Beer Tubes at the Steak HouseSeptember 13th, 2009
by David Breithaupt
At 11:30 each morning, John the stroke victim delivers the mail to our office. I hear him before he appears, hobbling down the hall like a peg-legged pirate, tilting, rhythmic, yet inching forward, accumulting feet and yards until at last he is in our office doorway.
Some people have coffee or smoke breaks, I have John. He is a mile post in my day. I know he will spend the next half hour struggling to tell me what he did yesterday or what he will do today. He lives in a realm of scaled down choices - lunch, movies or libraries. Everyday I tell him I might just leave and join him and everyday he shakes his head and grunts in acceptance, “come!”John’s mind is sharp. His delivery system to the outside world is fractured. He offers answers to questions with both a yes and a no which often slows our conversational progress. In moments of desperation he reverts to his pocket note pad. His wayward scrawls, resembling worm tracks across some rain moist mud, seldom provide any clues. Whatever he might be trying to convey, I’m always thinking in the back of my mind, did I take my baby aspirin this morning?
One morning John was trying to tell us a story it took my co-workers close to an hour to piece together, for all he could utter were the words “beer tubes” and “quaker.” This was an unlikely combo for any scenario. Our probes for more information were met with his halting yes-no yes-no’s which of course, got us nowhere. Finally, we edged the word “steak” out of him. Thank God there was someone down the hall who joined our deciphering ranks and knew of a restaurant south of us called the Quaker Steak House. And damned if they didn’t sell beer tubes to boot! Why John wanted to tell us about beer tubes bought from a steak house we will never know but at least we had a story line. We were satisfied with that.
I wish I had known John in his pre-stroke existence. Years ago, after his first wife died, he worked out his grief by walking the Appalachian trail and writing out his pain in dispatches for the local paper. Who does that anymore? Not many. It’s much easier to watch TV, feel sorry for yourself and drink whiskey (which hey, doesn’t sound that bad). John is a man of the world, a traveller, reader and writer, family man and sports fan. And of course, raconteur.
John forces me to ask the question, what if I had a stroke? Would I give up and veg? Would I fight? I’ve been in a few do or die situations in my life and I don’t know if I have it in me for anymore. I don’t know if any of us do until we come to that point on our map. It’s always a surprise.
I think there would be a cosmic disorder in my life if John were to suddenly disappear. I need to know he’s out there, inching along, performing his routine, not taking life’s bitch slaps sitting down. Like the armless kid I see down town everyday sitting by the Rife Center bobbing to his own inner beat rain or shiine or even the guy in my alley who combs through the trash for metallic scrap, they are out there, not giving up. Humming along.
And here I am having it so easy, numbed only by the predictable monotony of each day. But I should shut up and enjoy it while I can. Because as you know, tomorrow’s another day and who knows what hot mess that will bring? I always look forward to it.