Coffee. That warm mocha taste, that almost hugs his mouth in love. The familiar early morning smell of Joe which stimulates those hormones for a bowel movement. What more could he ask for than that one great cheap pleasure of pleasures.
It wasn’t just the coffee either, but the whole experience, the whole trip. From heading to the coffee shop to finishing up the last sip, it was an extended experience of pleasure. While waiting in line in that coffee shop, Dan experienced a zone of comfort, of peace. He always waited patiently as the line inched along. While waiting he would watch the people who were sitting down, sipping their beverages.
Mostly unrecognizable, there was however a group of men who came every day, same time same place, sat together and vacillated between drinking coffee and conversing. The topics varied from news, politics, world events, sports, the economy, ordinary life problems, relationships, children, the stock market, commodities, movies, an interesting occurrence, a memorable story, religion and any other thing which crossed someone’s mind. It was the same group of men who gathered day in and day out to such routineness that they became an inexorable part of the shop.
Those waiting in line like Dan who were interested or whose minds were just not focused on anything in particular, could be sure to catch a snippet of some interesting conversation, whatever was on the menu that morning.
Most of the men seated in the group did not speak up much except for nods and the occasional voice of dissent. The primary narrative however was carried by a rotund, purple faced, balding except for a few long wisps carefully laid across his brow, sure sounding and loud voiced man who was the de facto leader of the group and provided well informed and experienced, if not comforting perspective about the goings on of the world, both of indirect and direct impact.Indeed this man spoke with a certain air of authority, a certain way which commanded the respect and ears of his compatriots, a steady, firm, full of conviction, all knowing voice, which together with the daily double double provided a sense of security, sameness, consistency, non-surprise, and predictability in their morning and indeed in their life amid a changing, unpredictable and stress inducing world.
It wasn’t just the soothing knowing voice of the de facto leader. It was also the sense of comraderie, the feeling of belonging which asserts itself in workplaces, sports teams, army corps, gangs, cliques and clubs which share a common purpose, a single, overlying commitment and aim. This sense of purpose which forms a team, a unit of belonging were long gone and or missing from these men’s lives. Reduced to an existence of lesser usefulness, of retirement without money with which to enjoy it, of merely waking up to follow a life pattern surrendered to the weaknesses of bodily aging. These men found a sense of solidarity, inconsequential as it may be, by forming a sort of brotherhood out of routine, a club out of the mundane.
The chairs they occupied were no longer merely chairs, they were seats. Each founding member of the club, MC’s if you will, held an important if little more than ceremonial post in the club. By coming every day and ordering coffee and sitting in their respective seats they became a part of the coffee shop, in their own way they transformed the coffee shop.
Dan was entranced by them and jealous of their worry and stress free life, their feelings of belonging and companionship, created by uniting around a single purpose of drinking coffee together at the same time and same place every day. He was jealous of their having a sure, knowledgeable, almost fatherly, benevolent leader, a man who didn’t demand much, just their presence and their ears. He didn’t curse them, stress them, make them feel helpless, like a slave at the bidding of two masters. He was a very simple, not very demanding master. All he desired was this form of service, of ritual, which required no more than mechanical rite, and in return, a sense of belonging.
That day he decided that he would sit with them. He did not know why, what was the purpose, what he was trying to accomplish,but he decided that he wanted to sit nearby. After ordering his coffee, he made his way over to the tables where they were sitting and seated himself close, within earshot of the conversation. The men barely gave him glance. Just a cursive glance, probably more formality than anything, to see who had wandered into their territory. Barely registering on their radar, he sipped his coffee, absent mindedly looking at his phone while listening to their conversation. Today’s conversation was about gold.
“The price of gold is going up. The markets are going berserk. The commodities.”
The men nodded and said, uh huh. There was one man who was older, perhaps late sixties or seventies. He had a perpetual gloomy expression on his face and his eyes were always focused on some distant point. A cigarette always lay dangling between his lips, never lit, just chewed at the tip. He never seemed engaged in the conversation, but nonetheless his unique grizzled, unkempt look made him an important part of the group. Currently he was doing as was his usual habit, coffee in front of him, cigarette dangling from lips, mouth fixed in a gloomy expression, eyes set mistily on something off in the distance. Then there was the old skinny black man with the missing teeth and the big smile. He said nothing mostly and just looked at everyone with a big smile.
“I used to go down to Saratoga for the races. Used to bet big bucks.”
The comment, the solemn remembrance, the tale told was another of the leader’s typical gems. Non linear, out of the blue, stream of consciousness thoughts and ideas which came as they occurred, to enlighten, enliven, inform and entertain the others, both in the group and extended. Dan listened as he sipped and pretended to peruse his phone. He googled Saratoga.
“Any of you watching hockey? They don’t know how to manage a team. The coach should have fired months ago. The general manager is getting paid too much for the lousy performance.”
Dan let himself get distracted by the self assured, manly voice and took another sip of coffee. He didn’t know or care about hockey, but this man made him care. He listened intently to why the Montreal Canadians were doing so badly and how lousy the leadership was.
“We need to win another Stanley Cup.”
A beaming Asian man in line welcomed himself into the conversation as he waited.
The leader pointed at him. “Damn straight. We need new leadership. We need to reconstruct. I remember the days of Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau. We need talent like Crosby and Ovechkin. We need to reconstruct from the bottom up with a draft pick.” He said this with additional animated thumb gesturing, as if obliged to change tactics to convince an outsider.
The skinny old black man smiled his wide gap toothed smile and squeaked out in a barely audible voice. “Oui!”
The gloomy man didn’t give any indication that he paid attention to anything. It was only by virtue of his being there that he even bared mentioning. He chewed his cigarette staring off in the direction of the Asian man, but somewhere far further off, perhaps at a person, place or thing that was only visible to his mind’s eye.
He wondered what would happen if he just never came back home, just living off the streets and coming here every day. Perhaps he could befriend these guys and join their club. It could be the boy’s club. Da boy’s club, he could picture the leader saying in his authoritative but paternal voice. A place to escape where men can be men. Just manly men telling stories and discussing things over a hot cup of Joe, under the leadership and authority of an even tempered, understanding leader who provides them all with their need to belong while not requiring much in return, other than presence and assent.
“I got an idea boys. You want to drive down to Saratoga with me for one last hurrah? I’m getting old but I think I got the mileage for one more.”
Dan almost cried. How fun that sounded. How amazing and peaceful and relaxing. How he wished he could be part of this group.
“What do you say boys? I’m sure our doctors will let us go for a few days.”
Dan’s phone buzzed mercilessly in his hand. Almost without thinking he turned it to silent.
“We’ll meet tonight, same place same station and make a decision.”
Dan left and drove off, savoring the last dregs of his coffee and going into defensive, fight or flight mode for the onslaughts that made up his life.
At the end of the day, he decided to buy a six pack of beer to drown his sorrows. He drank them all down and felt his head start swimming. Suddenly he decided that he must go with the men. Da boy’s club. He was just as much a member as the rest of them, with the attachment he felt and the emotional impact they had on him. Even though he never spoke to any of them and didn’t even know their names, they still felt like family. Shaking with nervousness, he said he was going to get gas and quickly drove off to the coffee shop. The men sat in their usual places. He went, a bit shy, unsure what to say, if they would even know who he was.
“Hey guys, I’d like to come if you’re going on your trip to Saratoga.”
He felt himself blush as they all looked up at him.
The leader stared at him and slowly broke into smile. “So you’re one of us. Da boy’s club. We see you coming every day, one of the regulars. Nice place this place eh?”
Dan stood there dumbfounded. They actually noticed him? They called it Da boy’s club?
“Ok so are we going or what? I say let’s go, and as your leader what I say goes. No women on this trip,” he added, grinning at Dan. “Just a good old fashioned boys thing. You got a car Dan?” At this point he didn’t even bother thinking about how he knew his name. He nodded, “out front.”
“Wonderful. Come on boys, let us go out front and hop into Dan’s car.”
The leader sprang up from his chair with more energy than Dan would have thought possible. “My name is Bob. This sadsack,” he pointed to the gloomy man, “is Marv. And that happy bastard is Jean-Jacques.” The missing teeth black man waved, big smile flashing as usual.
“So now let’s go to Saratoga.”
“Is this a dream?”
“And Pharaoh dreamed seven years of plenty and seven years of famine.” Bob intoned. “Dreams are more real than you realize Dan.”
Dan thought that this was all a dream but it didn’t matter. They got in the car and sped off down the street. They traveled many miles and enjoyed many adventures, most of which seemed like a fleeting dream that Dan couldn’t remember. It all went by so fast, without boredom or tedium that to Dan it could have taken seconds. But he knew it was impossible with the amount of places they went to, things they did. Florida, California, Mexico, Colombia and on and on. He felt no change in age but knew that he had experienced great aging. He tried to look in the mirrors but that was mysteriously impossible. He perceived somehow, his wife walking around with a family of grown kids, living through and past their youth while he was trying to extend his. There were no longer screaming and swearing as time had seen to that as it sees to all things. But it caused an empty, cold feeling, all of these visions, rather than relief and liberation. There were no mirrors but he could see his hands getting stiffer, gnarled, wrinkled and he knew that time was taking its course whether he felt it or not.
“Maybe I should go back, to my family, to my life.” he said in a low, calm, taciturn sort of voice, trying to soothe his uneasiness but without ruining the good times vibe of the adventure.
“Na! Why would you say that?” Bob did the animated twitch of the hand, a gesture of dismissal. “You’re having the time of your life. Besides, it’s a little too late for that.”
Dan looked for a sinister smirk, but there was none, only a kind paternal almost apologetic smile. He expected to feel chills creep over him and the rapid heartbeat of a terrified animal, but there was no physiological reaction. Everything stayed as normal and undisturbed as if he had just made comment about the state of the economy or the price of commodities. Incontrovertible, accepted, authoritative, non-negotiable fact, stated by the leader of Da boy’s club. He couldn’t disagree if he wanted too. He no longer had an independent will, he was now under the auspices of Da boy’s club, for which one traded one’s sovereignty, one’s individuality for a semblance of belonging, comfort and constancy. The price for removing stress, worry and emotional attack was the mere removal of all agency, a painless procedure, a castration with no blood or infection. That all that Bob required for lifetime membership and now that had given it there was no going back.
He had not felt a moment of anguish, of stress, of worry, of anger, of frustration, of anxiety and of nervousness since the night they took off to Saratoga.
He didn’t remember what he felt because of the dreamlike nature of it, but he knew for fact there were no negative feelings. After hearing Bob say what he said, he felt that had satisfied the gnawing guilt, the uneasiness which was building up. He had brought up the topic and Bob said there was nothing that could be done.
Content, he settled down into his seat and continued as he was, lapsing into a state of subconsciousness, blurred visions passing before his eyes of the places they went to, the things they experienced and vaguely, the slowly changing world around them. His hands continued growing vainy and hard and stiff although he had no mirror to reflect upon his facial appearance. They were passing for the endless time through the Americas on their never ending road trip and Bob was doing the driving as had somehow been doing for what seemed like forever. He was alternating between providing a running commentary on anything and everything and turning on the radio and singing along with whatever was playing.
Dan was reclined, hunched in his seat, his head nodding, whether to the beat of the music or in agreement to Bob’s comments, it didn’t matter. The change from one to the other was so fluid there really was no difference. Marv was sitting up front, face perpetually looking off in the distance with his cigarette dangling from his lips. Dan didn’t remember any perceptible difference. Same cigarette, same gloomy stare. Jean-Francois sat beside him, smiling serenely. He had remembered him turning around to smile at him and saying in his squeaky voice, “Ca va mon ami?” But that seemed like ages ago.He thought a few times about turning and engaging in conversation with him but then couldn’t harness the energy and desire within him and continued in his lonely stupor.
Then one day or month or year or whatever unit of time they were at because he had long lost track of it, something happened. Bob in one of his singing times, belting out the lyrics to some song.
“Singin’ all the way to grave…”
Dan was semi aware of the words and although they didn’t make his skin crawl, he wondered about why he was singing about such unpleasant things, but he didn’t wonder very long and soon lapsed into mindlessly nodding, bobbing his head to the beat.
Suddenly, without warning, Jean-Jacques pulled out a gun from nowhere, turned it on Dan and shot him in the foot. Before Dan could even register what had happened he felt a blinding flash of pain. He screamed and surprised himself by hearing his voice for the first time what seemed like forever. He could barely recognize the sound. It sounded like a wounded animal howling. He felt the car jerk and heard Bob say out the fog, “Hey Jean-Jacques buddy. Why don’t you put down the gun. Don’t be foolish, we’re all having such a great time. Don’t do anything stupid, you smiling bastard.”
“Entend mon ami. Continue à conduit.” Jean-Jacques’ s happy, squeaky voice had acquired a seriousness. “Continue à mon direction. Ce amusant est fini.”
Bob stopped talking and glanced behind at Dan. “This guy’s off his rocker my boy. But don’t worry, he won’t do anything.” Dan was doubled over in pain. There was blood now streaming out of his shoe and tears pouring down his face. He moaned in pain and tried to hold his foot tightly to stop the blood. “Oh stop it, it’s not that bad only a flesh wound.”
He looked up at Bob with tears in his eyes and a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long time. He couldn’t name it but it was not good feeling. It was strong though and getting stronger.
“Vois y.” Jean-Francois said serenely.
“Ok we get it, haha, the joke is over. Can we just continue our trip in peace?”
Marv, who was sitting entire time in the same position, seemingly unaware of everything, finally turned around and Dan was conscious of his face even through all his pain. He looked ancient, skeletal and awful in every way. Still chewing on that cigarette, dangling between two very bloated lips, he regarded Dan with sunken in deeply shadowed eyes. His skin wrinkled and drawn tightly to the bone. The expression in his eyes were dead.
“Il est mort.” Jean-Francois said and turned the gun, shooting him point blank in the head.
The whole car teetered and almost spun as Bob yelled and seemed to lose control.
“You crazy bastard! You killed Marv! He was having the time of his life. We were all having the time of our life.”
“Tu conduit en droit.” Jean-Francois said calmly. “Ne pas arrete, ne pas tourne, juste en droit.”
Bob stopped arguing and just drove. Marv’s prone body crumpled stiffly against the passenger door and gave little animated jerks with each bump in the road. He seemed more alive than he’d ever been. Dan sat hunched over nursing his wound, the pain seeming to get worse and worse. Jean-Jacques, who was all along sitting with that same serene smile on his face, pointing the gun at Bob calmly, presently reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of gauze, followed by bottle of medicinal alcohol. “Mettez-le.” he said tossing it over. Dan reached over with trembling hand and grabbed the materials. He took off his shoe gently, followed by his darkly stained and wet bloody sock. Wincing and crying softly from the pain, he stared shocked at his bloody foot.
“Vous devez savoir qu’est ce que ce les choses importantes dans la vie. D’accord?”
Dan cringed as he poured alcohol shakingly on the wound and wound it up carefully with the gauze.
“Ca va mon ami.”
“They always say it’s the quiet ones you gotta watch out for buddy.” Bob’s voice was subdued.
“Tes toi espece de…” the squeaky voice trailed off.
As they continued driving, Dan whimpering, Jean-Francois smiling serenely gun trained carefully on Bob, Bob driving quietly, Marv’s body flicking up and down, the sky darkened and they reached the border separating the federal republic of Mexico and U.S.A. The American border guard squinted down into the car.
“Where you fellas coming from?”
“Here and there. We’ve been around the Argentine, Brazil, Costa Rica, the whole bing bang bong. You ever been to the Amazon? Hell of a place.”
“Yes it is. That fellow ok?”
“Who, Marv? Sure, he’s passed out. Had a bit too much of the Colombian herb, you know?”
“Yeah…” The guard flashed a flashlight inside the car. “Sir I’m an officer of the law, please identify yourself.”
“Officer, like I said, he inhaled some of the most potent stuff south of Rio Grande. Surely you’ve been wild yourself and can understand a fellow…”
The gun went off and the car smashed through the border. Sirens started wailing and lights flashing as police cars chased them furiously, like a wounded beast.
“You’re gonna get us all killed you crazy bastard.” Bob’s voice was breaking, the calm, smooth demeanor was gone, replaced by a panicky cracked elderly man’s voice.
“Ca c’est le fin de l’histoire mes amis.”
Jean-Jacques shot the windshield which shattered into a thousand pieces and whole car started spinning..There was another gunshot and Jean-Jacques’s serene smile bore a ghastly bullet wound and slumped forward in his seat. Dan tried to hold on tightly to whatever could as the car spun like boomerang across the highway and the corpses in the car were flung around to and fro like dolls. Finally it came to a stop and was surrounded on all sides by predatory police cars, lights flashing savagely.
“COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD.”
He heard the loudspeakers booming, but his head was swimming from the pain, the nausea, ceaseless spinning. The sounds and noises and flashing lights overwhelmed him as everything seemed to fade before his eyes.
Then heard a weak voice from in front of him. “The membership in Da boy’s club with all it’s rights and obligations are now considered null and void…”
Dan’s head killed. He opened his eyes and saw only empty and half drunken beer bottles. His ears were buzzing and he felt extremely groggy. He slowly sat up and then heard his wife yawn. “Dan, come sleep, you were passed out for so long here.”
He turned around and managed a weak smile. “Honey I had the most bizarre dream. I’m going to be a better man for now on, I promise.”
“How about you leave it till tomorrow babe? Come to sleep.”
He got up, shaking his head in amazement and following after his wife, limped off to bed.