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For lunch one day, I squeezed into Texas Tavern, Roanoke’s “Millionaire’s Club,” because an entire meal costs less than five bucks. I sat at the silvery metal counter beside a man in a threadbare gray suit who was talking to the woman beside him. She wore a sharp black dress and heels. Neither one of them fit into the decor.
She smiled at him. “So … what’s up?”
He drummed his fingers on the counter. “My blood pressure.”
He looked as if his blood pressure had been on a roller-coaster, and now it was stuck on top of the first hill. His face nearly matched the red of his squeaky stool.
She laughed and touched his hand. “You shouldn’t be eating here then.”
He didn’t respond, merely looking at her hand on top of his.
She squeezed his hand. “Whatever it is can’t be that bad.”
“It is that bad.” He looked up at the hairnet-wearing counter guy, who had slid a bowl of chili to him. “I said ‘bowl with.’ Where are the onions?”
The counter guy removed the bowl of chili without a word.
“See,” the man said. “I can’t even get a proper bowl of chili today.”
She shrugged and removed her hand from his, her wedding ring beaming brightly. She picked up her Cheesy Western and took a delicate bite. “Come on,” she said. “You’re here with me now. Relax. How bad can it be?”
“It’s really bad,” the man said. “Fritz, you know, my new Scottish terrier? I think Fritz has run away with the neighbor’s cat. I always knew there was something twisted about that dog. I let him out last night, and he disappeared. I searched for an hour and couldn’t find him.”
“He’ll find his way home,” she said.
“I’ve had the dog a month,” he said. “He doesn’t know where home is.”
“He’ll probably be at your door waiting for you,” she said.
“I doubt it," the man said. "And overnight, my power went out because of that storm, so my alarm didn’t go off, and I didn’t notice my milk had spoiled until my second sip of chunky milk this morning.”
“Eww,” she said.
It took him until his second sip, I thought. How clueless is this guy?
“I was a half an hour late to work this morning because of that, and on top of that, I hit every stoplight,” he said. “All fifteen of them. Because I was late, Merton put me on six months’ probation for the fifth time this year.”
“You need a better job,” she said. “You’re wasting your time there.”
“I know, I know.” He sighed. “Before I came in here,” he whispered, “I stepped in something on the street, I’m not sure what, but it looked like a turd, and it may have been human.” He turned to face her. “On top of all this, I love you and you’re still married.”
She blinked at him for a moment. “You’re right,” she whispered. “It is that bad.”
The man seemed to heave, as if he were going to vomit right there on the counter. I doubt the counter guy would have blinked. He probably would have scooped it into a bowl and served it with onions to the next customer.