Tyranny of the Here and Now

by Terry Sanville

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On his way from his apartment to the restaurant on Santa Barbara’s State Street where he always eats Sunday brunch, Jimmy stops rolling his walker, sets the brakes, and sits on its bench seat. Reaching down he adjusts the newly-issued braces on his lower legs. Fifty-five years from that explosive day in Vietnam and he still can’t feel anything below the knees. But once in a blue moon, he wakes at night to violent itching in his left ankle. He scratches it until the skin is raw, relishing the pain. But it never lasts.

“The doctors say it’s just old nerves firing off,” he tells Omar, the restaurant’s bartender. “All this time later and they still can’t do jack.”

“I’m sorry. That must drive you nuts,” Omar says. “But they’re findin’ something new every day.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve already lived longer than most.”

Omar grins. “That’s because I pour you the finest California Chardonnay and make the best Bloody Mary.”

Jimmy chuckles. “I’m sure that’s it.”

But Jimmy sometimes feels like he’s just another bearded old guy at a bar, biding his time. What the hell does biding mean anyway? Some archaic word with no ties to his dead sister, the war, his rose-colored Cadillac, joy, Camilla, family, crawling under old houses to fix broken pipes, the used-to-be. His life is like flashes from a black-and-white rock video – people staring at him lurching down the street behind his walker. At 77, that’s what he’s all about in the here and now, the terrible here and now.

Jimmy maneuvers his walker away from the bar and sits at his favorite table. He can watch people come and go and check out games on the big screen TV. Brianna, her dyed red hair flaming, smiles and moves toward him. It’s an honest smile. She’s more than a tick past fifty but looks great. He knows everybody in this joint, from the kids bussing tables to the head chef in the kitchen and all the managers. He used to work on the restaurant’s plumbing before he retired and sold the business.

“So how you doing today, Jimmy?” Brianna asks. “Have you already ordered drinks?”

“Oh yeah. You got anything special on the menu?”

“Same ole stuff. But the quiche looks good.”

“I’ll have that.”

He watches her walk toward the kitchen, her hips swaying, showing off just for him he’s sure, well . . . maybe, a Sunday treat anyway. The restaurant fills with the after-church crowd mixing with the recovering Saturday-night-blowout folks. Jimmy laughs to himself, thinking he’s the only sane one there.

Brianna brings him his first glass of Chardonnay, “good to cleanse the palate,” she says. He gulps it down. The cold numbs his throat and in a while it will help numb his mind.

He watches football, not giving a rat’s ass who’s playing or who’s winning, just enjoying the catches, the tackles, the swiveling hips of the running backs, just the running. Jimmy remembers his high school years, on the track team, a dork, running mile after mile to get in shape for the next meet. He recalls the exhaustion after each two-mile run, not wanting to take one more step, grabbing his shaking knees in the cold winter wind, drool dribbling from his mouth onto the crushed-brick track. He’d do anything to feel that sweet agony again.

Brianna walks toward him with his first Bloody Mary on the tiny tray, weaving her way between tables, never spilling a drop. A sharp pain stabs at his lower gut, forcing a low groan that surprises him. He pushes himself up, turns and shoves the walker away from the table.

“I’ll . . . I’ll be back . . . in a minute,” he gasps.

“Sure, hon, sure. You okay?”

Another spasm and he bends over but keeps moving down the hall toward the alcove and the side-by-side unisex restrooms. The one on the right is locked and occupied. He hustles to the left side door. It pops open and a young woman emerges. He brushes past her, his walker’s wheels clacking over the tiles. Twisting, he locks the door, shoves the walker away and staggers toward the toilet. The room is sheathed in gleaming white tiles and smells of Pine-sol mixed with air freshener.

He struggles with his belt but can’t get it undone. Finally, he yanks it tighter and it releases.  He drops his boxer briefs. It’s too late. In a final spasm he empties his bowels onto the floor and the commode, the stench overpowering.

Jimmy leans against a wall and gasps, his heart thundering. The sight of his accident reminds him of bad days as a plumber. Wiping himself off he scans the room, looking for cleaning equipment. He tries a shoulder-high cabinet but it’s locked. He washes his hands and slowly opens the door. Nobody is there.

He hustles back to his seat, smiles at Brianna, and takes a big gulp from his Bloody Mary. A soft cry comes from down the hall. Brianna and Omar turn and hurry off. Hushed conversations. A bus boy drags a mop bucket, its metal wheels rattling over the wooden floorboards. Sherry, the sous-chef, emerges from the alcove, pale, shaking. She walks through the restaurant and out the front door to the street, lights a cigarette and puffs.

Omar approaches. “Was that you, Jimmy?” he asks, his voice loud and shaking.

The room quiets.

“What are you talking about?”

“Did you crap all over the restroom?”

Jimmy hesitates. “No, it wasn’t me.”

“Yeah, it was. You were the last one in there. The bus boys saw you.”

“Hey, Omar. It . . . it wasn’t me. How can you insult me like this?”

“How come you can’t wear adult diapers? You know what’s goin’ on. Be . . . be responsible.”

Jimmy’s face burns. Brianna looks away. Omar shakes his head and returns to the bar. The room remains quiet. People stare, new flashes added to his rock video.

Jimmy can’t possibly stay. He pushes himself up and takes a huge gulp of his Bloody Mary. He struggles to remove his wallet and drops some bills onto the table. Omar and Brianna watch him go, unsmiling.

Back on State Street, he takes a deep breath and shudders. Just one more thing to lose – first his older sister, then his legs, then parents and the business, and then Camilla, ah Jesus, Camilla. His kids are so far away and Skype just doesn’t cut it. How is he going to live if he loses control like that? Is this one step closer to the rest home, to the ultimate indignity?

The look of disgust on Omar and Brianna’s faces burns into his brain. He hustles back to his apartment, his hips aching from the effort, and struggles to peel the cover off his rose-colored ’58 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. He’s kept it in perfect condition; it doesn’t leak anything. Someday he’ll give it to his son, if Carl even wants it. The kid likes Jeeps and Land Rovers. Jimmy works the Caddy’s hand controls and swings out of the parking lot. In no time he’s blasting along Highway 101 with the top down, heading north toward Goleta and the airport. In a lot near the old terminal he parks and watches planes take off and land.

After his kids left home, he and Camilla used to hang out there and talk about what it would be like to travel abroad, to Morocco, Buenos Aires, Athens, Shanghai. As a teacher, she loved geography and each time at the airport she would tell him stories about some far off place, the people, the countryside. Jimmy would close his eyes and almost see it. This day, he tries to recapture his visions of Paris, Stockholm, of Alaska with its pure white snow. But his mind returns to the soiled white tiles of the restaurant’s restroom.

He starts the car and heads home to his TV, computer, and two adopted cats that cuddle with him at night, probably because he keeps his electric blanket on and the two fur balls are heat-seeking scoundrels.


Two weeks pass. Jimmy hasn’t left the apartment, afraid of another accident. Finally, he drives to a drugstore he’s never shopped at and enters. After searching the entire store, too embarrassed to ask for help, he finds the aisle with the adult incontinence products right next to the one with baby diapers. He studies the packages, different brands, different designs for men and women, different sizes. Old women customers do the same thing. Nobody looks at each other, avoiding eye contact.

At home he dons his first pair of male briefs. They don’t show under his trousers, but rustle when he walks and make a soft crackling sound when he sits. In the days ahead he notices other old people making the same sounds, a select club of the aged that no one wanted to join. But as time passes, the briefs provide enough comfort and security to let Jimmy venture out of his apartment with some level of confidence.

On Sundays he returns to State Street, hurries past his old haunt to a new restaurant a couple blocks farther down. It has a full bar that serves lots of specialty cocktails along with the old standards. The waitresses are kind, the food good, the atmosphere congenial. It’s Jimmy’s new here and now, but not as good as he remembers the old. He misses Brianna and their make-believe flirting, and Omar’s stories about his family’s history in Syria.

The weeks pass. Autumn rains wet the sidewalks lit by nearby neon. But Jimmy is determined and the storms can’t keep him away. One Sunday, he approaches his old haunt.  Omar and Brianna push through its front door and stand on the sidewalk, waiting. He sucks in a deep breath and moves forward, then stops. They stare at each other. Jimmy pulls at his white beard.

“Look, guys . . . I’m sorry . . . sorry for the mess . . .” He stands swaying in back of his walker, as if using it to protect himself from attack.

Brianna nudges Omar who clears his throat. “Yeah, about that. I’m sorry . . . we’re sorry for embarrassing you in front of all those people. You probably couldn’t help it.”

Jimmy nods. “Yeah . . . it was the ultimate embarrassment. But the mess was worse.”

Omar grins. “We know, we know. Sherry wouldn’t go in there for weeks.”

Brianna elbows Omar. “I miss you,” she says. “Not the staring at my ass so much but . . . but just having you there.”

Jimmy nods. The rain increases. Brianna stares at the sky and crosses her arms.

“Well . . . it’s Sunday and I haven’t eaten. Can . . . can I come in?”

“That all Depends,” Omar says and winks.

“Don’t worry. I’m safely wrapped. Got more stashed in my walker.”

Brianna moves to open the restaurant’s door. “We have your table ready.”

“Thanks for having me back.”

She hesitates, then places a hand on his shaking shoulder. “You are welcome.”

Jimmy lurches inside to a warm room with the TV flashing a football game, the here and now just a bit more kind on this rainy Sunday morning.

end of story

© 2024, Terry Sanville Go to top