November 05, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Conviviality

By May B. Yesno © 2008

Cold. Always cold. The ponds and lakes were ice. Literally. Then what would you expect in November in the Great White North.

Lonesome. Always lonesome. Another season of holidays without. Without special company. Without just everyday friends around.

Then the phone rings. "Yeah," I say, "What you want?"

The voice crackles and chatters. The sum and substance of the call is an invite to play with resistors and transistors and bread boards, hot solder and imagination. One of the customers wanted company. His wife was off chasing her particular dreams of sustenance some six hundred miles away across two mountain ranges, and she, for sure, wasn't joining this dude. Not where we were. Not away from the warmth and glitter that existed where she was hanging.

I don't remember all the circuits we built that day, or whether we accomplished our goals. We talked about most everything under the sun, sipping beer and being. From time to time one of the co-workers would drift around and talk got long.

Long enough, in fact, that the boss man came around.

You can talk about being lonesome all you want; about not having family or intimate friends and being a hundred miles from nowhere and all of that, but there is one fellow that has the lonelys more than most. In the course of events where you're all in the same boat like that, personal like, it's the man that hires and fires and appoints the work schedule that's the most lonesome. Especially, I guess you could say, when he's single and lives next door to a worker bee in a duplex, and the snow is six feet deep and the wind is blowing thirty miles per hour.

The boss man even took vacations by himself. He'd hire a float plane, have it land him some place on a river picked at random from the map, and schedule a pick-up two weeks hence. I have a picture somewhere a pilot took of the boss man's camp from the air. I noticed a small round ring in that picture, set on the ground over by a bush and asked the boss man what that was. He bummed around in the closet of his place and pulled this thing out. It was a hollow ring, with padded edges, with five little legs about eight inches long with rubber tips on them. When he offered it to me he said he didn't like to get his pants cuffs dirty.

It took a minute for the suggestion to sink in, and I declined to handle the item for examination, though I did ask, "Why pink?" He laughed.

You get men that are used to lonesome together; the talk eventually gets around to food. I suppose there's some things more important than women (which brings to mind an old joke about how there's two things about them. Ninety percent of the time you're out of work and broke, and the other ten percent you're in the hole.) Anyhow, the talk about food isn't always about the eating, but the ingredients and time to cook. Usually there's some give and take as to seasonings and various combinations of stuffs making up the same named dish.

This particular day I've been talking about, when the boss man came over, he asked me in passing if I'd had the traditional stew. I denied I had, which was only true being somewhat put off by the very name. I'm not all that prudish, but I'd gotten in trouble a time or two using that word. Seems some get downright offended by it. Anyway, like I said, he asked in passing and the talk drifted to camping and motivations for doing that when most of our living was done in almost like conditions. Boss man eventually went on home, and my friend and I carried on with a dart game or so.

My friend usually waxed my rear at the game, me thinking all along I was a pretty good player, what with having learned to shoot darts in England and all. I attribute his reach to what beat me. He stood about six and a half feet high, with arms half again as long as mine. Meant he got closer to the board about every shoot too, because he had a habit of leaning over toward the board. Or so I think that explains it.

In there someplace, between my friend getting a phone call from his wife and me ranting about the dart gods forsaking their favored child, the boss man poked his head in the door and announced that he was cooking Thanksgiving dinner-- details later-- and he pulled his head back like a turtle. We all waved at him and carried on.

I didn't give it a thought over the days following, just skunked along doing what needed to be done. I had no way of knowing that the boss man's announcement had created a mild wave within our group. I was the odd man, being of a different skill set and only contracted to these guys-- though we all depended on one another to do the job-- which was the boss man's thing you see. He was a company man through and through.

Well, Thanksgiving came and my buddy came by with a ride. I gave thanks as it was a three mile hike for me if he hadn't. When we got to his place I found the other co-workers and their families there, everyone already doing the prep work of setting up tables and things. One of the women told me to go give the boss man a hand with the cooking. She said that with a mild secretive smile on her mug, so I was prepared for most anything.

The boss man had three pans of stuff steaming and bubbling while he was wrist deep in two or three piles of material. The knife he was wielding made a click, thumping to beat all get out. There wasn't a lot of bloody meat. Most of it was gray or just red. Anyhow, he stopped singing to himself long enough to tell me to get lost--he didn't need any help, he was doing fine.

The short of it was, dinner was finally served. Grace was said, beer was hoisted, friends present and absent were saluted, the overseer of the universe was requested to monitor the economy and the food was passed.


That's it. Just soup.

Not a word was spoken. Everyone was quiet as a mouse. I got all the side glances. Every time I looked up, no one so much as glanced at me.

I picked up my spoon and nine people stopped moving. Uh huh! The old mind freed up and pages in the data banks flipped by. I knew some collection of . . . ah, I had a guess. Act on it, don't act on it? So, calm and cool as my sweaty brow would allow, I dipped a spoonful, rolled it around in my mouth, paused, did it again and exclaimed.

"Son of a gun."

And the entire table breathed again. Boss man said, "No. Son of a bitch. It's Son of a Bitch Stew. That's what you're supposed to call it.”

Well, things went on for some while after that. A bit drunk here, a bit of serious conversation there. Finally it ended. I thanked all and set out for my place, thinking during the walk. I concluded that was a great bunch and I was happy to be associated with them.

But I hated that stew. A lot.

May B. Yesno is a writer from Fresno, CA.

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