“Buy you a beer?” said the elderly man at the restaurant bar beside me.
I was waiting on takeout food, and he was enjoying a frosty mug. We both wore surgical masks. He sat five feet away. One side of his face was scarred from some kind of serious burn. His skin was marbled and smooth, the color of a pink crayon.
Me? You wanna buy ME a beer?
“Yeah, you. I’ve read a few of your columns. Let me buy you a beer. That way we can talk.”
Okay, sure. Thank you.
“Don’t mention it. What’ll you have?”
The bartender served me a tall glass and we touched our rims. The man’s hands were scarred, and underneath his burns was a face that looked happy.
“I got a bone to pick with you,” he said.
With me? Okay, why not? It’s your paycheck in my glass.
“You wrote once in your column that you loved everybody. Well, I wanna know if it’s B.S. You can’t love everyone, can you? Do you remember writing that?”
Yes, I recall writing that.
“So you mean to tell me you love crooked businessmen who destroy the earth and strip this world of everything good? You mean to say that you love history’s evil armies who invaded countries and killed others for no reason but lust for power?”
Well, uh, I guess I never…
“How about racists? People who, even though they have no reason to hate or degrade others, hate and degrade others? You love them? Or were you just writing words?”
“And what about ruthless dictators who murdered millions of men, women, and children simply because of their nationality or creed? Or how about murderers who kill families during home invasions? What about wife beaters? Politicians? People who hum obsessively?”
Well, you see, sir, I was just…
“How about the guy who breaks into your car and steals everything in it? Like your stereo, and your wife’s cell phone, and your laptop? You love him?”
That depends on the brand of cellphone…
“How about the boss who fired you? Someone who abuses animals? What about the guy who wrecks a stable marriage just because he thinks he’s entitled to have anyone’s wife he wants?”
“What about the woman who sets her own house on fire and tries to kill her husband while he’s asleep because she’s mentally ill and wants him out of the picture?”
Sir, I don’t…
“Do you really mean to tell me that you’re capable of loving EVERYONE? Is that what you’re actually saying?”
I’m sorry if I offended you. Really, I am.
“You didn’t offend me, I’m not upset. We’re just two guys talking. But man to man, I wanna know if it’s possible to love someone who messed up your life? Sure, it’s easy to love people behind a computer screen. But how about the person who tried to ruin you? Can you sit on that barstool and tell me you love all the haters?”
Maybe what I should’ve said…
“Can you really say that you love the godawful, the pathetic, the dishonest, the angry, the disgusting, the spite-fueled, the aggressive, the narcissistic, the cruel, the trust abusers, the people who lash out against you but feel no remorse?”
“You’re a guy just like me, you get angry just like I do. You have the same capacity for bitterness I have. We’re just bone and skin, right? How can anyone say they love everyone? How can that be true?”
The old man was absolutely right. I hung my head in moderate shame. He had backed me into a corner and reduced me into a puddle of idiocy.
As a writer, I throw around a lot of words. But maybe I don’t think about them enough. Maybe I let my mouth overload my assignment.
He went on, “So? How about it, son? Do you love everyone? Do you love horrible people? Do you love old fools at a bar who try to tick you off for no good reason?”
Well, sir. To be honest. Even though I fail miserably at backing up my own words, and even though I’m a hopeless mess inside and out. Yes. I meant that. I stand by what I wrote.
We sat in silence for a few seconds.
The bartender brought the man’s to-go food.
The old man paid his bill. Then he patted my back, winked at me and said, “I was hoping you would say that.”
He tipped the bartender and said to the young man, “Real love ain’t for wimps, is it?”
“No sir,” said the bartender. “It sure ain’t.”
We shook hands. The old man was smiling from ear to marbled ear. He told me he loved me and he seemed to mean it. Then he left.
After his car pulled away, the kid bartender arrived with my take-out food and said, “Hard to believe that old guy’s a minister, ain’t it?”
Thanks for the beer, Reverend.