Stripah Love

by Stephen Hunter Morris
from Chapter 1 : Listen to the Grease
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Sometimes he who hesitates is found, and so it was with Artie. The aluminum screen door of the bait shop flew open with a bang, and a man with shoulder-length gray hair, with a blue bandana around his forehead charged out carrying a sign "We Got Sea Worms!!" He wore a well-tattered flannel shirt that was unbuttoned, freeing his ample beer gut to greet the Spring. The sleeves of the shirt had been torn off, and his arms were covered in faded tattoos. His beard, or more precisely the gray hair that grew from his face, was long and undisciplined. There was not even a hint of red hair.

Initially, he paid no heed to the man on the sidewalk watching him. But as he grew exasperated at trying to attach his sign to some woefully insufficient nail stubs, he turned his irritation on the bystander.

"You got a fucking staring problem?" he asked.

Then came the moment of recognition.

Is this unique to the human species? Artie wondered later as he reflected back on his reunion with Cuzzin. Years pass, faces change, hair falls out, kids are born, wives come and go, and yet it only takes one instant, one look in the eye, one syllable of speech for one member of the human species to recognize another with whom he is acquainted. You walk on the city street or through a mall or airport, and you see thousands of faces. The eyes scan them all. Nope, nope, nope, nope. They're all strangers. Until there's the moment. The click that occurs. Could this be captured on film? How could it be expressed? It wouldn't work. You'd need a two shot, reactions from both players. You'd need thirty seconds, maybe forty-five, to communicate what in real life takes a nanosecond.

Cuzzin's moment of recognition, while joyous, was none too eloquent. "Ahhtee. You fuckin' gotta be kiddin'. You fuckin' gotta be kiddin' ME. I can't fuckin' believe it. Ahhtee. You fuckin' gotta be kiddin." And they embrace.

Inside, the men sit at stools by what used to be the ordering counter for the fish and chips. Cuzzin spews words: Jeez, Ahhtee, goodtaseeyuh! Howyabeen? What bringsyaback? Hey, jizwanna beer?

It's still morning.

Aww, fukkit, Ahhtee. You only go this way once. Beer tastes best in the morning.

Cuzzin cracked open a sixteen ounce can of Old Milwaukee and slid it to him. He already had a can open for himself.

Hirstoyou. To whateva brotcha home.

They clink cans.

There are no customers for bait this morning. A few regular degenerates stop by, looking to sneak in a quick beer with Cuzzin, but they are scared off by Artie's polished demeanor. It's a perfect time to catch up.


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