THE GODFATHER, from left: Al Pacino, Sterling Hayden, Al Lettieri, 1972

Like many things, it is best described by “The Godfather”. Recall the scene where the Corleones conspire to murder Sallazzo and McClusky in an Italian restaurant. The only one familiar with the place is Tessio. He describes it, “It’s perfect for us. A small family place with big booths where people can talk in private. Good food. Everybody minds their business. Perfect.” This Italian joint near my house could be described much the same way.

About a year ago, I decided to make this restaurant my usual Sunday night place. Sometimes, I’d share the booth with a friend, sometimes with a book. It was always late, and, for some reason, it was usually raining. I sit at my usual table in the corner. The lights are unusually low for a restaurant.

A few months ago, it was just me, the rain and Sinatra. Like most Sunday nights, I was tired. I’d just gotten out of a two-and-a-half hour rehearsal. I sigh and run my fingers through my hair. I examine the table of contents for tonight’s companion, my New Yorker open in front of me in the gloom. I scoot the candle closer until the words become visible. The waiter takes my drink order and I ask for the tomato bisque. Truly, this is the best tomato bisque I’ve ever had. A lot of the times—especially on dark, wet nights like these—it’s all I will eat.

Laughter from a distant room. I hear him. In fact, I hear him long before I see him. Like a pig in slop, his words slur and tumble at a volume neither indoor-appropriate nor library-sanctioned, the unmistakable timbre of a one-legged waltz of dragging a pollen-covered club foot through daises. Even though we were separated by twenty feet, a wall and his intoxication, I understood every word that jumbled from his lips.

He said he owned his own design company, something where they make and design cards and shirts and banners—“Really,” he slurred, “Anything you want.” (I imagine his breath reeks of wet peppermints and vodka). He started his business right after being the first one in his family to go to college, although his father worked very hard for the family, ole’ drunky was the first to graduate and make something of himself. “I could, if I wanted,” he said, “hitch up all my relative’s homes to my three-fifty out there and drop them in Boone Lake.” His laugh reached all the way to the kitchen. I could hear a few other uncomfortable chuckles.

(A brief aside, if you please: The nouveau riche of our day are much different than those who arose out of the middle class in the eighties. They do not flaunt their wealth in a Bret Easton Ellis orgy of designer names. They are earnest in pretending class doesn’t exist. They are the kind to still go to all their old haunts and say to their old equals, “Zo-My God! Isn’t this wonderful? Look at my pictures from my trip to the Caribbean.” Dolly “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap” Parton is their patroness.)

I am not content to hear this man. I must see him. His voice gave away much and revealed too much. This loud intoxicated usurper violated this quiet, big-boothed usual place of mine. I get up and turn the corner towards the bathrooms.

us_tnvols2He stands little over six-feet tall, wide shouldered in the ubiquitous Tennessee orange polo. His pleated khakis are cinched around his abdominus waist. A hint of gold catches the eye amid his gesticulations. It’s a large class ring from the University of Tennessee, naturally. Like a diadem, his sunglasses sat atop his head and the cords draped down his back.

Standing at the bar, he held court. Next to him was his pretty and attentive wife who—up to this point—said nothing, but drank her martini. She looked a few years younger than he. Leaning against the other side of the bar was a waiter. You might do well to describe his slouching posture as “hipster”. Although, let’s be honest, that word has no meaning anymore. It’s the kind of word used by the nouveau riche to describe any sort of creative type, anyone who doesn’t want to play by the rules. But, for maybe the second time in his life, the hipster looked vaguely interested in something.

It’s gone from a constant drizzle to a downpour outside, now. Like a bitter wind, I pass by unnoticed to the bathroom. Sadly, there is no gun taped behind the toilet, like Tessio guaranteed. I returned to my seat. The candle at my table flickers light across the page.

“I’ll tell you—I’ll tell you what you’ve got to do,” the blitzed man says, “once you finish your degree—how, how much time do you have left?—once you finish your degree, you should come work for us—”

His wife interrupts, “Yes, oh yes! That would be wonderful!”

But he continues without stopping, “I’m serious! A whole lotta guys got their start with me and go on to do bigger and better things. What are you getting your degree in again?”

“Art and graphic design,” the Hipster replies in a voice that, comparatively, sounded chapel worthy.

She says, “That’s so great!”

But, he continues, “I’d drop the art major and change to business. That way, you can open your own shop, be your own boss, you know, answer to no one but yourself. It’s really the way to go, man. If you want to make it, dude, it’s the way to be. It really is.”

“Thanks for your advice,” the Hipster says without note, “I’ll keep that in mind.” I turn a page in my New Yorker.

“Plus,” the one (not on his wagon) continues, “If you were to go to a company like ours with a business degree, too, you’d practically be a shoe-in—”

She interrupts with nodding, “Yes, you would be!”

But, he continues without stopping, “With those design chops of yours, you’d be unstoppable once you learned the business end of it. Just imagine how much money you could make. Imagine the cheddar!”

The hipster makes excuses. Says he needs to go to the kitchen. There is silence. A long wonderful silence. In the gloomy quiet, I realize something I’ve known my entire life, but could not put into words. Watch a straight man (preferably married and a former jock) and you’ll see a man without guile, without irony. He is a prince for we have made him so. From age twelve, he’s never been forced to doubt his existence. He never doubts why he is alive. You can see it in how he walks, how he carries himself.

Why wouldn’t he give advice, this man with his glittering class ring and sunglasses? The world—this world, this part of Tennessee—belongs to him, it bends towards him as he passes. Why wouldn’t he survey his land, this wife of his, this waiter of his and discern what is needed? Is he not the bliss-giver, the king-maker, the wisdom-giver? The world is as he sees it, for he has made it and so it is. Would that we all hitch our trailers up to his glory and be fed from the charitable crumbs wiped from his most gracious table. It never enters into his mind that this is not so, for he is prince of what he sees, his table is spread and his wife agrees. What more could a man need? It is a terrible hell to get what you want, to become what everyone expects you to be.

So, the rest of us make excuses and flee to the kitchen with the Hipster. We flee to our art. We put down our spoons and leave the big booths where people talk in private and we go back to minding our own business. After all, only assholes think everybody wants to be just like them. We walk out the door. The rain hits our faces.

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