Stopping by the workplace commons to refill my water, I spotted the off-duty older security guard sitting by himself and staring out the second-floor window. Alerted by the gurgling of the water cooler, he turned to stare at me. I smiled and nodded in acknowledgment, as is my usual response, and prepared to make my exit back to work.
He had other ideas, however, and stopped me to ask whether the office would be open on the day after Thanksgiving. Employees are of course given that day off, but in past years, when the workload has allowed, management has encouraged people to come in and earn overtime. There had been no official word yet for this year, and it was highly unlikely that I, as unconcerned low man on the totem pole, would be informed before security, for whom, if operations are running that day, coming in is maybe not so voluntary.
I told him that I hadn't heard anything, but that, in any case, it hardly mattered to me, because I would not be coming in either way.
"Lucky rascal," he said. "Going home, or staying local?"
For me, home was local, but he didn't need all the details. I answered, "I'll be here. I just won't be here."
"But you're still single, right?"
This seemed to me rather a non-sequitur, but I indulged him and answered in the affirmative.
"Lucky rascal," he said again.
He was being playful of course, and now looked away as if to indicate that he had had his fun and I was free to go. But something compelled me to carry on a little longer.
"Are you married?" I asked him.
"Thirty years," he said.
"No such thing!" he answered triumphantly, as though he had been the one all along steering us to this punchline.
But I was heading in a different direction: "You know, I think maybe you're the lucky one."
He straightened up and smiled more sincerely then. "You've got time," he reassured me, and we both left that as the final word.
And I went back to work and he went back to staring out the window of the empty break room.
No, of course I didn't mean it. I would not trade my life for his for anything. But it seemed like the right thing to say at the time.
Quoth Bart Simpson: "Take my wife . . . please! Hey! I finally get that joke!"
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