Lunch

“I don’t drink beer,” he said.
I nodded and took a bite of my sandwich. I chewed and swallowed and looked at him while he talked, thinking all the while I should have asked for it to be on rye bread. This sesame seed hamburger bun is going to fill me up for sure, I thought. As he went on I took up my knife and proceeded to saw my sandwich in half. He had ordered a tuna steak with vegetables and double order of garlic mashed potatoes on the side. He grabbed his fork and speared chunks of food in his mouth, alternating between the tuna and the potatoes.
“I only drink micro brewed beer,” he said. “Anything else is just a beverage. Not even barely a refreshment.”
I nodded again. My sandwich now looked at me, sawed in half. It still looked to big. I took up the knife again and cut one of the halves in half. That was better, I thought. I can save the whole half for later on today.
“It’s so full of preservatives and stuff, I can’t even stand it,” he said. “When I get beer, I’m sure that it’s from a craft brewery. I don’t even go to the beer store any more. I just go right to the brewery.”
I nodded again and took a bite of the half of a halved sandwich. I could really taste the guacamole relish. I chewed slowly and savoured it, wondering how they made it, and made a mental note to check it out online. He was through half the tuna already and had pushed his julienned vegetables to one side of his plate.
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist or anything. Those guys are just crazy. But you ever wonder why it is that the Beer Store trucks are black? It’s because of the government wants to control the micro breweries. Because of the craft beer, it’s not pasteurized and when it is subjected to high temperatures, they spoil. Makes you wonder why The Beer Store trucks are black, right? I probably wrong, but it makes you wonder.”
I don’t know much about what it takes to make a beer, but I thought pasteurization was required for things like that so we didn’t get sick. But maybe that’s part of the process of craft brewing. This guy obviously thought it was important.
“Nothing is nicer than having a nice beer out on your patio and barbecuing something like a beercan chicken,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “Beercan chicken is fantastic.”
“I don’t cook on a gas grill, though,” he said. “I don’t like it. The gas makes it taste funny. I always cook with charcoal.”
“I think it adds flavour,” I said. “I cook with it every chance I get.”
“What kind of charcoal do you use?” he asked.
“Briquettes?” I said. “From the store. I don’t pay attention to the brand.”
“There’s this place I go to,” he said, and he picked up his phone and tapped at it for a while. “It’s just off the highway. You probably don’t know where it is, but they have all kinds of charcoal. I have eight or nine different bags in my shed. It’s all I ever cook with.”
I nodded and went back to my sandwich. His tuna was completely gone by now and he shovelled a mouthfull of potatoes to his mouth as he snapped in the air and pointed to his plate without looking to get someone’s attention.
“Alot of people don’t like it because they think it’s too hard, but I have this thing that no one else has. I guess you can call it an igniter.”
He snapped the whole while until the waitress came around and asked if he was done. He pointed at the plate and pulled the potatoes in front of him. “I’m still eating this,” he said.
She looked at me and I smiled. She had heavy blue eyeshadow and long lashes around eyes that seemed to big for her face, framed by stringy blonde hair. I thought she looked a little tired and like their was something wrong. “I”m still working on my sandwich, thank you,” I said.
She left and he went on.
“I used to use lighter fluid but not anymore, I light it naturally. I use newspaper in this igniter and fire up the coals and toss them on the barbecue. The chicken cooks indirectly. You control the heat by gently adjusting the vents. I know how to do it, but if you don’t know how to do it, it takes some time to learn.”
I remembered a time or two ago where I helped a friend of the family cook a roast pig on a charcoal barbecue and how he showed me it was pretty easy to control the temperature, you just had to be careful and pay a little bit more attention. I finished my half of a halved sandwich and went on to the other half quickly, thinking to myself that it was horrible for me to have wasted the waitresses time. I should have had her box up what was left of my sandwich when she was there a moment ago. I was less hungry now than I was a few minutes ago, and a few minutes ago food had suddenly been the last thing on my mind. So instead, I signalled for the waitress to please get me another iced tea. She smiled at me sadly, and I am not sure if it was because she was having a bad day or if it maybe could be something else.
“It takes time but it’s time well spent, I think,” he said. “I think time should be spent wisely. I hate wasting time. I mean, just the other day I was in my kitchen, eating my cereal and I said to myself, ‘I’m wasting 10 minutes. How can I make a better use of my time?’ I asked myself. So, now I take my cereal with me in the car and eat it on the way to work. I’m in traffic anyway, why should I waste my time doing nothing? I hate traffic and it’s a waste of time anyway.”
This reminded me that my audio compact disc of Bernard Cromwell’s ‘1363’ was due tomorrow. I had to go online an renew it. I was only on disc 3 but was it ever good. It embarrassed me that I had never read nor listened to him before, he was so good. I had started checking audio book compact discs out of the library to pass the time back and forth to work. There was only so much Top 40 I could listen to before my brain began to dissolve. Although, belting out along with Carly Rae Jepson on the way home after a bad day had it’s merits. As I finished the second half of my halved sandwich, I considered radio channel surfing on the ride home in the hopes that chance might favour me with “Call Me, Maybe”.
“Pardon?” I said. He held up his hands at me like he was waiting for something.
“How big is it?” he asked me. “How big is yours?”
I had to do a mental rewind of the conversation and try to piece together what he had asked me. “Uh, thirty six inches, I think. My wife watches it mostly. I’ll watch it with her sometimes. I want to switch providers, but Bell doesn’t come to my area so I’m stuck with Rogers.”
“I installed mine on my own,” he said. “And it isn’t easy. I had to set it up for both teevees. I have one upstairs and the other downstairs. I got the one upstairs, the fifty inch, on sale. I couldn’t say no to it. I have the sixty inch in the basement. Full HD. I actually used a hammer drill to mount the bracket for the teevee on the wall. I couldn’t sleep at night thinking that they might fall down on my turntables. They are one of a kind and so old. I play my vintage records on it.”
I nodded and accepted the tea from the waitress, smiling. “Cheque, please, when you get a minute?” I said. She nodded, the sad look still on her face. He skin looked kind of wrinkled and orange, like a character from the Simpson’s, and thin, like it were stretched out tissue paper that would tear if touched.
“Sorry, I meant to say record player,” he said.
I nodded and took the straw out of my iced tea, poking the lemon wedge down beneath the ice.
“My brother got it for me,” he said. “I get deals from him sometimes, but not all the time, because he can’t get them often and mostly at the spur of the moment and he can’t hold it for anyone or anything like that. If he has a deal, you have to show up immediately with the cash right there or you won’t get the deal. He deals with the really high end components, sells them from a store actually. My setup is nice, I designed it myself, with subwoofers and everything built right into the wall. My brother – I think he’s in his third or fourth house, I can’t remember – has a setup like no one else. A projector that cost him four or five thousand dollars – just the projector, not the whole sound system and everything – is about the same as a hundred inch screen. Plus all the subwoofers and speakers and everything. No one has anything else like it.”
I nodded and before I could ask him more about his television the waitress appeared with her payment widget and I went through the motions of punching in my PIN and authorizing the payment, rounding up her tip to the nearest factor of twenty. I would be writing this off as a business lunch anyway, and I thought she deserved the tip for me having wasted her time having to go back and forth like that.
She checked it all and then tore off the strip for me to have. “Thank you very much, sir,” she said, and looked at me. “Is there anything I can do before you go? A cup of coffee, maybe? To keep you awake.”
“I can’t drink coffee in the afternoon,” he said to her. “It will keep me up all night. I’ll have a glass of water, though.”
She glanced in his direction and nodded and looked back at me. “I think they just put it on. Just one cup. Keep you awake and alert on the way home after a big lunch.”
I smiled. “No, no. I’m fine, thank you.”
She nodded at me and walked away. Within seconds he was on his feet and looking at his watch. I just noticed at that moment how the enormous black think on his wrist took up so much space, the watchface the size of his whole wrist, and how he still had to shake out his arm so it jangled before he checked the time on it, holding it steady with the index finger and thumb of his left hand. It looked big and expensive to me and he held it for three seconds, like he was trying to get his myopic eyes to focus on the tiny numbers, when in fact he didn’t wear glasses at all.
“It’s time for us to get back,” he said. “So we can talk about business. I hate to waste time.”
I nodded and took my wallet out of my pocket so I could tuck my credit card back into it. “Then you should have had a cereal bar,” I said.
“For lunch?” He asked.
I looked at him. “Cereal bar,” I said. “In order to make the most use of your time, and even to make it more valuable. Instead of risking your life and the lives of everyone else on the road during morning rush hour, and steering with your knees – ”
“I never said I steered with my knees,” he interrupted.
“- while you use both hands to eat your Rice Crispies,” I went on. “Why not have a cereal bar and a glass of milk in a sealed cup on the way to work instead?”
“I never thought of that,” he said. “I just like to have my cereal and I still think it’s the best use of my time.”
I nodded and gestured for him to lead the way out of the restaurant. I followed him out of the door and to the car. By the time I took my seat he was already on his mobile phone, having used some app or other to determine the best route back to the office.
“Take the sidestreets,” he said. “We can speed a little and make up for lost time. I know that we are on other side of town, but I always wanted to eat here. Don’t use the highway back. See my screen here? That route is all yellow. You don’t want to spend all afternoon with me i traffic.”
I nodded and followed the shortcut on his phone down to the pixel, speeding all the way.

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