Pearl of Wisdom

Maury and Happy

Written by Dane Zeller, performed by Maury and Happy, guardian angels.

 

Maury lifted his cup to his lips. Coffee waves slapped against the sides of the cup made thick and more suitable for professional drivers at the truck stop, than old men at the Pizza Shoppe. He took a sip. “Michael?”

Michael set his menu down. He refocused his eyes from the spot six inches in front of his face, the distance the menu required to be legible for even a young man in the dimly lit pizza restaurant. “Yes?”

“One of my jobs is to give you advice. Little kernels of truth. Life-long lessons. Words of…”

“…Maury.”

“What?”

“Could you just give me the advice, sans preface?”

Maury reached for a half-and-half creamer and removed the lid on his fourth attempt.  “Michael, I’ve got to give you the full context. Pearls of wisdom don’t live by themselves.”

“I’ve gotta pee, Maury. Was that your pearl of wisdom, the one about pearls of wisdom?”

“Nope. Think about this as you sit on the crapper: Ready?

“Yup.”

“Don’t buy your coffee at a pizza restaurant.”

Michael stood up. “That’s it?”

“Yes. No one buys it. They’re not good at it. They make pizza.”

“Okay. I won’t. But I don’t drink coffee anyway. Gotta go.”

“And, don’t get your personal advice from your bartender…”

“And don’t have a noon meal in a pizza restaurant that is so dark you can’t read the menu,” said Michael over his shoulder and searching for the men’s room.

Maury opened his menu and brought it up close to his face.

Michael went straight to the sink and turned on the water. He looked in the mirror and examined his face.

Do I look like her? She has brown eyes, like mine. Will she know what I look like? What will her reaction be? Will she have her mother’s facial features, or mine? Black hair like mine? Dyed, no doubt, like a young woman of twenty usually does. Should I call her, or just walk up to her?

Michael withdrew his hands from the water. As he started the hand blow dryer, he glanced at the mirror in hopes of glimpsing his profile. He opened the restroom door and was blinded by the light.

Michael pulled the chair out at the table and sat down.  “So, Maury, you didn’t like the restaurant.”

“Nope. It was too dark in there. I couldn’t read the menu.”

“And the coffee, too.”

“Right.”

“How is Happy going to find us?”

“I left word with the waitress. Hope you like Chinese. Want some tea?”

Michael looked around the Chinese restaurant. The tables were like kitchen tables, all with four chairs. The front of the place was all windows, looking out into the parking  lot of a strip mall.

“Did you move the cars, too?”

“Oh no, Happy can give us a ride back.”

“If he finds us.”

A 1989 white Lincoln Town Car swerved into a parking spot in front of Mama Ling’s restaurant. The left front corner of the car passed the car next to it by two inches. The right front fender had already unsuccessfully missed another car a few months back. A wash of the car might reveal other mishaps.

The driver’s door was thrown open, denting the door of the car parked on its left. The door bounced back toward the driver as he was getting out. He pushed it out again, making a second ding in the door of the unfortunate neighbor. A cane held the door open while Happy emerged. The old man reached back into the car and brought out a leather briefcase as old and damaged as his car. Shuffling his grip among the car door, cane and briefcase, he marked the other car a third time, and finally approached Mama Ling’s front door.

Michael and Maury watched as Happy approached the waitress. He stuck his cane under his right arm, already burdened by the briefcase, in preparation of laying his hand on the shoulder of the good-looking young woman. He smiled and spoke to her. They both looked at Michael and Maury, and he nodded. She assisted the needy old man over to the table, at one time on the trip, he wobbled and dropped his hand to steady himself by grabbing her rear end. He apologized and quickly removed his hand and grabbed the back of the chair for balance. He thanked her for her help and sat down.

“I told you he’d make it,” said Maury to Michael.

“I have a message for you from the Pizza Shoppe waitress.”

“Do tell.”

“She said…I hope I get this right…’tell the old bastard he owes me 2.25 for the coffee’.”

“She didn’t use the word ‘bastard’.”

“Yeah she did, only it was worse than that.”

Michael rapped his fingers on the table. “Can we get down to the reason we’re having this meeting?”

“Hey, I didn’t change the meeting place. Maury did.”

“If you don’t like Chinese, just say so.”

“No. I’m good with it. I adapt.”

“You adapt because if you don’t like the restaurant, you’ve brought an alternative lunch in your briefcase.”

“If you’re going to talk like that, I’m not sharing.”

“Gentleman, I’ve got a problem. You’re supposed to help, not rip and tear at each other.”

“Sure, sure, we’re all right.” Happy moved a water glass away from Maury and placed it in front of himself. “What’s up? How can we help?”

Michael looked around the restaurant to see who might hear him talking. He lowered his voice. “I’ve never mention this to you guys, but I have a daughter…”

“… wait a minute, Michael. Happy raised his hand and waved to the waitress. “Could I get some coffee?”

“Happy. How many times have I told you not to get your coffee at a Chinese restaurant? Order some tea.”

“Excuse me, miss, make that tea. House tea with room for cream and sugar.” Happy put his thermos back into his briefcase. “What were you saying, Michael?”

“I have a daughter…”

“Do you suppose I can get some artificial sweetener in my tea? Oh, Miss.”

“Happy. Happy. Michael wants to say something important to us, and you keep interrupting him. He probably wants some advice on contacting his twenty-two year old daughter he hasn’t see since she was two.”

“How do you know that?”

“We know your background. She said she didn’t want to see you ever again. Her mother convinced her you were an asshole. They both hate you. I say move on.” Happy looked at Maury. “That’s what I’d do. What do you think, partner?”

“Ex-wives are trouble. I say you find a new woman. Start another family. You don’t have a family any more.”

“Save yourself some grief. Turn the page,” said Maury.

Michael placed a hand in front of Maury, and one in front of Happy. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, aren’t you supposed to be a positive influence on me? That’s what Gordo told me.”

Happy opened a flask he had in his coat pocket and poured about an ounce of its contents into his tea. “Gordo thinks he’s in charge.”

“What an asshole,” Maury added.

“How’d you guys meet Gordo?”

Maury gathered himself. “After my accident, I met Gordo at the Gateway.”

“Gateway?”

“Pearly Gates.”

“No shit.”

“We had a choice. Happy arrived just after me…just after the shooting.”

“You were shot?”

“Yes. In a hunting accident.”

“Bullshit. He was shot in a poker game.”

“And you had an auto accident. Sure. You scammed the retirement fund and jumped out the window just before you were arrested. He can call it an auto accident because a car broke his fall twenty stories below.”

“So how did Gordo choose you guys to help me? Why didn’t you go straight to hell, both of you.”

“We made a deal with him. He offered both of us the choice of door number 1, which was titled “Heaven or Hell” and the second door was “Guardian Angel.” We both chose door number 2, but he looked over our record and said that one was locked. We argued that the two of us would always work together, making up for each of our deficiencies. So, here we are.”

“You good with this? Both of you.”

Maury wriggled in his seat. “Yeah, I can tolerate this old fart.”

“Maybe you both should have taken a chance with the heaven or hell door.”

“That’s for sure. It’s been hell working with this asshole.”

“I’m going out to make a phone call. Can you guys get along for five minutes?”

“yeah.”

“I’ll try.”

Michael went out the front door to use his phone and smoke a cigarette.  He went back in to see both old men gone. He looked back at the parking lot. Happy’s car was still there.

“Your friends had to step out,” said the waitress. “Would you like some tea?” She had a pot and two cups in her hand. She went over to his table and poured two cups. She sat down.

“It looks like Happy left his cane,” said Michael.

“And his car.”

“Where’d they go?”

“They said something about a pizza restaurant.”

“We just came from a pizza restaurant. I wouldn’t think they would want to go back, especially Maury.”

“They didn’t.”

“They didn’t go back?”

“No, they didn’t want to.”

“Who are you?”

“Pearl.”

Michael ………. “You did this.”

“I have some advice for you.”

“From Gordo?”

“From me.” She poured the tea.  “Call her.”

“That’s it? I’m used to something more longwinded than that. What if she rejects me?”

“That’s not the worst thing to happen to you.”

“There’s something worse that not being accepted by your daughter?”

“Yes. Worse would be that she wanted to see you but never did.”

Michael looked at the young woman sitting across the table from him. Black hair, pretty face, simply dressed. Sipping on her tea. The cane and briefcase were still at the Chinese restaurant. The Lincoln Town Car was still  out in the parking lot, rusting.

“You work for Gordo?”

“No.”

“But you were assigned to me.”

“No. I work as a free agent.”

“What if she doesn’t’ answer?” Michael said to the empty room.