It's hump day and I'm sitting on the camel's back. July 4th is coming up for a long weekend. I might go to the big barbeque with my sister's family about an hour away from me in Vallejo. But if I go, I face the interrogation.
"Henry," my sister always says in that annoying authoritative way that older sisters have, convinced that she knows how to live my life better than I do. Sometimes I think she's right, but I'd never in a million years give her satisfaction of saying so. "Why don't you get married? You're getting too old to be living on your own. A person needs company." She and her husband look up at each other, their eyes meeting over their salad bowls. They've been married for more than 20 years and actually like each other.
Cindy's a former programmer who's now a librarian in the local school district and Ron worked his way up from a grocery clerk to becoming the manager of a chain of small specialty grocery stores.
"I have to meet somebody first," I hedge, something which I think should be obvious to most people. But Cindy isn't most people. She sits up straight in her chair, and focuses her green eyes right where she knows I can't hide. "What about that woman you met online that you were telling me about?"
I should've never said a thing. "What about her?" I say, and stuff a large piece of lettuce into my mouth. Between cholesterol and high blood pressure, we don't eat much meat anymore.
"We went out for coffee."
"That's it? For coffee?"
"I had a regular and she had a soy latte. I knew right away that it wouldn't work."
"How can you say that?" She looks at Ron for spousal support.
Ron ducks back down in the salad. I owe him a game of Gin Rummy. "Don't get me involved," he says. "I know how the two of you can be."
So I tell Cindy that we drank coffee, talked for an hour, and then decided to leave. She worked at the university in the Graduate School of Business Administration and wasn't my type. I'm sure I wasn't hers. Gucci bag, red nails, blonde streaked brown hair with two college degrees. She told me about her divorce and kayaking. Kayaks on the estuary every weekend and documents different kinds of birds, part of a wetland restoration program. Cindy ohhs and ahhs, and thinks that's really cool. Maybe I'd like to come along some time, blah, blah, blah. What was I going to say? Tell her I don't go yakking on the very first date? Seriously, she just didn't stop talking, overly nervous. I close down when I'm nervous. Cindy thinks I should give it a try, call up the yakker. I think Cindy is full of shit.
I think I'm a late bloomer, or maybe I bloomed too early. I don't know anymore. Never got married because I was too busy figuring things out. Now I'm not too sure what I figured. All I know is that things are the way they are, so why change them? I've got a job, a pension which not a lot of people can say these days. Cindy also thinks I'm full of shit. So now we're even.
It's time for me to go back to my apartment. I wish I had more friends.
Danila is my friend. We've been working next to each other for the last year. He offers me a can of Coke. "Yeah, thanks man." I pop the top and take a swig, glad to have something in my stomach. We work the same shift starting at 4:30pm. Danila came over to this country three years ago from Romania and has a degree in electrical engineering but can't get a job in his field because he doesn't have the right degrees. He's happy to work the swing shift and do electrical jobs on the weekend for some contractor friend.
"You want chips?" he pushes a bag toward me. Cheetos. I like anything with cheese.
"Thanks, man. I owe you."
"Nothing," says Danila who wears a watch embedded with dark red stones. He says they're garnets. He says he got it in Romania many years ago. "A few more hours," he says. It's been slow tonight."
I hate it when it's slow. Better when there are accidents, or when the drivers call in about some problem on their route. That way, the shift doesn't just drag. I'm sitting here monitoring screen displays. I surf the Internet whenever I can. The company has pornography sites blocked. Too bad. Not that I'd expect anything different. "Greg says that we may have to work a double-shift tomorrow night because one of the regular guys are out sick."
"No can do, man. I need to bring my car in to the shop tomorrow." I really know that Danila has a special evening planned for his wife's birthday."
"No sweat," I say. "I can do it."
"Say. What are you doing for the July 4th weekend? Want to come by and cook up a few sausages?" Danila wasn't a big man on the barbeque, but he liked sausages, special ones that he ordered from somewhere back east.
"Thanks, man. I don't think so."
"You got plans?"
"Yeah," I say. "My sister's invited me over."