overheard at an airport bar in detroit, shortly before christmas

(the following is as close to a factual account as I could manage)

Two men sitting in an airport bar called “brewpub” or something like that

One has a brown beard that stretches down to the bar, the other spins his glass of chardonnay in nervous circles

One has ripped jeans, one pleated khakis

Camo hat, balding combover

Bellies hang over pants that are “I’m still a 34” too tight

Phones on the bar, bodies half turned toward each other

As if to signal the transience of the dialogue, lest either worry they could be trapped into a whole conversation

No one wants that

But

A few words of small talk couldn’t hurt,

They think

It’s two days before Christmas

And I have three hours before my flight

-

“Oh really, I have a niece who lives there”

-

“Yeah, I’ve been a sales rep for thirty years now”

-

“Well, they have great defense, they just don’t have any offense”

-

“I worked in Aspen for a season”

-

“And that’s when I decided to go back to school”

-

“Yeah, I started in retail, actually”

-

(the man now manhandles his chardonnay by the glass, not the stem)

-

“An old buddy of mine used to do that”

-

“Can you grab me another IPA — I think it’s the one on the corner there, hun”

-

Two drinks in, the barstools swivel, inch by inch, so that the men face each other more directly

They gesture skittishly

As if they’d rather be pounding the table, splashing mugs of beer, grabbing each others shoulders and embracing

Three drinks in, he thinks

What a great fucking guy

I sure wish I had a friend like this where I live

I sure wish I had a friend

The barstools are just a bit too high; neither of their feet touch the ground, so boots and loafers swing in the air like sneakers at a soda shop

The waitress comes to grab an empty plate — [“how was it?” “it was horrible, as you can tell”]

The man squints, then puts on reading glasses to show the other his phone

-

“Keep in mind, I was 23 when this photo was taken”

-

“I just show them and say remember, I may be old, but your grandpa was there once”

-

“We had some good times back in those days, didn’t we?”

-

The man with the chardonnay gets the check, stands up slowly

They shake hands [“it’s been really great”, “best of luck”, “let me give you my card”]

He wheels his carry-on

Home, to an empty house full of wife and kids

Grocery lists like wills

(Six weeks later, he finds the business card

Can’t remember who gave it to him

And throws it in the recycling bin)

The waitress wipes the bar off

Silence ensues.

-

A few minutes later,

A man sits down

And orders an old-fashioned

-

“So, where are you from?”