Jasper. We’ll call him Jasper. Jasper works the lunch counter at – let’s call it The Wooden Nickel.
Jasper knows I’m a writer. And he probably thinks that being a writer is weird. It is weird. As a writer, I spend inordinate amounts of time alone, fiddling and tinkering around in my own head, and talking out loud to myself.
I have a tiny office – it has to be tiny – because my internal landscape of wanderings is so dad-blamed huge that if I were to have a larger physical space to wander around in, I’d get lost.
So I’m in here, my tiny office, right now – writing, babbling to myself, and staring off into space. It’s rewarding.
Aaaaaaand it can border on crazy-unhealthy.
I recognize that it’s a good idea for me to have an antidote to all this sitting, and solitude and chattering to myself or imaginary people and musing about big open and teeny tiny spaces. So everyday, sometime between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., I walk to the Nickel and sit at the counter for lunch.
Yes, I could pack my own lunch. I sure could. And I could sit in my office and eat it by myself and keep working. And I could be lonely. And smug that I was saving money. I could then use my Excellent Money Saving Through Lonely Lunch Skills as a platform to judge other people. Wasteful people. People who go to the Wooden Nickel everyday for lunch. And maybe, some of them even have alcohol with their lunches. And maybe some of them are unmarried with children. Or have been unfaithful. Or have experimented sexually. Maybe some of them can’t pay their big bills, and are still out to eat at the Wooden Nickel, when they should be cloistered away at home or in a cubicle, eating a Lonely and Shameful Lunch that is properly reflective of their poverty and deserved humiliation.
That sounds fun, too, but instead I go to the Nickel, get my lunch, and lie to Jasper.
Now I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge, but most waitstaff and bartenders are actually therapists. Underpaid, disrespected, mistreated, overworked, hungry therapists. They hear all kinds of problems, endure projected rantings, and gently redirect inappropriate coping mechanisms and behavior – from the asshole at Table 2 to the self-entitled bitch at the bar… and they do it all day long for tips.
I love Jasper, and compensate him for his therapist’s role. I am nice to him, only complaining about people he’s never met, and I tip him “outrageously.” Which is bullshit, because the man makes $2/hour from his employer. Okay, I’m exaggerating – $2.13/hour.
Here’s a typical Jasper greeting, “Hey there, Mae. You’re a bit late today. We already sold out of the quiche. Trouble with Bill again? He’s putting you through the ringer this week, isn’t he?”
Then he hands me my half-and-half unsweet/sweet tea blend, no ice, two lemon wedges if they’re skinny, one if he cut me a fat wedge, and a straw. I didn’t have to ask for it. It’s just there because Jasper pays attention. It is paradise.
“You’re goddamn right I had trouble with Bill,” I might reply. “Thanks for my tea. What’s the soup? That asshole kept me tied up in conversation half the morning. I love him, but crap in a can, Jasper he’s on a streak.”
Yesterday I realized that Jasper thinks I’m a content writer. That I work with clients, and that Bill is a client I’m working with on a project right now. Bill, in fact, is a character. A fictional fucking character. I think I understand how this happened.
Some characters I walk beside, in conversation or in companionable silence:
Some characters are kind of emo, and just want me to listen:
Then there’s a character like Bill:
Bill is all over the damn place, mauling me, tossing me around, ferocious, adorable, admirable. I don’t know what to do with him.
And Jasper thinks he’s real. And in a way, Jasper’s right.
I haven’t yet decided what to do about it, but I don’t think I’ll be changing anything. It’s a blessed sweet relief to talk to Jasper about my “client relations.” And thinking of my characters as “clients” has been incredibly helpful in how I approach them.
No more 2 a.m. phone calls, Bill. That shit is outside of working hours, and is not acceptable.
Once again, thanks be to Jasper.