According to Chancy
"So what's this week's observation," I ask indifferently between gulps of coffee.
Chancy smiles broadly, showing me bits of food stuck between his teeth. He holds up a finger, signaling for me to wait a moment, and swallows the last of his sandwich.
"Yeah, man," he says. "You're going to love this one."
"Yeah, man. This one's real philosophical in a modern kind of New York City kind of way."
I watch as he then picks at the food in his teeth. His eyebrows are drawn down and closer together. It's creating a crease between them. He's concentrating on what he's doing.
I'm staring at a thin string of yellow spit connected between his semi-opened lips. It must be from the mustard on his sandwich. I watch it reverberate as he breathes. My eyes move along his mouth to see a collection of crumbs stuck in the corners of it where his lips meet. This is when I realize that he's done picking his teeth and is waiting on me to respond.
I drain the last of my coffee and fold my arms over my chest. I sink down into my chair, slumped over and ready to hear this week's big epiphany.
"Rodents," he states nonchalantly.
"Yeah, man, rodents. Rats. Mice. We're all rodents."
He moves in his chair a little and leans forward. He's waiting on me to look confused so he can continue with this new theory on how to look at life.
He must be really excited about this one.
I give him what he wants and arch an eyebrow. I look confused and a little skeptical.
Chancy launches into the explanation without missing a beat.
Good job, me.
"OK, see, people in general aren't your simple household rats. We are and they are your dirty and diseased and hungry inner city sewer rats. We live in gutters. We feed on trash and often times smaller, weaker rats and mice. We breathe in contaminated air and smog. We're surrounded by not only proverbial, but also literal shit."
He pauses a moment to give time for what he's said to sink in.
"Life for us is about our own, ourselves, staying alive, making it in this world of bigger, more powerful beings without being eaten or squished alive for as long as possible."
Rita, our usual waitress, comes back to our table and refills my coffee cup. I stare at the thick, dark liquid swirl around and then look out the diner's dirty windows.
I watch as cars pass by in the night, and people walk up and down the street outside. I see a man light a woman's cigarette, and they walk away talking. He puts his arm on her waist as she inhales deeply from the filter.
Across the street, I see a man stumble out of the bar. He grabs the wall for support and begins yelling at someone not there. He bends down slowly and picks up a rock. He attempts to throw it at the hanging neon Open sign above the bar's door and falls backwards. People I suspect to be his friends come outside and carry him away.
Rita comes back with Chancy's slice of pie.
She's an older woman in her late fifties. Her knuckles are big and round with arthritis and her swollen ankles peak out from black chunky therapeutic shoes.
This time of night, she's probably been hear for ten hours already. Her apron's stained with grease spots and gray curls have fallen from the bun on the back of her head.
Chancy smiles at her picks up his fork.
"Thank you much, ma'am."
She smiles back and lays down our ticket.
"You boys have a nice night. Be sure to be careful going home too now, you hear? There's all kinds of people out there."
We both nod as she walks away.
Chancy finishes his pie and with a mouthful of crust and fruit he asks me what I think of this week's big idea.
I shrug my shoulders and lay down a tip for Rita.
Chancy swallows the last of his pie and stares at me in disbelief.
"Come on, man! That was my best one yet. What do you mean you don't know?"
We get up, pay for the food, and go out the door. I hear Rita lock it behind us and watch her flip the Open sign to Closed. She waves at Chancy and me, and I start off the down the street.
I hear quick footsteps behind me.
"What do you mean you don't know? That one was perfect!"
I look at Chancy. He's desperate to know what I think.
"You really want to know?"
"Yeah, man! Tell me."
I shrug again.
"You've got a point, but I hate to think that everything you do and everything I do and everything Rita does or anything that anybody does is because we have to. I hate to think that no matter what, all that matters is what keeps us alive and going."
I take in a deep breath of contaminated air smoggy air.
"It's like life is so pointless. So is trying. It's like the point of life is to struggle to say you did it. It's just to say you made it so far without getting eaten or squished. Nothing is because you wanted it to. Everything is because it has to. I hate that."
Chancy looks down at his feet and sticks his hands into his coat pockets.
"That's life, man."
I turn and keep walking down the street.
"I'll see you next week," Chancy yells after me before he heads to his apartment in the opposite direction.