(originally posted 5/25/2021)
For the first few weeks she would watch him from afar and then from not as afar.
And then she walked up and introduced herself. Introduced herself to the man who showed up every weekend to mow the property outside the closed Italian restaurant across the street from where she lived. Mow and occasionally do small repairs and add touch-up paint to the building.
“Do you own this property?” she asked him.
He simply shook his head.
“Are they trying to sell the restaurant?”
“Don’t know” was all he had to say about that.
This type of exchange went on for a few weeks.
One day she asked him why he was there every weekend.
He smiled softly and explained that he used to own the restaurant and his name was still on the sign.
“Your Mr. Horento?” she inquired, already suspecting the answer.
This time he nodded in the affirmative.
“But you don’t own it anymore?”
“Nope. It belongs to the bank now” he replied.
“So why keep mowing and making it look like it’s still open?” she asked.
He just looked in the direction of the sign that said Horento’s.
The next Saturday she started with another question; “I looked up your restaurant online. Or at least I tried. You had no digital footprint at all. Why didn’t you set up a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram?”
This time he laughed. “Never touch the stuff.”
“That’s probably why your restaurant closed.” She didn’t mean to be so direct and she instantly regretted the her condescending tone.
“Maybe” was all he said and started the mower.
The following Saturday, eager to make up for the misstep and unintended callousness, she started with a broader topic; “American is really fucked.”
He both winced and chortled at the profanity. “Why do you say that?”
“Because” she began, “There is nothing to be gained by telling the truth these days. It can only hurt you. Wreck a career unless you’re lock-step with the herd. Much better to offer up recycled platitudes. Nobody can even disagree anymore, just pretend to be empathetic.”
He listened and mulled over her comments. Finally he said “The pendulum swings back and forth. It will eventually find its equilibrium.”
“You think?” She looked unconvinced.
“Why would you care about the opinion of a failed restaurateur anyway?”
Switching gears without missing a beat she asked “Is the reason you are only here on weekends because you have a full-time job during the week?”
“Pretty much” he replied and leaned over to start the leaf blower. Just as his hand was about to push in the throttle lock she grabbed it and looked into his eyes with a serious look on her face. “The place looks like it’s open, why not just try again with the restaurant?”
“If you must know… I’m not a very good cook. And I prefer water from the hose to Evian.”
It was her turn to laugh. A long sincere laugh.
“Have you thought about a career in landscaping?”
“One is plenty” he retorted.
“That’s what I’m doing during the week.”
There it was. The breakthrough she’d been waiting for. She’d found her equilibrium.
His attention returned to the leaf blower and she put in her earbuds and walked away smiling, ’67, Cherry Red filling her ears. She was singing along but when she started the “Do the songs of young love hum like an engine in your head?” part she stopped and turned back around.
Screw equilibrium, she had one more question for Mr. Horento.