"Curmudgeon, that's the word I was looking for,” said Claire, pushing aside her cane, shedding her red, white and blue windbreaker and dropping into the soft brown leather chair.
Claire Amante was one of several seniors who met informally at the coffee shop to chat about the news, amongst other things. At the moment it was just her and Ward Richmond. Ward was a retired insurance salesman. Claire was a realtor, also retired. Her husband had passed some years ago. Claire had one cat too many, a fact which she deliberately made a point of not bringing up.
"I'm just trying to say that I'm sick and tired of paying for them."
"Come on Ward, who are you paying for. You're on Social Security. Everyone else is paying for you," Claire said, blowing into her coffee trying to cool it down.
"As it should be. Hell, I earned it. I worked for 45 years on the road selling insurance."
"Don't go getting all ‘Willy Loman’ on me now, Ward. Things aren't like they used to be, in part because they were never really that way to begin with."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It's just that, as we get older, we tend to think there was some mythical better time. I’m not sure there was, that's all."
"You may be right. Did you ever notice how every generation seems to claim to have invented sex.”
Although she agreed, Claire opted not to respond to this comment.
Ward continued, “Still, it seems to me that we had a stronger work ethic back then. People weren't always standing around looking for a handout."
"You mean you weren’t.”
"Well, of course I wasn't," he paused sipping futilely from his empty cup. “And, what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Enough coffee for you! Shut this guy off," Claire said to a barista who happened to be passing by.
The barista smiled as she wiped the small table in front of Claire and Ward and headed back to the coffee bar. It angered Claire that Ward never acknowledged that he’d come from what some would consider old money. The Richmond’s had been a part of Newport Society since Ward’s great grandfather started supplying liquor for the larger “summer cottages” during prohibition. Claire continued, “A lot of people are still out of work and with Congress refusing to extend unemployment..."
“Yeah, and there's a lot of jobs out there that people aren't taking."
“And just how do you know that?” Claire continued without pausing. “Besides why should someone who has worked as a professional half their life, take a job making minimum wage? And speaking of minimum wage."
"Desperate times require desperate measures,” Ward asserted.
"Again, easy for you to say,” Claire said. “Speaking of desperate, here comes Jerry."
Jerry Burns had worked for a local electronics firm and opted for an early retirement in 2006. When the recession hit he lost more than half of what he saved in his 401K.
"Who's desperate?" Jerry asked squeezing through the line that was forming for the 8:30 rush.
“Ward here was just making the us versus them argument again."
"Oh Ward, you know it's all about circumstances. No one wants to pay for FEMA until a Hurricane hits their house. Anyway what else is going on?" Jerry shed his yellow raincoat, set down his coffee, a piece of "classic" coffee cake and a plastic fork on the small table in front of him. Claire noticed Jerry’s hands were shaking.
"How's Darlene doing Jerry?" Claire asked quickly before Ward could jump in.
"Not so good. The visiting nurses say it might be time to transition to Hospice soon."
"Oh, Jerry," Claire said leaning over to take his hand. Ward was quiet.
"Yeah, she had a pretty bad night last night.”
Jerry started to reach for the plate of coffee cake, but decided against it. His wife, Darlene, had been diagnosed with third stage pancreatic cancer 9 months earlier.
"The nurse said we could wait until early next week to talk it through with Darlene. She's so brave sometimes..." Jerry broke off, coughing into his hand, and reaching for his coffee, clearly looking to change the subject. "Are you following the news about Ukraine?"
"Venezuela, the Middle East - revolutions around the world over income inequality,” Claire said looking over at Ward. “Wasn't there some region in Spain that wanted to form its own country so that they wouldn't have to share the debt burden,” she asked the both of them?
"That sounds right,” Jerry said."I guess unemployment is so high, particularly among the young in Europe, that there aren't enough people to tax,” Jerry said.
"So much for austerity. You can't stimulate the economy by raising taxes on people who don't have jobs. We’re seeing those same problems here,” Claire added, expecting Ward to chime in.
Ward refused to fall into this trap. He knew when he was being baited. He was considering getting another coffee, when his phone let out a ping. Ward pulled his bifocals down from the top of his head and stared into his phone. The ping was a reminder that he was supposed to meet a guy in Newport who was taking care of his boat for the winter.
“Fan mail from some flounder,” Jerry asked, biting into his coffee cake.
“Nope, but I do have an appointment I completely forgot about.”
“Doctor or lawyer?” Claire asked.
“Doctor,” Ward answered pulling on his heavy suede coat and scarf. “I’ll see you two tomorrow?”
“Absolutely,” Claire said, smiling up at Ward.
“Count me in,” Jerry said. “Provided everything’s ok at home?”
If you missed the previous installment of Success Through Failure click here: