The Hobo Philosopher
Just Another Love Song
By Richard E. Noble
I was working as the dishwasher in A New England Oyster House restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. This girl named Carol kept poking her head into my little cubbyhole and saying friendly things. I was not a very friendly young man.
As the weeks went by, she casually invited me to meet next door with her and her friends for pizza and beer after work. I was never one to turn down an invitation to drink beer. It was a once a week thing and it grew to be fun. I listened to all the waitresses’ horror stories and the kitchen employees’ sarcasm. I was being indoctrinated into the restaurant underclass.
After a few months of working 100 hours a week, I was offered the assistant manager’s job. This, of course, involved a cut in pay and I had to supply my own aprons but it was a great opportunity, I was told.
Within six months I was the manager. I finessed my way into this position utilizing techniques I had learned in the old neighborhood in Lawrence, Mass. I bullied all of my coworkers and threatened to kill anybody who hampered my progress in my quest to become king of the mountain.
That’s not true. Actually I was a rather nice, quiet guy who worked like a damn fool trying to make everybody happy.
The next thing I knew I was offered a bigger job managing a much larger restaurant in North Miami Beach. I was doing well and the store was making progress. I had been in the North Miami store long enough to forget all my ties back at the Sunrise store. I was doing some work in the office when a waitress interrupted and informed me that there was a girl named Carol in the lobby asking to talk with me. I thought it was my sister. Her name was Carol and I was rooming with her at her apartment. When I got to the lobby, I was shocked to see Carol, the Sunrise store waitress, standing there. She looked very attractive. She was nervous and very tentative. I smiled.
“What can I do for you, Carol,” I said very manager-to-waitress like.
“Oh, I was just in the neighborhood and I thought that I would stop in and say hello.”
I thought this was strange. I had sat at the same table with her and her friends eating pizza and drinking beer. She was always kind to me and included me in the group chatter, but …
“How nice of you,” I said.
We stumbled on for a few more paragraphs. I could feel Carol’s awkwardness. Finally she asked, “I was just wondering if you would like to come over to my place for dinner on your next evening off?”
My mind immediately jumped to all those pre-adult, lecherous type notions. This could hardly be the case. This Carol was a sweet, shy, inhibited little thing. She couldn’t be suggesting what I was thinking. She must be having a dinner party with her friends and wanted to include me.
“Sure, I have this Wednesday night off. Is that good for you?”
“Oh yeah, that’s great,” she stammered, fumbling with her car keys. “That will be just fine. See you about seven o’clock?”
“Right, but I don’t know where you live.”
“Oh yeah, I didn’t think of that.” She scrambled through her glove compartment and found a pen and paper. She scratched her name, address and phone number onto the scrap of paper. She was very, very nervous. She nearly backed her little MG out into the traffic on Biscayne Blvd. I made her stop. I went out into the road and halted the cars to give her the opportunity to back out safely.
When I arrived at her apartment with a couple of bottles of wine and some crusty Italian bread, she expressed great enthusiasm. There was nobody else there.
“Where are your friends?” I asked.
She looked at me curiously. “My friends?” she questioned.
“Ah … this is a nice little apartment you have here.”
“It’s reasonable and it is in a safe neighborhood.”
“You live here by yourself?”
“I’m twenty-seven years old.”
“Yeah right. Sorry.”
We had baked lasagna for supper. I think all girls are born knowing how to make baked lasagna. But I loved lasagna. We ate and we drank wine and talked and talked. Well, I don’t remember the dialogue but I think that I can safely say that I talked and talked and Carol listened. That is usually my style.
We had a very nice evening. It was getting late and Carol was yawning occasionally. I struggled in my mind for a proper exit comment. She was getting tired and I was probably boring her to death. In my mind I prepared a statement. It went like this, “Well, I see you are getting tired. You probably have to be at work early tomorrow. I better get out of here and let you go to bed.”
What came out and I still can’t believe I really said it, was, “Do you want to go to bed?”
The two statements were basically the same. One was just a little shorter. I suppose there could be some misinterpretation.
Carol stared. It was a very long moment. I realized that I didn’t say exactly what I had intended to say. I tried to think of a way to clean it up before she came over and slapped me. But she smiled and said, “There’s the bed. I’ll go in the bathroom and get ready while you ready yourself out here.”
That was over thirty years ago. That statement turned out to be one of my better Freudian slips.
As the years have passed, I have queried Carol on this subject. I have gotten to know her a little better after all these years and it amazes me to think she had the nerve to make such a proposition. When I asked her how she ever found the chutzpa to show up at the North Miami Beach store and invite me over to her apartment, she said that it was something she had never done before in her life. There was just something about me that relaxed her inhibitions and gave her confidence, she told me. I found that very interesting because I hadn’t relaxed any girl’s inhibitions ever prior to that evening.
I savored that statement of Carol’s as one of my best compliments ever until one evening she gave me the topper.
We were lying in bed discussing personal self-esteem. Don’t ask me what brought this conversation up. But Carol confessed that she never had very high self-esteem. She never thought of herself as very beautiful she told me. So naturally I said that is impossible. If you had such a low self-esteem how could you ever have propositioned a manly, stud like me – come on, look at me. This body would intimidate any woman never mind the intellectual challenge and embarrassment that I present once any female gets to know me.
“That is true,” she said. “But after working with you for over a year in that first restaurant, I knew that you were the kind of man who looked at a person’s inside and not their outside.”
Oh wow! Every time I think of that I choke up. I have always considered that the greatest compliment from anybody that I have ever received. The Hallmark Card Company should pay big for that one. I can’t imagine what will top it. I suppose I could win the Nobel Peace Prize.
I don’t know if that would do it either.
Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published five books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry partly inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America, is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle.