I'd rather eat at the worst auction market cafe than at the best five-star restaurant in New York or Chicago.
This is not only because of the higher class of people that frequent rural coffee shops, but also because I'm an offensively inquisitive person who is insatiably curious about anything that is none of my business. It's been my experience that there is more interesting business that doesn't concern me talked about loudly in auction market restaurants than anywhere else on earth.
I believe that to be a writer — or a good husband, for that matter — a man must first be a very good listener. I have also found that stealing ideas by eavesdropping on other people's conversations at the coffee shop saves time and is much easier than having to come up with my own ideas. (I don't have to pay anyone royalties, either.)
Besides, I find that other people's conversations are infinitely more interesting than my own.
So last week I was in the coffee shop doing what I do best, bending an ear, when a man and his son sat themselves down within earshot. (If my essays seem more urbanized lately, it is because the cafe where I hang out is being more frequently visited by urbanites who are learning to appreciate chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy and the smell of cows in the air.) The pair had barely been seated when the young lad started firing off questions to his father. I could tell from the nature of the questions that the father had never had the serious talk that every father dreads. No, I'm not referring to the one about birds and bees, but the one regarding the validity of fictional characters such as the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa and cowboys.
"Why is that man spitting in his cup?" asked the youngster.
"Because he's a cowboy," replied the father.
"He doesn't look like a cowboy," said the child. "Where's his gun?"
At this point poppa seemed too preoccupied with getting his mouth around a big cheeseburger to accurately answer any questions, but that didn't stop the kid.
"Where do cowboys come from?" he asked, warming to his subject.
"The stork, I think," replied the father. "Either that or Texas."
"Why do cowboys wear such funny hats, and what's that yucky stuff on his boots?" asked the kid, as the conversation grew more interesting.
"Ask your mother," answered the father, who was proving to know as much about cowboys as a hog knows about modern art.
"Why does he only have four fingers and why are his legs bent?"
"From riding his horse," grumbled dear old dad.
"But where's his horse? And where is his wife? Are cowboys married, Daddy?"
"Yes, they are married, but their wives are like Santa's elves. They stay home and do all the work." This last remark caused me to reassess the father's knowledge about cowboys. He obviously knew more than I'd first thought.
Friends, you may find this hard to believe, but just like that young boy, to this day I can't recall having had a parental discussion about the existence of cowboys, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the birds and the bees. Which may explain why I still hang my stocking with care and why my wife and I don't have any children.
In my defense, at the age of four I did have suspicions about the tooth fairy, but I kept quiet because, quite frankly, I needed the cash flow.
Parents, I urge you to have these discussions with your kids before you expose them to cowboys or an auction market coffee shop. Explain to them what a cowboy is so that they won't get any ideas about becoming one or, heaven forbid, marrying one.
As I got up to leave, I noticed the father choked on his burger as his little buckaroo asked him the toughest question yet:
"Daddy, what are calf fries?"