with their own ability or ambition. Very often it’s just plain dumb luck. Don’t believe me? There are lots of Mensa members out there pushing mops. If things had been a little different that couple might have ended up like Claude. That kind of randomness scares the shit out of them. It scares the shit out of me.
I flip on the CD player. Durufle’s Requiem fills my car. It’s an old favorite.
I think about the seemingly random universe. I think of Claude. Durufle’s music whispers about eternity, forgiveness, and peace.
I think about how the universe can be a cruel, wondrous, unforgiving, and beautiful place. Instead of burying our heads in the sand we should be clinging to one another.
A wiser man than me once said we come together not in our strengths but in our brokenness. The universe can hobble us all. When we see some one like Claude we should remember our own brokenness. Deliver him some soup – not judgment.
I pull into my driveway. I fumble with my keys and let myself in. The apartment is silent. I pour myself a drink and settle into an easy chair. A few remnants of my ex girlfriend lie scattered about. A picture here – a piece of clothing there. I listen to the ice clink in the glass and take a sip. I am very in touch with my own brokenness.
I toast Claude silently repeating the old adage, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I go into my study drink in hand. It’s time to write