“Mr. Lion, Mr. Lion!” says the monkey. “If you’re the king of the jungle, why is it you’re down there and I’m up here?”
-Joel, at South Station
Editor’s Note: Read while listening to Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.
Too much caffeine; too little sleep. South Station in Boston, just coming back from the New Hampshire primaries. Nice guy, name of Joel. Don’t know his story, but he likes a good joke. We got to talking.
Joel was worried about me; saw me dozing off at the table, falling asleep over my food. He figured it looked to him I might be having heart trouble, ’cause he has heart trouble. Neither one of us us supposed to have alcohol these days. I’ve cut it out entirely for the moment; he’s decided to cut back on all his other habits, but he’s decided to specialize; he’s doing vodka only these days. I guess you do what you’re good at.
He told me about doing drugs on the road in Texas. He’d go about getting money — “Step up! Step up!”, he said — and take it straight to where he knew he could score something. He remembers the heat the most, stepping up onto the highway and just basking in the sun, ninety-eight degrees. He doesn’t do drugs any more, though. Figures it’s bad for him.
Joel tells me a joke, but he’s forgotten how it goes. It’s a good joke, though, and I laughed along with him. There’s pigeons walking around in here, and I opine they might be good eating. He just looks at me, a little shocked I think. Which is impressive; my guess is Joel’s seen about all there is to see and then some.
To take his mind off it, I tell him the story about going fishing without any bait on my hook. He’s never heard it, or if he has he’s forgotten, so I take my time and tell it right. This one time, I say, I was sitting under a tree just enjoying the day, the butt of my fishing pole just stuck in the ground beside me. And I was so out of it, and the day so restful, not only had I left off the bait but the hook wasn’t even in the water. I just stared off and enjoyed the day.
Feller came up to me shaking his head; he’d been watching a while. Looked like a preacher; ‘course, I couldn’t tell. But he looked some disgusted; look on his face was indescribable. “Well, if that isn’t the laziest thing I ever saw!” he says.
Well, there wasn’t anything in that for me so I didn’t say nothing. Just cocked an eye at him to be sociable. He just fumed, looking at my pole where I couldn’t feel the fish, the hook all bare of bait, and out of the water at that. “I’d give a good clean dollar to see anything lazier than that!” he says, I guess to get a rise out of me.
“Just roll me over and stick that dollar in my wallet,” I said.
Joel laughed; he enjoyed that one. And we talked a while about fishing without bait there in the station. Might be we’d hook a bird. Nothing else to catch.
Except that’s not quite true; he hooked me for eighty-five cents before he left. He’d only asked out of habit and was embarrassed to take it, but I figure it was honest pay for honest work. Man kept me awake long enough for me to make my train.