This place is lousy. The food is awful, the beer comes in plastic cups and tastes like toilet water.
The man beside me at the bar weighs a buck-ten, sopping wet. He has a white handle-bar mustache and old skin that looks like rawhide. If I had to guess his age: one hundred and twelve.
I shouldn’t be drinking tonight. I have bronchitis. But I’m a hick, and Alabama’s playing Arkansas. I can’t do barbecue and football without Budweiser.
“I ain’t never seen nothing like it,” Mustache says. “Y’all’re the luckiest generation, but the MOST miserable.”
Miserable. That about describes me right now. I can’t quit hacking. My wife had to sleep in the spare bedroom with a pillow over her head last night.
The man goes on, “We got hurricanes, diseases, and people dying, but all we do is fight about politics…”
While he’s jawing, I realize can’t taste my food—or my beer. My tastebuds are collecting unemployment.
Mustache says, “There’s so damn much to be grateful for, but folks walk around looking like they been drinking castor oil. You know. Hateful.”
I push my sandwich away. The mention of castor oil has ruined my evening. Mama gave me spoonfuls of the stuff to treat everything from constipation to C-minuses.
“It breaks my heart,” Mustache says. “Americans love complaining. It’s like they’re angry. REALLY angry. Don’t know what’s happening anymore, we’re falling apart from the inside out.”
I signal the bartender for my bill, but he’s too engrossed with the old man to notice.
The old timer says, “There was a time people were kind. Boys opened doors for girls, folks pulled cars over to help change strangers’ tires. If travelers needed shelter, people put them up.”
Well, those are sweet thoughts, sir. But that America disappeared along with manual stick-shifts and argyle. Flip on the news, thumb through the paper. This world hates each other.
“What do you think the solution is?” asks the bartender.
The man looks him dead in the eye. He reaches into his wallet and lays two hundred-dollar bills on the counter.
“How about this?” he says, sliding them forward. “How about I do something nice to you? Then—for no reason—you go do something sweet for someone? Dammit. Love. THAT’S how we change America.”
The kid pockets the money, smiling. The elderly man shakes my hand and hobbles out of the bar.
When he’s gone, the bartender says, “Ain’t he something else?”
He was more than that, he was beautiful.
“Beautiful?” The kid belly-laughs. “God, I’ll have to tell Daddy you called him that.”