The Sour and The Cheap
“The computer’s not working,” Arlene informs me.
Ugh. Our state of the art POS system has froze up again. I go over to the touch screen and tap the glass gingerly.
NO INPUT SIGNAL the screen flashes woefully.
“Open the pod bay doors Hal,” I mutter aloud.
NO INPUT SIGNAL
“Hal, open the pod bay doors.” I repeat.
NO INPUT SIGNAL
Arlene, impatient with my little omage to Kubrick says, “I have to run a credit card.”
Resisting the urge to smack the $1000 LCD display I walk to the back and toggle the power switch on the CPU. Turning the thing off and on sometimes works. After a minute the system reboots and all is well.
“Thanks,” Arlene says swiping the credit card.
“No problem,” I reply. The computer chirps along happily. One day it’s going to kill us all.
The door chimes and two ladies enter. In their forties, they’re wearing bohemian chic getups replete with six foot long scarves and knobby boots under denim skirts. Fetching.
“Good afternoon ladies, may I get you something from the bar?” I ask winningly.
“Do you have lemonade?” the kookier looking of the two asks.
“I’m sorry Madam we do not.”
“Hmmm. Could you bring me a large glass of ice water?”
I say I can. Kook’s friend orders a Coke.
As I deposit the drinks on the table Kook asks me, “May I have some sugar please?”
Setting the sugar caddy on the table Kook says, “And now may I have some lemon?”
I know what she’s doing. I bring one slice of lemon.
“Oh no,” she exclaims, “I need more than that.”
I return to the table with a whole lemon and a sharp knife.
“Thank you,” Kook gushes happily.
Kook cuts the lemon in half and squeezes both halves into the ice water. She adds ten packets of sugar, stirs, and garnishes her homemade concoction with the single lemon slice I brought earlier. Voila, lemonade.
Piling the detritus from her labors on a plate she hands it to me without looking up.
“Would you ladies like to order?” I ask balefully holding the plate.
They order two chicken ceaser salads. Ka Ching!
When I set the salads down on the table Kook asks, “You know what I want?”
Grapes, so you can press your own wine? I wonder to myself.
“More lemon,” she says smiling.
I bring extra lemon. The ladies tuck into their salads. While they’re eating I catch snippets of their conversation.
“The passion is out of our marriage,” Kook’s friend says. Looking at her getup I can understand why.
“All marriages eventually become some sort of arrangement or another,” Kook replies pontifically.
I look at Kook’s ring finger. Nada, zip, zilch, zero. Hmmm.
The ladies finish and want dessert. They order one apple torte to share.
“Waiter, please bring me a kettle of hot water, lemon, and some honey,” Kook orders.
“Would you like to see the tea box madam?” I inquire.
“No I brought my own tea,” she says.
“But of course you have,” I reply.
Ignoring me Kook returns to her conversation.
The ladies finish their dessert. Kook’s friend goes to the bathroom. While her friend is otherwise engaged, Kook calls me over to the table.
“Yes madam?” I say bracing myself.
“I need your advice. My friend ate more than half the dessert. Is it good form to still split the bill evenly?” she asks.
I wince internally. I think of a conversation my ex girlfriend and I had a few days ago. Seems my ex went out to dinner with a friend on Friday night. After the breakup both my ex and I struggled financially. Money’s tight. When my ex and her friend finished dinner my ex only had two dollars in her purse. Her friend suggested they stop at Friendly’s for ice cream. As they walked into the ice cream parlor my ex mentioned she only had a couple of bucks. Her friend, who is wealthy, turned to her and said, “Well how are you going to get ice cream then?”
The advice I gave my ex was the same I would give to Kook’s companion, “Get some new friends.”
I stare at Kook for a second. I’m pissed. I draw a breath and exhale it slowly saying,
“Madam, I would just let this one go.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Kook replies.
The friend returns from the bathroom. They split the bill evenly. Kook leaves me a pile of change as a tip. It adds up to less than 10%.
As they walk out I think to myself how painful it must be for Kook to be Kook. People like her, due to whatever pathology, are terrified to be generous. They zealously guard whatever they have – which in turn drives people away. Its small wonder there’s no wedding ring on her finger.
I think of the old line from scripture, “even the little that he has will be taken away from him.”
I walk over to the computer terminal to close out the bill. I’m in a bad mood. Even though my breakup was for the best I still worry about my ex. I feel bad that she has friends who are parsimonious like Kook. I want her to get new friends and be happy.
The computer screen flickers and goes dark.
NO INPUT SIGNAL
“And fuck you too Hal,” I sigh.