It’s never where you think it’ll be, but inspiration is everywhere. I was doing really poorly. My mother had just died, and my best friend dropped out of school two weeks before that. There were other people in my life that could comfort me, but I didn’t want that because I knew it wouldn’t work. The comfort felt fake. It felt fake the same way music always feels fake. I listen to Daniel Johnston’s song “True Love Will Find You In The End.” It’s bogus. A twenty-nine-year-old whose middle name is Dale doesn’t know the slightest thing about true love. But he sings it anyway.
It pisses me off when people talk about true love. Do people have fake love? They don’t. Americans blab on about having true love all the time, but they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. The Greeks say there’s eight different kinds of love. It’s not enough, but it makes more sense. And they’re all true. None of them are bogus. We should be like the Greeks and just study these things and eat hummus all day.
But here’s the thing. When you find yourself sitting in a dark place and thinking all the love around is fake, you don’t feel well. It’s a cloudy day every day. So, that’s how I felt.
I went out to dinner with my godfather and his daughter, Jessie. The two of them were extremely close to my mother and me, and our families had been friends since before I was born. I walked down the street to meet them, and I was thinking about The Godfather, which I had just watched for the first time. Michael Corleone bothered me that whole movie. By the end, he thought he was such a big shot. He wasn’t a big shot. He killed some people and treated his girlfriend terribly. That’s not a big shot. That’s a jerk.
My ex-best friend Simon, he’s kind of a nerd, told me the movie was based on a book. Of course it was. Every lousy movie is always based on a pathetic novel. If you’re gonna write a book, write a book. If you’re gonna make a movie, make a movie. But stop regurgitating the same story to get some lousy dollars in your bank. If you eat a tomato, eat the tomato. Don’t throw it up and make a salad with it.
Plus, the author is Mario Puzo who studied at Columbia University. If he was in the mafia, he would’ve died within a week.
So I was thinking about this garbage as I was walking to see Jessie and Uncle Al (That’s what I’d always called my godfather even though his real name was Calvin or something like that). As I was lost in my mind, I tripped and fell over into the street. Nothing made me trip, but when you’re in a sour mood, walking isn’t natural. Most people would have nervously looked around, embarrassed. But I don’t get embarrassed. It’s too funny to be embarrassing.
I turned the corner on Old Harbor Road, and I saw Uncle Al standing outside the restaurant. He was holding a deck of cards. I always play gin rummy when I’m with Uncle Al and Jessie. When he noticed me, he didn’t give me some pathetic greeting or shake my hand to test my grip. I hate when people do that. A firm handshake means nothing. If you want to test my strength then let me punch you in the face.
I wouldn’t want to punch Uncle Al. He gave me a big hug and smiled when I couldn’t see him. It was one of those embraces where you just know exactly what their face looks like. “Jessie’s running late,” he said. He looked me in the eyes. Nobody looks me in the eyes.
We walked into the place, and it smelled nice. It smelled like coffee beans, which was weird because it wasn’t a coffee shop. But it was enough to get me to order coffee. I don’t even like coffee, but the smell is so good I have to just get it sometimes. They brought it out, and Uncle Al and I talked for awhile about what we’ve been up to since the last time we talked. I told him about the time a few weeks ago when I convinced some friends to play badminton. Nobody wanted to play, but I was so enthused. We picked the worse day to play, too. It was twenty degrees Fahrenheit, but that wasn’t going to ruin anything for me. Marcus and I were up by three when Marcus decided to try a jump serve. He smashed the shuttlecock way out into a tree, and he let go of his racquet, which hurled through the air, colliding with John Orilson’s fat face. We were friends with the Orilson twins, but I wasn’t upset this happened. He fell right on his butt, and we had a good laugh. We didn’t get to finish the game though. Uncle Al told me about his brother who was in the hospital. He’s been sick for a while. He asked Uncle Al to bring him a red apple, which Uncle Al thought was strange because his brother is colorblind. But Uncle Al’s a good guy, so he didn’t ask questions. He just bought his brother a nice, ripe apple. When he entered the hospital room, he gave his brother the red apple, and his brother told him that he wanted a red apple. Uncle Al insisted that this was a red apple, but his brother kept telling him this was a green apple, and he wanted a red apple. Sometimes I wonder if any of Uncle Al’s stories are true.
Jessie walked through the door, and you could tell she was giddy with excitement. I love it when people are giddy. It’s the purest form of joy I’ve ever seen. Just thrilled to be living.
She walked on over to me with her sweet smile that’s too big for her face and gave me a big hug. This family always hugs. If I ran into Jessie on the street and she was in a rush to something important, she’d throw down her stuff and give me a big hug right in the middle of everything. There’s always time for a hug. People complain about being busy, but there’s actually time for a lot of things.
We were meeting for dinner, but no one was actually hungry, so we just ordered chips and salsa. Then I convinced them to also order guacamole. None of us were big queso fans though. It was so good to be with these two people. I was a senior in college, and I enjoyed it and had friends and all, but I really needed this. Sometimes you need things like this. I’m not sure if it was the two of them specifically that I needed, but whatever it was made me happy. God, I was happy. We talked about my mother briefly, but it didn’t make me sad. We even talked about Simon for a second. But really, we just laughed. We laughed about stories from the past, and we laughed about the lousy interaction I had with the waiter. We even laughed about how salty the chips were. I don’t know what was so funny about that.
There was one story I told that I was so excited to tell. I knew Uncle Al would die with his deep, roaring laugh, and Jessie would be laughing at every word I spoke with her massive, giddy smile. The story happened just a couple weeks ago, so it was fresh in my head. I started laughing before I even started my story. Usually I hate when people do that because it's often a sign their story is going to be awful, but this was just a laughing kind of night. The story was about how I had to pick up my dad from the airport the day my mom died. I was cruising down the highway. I always speed. I know it’s bad, but I like it too much. My radio was broken, so I was wearing headphones, which I also know is terrible, but I’ve always needed music when I drive. Silence pains me. As I drove down, a deer came out of nowhere, and I crashed right into it. Uncle Al lost it when I told him that.
“A deer?!” he yelled, salsa flying out of his mouth.
“A deer!” I yelled.
I was really animated when I was telling this story. All three of us were excited.
Jessie told me I was insane, and that this would only happen to me. She’s right.
I really laughed hard when I hit that deer. My mother was dead, but I think that just added to it all. It was so absurd. And this really would only happen to me. Bad stuff always happens to me, but I never die or anything, so they almost always make good stories.
After the impact, I pulled myself together and got out of the car to go look at the deer. I called the number of some tow truck company my dad had given me awhile back. They said they would come in three hours. Three hours. Such lousy service I get. Seconds after I hung up, my dad called me. He told me he had just landed and was waiting outside the terminal. I told him about hitting the deer, and then I was cut off as my phone died.
“This is great. This is great.” Uncle Al kept saying that.
When you’re stranded on an empty highway with a dead phone, a broken car, and a dead deer, all you can do is smile. There was panic in my smile I’m sure, but it was still a smile. I walked down the highway like a mad man until I took the first exit on the right. It’s a neat feeling taking an exit when you’re not in a car. But it was dark out, so everything was feeling spooky. I walked at least a mile until I reached a gas station, and this place gave me the creeps. I swear, there was this one lady working at the gas station and the first thing she said when I walked in was, “Hello, my dear!”
“I’ve never had someone in a gas station greet me in my entire life.”
“I know!” I said. Jessie stole my line, but at least it was said.
The strange woman threw me off, so I just smiled awkwardly then turned to look at the snacks behind me. It was just an empty aisle with not a single snack in sight. No Planters peanuts, no Juicy Fruit gum, no nothing. I turned back around, and the lady was standing right behind me.
I was so animated at this point of the story, even Uncle Al was on the edge of his seat.
“The second I turned and saw her I just went, AHHHHHHH! I screamed like my life was over, and I thought it was!”
Uncle Al was laughing so hard. That made me happy.
Then the lady screamed, which made me scream louder. God, I was scared. After I settled down and laughed anxiously, I asked her to call me a cab to the airport, and she said she would. She called me “sweet thing” instead of “dear” which made me feel better. Once I got to the airport, my dad and I just took it all the way to our house.
They both loved the story, and Uncle Al didn’t even notice the clumps of salsa all over his shirt.
The other people in the restaurant were probably embittered by the ruckus we were causing. But I didn’t think about that until later. This dinner with Uncle Al and Jessie really let me live and just be. There was no room to be mad or sad. All that was left was gratitude. It was pure joy. I think that’s all that love is, really. True or fake. It’s just joy. Finding the joy in yourself and someone else. And never looking back.
The only thing similar between Vito Corleone and Uncle Al is that they have very distinct voices. They’re not similar, but they’re both distinct. The Godfather made me think about people more than anything. You can’t let special people get away from you. People die, sure. But there are certain things you can control and other things you just can’t. The sad thing is sometimes you don’t know if you have the control or not.
Uncle Al, Jessie, and I had stayed awhile longer after I told them that story. We didn’t stop laughing. They’re good people. I say that even though I don’t really know them that well. But I still say it. Laughing and making people laugh. Sometimes I don’t know which is a better feeling, but they’re both amazing.
Actually, laughing is definitely the best.
When we stood up and walked outside, Uncle Al asked where I was headed.
“I’m meeting a friend,” I said. I was thinking about Simon. I wasn’t meeting anybody. I was going home.
As I started to walk away, I had a mixture of thoughts and feelings. I had a great time. I loved that I was able to see these people I care about. But the cloudy day I was having earlier returned. All the depressing thoughts came back to me.
But then Uncle Al called my name.
I turned around. He looked at me. He wasn’t smiling or anything corny, but he looked me in the eyes. He was standing straight. He didn’t notice it was cold outside. He made a fist with his right hand, tapped it over his heart, then held it up to the sky.
I looked him in the eyes, and I nodded. I smiled a little but not much. I turned and walked away. My sadness didn’t go away. But I felt alive.
©2019 Jake Schick