Monday, September 14, 2015


My friend Maury is at the coffee shop most days for breakfast. ‘Friend’ is using the term loosely since I hardly know him, and I’m not quite sure how he learned my name. Nevertheless, he’s there, usually drinking from a plastic glass of water and stretched out before the gas fireplace.

Maury is what people used to call slow, and now refer to as mentally challenged. He’s a big guy in his 60s whose pants hang halfway down his butt and his shirttails hang out.  Maury usually changes seat five or six times in the course of half-an-hour. He never reads, doesn’t own a phone, and stares at the gas flames fixedly. He most often wears a cardigan or threadbare sweater, and owns a motley collection of hats; I do envy him his beaten up fedora which he told me he bought at a Salvation Army store in New York in the 60s.

Maury is the king of strange conversations.  About a month ago, he came to my table and said, “You know Jeanne?”

I told him I know a couple of Jeannes.

“Jeanne with her boyfriend, Bob?”

I made one of those faces that says, maybe, I’m not sure. Probably not.

“Well, Bob died,” says Maury. “You ought to date her.”

After a longish pause, I told him I’d think about it.

More recently, he said, rather cheerfully, “I’m an old man, and I’m going to die.”

My first reaction was to ask if I could have his fedora, but since my first reaction to most things is wrong, I kept silent.

He asked me, “Are you going to die?”

I said that in all likelihood I would.

He said, “In that case, you should ask Jeanne for a date. She’s used to men dying.”

Maury lives by himself, I think, in a rent-controlled apartment across the street from the coffee shop. Fedila, the Ethiopian check-out lady, says he’ll come in four or five times a day, and more often when it’s raining. It’s rare for him to order anything more than a small coffee, and he’ll nurse the refills for a bunch of hours.

When he’s not in the coffee shop, Maury can be found in its immediate vicinity picking up stray bits of paper and carefully placing them in a trashcan.  

Four months ago, Maury stopped coming to the coffee shop. His absence was noted immediately. After a week, people were seriously worried that Maury might have passed away or been hospitalized. Fedila asked two regular cops if they could enquire. They did and reported that Maury was nowhere to be found. 

Except that he was. 

Maury had moved to the Einstein Bagels shop two blocks down the street. An imagined—or real—slight had occurred at the coffee shop, and Maury had decided to take his business elsewhere. Fedila walked the two blocks to fetch him back to his regular haunt where he was feted like a hero.

This morning, fedora perched jauntily on his balding pate, Maury approached me, shaking his head. He said, “You’re too late, you know.” With a look of infinite concern, he added, “Jeanne has a new boyfriend.”


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