I driving to meet a friend at the cigar shop when my stomach started grumbling. Which was odd since I had only eaten dinner an hour before – a healthy meal of baked chicken, brown rice and a gigantic salad. But since I had done an hour of fairly intense cardio after work, I figured my body was crying to replenish its glycogen stores. Time for pizza.
Across from the cigar shop was a pizza joint that I’d been frequenting for years. So, I walked in and ordered a Sicilian slice. As I was waiting for it to warm up, the young man who’d been working behind the counter since I started going there greeted me warmly.
“Hey,” he said. “How ya doin’?”
“Good, man,” I said. “You?”
“My boy started first grade today. Can you believe it?”
“Wow, it seems like he was born yesterday.”
“How’s your girl?”
“No shit?” the counterman said.
“But your kid’s In real school now,” I said. “Homework and everything.”
“It seems like last week that he couldn’t walk or talk.”
“I hear ya.”
“Where’d the time go?” the counterman said. “You notice that it just zips by?”
I grinned. The counterman wasn’t out of his twenties yet, but we were both sharing the same experiences despite our twenty-three year age gap.
“Trust me,” I said. “It only gets worse. Months go past by like days.”
“Listen to you two,” a voice behind me, said.
Turning, I saw a lean senior with a full head of white hair smiling.
“I’m seventy-two,” the older man said. “You guys don’t know nothing yet.”
“But you still have your hair old man,” the counterman said. “You look good. What’s your secret?”
“Never did drugs,” the senior said. “Though I did like drinking. But no coke. None of that stuff.”
“Lots of ladies?” the counterman said, winking at me.
“Quite a few,” the senior said, wistfully. “But the secret to my good looks is regular masturbation.”
“Well,” I said, “You won’t be sweating prostate problems.”
The old man’s eyes widened in surprise. “You got that right, kid,” he said.
When I was young, I bristled at being called a “kid.” Now I love it. That’s because, soon, no one will say it.
“What did Woody Allen say about jerking off?” I said. “Don’t knock my hobbies?”
“Beats collecting stamps,” the old man said.
My slice came up and I paid up, tossing a dollar into the tip jar.
“Thanks, man,” the counterman said.
“My secret?” I said to the senior self-pleasuring aficionado, “Always tip. You’ll live longer.”
The old man laughed and I walked outside, taking a careful nibble of my hot pizza. Despite my diet, I do allow myself the occasional indulgence. I read somewhere you sometimes have to eat a fatty carbo-loaded mess to tell your body it’s not in starvation mode. That there’s still food aplenty.
Across the street, I saw my friend in the window of the cigar shop, holding two cups of coffee and talking to Forest Ranger Ringo. I knew one of the coffees was for me – decaf black. My friend Is very generous and often does things like that. Smiling, I thought of the counterman and the old man. A nice little conversation, a snippet of transgenerational solidarity that says, despite age, we are all in this life together.
Entering the shop, I was greeted by a chorus of hellos. “Professor,” Big Mike said. “How the hell are ya?”
“Hanging in there, Mike,” I said, heading into the humidor to grab a cigar. Then I settled iinto a seat next to my friend and lit my stick up. All around me guys with nicknames like Shoes, Terminator, Tony Trains and Mikey Questions were yukking it up.
For a couple of hours, I sat back with my smoke and listened to the stories swirling around me. The patrons were, as always, an interesting mix of people – cops, fireman, truck drivers, restaurant owners, judges, lawyers, politicians, doctors, an actor, insurance salesmen, retirees, rich guys, the financially strapped, drinkers and teetotalers, thin guys, fat guys, a quartet of Hasidic Jews, one Turk, a Greek Cypriot, an Israeli, Arabs, Persians, African-Americans, Irishmen, Italians, Dominicans, a Chinese guy, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, MAGA hat wearing dudes, war veterans, widowers and the newly married, the young, old, healthy, infirm, sane, crazy, the well dressed and slobs, the loud and the quiet – and one brave woman. The entire world was in there, happy and laughing.
Smiling, I took a draw on my cigar, enjoying the nice conversation and friendly fellowship. Yet again, I was seeing another snippet of life, another sign that we’re all in it together. Perhaps this was another “signal of transcendence” whispering in my ear. Maybe I was getting a glimpse of the peace that so eludes us on earth – but also a reminder that, despite all our differences, it was still possible. The wolf will live with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the young goat. The calf and the lion will graze together, and a little child will lead them. There will be food aplenty.
For a few hours, in the most unlikely of places, I listened as angels swirled in the smoke, murmuring rumors about a blazing joy that could be waiting for us all. Not a bad night. Not bad at all.