Chapter 13 ~ A Startling Conversation at the Urinal
When Joe walked into the gas station, he saw donuts sitting next to a coffee bar. Two truck drivers were filling up thermoses at the coffee bar. They glanced at Joe. Joe nodded. They nodded back, and Joe headed for the room marked, Men’s. When Joe reached the Men’s room, he pushed the door and saw four urinals. He held his breath, the men’s room smelled as if the urinals and toilets hadn’t been cleaned in a week. He had to go, so he started breathing through his mouth and walked toward the urinals. Two of them had Out of Order signs posted on them. An old guy with a face resembling an overcooked bake potato and a shaggy hair cut that gave every appearance it was self cut without the aid of a mirror. The old guy was standing in front of the third urinal. The only empty urinal was next to the old guy. Joe noticed that the first three urinals had large full page ads on the wall advertising goods he assumed the gas station sold. The fourth urinal had an old faded poster featuring the deceased country singer Merle Haggard.
Joe walked up the to fourth urinal. The man next to him, gave a slight glance and returned his stare straight at the wall. He said, “A guy your age doesn’t have to wait for the flow. I been here five minutes and I believe I’m going to be successful. You got to be my good luck charm. You live around here or traveling through?”
All Joe wanted to do was empty his bladder, but he didn’t want to be impolite. He said, “Passing through.”
The old guy glanced over and said, “I know you from somewhere. I won’t forget.”
I don’t think so. I’ve never been here,” said Joe.
The old guy said, “I’m retired. I can stand here all day if I have to. It’s not boring, guys like you come and go. I get to ask them where they’re going. Where’re you headed?”
Joe rolled his eyes up at the poster, and was eyeball to eyeball with Merle Haggard. Joe said, “Quincy, Illinois.”
“I know where that is, it’s on the Mississippi River. You ever swim in the Mississippi?” asked the old guy.
Joe only wanted to finish up and get on the road. Stopping here was a mistake. He said,
“I’ve flown over it, I never swam in it.” Joe finished and zipped up his pants and turned toward the sinks.
“Too bad. Only real men can handle it. I remember when I was your age, I was working on a barge and jumped in and swam to shore. Know why I did it? My buddy bet me a buck I didn’t dare do it. Hell, they never stopped to get me and I never got my buck. I didn’t get my pay either. It’s coming.”
The old guy said, “I seen you staring at the poster. I met him. Shook his hand.”
Joe said, “Merle Haggard?”
“Don’t bother me, son. I’m flowing and when your flowing you’re knowing.”
Joe walked away from the urinal to the sinks and began washing his hands.
The old guy came up and stood at the next sink. He said, “I stand in front of the urinal for ten minutes to go for ten seconds.”
Joe half smiled and nodded and reached for a paper towel.
“Nope. It wasn’t Merle. If it was, I’d never wash my hand. It was the leader of the Flamingos. I got to shake the group leader’s hand. He’s a lying son of bitch.”
Joe turned and looked at the old guy and said, “Joe and the Flamingos?”
“I don’t know his last name. I think the guys last name was Flamingo. He named the group after himself, Joe and the Flamingos.”
Joe said, “Can I buy you a coffee and a donut? I’d like to hear your story.”
The old guy looked at Joe in mirror and stared at him for a moment, then nodded.