The Gentleman in the Corner

Five cities in six days. A different airline every morning, a different hotel every night. You’re only slightly more hungry than exhausted, which is why you’ve eschewed the bed for a quick bite in the lobby bar. There, you’ve been keeping it on the down low, when a stranger sends over an overpriced glass of Cabernet.

“From the gentleman in the corner,” says the waiter.

Typically, you’d walk over and say thanks right away, but your dinner has just arrived, and you could eat the ass out of a hobby horse. You try to catch his eye, but the gentleman in the corner is obscured from view.

“Tell him I said thanks,” you say. “I’ll stop by on the way out.”

The waiter leaves and you return to the task at hand – a roasted chicken the size of your head, accompanied by Brussels sprouts, cornbread, and sweet potato fries. Ten minutes later the chicken is decimated and the waiter is back with the bottle. He fills your glass again, compliments of the gentleman in the corner.

Who is this guy? Does he know how expensive this stuff is? You glance over, but see only the back of a very large head, shiny and black. The gentleman in the corner is holding court.

You finish the poultry, soak up the gravy with the last of the cornbread, and eliminate the final sweet potato fry. If you weren’t in public, you’d suck the marrow from the bones, but you have an image to maintain. You tell the waiter to bill it to your room, and he says there’s no need. Not only has The Gentleman in the Corner purchased your drinks, he’s apparently picked up your entire dinner.

This is unprecedented. A drink is one thing, but when another man buys you poultry, the protocol gets a bit squishy. How exactly does one reciprocate? Do you send over a pork chop? A side of beef? You consider the credit for a free massage at the hotel spa, offered to you upon check in. Maybe you’ll give him that? Would that be weird?

You walk over to confront your benefactor, where you’ll be happy to pose for a picture, sign a napkin, or perhaps record the outgoing message on his answering machine. It’s the least you can do, given the stranger’s largess, and the domestic fowl now sequestered comfortably in your gut.

But the gentleman in the corner wants none of these things. He wishes only to congratulate you on living an interesting life, and thank you for causing him to laugh out loud on more than one occasion.

As always, you’re humbled. But this time, you’re struck not by the generosity of the species, or the great good fortune that brought you to the place where everyday people wish to express their gratitude for your work. No – this time, you’re struck by the fact that the Gentleman in the Corner is Charles Barkley.

It occurs to you that life couldn’t get much weirder. You pull up a stool and chat. Like so many retired athletes, he’s out sized – larger than life, but completely genuine. You identify a few mutual friends, and share a few amusing anecdotes.

Then you take the worst selfie in the world and go to bed, wondering what the new day will bring.


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