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    You Have Two Beds?

    August 18th, 2010

    You have two beds?

    Years ago a group of us went to Sacramento for a train show. My friend K. and I shared a motel room, while my dad and one of his friends Don shared an adjoining room.

    When we go to these out of town shows we banter and poke fun with each other. We also go out and eat. We always eat at a good restaurant where we each pay a fraction of the check. At other meals we flip coins to determine who pays.

    Basically we all flip a coin until everyone except one person has the same side showing. The odd man wins the privilege of paying for the entire meal.

    My dad drove to Sacramento, K., Don and I met at the airport and flew in. When I met up with them at the airport they were just finishing breakfast. Don looked at me and said something to the effect of, “You’re too late we just paid the check.”

    Just meaningless words said to get a laugh at another’s expense.

    Later that day we hooked up with my dad, checked into the train show, and then went to have lunch. Don had a salad and glass of water. I had a lamb chop with a dinner salad, I don’t know what the other diners ate.

    When the check came we started flipping coins. Don won. Or maybe he lost. He grumbled about paying $50 for a $4.00 salad while the rest of us thanked him for lunch and laughed at his complaints.

    Over the years we’ve all paid for meals as a result of the coin toss not going our way. You either pay graciously or you get laughed at for being cheap. You also learn to just have what you want because you might end up paying for everyone’s lunch.

    We went to dinner on Thursday night and guess who won again. Good guess. Don won, and bitched even louder. We laughed at him and told him to act like a man.

    Friday is trading day. We spend the day running around a convention hall filled with toy trains reconnecting with people we only see a few times a year. It’s a lot of fun, and we invite our friends and interesting new people to go to dinner with us at a nice place.

    When we invite people we tell them we split the check after tax and tip between each diner equally. That means if it’s $400, each person pays $50. The bar bill is left to the drinkers to settle. Usually the cost runs $50-75 per person plus drinks.

    Some people don’t go with us because they don’t want to spend the money. Some don’t go because they don’t like the type of food – we never get big crowds when we go to sushi places. And most don’t go because they have other plans, or maybe they don’t want to put up with our clowning.

    We usually go to places where you order a piece of meat, and side dishes for the table. Some of the places like Al Baker’s in St Louis and The Baron’s in King of Prussia PA, cook the side dishes at the table. I don’t remember the name of the Sacramento restaurant, but they didn’t cook the vegetables at the table.

    There were about 12 of us, and the restaurant put us in our own little room. We had a waiter and a bus boy serving just us. This serves them and us well as we are a loud and boisterous group.

    Did I mention profanity? No. How about a loud, profane and boisterous group. Basically we’re a bunch of men who play with toy trains and act like little kids.

    The dinner that night was no different than many others. Maybe a little more over the top than usual because there weren’t any wives or girlfriends in attendance, but still a good time.

    Don acted quite judgmental about the behavior at dinner. He started making snarky comments which only served to cause us to start poking at him.

    If it sounds like we’re a bunch of immature kids maybe you’re right. Or, maybe you’re just being judgmental.

    Anyway, after dinner the check came and someone did the math. I don’t remember the amount we each paid, but it didn’t seem high to me so it was probably in the $50 range. I remember the times it was $75, and I really remember the time we each chipped in $150 at a sushi place called Hashimoto or something like that in San Jose.

    Hearing the amount he owed, Don started bitching. “I only had a pork chop and some salad. That’s not worth $50.”

    Immediately we all started making fun of him for being a cheap bastard. This did nothing to improve Don’s mood, but was entertaining to the rest of us.

    After dinner we broke up into smaller groups and went off to check out the local nightlife. Don went back to his room to sulk.

    Saturday is another trading day, and there is a banquet in the evening. K. and I didn’t go to the banquet, and we didn’t spend much time with Don that day.

    On Sunday morning, Don came into our room through the adjoining door and started in with comments about how messy the room was. K. and I had been bored by the local bar scene and went back to the room to watch movies. We watched a movie and ate peanuts.

    Now I will be honest here and say the room was a bit trashed. We didn’t punch holes in the wall or even flood the place like we did one night in Pasadena, we just had the bedding wadded up on the floor along with assorted snack wrappers, peanut shells and beverage bottles.

    Don’s poking at us so we laugh and poke back. We walked into his room and K. said something like “This room smells like a whorehouse.” I looked at the room and said, “you guys have two beds?”

    Don got upset about the whorehouse and two beds comments. My dad wasn’t a morning person so he just grumbled a bit and got up.

    I looked at my dad and asked, “Did Don want to cuddle when you were done with him?” My dad said something like “What the hell are you talking about,” and went into the bathroom for a shower.

    K. and I laughed, but Don got quiet. We left him to wait for my dad, and went off to have breakfast.

    Later we met up at the convention center and started packing up the trains we’d failed to sell. California enforces sales tax collections at the shows so one person will get the tables and deal with the taxes for the group.

    I’d paid for the tables so people started giving me money for the tables and the taxes on their sales. One guy from California offered me money, but hadn’t sold anything so I told him not to worry about it. I figured the goodwill from letting him keep the $12 he owed me was worth it, and seeing the single set of trains he’d brought was worth it. (As an aside my dad later bought that set of trains and it was one of his favorite trains.)

    Anyway after I refused to take money from the California guy, I turned to Don and asked him how much he sold. He said about $2100. The sales tax is 8.25% so after doing some simple math I told Don to just give me $200 to cover the taxes and the tables.

    Don refused to pay the taxes or the table costs. He said he’d spent so much on meals feeding me that I shouldn’t expect him to give me anything.

    I called him a “cheap fucker” and went back to packing my stuff up. Don walked off in a huff. Both my dad and K. told me to lay off Don.

    I didn’t have another conversation with Don that weekend. Don started avoiding me. He’d been going over to a mutual friend’s house I was helping build a train layout on most Wednesday nights. He started calling my other friend to find out if I’d be there so he could avoid me.

    If Don saw me at a show, he’d glare at me and turn his back. I don’t think we spoke for years. Or rather he didn’t speak to me.

    I remember seeing him in Pasadena a few months after the Sacramento trip. I called out “Hey Don, how are you doing?”

    He brighten up and smiled while turning his head to me, but when Don realized who was calling his name, he told me to “Fuck off and die.”

    The people standing around me were shocked at his behavior. Over the next few years, we repeated this little scene for audiences at various locations all over the country.

    Don never had many friends in the train clubs. I have lots of friends, and my father was a founding member of the “good-old-boy-network.” Because Don refused to be around me, he didn’t get to hang out with many others either.

    Seven or eight years after that weekend in Sacramento, Don ended up in a registration line immediately before me. Faced with the choice to move to the back of the slow check in line, or to be rude and ignore me, we talked.

    Don died a few months later. I didn’t go to the funeral. My dad told me few people went. Don just didn’t have very many friends.

    I was planning on calling this essay “If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.” But I don’t think that fits well enough.

    I don’t know what the lesson in this story is anymore. I started out writing about someone playing along with the banter and BS and then copping a resentment because his feelings were hurt.

    Maybe this story is about taking resentments over slights and walling yourself away? Maybe it’s about judging other people so you don’t have to look at yourself?

    Somewhere over the course of the weekend, Don choose to be a victim. Being a victim he needed a bully and choose me. These immature statements that riled Don so much were no different than the dozens or hundreds said that weekend.

    There were many more statements coming at me than I was dishing out, but I don’t remember most of the things said that weekend because I wasn’t seeking to be a victim. I was only one of the guys hanging out playing with trains and eating at nice restaurants.

    Maybe this is about protecting ourselves from being honest? There is no doubt in my mind that Don was a cheap bastard. I don’t know why he would be ashamed of that, but it certainly set him off.