The unplanned lunch.

Hello and welcome, reader.

As always, it’s my pleasure to receive your online attention.

For here in these rural parts I call home, the wheel turns, and the hamsters run, much as they do wherever you might find yourself on this luckiest of rocky blue marbles. As nowadays, global trade has turned these postmodern times into a near homogenous parade of pointless sight and sound for all but the most isolated of us.

To some, my claiming luck is enough to provoke a sneer, if not an argument. But as the death of optimism was reported everywhere, I won’t bother repeating the news here.

Anyway, the glass remains at least half full, to me.

That’s despite the empty promises of collectivism now sweeping the globe, by the way. Made possible thanks to the greatest evil to confront the twenty-first century so far, social media. I call it Fascism 2.0, for short. It’s the same old script, distract people with enough bullshit so the wildest lies start looking like the truth.

Of course, the sweetest irony, for me, is the widespread refusal to learn from even the most recent of our shared history. In fact, based on the current rush to embrace autocracy and collectivism, one might think the twentieth century didn’t happen. If that’s not funny, I don’t know what could be.

But these are sensitive times, with facts believed little more than inconvenient, by those with a political agenda. Though few, if any, will admit either that, or that they have one, without a fight.

What else could such absurd and lemming-like behavior be, aside from hilarious?

I know only this. It’s easy to be distracted by one’s perception of what’s happening. And that makes it simple to lose sight of not only where one is, but where one wants to go.

But rather than argue about it, this month I’m sharing a story that better illustrates my point. Like all stories, this one may or may not be true. However, being fact or fiction will make no difference to your enjoyment of it.

So, away we go.

When still a young man myself, I got to know a handsome young writer who claimed to want to write more than anything else. He had the gift of gab and told me he was consumed by a desire to write great works of art. And so, wherever he went, and whenever I saw him, he carried a pencil and notepad in some pocket of the tweed blazer he most often wore.

He made a point of being seen at cafes, nightclubs, and parties, too, scribbling in the notepad. For much like today’s cohort, the young writer struggled with the weight of expectations. These included his own and what he imagined as his fellows, along with those of his vocation. Unknown to him then, as it is to many now, the world cared nothing for his wants, and these devilish concerns lived only in his mind.

I was a young drunkard at the time, and still learning the trade. I first made acquaintance with the handsome young writer at a local watering hole. Like myself, he enjoyed a drink, and, once again, like me, perhaps a little too much for his own good. Anyway, I took scant notice, then, as we met only when one or both of us was on a party.

One hungover morning, after sharing a binge or two, he asked me to read something he wrote, and I did. Because he didn’t ask for it, I offered him no criticism. From then on, when on a bender together, he would give me more of his stuff to read.

Just as with all who claim ‘writer’ as either vocation or profession, what he wrote was most often bad, sprinkled with some good. His work also left little doubt he was quite a talented writer. And though I thought him a great competitor, our friendship carried on through the formative years of my early twenties.

Life and circumstance being what they are, the handsome young writer and I went separate ways in pursuit of individual goals. For the next several decades, we remained out of touch, and, in fact, as unknown to one another as though we had never met.

But, as all those who have done enough of it know, the world is smallest to those who travel. So, it was no surprise, to me, when the once young writer and I again met when each of us passed through another of the world’s countless crossroads.

He sat at a table in the window of a restaurant overlooking a busy downtown city street, speaking to a server. Even from a distance, and despite the passing of many years, his striking good looks stood out. I was on my way to the same place and noticed him from across the way as I waited for the light to change.

It was a thrill to see the no longer young writer, and I hoped he would be as happy as I to renew our friendship.

After walking in, I told the hostess I was meeting a friend, and strode up to stand before the fellow’s table. Upon arrival, I spoke out at once.

“Howdy stranger,” I said, “long time no see.”

As I was speaking, he lowered the book from which he read and placed it with care in his lap. For a moment, I feared he didn’t know me. Then he raised a single eyebrow and grinned up at me as he made his reply. I didn’t have time to notice the book’s title before he spoke.

“By god,” he said, “fancy meeting you here, you pirate!”

He stood, and placing his book on the chair, embraced me. A moment later, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, and he invited me to sit and join him. Of course, I accepted without hesitation, because we at once had picked up where we left off thirty-five years or more ago, as birds of a feather with a long way yet to go.

Though neither of us, I thought, knew what had become of the other in the meantime.

For the next hour, we caught up. As it turned out, he was eating lunch before catching a flight to his home on the east coast, at the end of a business trip. Meanwhile, after visiting family to the south, I was passing through on the drive north to my small town home on the high prairie.

Our meeting was as pure an example of coincidence as anything I’ve known.

Even by then, both of us were grandfathers. For each of us, life had been full, too. While the years had treated him with kindness, the once young writer was now a grey-haired executive, pushing software for Big Tech. Like many of our cohort, he long ago left for the better-paying pastures of our southern neighbors and turned his degree into dollars. Though, despite the abundant greenbacks, he told me it took years to pay off his school debt at home.

From our smartphones, we shared countless family photos, and soon learned we had each been equally blessed. Though our paths had no doubt taken different directions.

Somehow, the hour of our unplanned lunch slipped away, and too fast, besides. Soon, it was time for us to part. To me, given our circumstances, it looked sure that we should never again meet.

Then, for just a moment, nostalgia threatened to overtake me and ruin the great blessing of seeing my once good friend. With a quick shake of my head, I returned to the moment and smiled at the no longer young writer, who was making a request.

I will admit he caught me by surprise.

“Before I go,” he said, “and knowing I might not see you again, I’d like to ask a favor.”

I was surprised and may even have raised my eyebrows before answering him.

“Well, let’s hope our paths cross again, somewhere,” I said, “and whatever can I do for you?”

He picked up the book on the chair next to him and handed it to me before speaking.

“Well,” he said, “I’d appreciate it if you could autograph my copy of your latest novel.”

Like I often am at such rare moments, I was flustered by his request. But I did as he asked, and he looked pleased when reading the inscription after I was through. A few minutes later, we parted. He in a cab headed east to the airport, me in a van driving north to the highway. As far as I know, we’ve not seen each other since.

Now, I think it important to say he was dressed in style. In a word, he looked great. But, because clothes make the man, though neither of us mentioned it, the wealth gap between us was made plain in what we each wore. By my crude accounting, I thought he must earn my annual income in less than a week. In contrast, mine wouldn’t be enough to pay his yearly green fees.

But he was gracious about it and picked up the tab for lunch without a word.

While driving home that day, what passes for insight here came upon me. At one time, both the once young writer and I were distracted by what we perceived as life’s major concerns. And so, we made things beyond our control more important than reaching for what looked to be simpler dreams. Only much later, after discovering the pitfalls of peer pressure and collective thinking, did either of us find an individual path to the life he most wanted.

To each of us, the demands of the nameless herd proved not only false, but dangerous. Just as ignorance of history means, today’s youth are as distracted from reality by events beyond their control as were those in the last century. While, as usual, the gulf between have and have-not increases. For only the status quo is served by ignorance.

Sadly, I haven’t seen or heard from the no longer young writer since that impromptu lunch date. But I hope he liked the novel, just the same.

Now, I’m not sure if my story’s use of metaphor is clear enough for everyone to appreciate. Likewise, its balance of symbol and motif might not be elegant enough for some readers. While its attempts at humor, meanwhile, may prove too crude for others.

I don’t care about any of that.

All that matters to me is you getting what I’m trying to say. Because I’m not speaking to anyone but you, reader. And what’s most likely is, we’ll never meet.

That’s just how it should be, too. After all, I’m a writer, and my job is sharing our story. Not just with you, but for you, as well.

As ever, thanks for being here, and for sharing this with anyone you think might like to read it.


May 11, 2024

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