Old Man and Oysters
By Richard E. Noble
An old man came walking into the restaurant. I had to look twice. This old man had grown old right before my eyes. A lot of this type thing has been going around in my world lately. Little girls who I just last saw scrambling around on a floor were now mothers themselves; teenagers I once knew somehow became school teachers and policemen; my one time paperboy is now a marine colonel and this old man was once a middle aged man I knew. He had a bulldozer and a dump truck when last I saw him. He cleared my lot as a matter of fact. But there he was sitting over in a corner of this restaurant with his ball cap on, reading the menu.
I gave him a look and a big smile when he came in but he didn’t recognize me - it had been a long time. I kept looking over at the old timer because I was still somewhat shocked. I could look at his face and remember just how he looked thirty years ago. He was basically the same today - his cheeks a little hollowed, his step more tentative, his gaze slightly glassy - but basically the same guy. He had that same big smile and that constantly bemused look. I had absolutely no doubt as to who he was. He took off his ball cap and placed it on the table - and I suddenly realized why he always were a baseball cap.
When the waitress came over he joked and laughed and put in his order. The special for the day in this little seafood community that has been my home for so many years was raw oysters on the half shell. Oysters have been caught right out in the bay in this area for decades - maybe even a century or so.
My wife and I were there for the oysters. We had already downed four dozen and we were now sitting back and sloshing down the last of our draft beer.
As I glanced over every now and then to check on my old neighbor, I noticed that he had gotten the raw oysters also - and he was having the same trouble that we were having. For some reason the oyster shucker had not cut the oysters away from the bottom shell. That’s not a major catastrophe but it is a little annoying to have to be scrapping the oysters out of the shell. And, although one might expect something like this in New York, one didn’t expect it in this little oystering community - where everybody knew better.
The old man struggled with the raw oysters attempting to scrape them away from the shell with his tiny fork. I could see that he was getting a little annoyed. That seems to happen more and more often to “older folks”. He began looking around for the waitress as he played around with his oysters. But she was busy. The place was packed and she was running all over the place. Finally, seeing that the oysters were being shucked no more than five steps away from his table - at the little raw bar - he rose from his seat picked up his straw basket lined with deli paper and headed for the raw bar.
I could see that he had developed a little case of the “shakes”. His straw basket was giggling in his hand like a Spanish maraca. He walked straight ahead concentrating on his goal and trying to catch the oyster shucker’s eye - not noticing that juice and water from in his basket was sloshing out of his straw tray all over the place - most heavily down the front of his nicely pressed tan trousers. He was spilling so much water over himself that I almost jumped up from my seat to run and help. My wife saw my agitation and she turned to take a look. She watched as he continued drenching himself all the way over to the raw bar. We both looked at each other and smiled.
As teenagers we probably would have witnessed this event and giggled and snickered but now, being just a few years behind my good neighbor, a sadness comes along with the slight amusement. It is really sad but, like a couple of insensitive kids, one has to laugh.
After he got his oysters cut away from the bottom shell, laughing and chatting all the while, he turned and headed back to his seat. I forced my wife to turn around and watch. It was the same on the way back to his table as it was on the way over - if not worse. The poor old boy was soaked.
When he sat down at his table he gathered up a fresh napkin and proceeded to spread it out onto his lap. Of course when he looked down at his lap he was completely shocked. How had his lap become soaked with water? He stared down at his pants and my wife and I could just hear the gears moving. “My god, what did I do ... piss my pants? I didn’t feel anything. There must be something wrong here.” Suddenly he looked up to the ceiling. That must be it. The damn ceiling leaks.
The ceiling was one of those warehouse type deals. All the rafters and pipes were left visible for the effect. When my old buddy saw the big round pipes running across the rafters, he had a revelation. One of them damn pipes up there must be leaking. When the waitress came to his table we watched the silent movie.
The old man says something. They both look down at his lap. The poor waitress is horror struck. She grabs up some napkins and starts scrubbing at the poor old man’s crotch. The old man’s face turns red - then the waitress’ face follows. The old man wards her off. He says something and then they both gaze up at the ceiling and stare at the giant cream colored pipes running across the rafters. The man continues to talk as the waitress shakes her head and shrugs her shoulders. My wife and I now had our napkins up over our faces trying to disguise our laughter.
But I must say we weren’t laughing at the poor old cougar; we were laughing with him or at ourselves - because without doubt in a very few years even with the grace of God there we are. And one day Sonny, if you’re lucky enough, even you.
Idaho Penitentiary Hospital
2 weeks ago