A Tale of Two Friends

coffee_wm“Does happiness really have to be this much fucking work?” Carl asked with his eyes clamped shut, forcefully rubbing his forehead with both hands.  “I mean, is it really that hard for two people to live amicably together in the same house?”

“Maybe it’s because human beings are just primitive, hairless animals,” Jack replied, vigorously stirring two packets of sugar into a cup of steaming coffee.

“And I’m talking about two human beings who can actually stomach being around each other for more than a day,” added Carl, opening his eyes and dropping his hands to the table.  “Which, in it of itself, is a goddamn miracle.”

“Although, there are some humans who have lots of hair,” Jack continued, setting the stir spoon down carefully.  “More so than some animals, even.”

Carl glanced up at his friend.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I dated this guy named Jim for a month.  He had this layer of dense, black curly hair that covered his broad chest.  I was ambivalent about it.”

“Are you even listening to me?”

Jack shook his finger at Carl.  “But Jim liked watching Teletubbies.  Every Saturday morning he sat on the couch in his boxers with a bowl of Trix cereal cradled between his legs.  No milk.  That’s just weird for any grown man.  Crumbs would get tangled in that hairy chest of his.  I broke up with him over a voicemail.”

Carl held his hands up.  “What the hell is a Teletubby?”

“Incidental to the story,” Jack replied quickly, shaking his head.  “My point is, we’re all just animals who allow ourselves to be restrained by socially constructed standards and large bottles of Xanax while simultaneously being hopped up on caffeine and false hope.” Jack took a slow sip from his coffee.  “Still not sweet enough.”

“All relationships are built on false hope?”

“And lies,” replied Jack.  “And copious amounts alcohol and/or drugs.  The successful ones, anyway.”

Carl dropped his head and stared at the billowing waves of steam rolling out of his coffee mug.  “I should have drank more, I guess.  Maybe heroin is the real glue to a marriage.”

“Jesus.  Relax,” Jack replied, yanking three packets of sugar out of a small red basket wedged next to a laminated menu.  “So Christopher left for a week.  Not the first time you two have taken a break.”

“It’s permanent this time.  He took his plants with him, too.”

“His precious peace lilies?  That’s irony for you!”  Carl frowned at him.  “Did Chris take your sense of humor, too?”

“You make jokes and tell me to calm down?  That’s your advice?  My relationship of ten years is falling apart.  I’m possibly jumping head-first into the gauntlet that is divorce, and your advice is, ‘calm down’?”

“I didn’t say calm down,” Jack replied coolly, shaking the sugar packets with his right hand.  “I said relax.”

“What kind of a friend are you?”

“I’m the only friend you have you didn’t find on Grinder,” Jack answered, ripping open the packets and dumping the sugar into his coffee.  “And can you and Chris even get a divorce in this state?”

Carl leaned forward to take a sip from his coffee, then turned his head.  “Actually, I’m not sure how that works.”

“Would you two have to fly back to New York where you got married?”

Carl smirked.  “That would be a fun flight.”

Jack smiled back, the spoon smacking the side of his mug as he stirred the coffee.  “You and Chris, sitting next to each other in silent indignation on a packed flight for three hours.”

“Knocking each other’s elbows off the arm rest until it turns into a screaming match on the plane.”

“And the passengers around you turn up their headphones, looking over their shoulders but trying to avoid eye contact.”

“And then the flight attendant makes one of us move to another seat.”

Jack licked his spoon before setting it down loudly on the table.  “And then you get stuck next to some bulbous, sweaty guy who doesn’t believe in wearing deodorant.”

Carl started laughing.  “At which point I just open the emergency-exit door at 30,000 feet and fall smiling to my death, smelling all that fresh air.”

“Or you just hate fuck in the airplane bathroom.”

Carl stopped laughing.  “Wait . . . what?”

“Sex fixes everything, you know,” added Jack, wiping away a few stray grains of sugar crystals from the table top.  “You and Chris then end up renewing your vows with in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by gawking onlookers taking pictures and tweeting the photos of your affectionate renewal-relationship-kiss.  Your mom sees them online and starts to cry with happiness in her pajamas.”  Jack breathed in the steam from the coffee.  “I smell a Rom-Com.”

“What the hell is a Rom-Com?”

“Romantic-Comedy, Carl. Keep up.”  Jack took a long sip from his coffee, closing his eyes in pleasure.  “Ahh.  Perfect.”

“How the hell did we get from divorce to me and Chris hate fucking into the mile high club?”

“It’s your twisted fantasy.  Don’t get mad at me.”

Carl shook his head, picking up his mug then slamming it back down, spilling some of the black liquid onto the table.  “Jesus, I mean is it really asking the universe too much for two human beings who supposedly love each other to get along?  A long, happy marriage lasts for, what, 5 decades?  Is 50 years asking too much?”

“1 year of marriage is too much,” quipped Jack.  “You know, I read somewhere that sleeping in the same bed with your husband or wife is only a recent phenomenon.”

“And what’s 50 years in the whole grand scheme of things?”

“Maybe you two should get separate beds.  That might ease tensions, no?”

“The universe came into existence, what, 13.5 billion years ago.  Earth itself was formed 4.5 billion years ago.  Life itself is 3.5 billion years old.  And two human beings can’t enjoy 50 fucking years of contentment?”

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Jack snapped his fingers with an idea.  “Or, maybe you should get separate rooms, with a third room you use only for sex and cuddling.”

“Stop joking around!”

“I’m serious,” Jack replied nonchalantly.  “It could double as the guest bedroom, though it might make for an awkward holiday if your mom stays over.”

Carl dropped his head to the table, his forehead smacking loudly on the table top.

Jack rolled his eyes.  “Yes. Yes.  I’m listening.  50 years out of 13.5 billion years, and the universe owes you and Christopher happiness, and we’re all really just alone and insignificant in the universe and blah, blah, blah.”

“You’re an asshole,” Carl said to the floor.

“True.  But this coffee is good,” Jack said with a smile, taking another sip.  “Damn good.  And you’re letting yours get cold, complaining about Chris and jumping to conclusions about divorce just because you had some stupid, blow-out fight about cleaning out the litter box.”

Carl’s head popped up.  “How hard is it to just scoop out a couple of clumps of cat poop once a day?”

“Sounds disgusting if you ask me.  You should have gotten a snake or something.” Carl just stared back.  “Listen.  I’m no Dr. Phil,” Jack quickly added, scratching the back of his neck.  “I’m just a gay guy with a regular shit job, perpetual failed relationships, lots of credit card debt, and an unhealthy obsession with anal beads.  I don’t have all the answers.”

“You don’t have any answers.”

Jack held up his finger.  “But, I’m just trying to say that this is really good joe.  Maybe you should shut the hell up for five seconds and try to enjoy it.”

Carl’s eyes narrowed, then he sighed, picking up his cup by the handle.  He brought the cup up to his nose, the steam warming his face as it rolled over his cheeks.  He took in a deep breath, the aroma of the coffee beans opening up his nostrils, making his mouth water in anticipation.  His hands felt cozy, wrapped tightly around the warm, ceramic mug.  Carl brought the cup to his mouth, his lips parted, and the hot liquid seemed to dance as it slid over his tongue.  He swallowed and deliberately repeated the process.  His chest felt warm, like it had been wrapped up in a quilt.  “You’re right.  That’s pretty damn good,” he said quietly.

“Told ya,” Jack replied with a nod and a broad smile.  “And how many people on this 4.5 billion year old planet get to enjoy such delightful coffee while talking to their best friend?”

“You’re a mediocre friend, at best,” Carl replied, tilting his head.  “And did you say you were obsessed with anal beads?”

Jack smiled broadly.  “Add it to your bucket list.  Trust me.  You have no idea what you’re missing.”  Jack added another packet of sugar to his coffee.

“You’re intolerable.”

Jack leaned back, crossing his arms.  “I think that’s a quote from a book.”

“’You’re intolerable’?”

“No.  That thing you said about happiness being too much work.”  Jack tapped his finger on his coffee mug.  “Who wrote A Tale of Two Cities?”

“Dickens.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure,” said Carl, nodding thoughtfully.  “And it works, too.  ’It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.’”

“That’s a good one,” Jack said.  “Where’s that from?”

“That’s the first line in the novel.”

“What novel?”

A Tale of Two Cities.”

Jack took a sip from his coffee.  “Never read it.”

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