Nice Folks and Nitwits

People will tell me anything. I have that kind of face. I got it from years of practice. When I was a waitress, I’d listen to people all day long and smile at nice folks and nitwits alike. My livelihood depended on my genial expression. In time, it bled over into my daily life. My bland, Mona Lisa smile would win people’s confidence even if they hardly knew me. Maybe they were picking up that I’m interested in people. You know—I am you and you are me and we are all together. We’ve all got stories we’re dying to tell, even if it’s the kind of thing you pray won’t show up in your obituary.
At the greasy spoon where I used to work, one of the regulars was an old veteran with a face like five miles of gravel road. Late one night when it was just the two of us, he looked up from his drink and blurted out, “I’m a cross-dresser.” He would have been a better Charles Bukowski impersonator, but I just refilled his cup and commiserated about finding the correct undergarments for trapeze dresses.
After my standup comedy performances, people would often tell me stories that were funny tinged with awful, like they were looking for permission to laugh off the painful part. I remember one regular-looking guy, maybe fifty, thick-set, plaid wool jacket, and brown thinning hair. His blue eyes were dancing and he made a beeline to me and said, “I got to tell you a story.
“I got a dog, a golden retriever name of Gracie. She’s my girl, and she’s a good one. We go everywhere together, best pals. She’s a long hair, and every summer we got to get ’er a haircut. It’s better for when she swims, my wife says, ’cause that way Gracie can’t shake water all over the kitchen floor and then it’s also better in case of ticks.”
The guy was gearing up to tell me the next part.
“I can’t have money.” I let my eyes run a quick scan of the man. He was holding car keys. He could pilot a car, but he could not be trusted with money. Where was this story going? I held my smile. “It just runs through my fingers, and it’s better if my wife takes care of that side of things. She keeps us out of the poorhouse.”
He leaned in conspiratorially, looking from left to right to make sure no one else was listening in and then he continued.
“One Saturday last summer, she gives me a twenty-dollar bill and says for me to go get Gracie her haircut. Then she takes off for the day with her girlfriends. Well, I’m thinking I’d rather have the twenty, and I could just get out my beard clipper and cut Gracie’s hair myself.”
After he said that, I figured you could practically cue the disaster music, but the guy had to get it out. “So, I’m doing it in the kitchen, that way it’s easier clean up. The top half is no problem at all, even the tail. I’m talking to her the whole time and I’m thinking that this’ll be easy.
“Then, we get to the underside, a little trickier, because of the longer strands. I lean over her, kind of spooning her backside to keep her comforted and still. I’m doing all right, Gracie’s doing all right, and then the doorbell rings.
“Gracie jumps in my hands, and then … zoop! I just shaved one of her teats clear off. It’s an accident you know.
“And everything happened real fast after that.
“The doorbell rings again and I let go of Gracie to run and go get rid of whoever it is. It’s someone looking for a different address. Some lady, she’s going to a baby shower and she’s got a stack of presents in her hands.
“I open the door and say wrong house, but not before the gal hears Gracie howling to beat the band and zooming all over the house, trailing blood like a Friday the Thirteenth movie. All over my wife’s beige couch, the carpet.
“I slam the door on the lady, and I coax Gracie back into the kitchen with some raw bacon. She’s still bleeding, I’m nuts, still thinking that somehow I can get out of this. So, I get behind her and double up and hold her tight. I got a fistful of paper towels on the wound, pressing down to try to stop the bleeding.
“Old Gracie quiets down ’cause she’s got the open bacon package in front of her, and we just sit there for a while. Every time I took the paper towels off, the bleeding would start again. I couldn’t figure out how to Band-Aid it, so we just sat there. And, that was how my wife found us.
“You know,” he said, “Gracie forgave me a long time before my wife did.”
“I know,” I said. “I know how it is.”