Thursday, February 4, 2016
My friend Maury sidled up to me this morning at the coffee shop and said, “Did you hear they have a new piccolo?”
I half-expected a doubtful joke, which would have been surprising. I’ve never known Maury to utter anything inappropriate. He didn’t. The local symphony has a new piccolo player. How Maury knew this I one of those mysteries best left unexamined.
Some months ago, Maury told me I should approach a certain woman of his acquaintance because her boyfriend had just died. A few weeks after that, he wore a large, gap-toothed smile as he mentioned we were all going to die one day, and restated his suggestion that I meet the woman. “She’s used to people dying,” he said with a knowing look. Three days later, he informed me that I hadn’t acted quickly enough. The woman had recently met someone. “But he’ll die too,” Maury said with neither sorrow nor concern.
Maury is a tall, ageless man with a round face and an expression that says the universe holds no ambiguities. He walks everywhere and lives in my small Northern Virginia town, and has the ability, as P.G. Wodehouse said of Jeeves the butler, to shimmer into a room. And shimmer out, too. There have been instances when we’re talking about something; I’ll turn my head, and he’ll have vanished. He moves with the quiet efficiency sometimes displayed by large men who have taken up ballroom dancing.
Not that he goes far. He reappears outside where he picks up sticks, gum wrappers, cigarette butts, newspaper pages that have gone astray, anything that is and shouldn’t be on the ground. As a result, the area around the coffee shop is spotless. His all-seasons uniform is a thick car coat, a knitted sweater, watch cap, baggy jeans and shoes from Payless. I know they’re from Payless because I have the same pair. His are brown, mine are grey. This has been the subject of many discussions. If I encounter Maury and I am not wearing the Payless shoes, he’ll want to know why and in the subtlest of way, make me feel like a turncoat.
Recently the coffee shop has become the hangout of another man, a disheveled gadfly with the sort of fidgety energy that makes everyone in the vicinity nervous. The newcomer speaks in bursts, and is an expert on everything. Yesterday he asked Maury if there was a girlfriend. Maury allowed that there was, maybe. The gadfly launched into a long, muttered rant on the evils of women in general, his own three marriages and subsequent divorces, and how to tune a Volkswagen Beetle. Maury shimmered out of the room and reappeared magically across the street.
It took the gadfly a few minutes to realize he’d lost his audience, and this left him momentarily nonplussed. Then he turned to me and started talking.
Across the street, Maury pointed at me and started laughing.