Guests of Honor

The old guy is back in the coffee shop this morning.

Maybe you remember him — the one who had the big bandage on his head a few weeks ago?

Only there’s no bandage on his head any more.

I’m not sure what that says about a guy’s holiday season, but I’m calling it a victory.

His buddy, however — a fellow old guy (they both are deep into their 70s, if not already into their 80s) — has got his right ear heavily wrapped in a bandage.

I’m not sure what these guys do outside the coffee shop, but I’d like to tag along for a day. For about four months now, one of them has been sporting a bandage of some sort.

The first guy is the one who always walks into the coffee shop as if it’s Carnegie Hall.

Young, old, male, female — he’s not picky as he scans the shop, looking for a captive audience. If he can’t lock eyes with anybody, he simply says things out loud, to nobody in particular — but to everybody in particular. That thick Southern drawl of his may as well be a crown perched atop his head.

So today, he walks in, stops, and looks around …

“Dontchy’all worry, ah’ll only be heah a second,” he says, with most of the coffee shop looking up from their phones, books, or conversations. “We’re jes’ trainin’ a new village idiot across the street, so thays given me the hour off!”

This is a man who knows what he’s doing.

One time, he came up to my table and asked if I was using the empty chair.

Me: “No. But it’s gonna cost you 3 bucks to borrow it.”

Him (instantly): <even leaning in, for effect> “Y’all take fresh fruits and vegetables, by chance?”

He even nudged me in the ribs with an elbow.

I haven’t heard that fresh-fruits-and-vegetables line since it came out of my old man’s mouth about 25 years ago, before he himself passed on to that Quirky Old Dude Club in the sky.

So I knew this old guy to be a real pro. And I knew the chuckles he got on the Village Idiot line were his drug of choice.

Within about five steps of leaving my table, he stops rather dramatically at a table with two ladies chatting.

He looks at one of them, then looks at the other. They stop talking and look up at him. He leans in to one of them, resting a hand on her shoulder, then extends his other hand toward the other lady.

He’s not heard a single word of their conversation, but that fact doesn’t get between him and his next funny.

“Hey’all,” he says, shaking his head in feigned disappointment. “Y’all just gonna believe all that stuff she’s telling you?”

They laugh.

“I mean, some people!” he adds, backing away from the table.

And then he’s back to scanning the room, resuming his path toward the counter, crossing that stage of his.

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