[With apologies to Doyle]
[Note: Yeah, I changed the title. I just couldn’t get it out of my head.]
I’ve been coming here to Smokey for a few years. Up until about a year ago it was maybe a couple times a month, to sit with a friend from work and smoke a stick or two, maybe do some reading. Sometimes I’d bring my laptop and write.
Last August I started coming here with my laptop consistently, a couple/few days a week.
I’d mentioned here the day back in February that Ed invited me to join them for Bible study and I started hanging out with them, developing meaningful friendships at a rate pretty alarming to my head.
Since then it’s become a far more frequent haunt for me even than Johnathan’s (though in fairness I can blame a lot of that on the summer weather. But not all of it.)
After those first couple months it went from “just heading to my high top and setting up” if I was coming here to write, to “the head nod of acknowledgement” to “hey happy Tuesday” and then to just sitting down with whoever (whom?) was around and bullshitting for a couple hours, people coming and going as they will, sitting wherever there was a free chair.
The mechanics of Thursday night Bible study is interesting. We sit and are “at it” from 4 to 6. Then at 6, we close out somewhat formally, then the bottle and glasses come out. We sit in the back, talk shit, smoke cigars, and drink whiskey, bourbon, rye, and rum (sometimes some amazing authentic West Virgina moonshine) until they close at 10. Hell, sometimes we’ll even sit at his one table outside after close. People come and go and it’s just a really good time.
One day it was just four or five of us and a guy came in and sat by himself. He sat a couch, leaned on his knees and stared at his glass of whatever, puffing occasionally on his cigar. It just kept bugging me. I’d lean back and peek at him, sitting there unmoving.
And I couldn’t shake the thought when it finally bubbled up to my consciousness: “What would Eddie do?”
“Hey man!” He looked up. “Hate to see you sitting there by yourself. Come on over. We’ve got a couple chairs.”
“Oh naw man, thanks though. I’m good.” I read it as politeness.
“It’s all good man. Feel free to join us.” He paused a bit.
“Hell yeah.” And by this time a couple of the other guys poked their heads up from the conversation and nodded, waving him over.
“Cool, man. Thanks. Yeah.” And he came over and sat down next to me.
Everyone introduced themself and we just got into some arbitrarily deep conversation about who the hell knows what. Well it wasn’t more than 15 minutes before someone (it MIGHT have been me) said “Yeah we have a bible study here 4-6 on Thursdays then we just hang out.”
He lit UP. Well, one thing led to another and he started coming, somewhat sporadically as his work schedule allowed. I tossed a line about being glad I wasn’t The New Guy anymore.
The first night he sat down and somewhat sheepishly said he’d just listen and wasn’t going to talk much. Well…y’all can guess how THAT ended up going I can tell. My readers aren’t morons.
Dude had something to SAY. And it’s something worth hearing.
He’s become one of the group.
That scenario has repeated itself maybe half a dozen times in a bit fewer months.
And there are a couple guys who see me sitting here who are always coming and going. We’ll not speak a word for months past a smile and a wave, eventually graduating to a “yo, sup man?”
We were getting set up for study a few weeks ago and there was one such guy sitting at a couch and we started settling in chairs around him figuring that he looked like he was closing up. Well someone said what we were doing and he perked up and joined us.
He came by as I was writing, a couple paragraphs up and asked what it was I was doing here all the time “working away at your computer.” And so I talked about the blogging and how I’m working at distilling it all down into a book.
We chatted for a few minutes and he went away only to come back about 15 minutes later to recommend a book he’d just finished reading that was just a simple memoir. Nothing fancy and maybe I’d be interested. I looked it up online (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08TRVDXD7/) and figured, eh, at $9 it was a no brainer, especially for a hardcover. Hell I’ve smoked cigars I’ve not liked for double that price and not minded.
So maybe I’ll learn something that works that may give me some guidance, or at least be funny.
But it’s not just those guys. It’s everybody in the place. There’s a clutch of regulars who kinda roll their eyes at the fact that there’s a bible study in the back. But nobody much minds that. It’s how the world rolls.
Those two hours of the week aside, there aren’t really multiple discrete groups of people. It’s just a morass of guys just kicking back and sharing some life. Some come to work. Some come as their “escape from reality” to quote one of the guys here every day.
Yesterday I was here a couple hours with a couple of the guys and they split to go back to their days and I just moved my chair over to talk with a different group, and said “Gonna move up here and hang out with the cool kids if that’s alright.”
“When are they getting here?” Keith said.
“No idea but I figure this is a good place to wait.” We had the chuckle of a shared joke and I stayed for another cigar talking with a bunch of guys I hadn’t said more than two words to before about all kinds of nonsense. Some great storytellers in that group, a couple friendly arguments.
And yeah, there are a couple eye-rollers and a couple eye-rollees as well. That’s fine. You know, people and all.
It’s really quite different from regulars at a bar. Those relationships tend to be very flighty, cursory. A part of that is because there’s always so much else going on. It’s tough to have a real conversation with a couple fellow knuckleheads when some smokeshow walks by turning everyone into a group of gibbering idiots or everyone’s distracted by some fucking sportsball bullshit. Which is interesting because I’ve been a “bar regular” for 30 years or so. I didn’t realize what the difference was.
It’s a pretty amazing place and it’s humbling and such a…promotion to my life to be a part of it, when I’d been such a conspicuous outsider for so long.
I just try to pay it forward, be An Interesting Person and earn the place I’ve been granted.
I’ve never had this. I’ve never had anything like this.
And while “going here” kinda makes my skin crawl, I can’t close without the truth of it all. It all maps back to one day in February when someone came over to my table and invited me to join them.
So yeah man, Thanks Ed. You too.