The People That We Know

This is the story of Ivan, Chuck and Donny; three people that I don’t really know, yet they’ve been a part of my life for the past six years.

Today, as of this writing, all three are in the hospital, battling different ailments in order to get on with their respective lives.

I know Ivan, Chuck and Donny because the three of them frequent the same deli that I do every morning. All three occasionally hang out in the coffee room, which is where I, more often than not, come across them multiple times a week.

They are regulars as am I and all of us are creatures of habit.

These three men are all so vastly different from each that it’s almost comical in the comparisons.

Ivan is the oldest of them all, pushing 90, in fact. A frail old man, he still has his quick wit, both personal (“I remember when God invented golf. I was there”) and perverted (“I still don’t any problem getting up in the morning” is one of his regular lines). He is always talking with a twinkle in his eye. He loves talking about what our town was like when he was younger and how much it has all changed around him. He’s a good guy and I enjoy seeing him. And, I’m always impressed with the fact that he still gets out to golf from time to time.

Chuck stands perhaps 6-foot-4 and weighs in at maybe 250 pounds or so. He’s a solid man. He’s in his 50s, perhaps the upper end of it, and he’s mostly bald, but a pretty good looking guy. He’s married to Annie, who is a sweetheart of a woman and she always says hello to me every morning. I don’t know Chuck very well at all, though. He doesn’t really talk to me, which is fine. As a voyeur of the world that happens around me, Chuck tends to come off as rather egotistical. I picture him being the star quarterback from yesteryear, the studly type who always felt he was holier than thou. I don’t dislike the man, but he’s never made an effort to talk to me the way Ivan does, so I’m usually indifferent to his presence. I do know he always calls Ivan “Irish” — though I have no clue where the nickname was coined from.

Donny is … well … different. He talks. And he talks. And he goes on and on. He never stops. I mean he just won’t shut up, no matter where I see him; if it’s at the deli, or on the sidewalk up the street. He’s friendly enough, but he’s obviously a bit dim-witted and just far too annoying to tolerate for very long. I feel bad saying that, but I don’t know how else to describe him. He talks so much and rubs so many people the wrong way that he will disappear from the deli at times just because he’ll push so far that people will tell him not to show up in the mornings. Chuck literally did that one day, threatening Donny to the point where nobody saw him for almost a month. Did I mention that he talks a lot? Donny’s mother died shortly after I moved to our town and I’d always see him out walking her dog around the neighborhood. Years later, I learned that the dog had died as well and Donny now lives in the house alone.

This morning, after making the daily two-block walk up the short little hill to the deli, I saw one of the regulars there, a man whose name I don’t even know, sitting against the window on a stool. I asked him if he was the first one there that day, or hanging around as the last straggler.

He shrugged and said he wasn’t sure.

Then he told me Ivan was in the hospital.

He didn’t know why, but at age 90, the reasons could be many, which is kind of scary when you think about it. We both agreed that we hoped he was OK and then it dawned on us that neither one knew his last name. Even if either one of us wanted to go visit him in the hospital, there was no way we could.

That’s when I learned that Chuck, too, was in the hospital for open heart surgery. Three of his valves were almost blocked, I was told. One was at 100 percent blockage, the other two between 50 and 75. He had scarring from a heart attack he never knew he had, as well. Chuck was a golfer and a skier and looked to be in great shape for his age. He was active, always out in his yard working on his property. Once again, the cover doesn’t really tell you the story of what’s going on inside, does it?

I felt bad hearing both stories, but I had my coffee filled and went up front to pay. Standing there by the cash register, Nelson, the deli owner, and I rehashed what I was just told.

That’s when I learned about Donny.

Nelson told me Donny had called him the day before and told him he was in the hospital, and he was OK, but was going to be kept there overnight. Donny never said why he was in the hospital, nor why he even called Nelson to tell him. With no mother and no dog, it became fairly obvious that Donny likely doesn’t have anybody so he had to tell somebody. So he called the place where he was a “regular” just to tell somebody that he was doing OK.

Three men, all of whom I know, yet I don’t really know at all.

I just hope they’re OK and I hope I get to see them soon, back in our little coffee room. I’ll shake Ivan’s hand again, maybe say hello to Chuck first instead of waiting on him to say hello to me. And maybe I’ll even tolerate Donny for another moment or two before I can’t take it anymore.

Get well soon, guys.



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