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Lofty Dreams

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We are in one of those heart-attack-with-mustard-and-pickle places, and the pair behind the counter is doing their best to make minimum wage look like a vast overpayment. Yogi keeps turning to me and providing commentary as one of them looks through nine different bags for his order.

I give him my best frown.

One counter girl is complaining to another about messing up the order and the noun "bitch" keeps coming up. Funny, but when we went to Fort Worth after the hurricane, it seemed like it was always the Partridge family behind the counter and I never heard the bitch word.

'Fast food. Hah. They took the "food' outta fast food a long time ago. Now these renegades are taking the "fast' out, too. Twenty-seven billion of these things sold, and mine is the slowest that's ever been sold."

In time, the counter girl came up with Yogi's order, plus a dollop of grape jelly. "You ain't getting nothin'?" Yogi asks.

'Naw, I'll just have a coupla your fries," I answer.

'No, you won't," Yogi corrects. "Stop acting like we're on a first date. Get your own fries."

'You're as much fun to be around as pepper spray," I opine and grab his fattest fry twixt thumb and forefinger.

After a few bites and a belch, Yogi starts whining about his whiney wife.

'My wife has dedicated her life to the pursuit of unhappiness," Yogi explains. "Every 90 seconds or so, there issues from her a groan, curse, sigh or grimace, some way of alerting everyone around that everything around has dedicated itself to her personal misery. For her, a frown is not simply a smile turned upside-down; it's the look she flashes at Santa Claus. Her mama's coming or her daughter never comes. Work? Ten p.m. is the crucial hour. That's when she stops whining about her day at work and starts whining about her next day at work.

'But there's some consolation here. Holy Mother Church is in consideration of sainthood for her. She'll be the Patroness of Perpetual Anguish. Blessed Shirley. Virgin and martyr."

'Did you say virgin?" I asked sweetly.

'Oh, yeah," he assures me while gnawing at a fallen onion. "The recycled kind. If you can go more than seven years between engagements, it's not carnal knowledge. No knowledge lasts that long. Blessed Shirley. Recycled virgin and martyr."

I start thinking about nothing pretty hard and Yogi looks in no hurry. Then, through the window glass, I see the outline and shape of an all-too-familiar fuzzy ball.

'Holy hell!" I yelp. "It's Roach himself."

'Yeah, I know," Yogi says, dead calm. "I been waiting."

'Why didn't you tell me?" I am still yelping.

'Cuz you woulda left," Yogi says. "And I and Roach would be alone together." When Yogi reasons, he reasons well.

Roach comes in and stops at the counter. Then he comes to our table looking like a baby with colic.

'Geez, the broad behind the counter says she don't know how to make an Arnold Palmer. A motherhuggin' mixture of iced tea and lemonade. It ain't like I'm asking her to be Emeril Lagasse."

After a few more well-chosen fibs, it turns out that Roach is there to catch a ride to his cousin Mike's house and Yogi is there to be caught because cousin Mike may be about to come into copious amounts of cash, which Yogi's other friends are surely not.

'Whatever you do, do not take West Esplanade to Mike's house," Roach instructs. "Now I don't wanna live forever. Only as long as it takes one of those street-repair crews to finish one of them big streets like West Esplanade or Robert E. Lee. They got 900 workers and 400 heavy-duty machines and when they get to the end of the street — which don't happen quick since only nine people and three machines can be in operation at any one time — they'll turn all the barriers and traffic cones around and start back down the other way. Think of it. They got guys who'll spend their entire career on Robert E. Lee."

'Yeah," Yogi reflects, "and after all those careers expended, you still lose half your fillings driving down the street."

'Why we gotta risk our fillings driving anywheres?" I whimper. "As it is, I got more fingers than I got teeth."

'Cuz I gotta pay me one of them courtesy calls to my cousin Mike. Remember Mike? The one with the lazy eye?"

'To go along with his two lazy legs. I didn't think you two was talking since he caught you going through his glove compartment. When's the last time you went by his house?"

'Since Lassie was a puppy. Since Moby Dick was a guppy," Roach concedes. "But things are changing. You maybe have heard of the Vioxx lawsuit? The $5 billion Vioxx lawsuit?"

'It's the only kind I listen for," swears Yogi.

'Well, when that lawnmower ran over Mike's foot, his doctor prescribed Vioxx. Then three months later, bam! He has a heart attack. Remember he had that heart attack at that taco restaurant? So his brother the lawyer hooks him up with that big class-action lawsuit."

'I remember his brother," I remember. "Looks a little like a polar bear. What's his name again?"

'Well, his name's Littleton or something like that," Roach says. "But the family always calls him Matthau. You know after that shyster lawyer Walter Matthau played in The Fortune Cookie?"

Yogi has long since eaten his food but that don't mean he's through eating. He's after whatever salt and catsup is hiding on the wrapper with his index finger. "Yeah, remember when my cousin hurt his back and his doctor prescribed Vicodin. That doctor was always behind the medical curve. Now my cousin's hooked on the stuff and not a lawyer in sight. In other words, a junkie with no chance for advancement."

'He ain't got much hope," I agree. "Sorta like the plan to beautify Veterans Highway."

'Roach, go call him before I drive you over there," Yogi says. "Especially with the price of gas only Trump can afford."

With Roach on his cell phone, Yogi lays it out for me.

'Roach figures Mike'll get a ski boat outta this and a truck to tow it with. Then he'll get Mike's old truck, which is a nice Dodge Durango."

Then Roach shuffles over and he looks like a roach that's been sprayed. "Mike's telling me that the lawyers gotta get theirs first and he's refiguring his share and he's gonna have to settle for a kayak instead of a ski boat. Then Matthau gets on and starts yelling not to talk about this till it's over and when Mike gets back on, I say, "Tell me the truth, how much you getting?' And he says, "Well, to tell you the truth, I know you too well to tell you the truth.'"

Silence closes in. Finally, Roach says, "Well, I guess I don't need a ride tonight."

I look in the windowpane at my reflection. My face is not big enough for the smile there. "I'm sorry for your sake, Roach," I say truthfully, "but pretty damn glad for mine."

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