by Angela Perez
Dear reader, I’m going to share with you a conversation I overheard yesterday whilst dining in one of my favorite country-cooking cafés. As I feasted upon cucumber & onions in apple cider vinegar, hushpuppies, slaw and fried flounder, a rough-looking, ruggedly handsome, middle-aged fella, about 50, and his buddy, a wiry, white-haired, elderly man in a John Deere cap, sat in the booth behind me. I know what they looked like because I checked them out when I got up to pay my bill. Here’s what I heard (names have been changed):
Younger fella: [in a thick, Southern accent where one-syllable words are spoken in two syllables – like “cah-aHd” for “card”]: I’ll tell ya’, that ole gal’s running that card game in [tiny town in rural Franklin County] three days a week now. All ‘dem boys is gettin’ in on that game. 7-card game.
Older fella: Nah. Nah. Count me out. I ain’t gettin’ in trouble with the old lady. No cards for me. Not anymore.
Younger fella: That Tommy is a crazy sumbitch when he’s drunk. And he always loses when he gets to drinking. I won $3,000 last Thursday night ‘cause he was hitting that bottle. Had been all week. I don’t know when he ain’t drunk lately. [Pauses, looking at the menu]. I’ll be damned if they ain’t added some new things on the menu. Chicken-fried steak…clam strips…Nah, I want my usual, them chicken livers.
Older fella: I’m getting the chicken and dumplings. That’s always good.
Waitress comes over to their table. She’s tall and scrawny, a very weathered-looking 21 or 22, chewing gum, white-frosted, stringy, mouse-brown hair pulled up in a bun, and quite possibly, hidden under her purple t-shirt, a tattoo sprawled across her lower-back consisting of a shaky galaxy of stars, hearts and/or butterflies or maybe the word “Slipknot” or “Carolina Panthers” with the team logo.
Waitress: Whatch’all boys having to eat today? Tommy [Editor’s note: This Tommy is not to be confused with the drunken Tommy, you know – the one who turns into a sumbitch when he gets drunk] I know you. You want them chicken livers.
Tommy [to the old man]: What did I tell you, Ed? This little gal knows what I like. [guffaws in a suggestive way] I like a gal who knows what I want.
Ed: I want the chicken and dumplings….ummm….no….get me that catfish with fries and hushpuppies.
Waitress: I gotcha. It’ll be out in a little while. [she walks away]
Tommy: That lil’ gal is ripe for it. Just like her momma used to always be. And I gave it to her more than a couple times. Her mamma, I mean.
Ed: What’s her name, our waitress?
Tommy: I can’t remember, known her since she was little. But her momma, now, you know her. Donna. Used to be Donna Jackson.
Ed: Oh yeah. I remember her. Well, I remember hearing about her. She married that Phelps boy.
Tommy: Yep, Jimmy Phelps. He plays cards with us, too. You know, I read in the paper today that that ole’ boy ain’t paid his taxes. But he’s up at that trailer every week playing cards like he’s got money to spend. I feel bad for him though. He had to put his momma in that nursing home and it’s costing him an arm and a leg. But three people stopped by my store today and told me they saw Jimmy’s name in the paper for not paying his taxes.
Ed: People love to tell you bad news when it ain’t about them, don’t they?
Tommy: You damn right. You know, I saw Jimmy kick his dog one night. He had brought that dog of his, a yellow retriever, up to the card game and Jimmy was drunk as hell and he was losing all his money. And that dog kept whining at his feet and he kicked that dog so hard I thought he’d killed him. I’m gone tell you one thing you don’t do around me and that’s hurt a dog. Jimmy nearly got his ass beat that night. We made him go home after that. Kick no dog around me.
Ed: Nah, ain’t no call for hurting a dog. That’s unconditional love right there. Cain’t expect that kinda loyalty from people, I’ll tell ya’ that much.
Tommy: You know, Lou Ray won $2,200 that same night and he don’t never win. I still think he was cheatin’ somehow. You cain’t trust a single one of them in that whole family.
Ed: His daddy won’t no good. And none of his boys are. They’re all trying to find a way to make a dollar off you, whether it’s to your good or not. And it’s never to another man’s good, I can tell you that much.
By this point, I had eaten all of my food and needed to go ahead and go the counter and pay the check. As I stood up, I accidentally pushed the booth seat back into Tommy’s booth seat behind me. I apologized to him and he smiled.
Tommy: Aw, purdy girl, I thought you was just getting fresh with me.
Angela: I never get fresh before 5 p.m.
Tommy: Whoo, girl [he gives a low whistle] call me at 5:01 then.
Angela: [laughs out loud]
As I walked outside, I thought about going back inside and asking Tommy if I could go to a card game at the trailer with him some time. But I figured he’d think I was ripe for it. So I let it go and went back to work.