“Table Games”

“Here’s how to make it in life,” Charlie growled. “You don’t go around demandin’ respect without bein’ willin’ to give respect.”

Charlie paused and reached for his coffee. He only asked people to fill it “halfway” so he wouldn’t shake it all over himself on the way to his mouth. Was it old age? Parkinson’s? Results from previous poor life decisions? It could have been a combination of some or all.

“You do that and get your fuckin’ ass kicked all over the place.”

Charlie focused the path of cup to lip as he brought the coffee closer to his mouth. The slower he went, the shakier he got. But it was a fine line. If he went too fast, he would burn “half my fuckin’ face off,” according the Charlie.

“Respect is a good thing. It gives each of us a chance to ‘live and let live,’ just like it says on the wall over there.”

Charlie’s left finger pointed shakily over Jay’s left shoulder, while his right hand continued to practice balancing the rim of the coffee cup to his lips.

“Respect isn’t guaranteed, ya see, though,” Charlie continued. “I used to give a person respect to begin with, but the minute they did somethin’ out of line, I’d say ‘fuck ’em.’ I still do that some time, but I usually give them a few chances before the ol’ ‘fuck ’em’ comes out.”

A few stifled laughs came from around the table.

“Maybe I just…,” Charlie paused. A small dribble of coffee streamed from the side of his mouth. He leaned back slurped in back into his mouth. “Maybe I just quit caring as much. I don’t think that’s it but maybe it is. I know one damn thing for sure: I don’t like gettin’ pissed off anymore. It still shows up, but it doesn’t consume my ass like it used to.”

Charlie cleared his throat and scanned the room, pausing to look each of the 7 other faces directly.

“I RAISE my voice sometimes,” Charlie boomed in his practiced ‘coach voice’ that was honed in earlier incarnations of young Charlie the little-league coach, “but that ain’t me bein’ pissed.”

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