By Matthew Robins
This guy fancies himself as pretty smart. So smart he graduated with a degree without really trying. So smart he’s 36 and still lives with his mother in his childhood bedroom. So smart he has no job and no money. So smart he speaks different languages and can talk knowledgably and authoritatively about Freud and Jung and Nietzsche and history and geopolitics at a guy like me who’s not nearly as smart about that kind of stuff.
Yeah, this guy is really, really smart. So smart he eats nothing but shit fast food with the money he receives from the government. So whenever we meet, which isn’t often anymore, it’s always somewhere to talk over cheap, shitty fast food.
This guy is really smart but, in his 17 years in this country and for all the fast food he’s eaten, he’d never gone to Long John Silver’s. So one day he asked me to meet him there.
I agreed. Before we met he asked me if I’d ever eaten there before and if I liked it.
I replied, “Yes,” to both.
We got together on a Sunday and it was all-you-can-eat fish. I like Long John Silver’s so I was delighted since I hadn’t rung the bell or tasted their greasy filleted goodness in a really long time.
We ate. I asked this smart guy what he thought. He said the food was shit. He said I must be joking about liking it. He said it had to be my hipster sense of irony pretending to like it- similar, I guess, to how hipsters “like” Pabst Blue Ribbon, even though and knowing it’s piss. So, even though he’d consumed his fair share of shit fried food over the years, this really smart guy declared he’d never come back to Long John’s. That’s just how gross he proclaimed Long John Silver’s to be.
But I really like it. And I pled my case for my seriousness but he still wouldn’t believe it.
So we sat a while longer as I enjoyed the bounty of all-you-can-eat deep fried, golden battered fillets from Heaven. As I devoured, he began talking about Jung and archetypes and the shadow self, the collective unconscious and all kinds of other nonsense like dream interpretations and the psyche. He talked a lot about all sorts of deeper meanings to life, which I noticed didn’t include anything about the fast foods he preferred which just so happened to make up a significant part of his life. I wondered if there wasn’t some deeper psychological significance to his simple choice of routinely eating garbage compared to anything else. What we eat seems like a simple choice. A throwaway choice but I couldn’t help but wonder if Jung or even Freud might attach some deeper meaning or significance to such a mostly thoughtless (mostly unconscious?) yet poor decision.
Then he talked for a while about Buddhism. He fancied himself a bit of an expert on the subject. He talked a lot about detachment and a bunch of shit about some Buddhist goddess, life as suffering and cravings and Nirvana. He talked a lot about noble truths and all living things being equal, though it made no sense knowing the suffering of all the animals in the hamburgers and chicken tenders he ate and continued to eat without enough remorse or empathy for those animals to ever quit.
It all seemed very confused, even boldly hypocritical. I was curious just how deep his curiosity about Buddhism was, so I asked, “What do you think about what Schopenhauer says about Buddhism?”
“What does he say about it?” the smart man who now hated Long John Silver’s asked.
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you. I figured you’d know, it being Schopenhauer and Buddhism and all.”
He pretended not to hear.
“Or Hermann Hesse?” I asked. “Hermann Hesse was really into Buddhism, right?”
I don’t think he had much of a clue about Hermann Hesse, even though he was really smart about all sorts of things like Carl Jung and geopolitics.
I waited for an answer about Hesse but he just went on about detachment and Green Tara and a bunch of other shit. That Sunday, when we had Long Johns Silver’s and he talked about Buddhism and Jung, was a few years ago.
Recently, I got hooked up with an old guy through some volunteer work I do. This old man is 80 and very frail. He can barely walk. He lives in a filthy mobile home with a bunch of dogs and gnats and flies and a drugged-out granddaughter and her girlfriend when they’re not in jail, living our of their car or squatting somewhere else temporarily, getting high. This old man, Delbert, says these bitches drive him nuts, spending hours and hours at a time together in his bathroom when he needs to take a shit. But, at least they’re around sometimes when his blood sugar gets out of control and he needs somebody to give him a drink of orange juice.
I take this old man out to movies and out to eat about twice a month. That’s what I agreed to do as a condition of my volunteering – spend time with him. The movies and the food are extra to just hanging out in his trailer and giving him a little companionship, which is the minimum of what I’m obliged to do.
It’s taken a little while for me and Del to figure out our groove together, but our groove has became movies and lunch on Saturdays. Stupid me and stupid, old Del, watching dumb stuff like Candyman and Halloween Kills – shit far too crass and lowbrow for the taste of that really smart guy that never wants to go to movies but loves bloviating about Jung and Buddhism.
The other day Del called to ask if we were going out on Saturday. I said we were, so long as he felt up to it.
He asked what movie we would to see. We both like horror. Del once had a nightclub act as a vampire and dressed up as The Count for stuff like mall openings and car shows. But there wasn’t any horror in the theater that weekend. The big movie that week was the new James Bond.
Neither of us care for James Bond too much, so he asked if I could take him to Walmart instead to look at TV’s.
“What about lunch? We going out for lunch too?”
“Sure,” I said.
He asked where. I said I hadn’t thought about it too much yet.
Del asked, “You know where I really like to eat? You know what’s my favorite?”
I thought. He’d said some places he liked but I couldn’t remember him telling me his favorite
“Long John Silver’s,” he said. “Maybe we can go there sometime. I know there’s not a lot of ’em around anymore, but maybe we can find one.”
“Of course,” I said. “We’ll do that while we’re out on Saturday.”
It never even occurred to me at the time Delbert might be trying to play some bullshit hipster game with me. I just assumed he was being genuine about his taste for Long John’s, just like I had been with the really smart guy who came to hate it.
Later that day I messaged the really smart guy who I rarely saw or spoke with anymore, though the last time we did speak I told him a bit about this old man, Delbert, which didn’t seem to interest the really smart guy a lot.
I messaged him, “Delbert informed me today his favorite place to eat is Long John Silver’s so we’re going there tomorrow.”
I waited. There was no response.
So I wrote, “The Lord or Buddha or the green goddess works in mysterious ways, bringing kindred spirits of Long John’s together this way. It must be cosmic kismet.”
Again, I waited. Again, no response.
So I wrote, “I will be keenly scrutinizing this encounter, looking for clues to deeper Jungian meanings to life and our relationship over fried fish, coleslaw and hush puppies.”
I waited a few more hours and there was still no reply.
So I wrote, “Some day you can join Del and I at Long John’s. Perhaps together we can enlighten you to the ways of Long John’s delightfulness.”
I waited a very long time and this really smart guy never replied, though I knew he got those messages.
That Saturday I picked Del up and we went to Walmart and Long John Silver’s. That day he was wearing a security guard shirt and, before we left his trailer, he asked me to tuck in the back of his shirt and pin the badge on him since he couldn’t do it himself.
That afternoon we went to Walmart as an elderly security guard and a middle-aged schmuck trying to be cool in a D.R.I. concert t-shirt. I pushed Del in his wheelchair to look at TV’s. I told him there was something else I thought he’d like.
We went over the men’s department. I showed him the horror t-shirts they had out for Halloween. They had Freddy Kreuger and Michael Meyer and Jason. We were planning to see Halloween Kills in a couple of weeks. I told Del I had a Halloween shirt of the original movie poster – the image of the scary pumpkin with the knife, but it didn’t look like Walmart had anymore on the shelf. That day they had a different Michael Meyers shirt than mine. I showed it to Del. He said he wanted it. He said he’d wear his and I’d wear mine when we went to see Halloween Kills in a couple of weeks.
After Walmart we went to Long John Silver’s. On the way, he told me his daughter told him not to wear the security guard uniform. He told me a long time ago he was the nighttime security guard for a black church down in Florida and that’s where the shirt and the badge were from.
“My daughter said not to wear it cause I’ll look like a moron. But I want to wear it. It’s getting close to Halloween and this is my costume,” he chuckled.
“I’m not bothered at all by your outfit,” I said.
At Long John’s we shared the family meal of 8 pieces of fish, 8 hush puppies, fries and a tub of coleslaw. Del wondered if they still did the all-you-can-eat on Sundays. I asked. The girl with pink and blue hair said, “Not since Covid.” Del said it was too bad. He said if they still did he’d like to come as soon as they opened and stay for 4 or 5 hours eating the fish.
Del eats very slow. In 40 minutes he’d eaten 3 pieces of fish and a lot of coleslaw. He loves coleslaw but he’s missing some teeth, so he chews it very slow. Finally I told Del we’d box up the rest and he could take it home, so we did.
Before I dropped Del off at his trailer, I stopped at my house get the Halloween card I’d forgotten to give him. It had Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster on it. I knew he’d like it since he likes horror too.
I parked in my driveway. I went inside. I came back to the car with the card.
I opened the door. Del couldn’t wait. He’d already gotten back into the box of Long John Silver’s while I was gone. He had the last piece of fish in his hand and tartar sauce all over his wispy beard. I hoped he hadn’t dribbled any on my cloth seats.
“It’s so good I couldn’t wait to get home,” he said.
I gave him the card. He put down the box of fish and hush puppies and opened the envelope with his greasy fingers. He asked me to read it to him since he never learned to read. Del was delighted with the card, telling me Boris Karloff was, of course, the best Frankenstein. He seemed genuinely pleased with the card, but not nearly as pleased as with the Long John Silver’s.
I drove Del home. I followed him inside his trailer, making sure he made it in safe, particularly without falling.
Once inside, he said, “Let me give you your DVD back.”
I’d given him a copy of Friday the 13th Part 4 I found at the thrift store.
“Never mind,” I said. “Keep it. It only cost me a couple of bucks.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “I probably won’t watch it again anyway. I don’t watch very much anymore.”
“Then what do you do?”
“Not a lot. Mostly work, go for walks and go to the gym and drink some beer at the bar on the weekends,” I said.
I wished Del goodbye.
He asked, “When will I see you again?”
I told him my sister was getting married the next weekend. So the Saturday after that we’d go to see Halloween Kills.
“We’ll wear our shirts,” he said.
“That’s right,” I said. “That’ll be cool.”
Del thanked me again for taking him to Walmart and Long John Silver’s.
It had been a good Saturday.