4 min

Really listen

Eavesdropping with Sir

Credit: Xtra West files

It was a Friday afternoon, sunny and lazy. I ran into my friend Sir coming out of her apartment building, and we went for a coffee. She grabbed a table outside on the deck in the warm and I went in for two Americanos.

I squeezed past the lady in the hippie dress and sat beside Sir and her cowboy hat, across from two biker types and their over-full ashtray. Sir passed me a section of the newspaper.

“Business section?” I asked her. “What am I gonna do with this? Check my stocks?” She passed me the New Homes, smiling. “Smart ass. At least give me the Lower Mainland bit. Don’t make me roll up Fashion and pummel you with it.”

She passes me the front page. A true friend, indeed.

“It’s not the same as inside,” the bigger of the two bikers laments. “Inside there is a code, you know, a way of being that makes sense-then when you get out…”

“It’s an adjustment,” his buddy nods. “Took me over a year to be able to sleep past six. Ate pork chops every Tuesday for a while; until I got used to Tuesday isn’t pork chop night for the whole planet. You’ve only been out a coupla weeks. It gets better. When’s your kid gonna be here?”

“Ten after.”

The second guy stands, extends his hand. Slaps the other guy on the shoulder. They half hug, awkward. “So I’ll make a move, leave you to it. Take care, buddy. Same time, next week?”

My face is hidden behind pictures of Iraqi prisoners. I can’t face the news; instead I am eavesdropping on a rare bonding moment between these two men. I sneak a peek at Sir. She is watching the second man disappear around the corner, his wallet wearing through the denim of his right back pocket, chain swinging, smokes and cell phone and truck keys in hand. The sound of his boots on pavement fades with him. She smiles at me. We were both witness.

A tall, pimply boy gets off the bus and crosses the street. He squints into the sun, holds up a knuckly hand across his eyes. He jumps over the guardrail and slumps into the empty chair. He is all right angles and straight lines. His feet seem impossibly big in brand new too-white runners. One shin is road-rashed and picked.

The biker leans across the table to hug him, the kid moves to meet him and knocks over a half-empty bottle of apple juice. His father catches it before it hits the table.

“Sorry, Dad.”

His dad smiles and surveys the boy. “You look great. I think you’re finally taller than your father.”

“By three-quarters of an inch.” The boy raises his eyebrows, grins.

“Your mom?” Dad is staring at his fingernails.

“She’s good. You staying at Uncle John’s?”

“For a while. I’m looking at a place this weekend. There’s a skate park a block away. I’m getting a pull-out couch for you.”

They talk like this for a while. I’m smoking and getting involved in the sorry state of the planet, enough so I’m almost not eavesdropping anymore, until I hear the man ask his kid if he’s having any luck with the ladies.

The kid swallows, his oversize Adam’s apple plunging in discomfort. He shakes his head. “There was that one chick from Kelowna, remember? She was staying at her Grandma’s? That was a while ago.”

“That was last summer, little dude. School’s almost out again.”

“Yeah, well I’m not like you. Girls don’t like me too much, mostly. I don’t have the magic touch like you.”

“It’s not a magic touch. You want to know my secret? My fail-proof method?”

The kid leans forward. Behind my newspaper, I find I have leaned forward. Sir has raised her eyebrow and cocked her head. We are all waiting.

“Let me just grab myself another coffee, and I’ll tell you all about it. Hold that thought. You still drinking ice tea?”

The kid nods. His dad gets up and goes inside. All three of us sit back, impatient. I watch him make his way back to our table. Average height. Over-sized biceps. Bleeding tattoos. Not an ugly man, by any stretch, but, as my aunts would say, nothing to write home about. He resumes his seat, lights an Export A‚ and stirs his coffee with a hand that makes the spoon look like it came from an Easy-Bake Oven Set.

“Where were we?”

“You were going to tell me how to meet chicks.”

“Right. I’ll tell you the one thing that women cannot resist in a man. The one thing that will always keep them coming back for more.”

For the love of Christ, spit it out already man, I’m thinking. We all need to know here.

“Listen to them.”

The kid sits up straight with a sideways glance.

“I mean really listen. Ask her about how her day went. Be interested. Don’t just act that way, I mean really be interested in her. What she has to say, what she thinks about things.”

“And then?”

“That’s it son. That’s all. You’d be surprised how many guys never figure that one out, but that’s it. My big secret. Really listen to her, and then if you’re lucky, when you come home from work there will be a good woman there. Cooking for her every once in a while never hurt a guy in the long run, either.”

The kid looks at his father. I look at Sir. Sir looks at the biker, then she meets my eyes. Again, we were both witness.

The biker drains his coffee. “C’mon kiddo, I’ll buy you a slice.”

The two of them stand up and walk together down the block, noisy black Dayton boots and silent white runners, respectively.

Sir is shaking her head, smiling. “That was just about the sweetest thing I ever heard. Did you get all that?” she asks me.

I nod reverently.

For the first time, the lady in the hippie dress lowers her paperback and speaks up, her eyes moist and bright blue. “Now if only someone would have told my fucking husband that, I might still own that cabin on Salt Spring Island.”