Sweet Lou is sitting in his garage with the door open smoking a cheroot, his head enveloped in a vile cloud. "Hey John, I see you're back on the bike. Didja get caught in the rain? You know, I keep mine down at the shore. I like to ride where it's flat. Too many hills up here. Let me ask you a question -- how old are you?"
He and I have had this discussion many times before, but Sweet Lou likes to forget. It gives him the opportunity to repeat himself without embarrassment.
"Fifty-five. I'm a sapling compared to you. How old are you again?"
"I'm eighty-five this year. Hey, that makes me old enough to be your father. My daughter is fifty-four, she could be your sister." I think to myself, no way could she be my sister.
After taking off my helmet and gloves, I pat him on the shoulder and ask, "Howya doin, Pop?" This causes him to lean back and cackle. Wearing those gym shorts and that Bradley Beach tee shirt, I can see that he has shrunken considerably since last year. He spits out a little piece of tobacco and responds, "Can't complain. Any day that starts with me staring at the ceiling is a good one."
Lou's got his cronies and his daughter, his health and his pursuit of life's little pleasures. So he's right, there really is nothing for him to complain about. Just as long as you don't get him started on one of his favorite topics, like lazy politicians, or reckless teen-agers, or the effin property taxes in New Jersey, or careless drivers who talk on their cell phones.
You know how it is. It turns out that there are a lot of things to complain about, once you get to thinkin too much. You start thinkin about the Arabs, for example, and how different they are from us, and next thing you know, you're using language which should never be used when referring to human beings. I've seen Sweet Lou get himself really worked up on occasion, railing at the bankers and lawyers and insurance companies, those dirty sons of bitches, what they've done to this country. It's criminal what those bastards have done to honest hardworking people. When he gets going like that, it draws me up short, it does, because it's like looking and listening to a cartoon version of myself. Sure, I'm younger than him, but that same reflexive crankiness has begun to take root in me. I figure if I don't watch myself, I'll become a caricature too. Grouchy Gus, the badger in its hole.
I tell Lou that it's time for me to take a shower -- later I'm heading down to the city to have a drink with friends and listen to some music. He gives me that grin of his. "Have a good time. Me, I stopped goin to the city. Can't stand it anymore."