Down at Bottom of the Bay, I enjoy my usual: a basket of fish and chips with a cool Budweiser. The beer is so cold and delicious that I decide to stop by the store on the way to the motel. I pick up a sixer of Rolling Rock and an $8 Partagas. What the hell, you only live once. As I mount the stairs towards my room on the second story, I see an older gentleman drinking miller lite and smoking a cigarette while leaning against the balcony. I decide that, instead of lifting weights like I should, I shall enjoy a Rolling Rock and light up my Partagas. After being consumed in my own thoughts outside of my room for about five minutes, I walk ten steps towards the man.
“Hi, I figured since we were both out here, I might as well come over and talk. How are you tonight, sir?”
“Oh, I’m alright.”
“What brings you out here?”
“Just been working, ready to get out of here. I’ve been here for four months now, it was only supposed to be three.” The man eyes my stogie and rolling rock, almost distrustfully. After a bit of conversation, I deduce that he is out here for work, being with some sort of storage company. A boom box plays from within his room. The door is open, allowing the notes to flow from inside to out. The man has an abundance of 60’s music, and is clear in his opinion that the music from that era is superior to that of any other era. I enjoy the sweet sounds of CCR as a light rain drops from the roof above and finally splashes down a story beneath me. He wonders why I am here.
“Well, I go to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and—“
“Wow, that’s really something. I was in the army once. I got drafted in ’71. Spent 23……no…..21 months in the service. I’m really for the military, even though I got drafted.” The man relates his short stint in the military to me. I finish my Rolling Rock and begin upon another. Evidently he guarded missiles in Germany and felt quite fortunate to have been sent to Europe, as opposed to Vietnam. He mumbles something that I can’t hear.
“I said, what’s your name?”
“Oh, I’m Jack.”
“Nice to meet you, sir.” The smoke from my cigar is quickly pulled away into oblivion, though no wind seems to be present. The sky begins to clear away, leaving small puffs of cloud strewn across the expanse. Bill has a coughing fit. The magnitude and duration of his coughs are unsurprising, given that he’s a 57-year-old who’s smoked every day for his entire adult life. His face is weathered and silver hair runs wild across the top of his head. I finish my beer. The temperature is perfect, giving me the sensation that the air isn’t present at all, but that I’m in a vacuum, in a place beyond Earth.
“You want a Rolling Rock?”
“Well I don’t want to drink your beer….”
“Nawwww, it’s fine, really. I’m not going to drink them all anyway.”
“Well, if it’s cold…”
“Of course.” Out of the box I pull two bottles. As I return to the entrance of Bill’s room, I find him deliberating over which music to play next. He mentions Frank Sinatra, and I tell him that I like Sinatra too. The matter is settled, and the CD begins. He thanks me for the beer, and we toast. Lightning flashes in the distance as a stray cat moseys around beneath us. Bill yells at the cat, but receives no response. We discuss music, local bars, my research here in Maryland, wives/broads and cars, until our conversation returns to Bill’s military career.
“You know, I was promoted to E-4 three times.” We both burst out laughing. Laughter is a beautiful thing, a part of life that I earnestly thank God for often. As we continue to talk, drink and smoke, I look out towards the sky and admire the sunset. Beginning from my right, the little puffs of cloud are illuminated orange against a hazy white background. The puffs meld together as my eyes wander left, the sky becoming a solid shade of color. God’s paintbrush, I remark. I realize that God’s Easel would make more sense, but I stick with my original remark. We converse further, as Bill gives me one of his Miller Lites. Somehow I arrive at the conclusion that this is a momentous evening in my personal history. Really, the past month was, perhaps, life changing. I saw old friends in Wichita, attended the Riverfest, and toured Washington DC with my Dad (and K-nutz). I received my class ring and spent a crazy weekend in Breckenridge. Here in Maryland, I ate alone many times, I did real-life experimentation at the lab and I rode the subway for the first time. I had an unforgettable night under a large tree in the park whilst the rain softly fell. My stogie begins to burn my fingers. I throw it into the bushes below. The texture of the sunset stays unchanged throughout the evening. The color of the sky transitions from orange to a dark, ruby red as Sinatra sings “I Did It My Way.” I take my last sip of beer, and thank God that I’m alive.