Apparently, the old man was talking to the wind. He stood out there by the entrance sign to SR- 47 talking to no one in particular, and he was always there, six days a week sometimes seven. He was a tall, lanky man with a distinguished mop of white hair and piercing blue eyes. If you gave him a shave and slapped a suit and tie on him, he could easily have passed for a minister or a college professor which he had been at one time.
Everybody in town knew him as Mr. Jim and sometimes That Old Crazy Mr. Jim. His real name was Jameson. They didn't start calling him Mr. Jim until he started hanging out by the highway. Some even remembered a time when he used to teach middle school English and Reading at the junior high on the north end of town. He also coached basketball and that was what originally got him on at the Junior College in Belle Vista. When the school first started up a Women's basketball team back in the late 70s, Mr. Jim was hired to coach them. He went back and obtained a doctorate in literature and started teaching at the school.
Everybody in town knew him as the guy who stood out by the side of the highway talking to the cars that were turning off of East Main to gain access to the highway. Some would sit at the stoplight, roll down their windows and listen too. Most people were kind and waved to him, and he always waved back and smiled. He had to have noticed though how many times the people in the front seats of those cars would shake their heads and laugh as they drove away.
Lindberg Carlyle was sitting in the Bluebird Cafe with his buddy Carlos Rios and looking out the window at Mr. Jim. Before him was large plate containing eggs over easy, trail potatoes, four pieces of thick cut Applewood bacon, and according to the sign outside the cafe, the best damn biscuits and gravy in town. It wasn't much of a claim because it was also the only breakfast joint in Concord. A sign outside of town about a half mile east of where Mr. Jim was declaiming said that Concord was the Cotton Capital of World, or at least did until some jokers crossed out the word cotton and replaced it with Asshole. It might not have been factually correct, but everybody in the small town knew that Concord did possess more than its requisite share of walking talking sphincter muscles.
"Goober?" Lindberg addressed the owner of the Bluebird, who was standing at the cash register trying to figure out how to work the new machine that had been installed just an hour before.
"Damn it, Lin, I done told you a thousand times not to call me that shit. My name is Curtis, as you well know, but you can call me Mr. Jones. Carlos can call me Curt, but you can't. You lost that privilege for that Goober nonsense."
"Screw you Mr. Goober Jones, I can't help it you came out your mom looking like that George Lindsay dude that played Goober on the Andy Griffith show. Seem to me, you should be mad at your mom. You make her call you Mr. Jones?"
Curtis Jones just rolled his eyes and reached up and rubbed his furrowed brow a few times before he answered, "If I wasn't so busy trying to figure out how to work this damn thing, I'd get Tiny over there and eject your ass bodily from this fine dining establishment. What is it that you want?"
Lindberg looked at Carlos with an incredulous look, "I don't know you can call this shit hole an establishment much less fine dining. I saw a maggot puking in the alley yesterday, and if them damn biscuits you always bragging on were any heavier you could sell them as anchors. Hell, I just wanted to ask you if you remember Mr. Jim being a teacher?"
Carlos paid no attention to all the bickering because his two friends had been at it almost continually for forty some odd years. He just sat back, drank his coffee which was surreptitiously mixed with a little rum and chuckled as the verbal banter got progressively worse. There were times that he interjected when he thought a line had been crossed. Both men trusted his judgement and would dial the tone of the conversation back accordingly. The only time he would really get riled up enough to join in was when they started needling on his beloved Cowboys.
Carlos looked out the window, "I had him in English and Reading back in junior high. I remember we read Old Yeller. He always read that last chapter where the boy shot the dog out loud and all the girls would start crying."
Curt quit tinkering with the register and went somewhere into the past for a second, "Shit, I cried too. I loved that damned book. Hell, I even got the movie on CD." He walked over and poured himself a cup of coffee then came around the counter, motioned Lindberg to move over and sat down beside him. "He was good teacher too. I was there in that Literature class at the college when he took on that kid and got fired for it."
"I was just sitting here checking him out. He sure puts a lot into that talking stuff. Is he just nuts or what? I heard they fired him because he cussed out some kid class. Somebody told me he been out there ever since."
Carlos sat up a little straighter in his seat, "Mr. Jameson cuss, hell no! He always talked like a gentleman even to us kids. I heard that kid said something bad to him."
"Like I said, I was there. That kid was one of them smart assed hippy kids who thought he knew everything. He was always saying stupid shit back to Mr. Jameson. He was the one that started calling him Mr. Jim. They got into a verbal argument trading insults one day and Mr. Jameson was using quotations from literature and was rolling over this dude because all the dude said was stupid shit like Abby Hoffman quotes and stuff like that. I remember that the kid said something particularly stupid like 'What me worry?' and nobody laughed. Mr. Jameson countered with 'Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.' The whole class started laughing, and the kid got embarrassed and real mad. He walked up to the front of the class and said something under his breath. Mr Jameson stretched him out with one punch."
"That was Plato, He always used to use that one on smart assed kids. He loved that verbal jousting. I had him in college too, and you could always take him on in class as long as you showed some creativity. We loved it too and came out of that year with shit load of literary putdowns. If I remember right, part of the reason they fired him was because we used to have these verbal battles every Friday, and you had to use only literary putdowns. He almost cried when Leslie Lopez told Mike Wilcox, 'You are simply a hole in the air.'"
"That's right! I remember that's what it was. That kid was being an ass and saying stupid shit to the girls."
"Well, what did that kid say that got him punched in the nose?"
Carlos and Curt looked at each other and shrugged. Carlos answered, "No-one ever knew? As far as I know, he never told anyone. But he didn't start acting all weird when they fired him. It was only after his wife died. I remember because my mom and I went to the funeral and the next day he was out there."
They all turned and looked out of the window. The one by one, they returned their focus back to the inside of the cafe.
After a while, Lindberg spoke, "You know what? Let me out Goob...Curtis. I'm going to go ask him."
Curtis got up, "I don't know if that's a good idea, Lin. I don't see no reason to bother a lonely old man."
"I didn't say I was going to bother him. I just want to talk to him. Solve this here mystery. Tell me you don't want to know what he said."
The two friends sat there curious and watched as he made his way across the parking lot and then crossed the street. They sat transfixed as he stuck out his hand toward the old man. The old man looked at it for a bit then slowly reached out his own and took it. They talked for about five minutes before the two inside the cafe turned and faced each other with widened eyes because Lindberg and Mr. Jim started walking back toward the cafe.
It was a windy day and Mr. Jim's hair was a bit mussed when he came through the door. He stopped and combed it with his fingers before walking toward the table.
They both stood as he approached. Then they offered him their own hands. He shook their hands but cut them both short when started to introduce themselves.
"Curtis Jones and, if I'm not mistaken, you're the Carlos Rios who once silenced a saucy young wench named Violetta Vinson with the quip from Chaucer, 'I wolde I had thy coillons in myn hond. . .Lat kutte hem of.'"
Carlos was stunned, "You remember that, Mr. Jameson?"
"Classic, totally inappropriate, but classic. I would have given you an A in class for that quote alone. She was such an annoying, aggressive young lady, much like her abominable friend Mr. Clark."
The old man took the inside of the booth and Lindberg slid in beside him. Carlos sat back down and Curtis went to fetch their old teacher a cup of hot coffee. Returning, he sat the cup down in front of the old man along with four containers of Hazelnut creamers. They watch silently as he fixed his coffee and took a sip.
"Mr. Carlyle here told me that you gentlemen want to know what that Randall Clark said that made me to react so violently. That's a secret that I've kept for almost forty years."
Carlos started to say, "You don't have to..."
Mr. Jim raised a hand and stopped him, "I think it's been long enough don't you? Randall died last year of a heart attack. He was a businessman, divorced several times, and when he died, he died alone. I went to see him in the hospital. He challenged me again. As I got up to leave, he said, 'I shall laugh my bitter laugh.' Before I got to the door, I turned and told him, 'To show resentment at a reproach is to acknowledge that one may have deserved it.' I should have just left, but I couldn't help myself. What he told me that day was really quite reprehensible, and I've been carrying it around for quite a long time."
In unison, "Which was?"
"Let me be clear, Randall was very angry. I could see the rage in his eyes. He came up leaned over and said in a very low voice, 'The personification of the devil as symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the ...." I hit him before he could finish. You see, he was quoting Hitler from Mein Kampf. You see, he knew my wife Ana was Jewish. Her parents were both murdered by the Nazis, several other fellow members as well."
Lindberg beat his friends to the punch, "Why didn't you say something. I mean don't you think they would have understood?"
There was a faraway look in the old man's eyes, " I promised Ana I wouldn't. She was the most compassionate human being I've ever known. She felt that he was angry and just speaking out of his rage. She hated the thought of ruining a young man's life by getting him branded as being a closet Nazi. We always followed his life and watched him sink lower and lower. She admonished me often for taking pleasure in his misfortune."
It was Carlos's turn, "Yeah, but it ruined your life, your career too."
The old man shrugged, "I loved her more than anything in the world, including my career. I'll tell you something no-one else knows about Ana. She escaped the round up of the Jews from Holland. Her and her older cousin were sneaking toward the harbor of a small coastal village where a boat was waiting when they were stopped by a young German soldier, hardly more than a boy. Nathan, her cousin, killed the soldier. They were worried about bringing retribution down upon the whole village, so they put his body on the boat and dumped it in the ocean. Ana worried that the young man wasn't a real Nazi and was just a boy playing soldier. She also worried that dumping his body at sea prevented him from having the proper funerary rites. In her mind, she conflated the two, Randall Clark and the boy soldier. When she was dying, she was very worried about that, afraid that we had taken on some kind of generational curse. I promised her on her deathbed; I swore to her that I would make amends. It was only way that I could comfort her."
It took them a while to figure out what he meant. They all seemed to grasp it at the same time. It was Curtis who voiced their combined astonishment, "But...Why out there standing by the highway talking to yourself?"
"I didn't at first know what else to do? It had to be something of substance. I loved literature, and I had lost my ability to give voice to that love, so it had to be something that involved the voice. I read passages from my favorite books to the cars that passed by. It's kind of like I was hoping that the words latch on to the passing vehicles and spread like airborne seeds. I've done it for fifteen years. I know that it sounds pretty crazy."
"I rolled my window down at the stop sign this morning. You were saying something like, 'We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinions than our own.' I was going to look it up when I got home."
Carlos answered before the old man could, "Damn, Lin, that's Marcus Aurelius." Then added half kidding, "Don't you know anything?" He turned to the old man, "Mr. Jameson, I'm just going to be blunt. People think you're nuts, Mr. Jameson. Doesn't that bother you at all?
He waited a while before answering And the friends waited patiently to hear what he was going to say. Finally, he sternly muttered, "Frankly, my Dear, I don't give a damn."
After several seconds, Lindberg broke the silence by laughing, "Hey, wait a damn minute..."
A few days later it snowed in Concord, a rare occasion. The people who passed by the Bluebird Cafe that morning didn't notice much other than their usual concerns as they carried their well bundled children off to school, or made their way toward work wrapped up in the anticipatory thoughts about what their day would be. Chances are they didn't notice Lindberg Carlyle pulling up to the stop sign in front of the cafe and looking past the fogged windows to see a tall, white-haired gentleman drinking coffee in the third booth from the end and conversing with the proprietor of said cafe who had stopped midway through drying off a just washed coffee mug. And chances are none of them noticed the car pulling away from the stop sign with Mr. Carlyle flashing just the hint of a smile.