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Only Balonely

Published: December 26, 2014

When Dan lost his folks so suddenly, it was a pretty big shock to all of us. His grandmother had been living in a little house behind their place in Denver. So, he did what he said was the only decent thing. He brought Gran here to live with him. Yeah, he always called her Gran. Well, that shows you what sort of guy he is, heart of gold. Salt of the earth. Naturally, having your grandmother move in with you when you’re what? twenty-eight? can present some challenges. Believe me, it did.

To tell this story properly, I guess I’d better back up a bit. Quite a bit. All the way back to S.S. Dillow Elementary, back in 1964, when Danny and I became best friends. He was a picky kid. And that’s putting it nicely, if you know what I mean. He didn’t like it if the different foods on his plate were touching one another. You know? We became friends because we both liked Batman. Not the comics so much, but the TV show with Adam West. Then, we both really liked Star Trek. Then we liked action films, then motorcycles. There was always something to keep us bonded as we grew up. His pickiness, maybe it was OCD, I don’t know. Sometimes that could be annoying, but still he was my closest buddy.

Up until he was 10 years old he brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school in his lunch bag every day. I don’t mean sometimes. I mean every day. If his mom tried to pack him something else, he just wouldn’t eat it. Then he went to visit Gran one summer and somehow she introduced him to baloney. When he came home, nothing would do but baloney. Every single day.

We got interested in girls at the same time. Double-dated some. I got married to Linda my second year in college. Dan had been seeing a girl named Valerie. They were engaged, but she dumped him suddenly. He never really got over it. I think it was about that time that his mom, God rest her, pulled me aside one day and asked me to stay close to Dan. She was afraid, with his quirks and all, that he might end up lonely, friendless. I told her I would. He’s my best friend, after all. Always has been.

Anyways, after college we were both working at Allied Media Duplication, out at the Las Colinas Communications Complex. We’d both been interested in movies since we were kids. The closest we got to Hollywood was duplicating VHS tapes. I guess because I was a little more outgoing, I moved up to customer service pretty quickly. Danny was stuck back there among the duplication racks, often by himself, so I made it a point to have lunch with him as much as possible. He’d bring the same sad little brown bag to work every day with, you guessed it, a baloney sandwich.

It was around that time, 1983 maybe, that Gran came to live with him. What a ray of sunshine she was. Her full name is Iris Catherine McCullough, and let me tell you, everybody took to Iris instantly. She never met a stranger. With those piercing blue eyes, you just couldn’t help but fall in love with her. Soon as she moved in everybody, the grocer, the mailman, the complex manager, all the neighbors, they were all best friends with Iris.

Well, Iris had a way of stirring things up. One day she sees Dan making his lunch for work, baloney sandwich for the millionth time, and she says, “That’s a pretty ba-lonely sandwich, Danny.”

He thinks she’s getting older and maybe careless with her pronunciation, so he just says, “Thanks, Gran.”

She glared at him with those blue eyes. “I said ba-LONELY, not baloney. That is just the saddest sandwich I’ve ever seen.” Iris launches in on how he’s a grown man now, not a little boy, and he shouldn’t be so damn rigid. You know the drill. Anyway, Dan doesn’t budge. And you know, she was right. About the sandwich, I mean. Those baloney sandwiches were having a definite adverse effect on his social life. There had been nice, single girls working at Allied. I could tell Dan liked one or two of them. He was shy, though. And in the break room, once they saw that pathetic little sandwich with one thin little slice of pink baloney? Well, you can imagine the sorts of thoughts that might go through a young woman’s mind. Is the guy a pauper? What’s the deal? I remember two or three young ladies giving him that look after they saw the sandwich.

So one day Iris decides to take matters into her own hands. She hides Dan’s alarm clock so he oversleeps. Claims later she was dusting and just mislaid it. Anyways, Dan wakes up, freaking out because he didn’t get up at exactly the same time he always had. Iris calms him down, says, “You’ve been working so hard, Danny, I thought you were just giving yourself a little extra rest. When I saw it was getting later, I went ahead and made your lunch. Here, see?” She hands him a brown bag and probably heaved a sigh of relief when he walked out with it without checking the contents. Still, as quirky as he is, he must’ve noticed it was a little heavier.

Boy, I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was sitting next to Dan when he unwrapped the sandwich. No baloney. Meatloaf. Iris had packed him a huge meatloaf sandwich. Yeah, that was a shocker! He was just sitting there staring at it like it was a dog turd or something. That’s when the new receptionist, Barbara, happens by. Yes, that Barbara. And what a knock-out she was. She looked down at that sandwich with the slab of meatloaf on it and says, “Some sandwich there. You guys really like your manly sandwiches, don’t you? What is that meatloaf?”

OK, first, since Valerie had dumped him, as far as I know, that was the first time a pretty lady had given him the time of day. Second, I don’t think the word “manly” had ever been linked to him in any way, form, or fashion for his entire life. Like I say, Barbara was a knockout. Well, still is. And get this: Danny boy shocked the hell out of me by responding, “Yeah, it’s a pretty satisfying sandwich.” Not Where the hell did this meatloaf come from? Not I want my baloney! But, just sort of nonchalantly that he found it to be a satisfying sandwich. I didn’t know if he was possessed or what. I never could’ve seen that coming! So, Barbara asks if she can sit with us. We say sure. I hurry up and finish my lunch, so they’ll have some time alone.

That Iris! The meatloaf was her idea, but how could she have known the impact it would have? I don’t know, she’s inscrutable. She’s got her little ways. Maybe she’s a witch. Just kidding. When Dan got home, she asked him how his day had gone. He didn’t rant about her switching out his sandwich. He said he’d had a decent day. She asked him how he liked the meatloaf sandwich. “It was good,” he said.

Not long after that, when I was alone with her, I told her what had happened with Barbara in the lunch room. Iris’ beautiful blue eyes just lit up. Her head sort of danced on her shoulders as she visualized what I’d told her. “So,” she said, “Danny boy’s gone from ba-lonely to meet ’n greet loaf! Let’s see how we can push this trend along.” I had no idea what she’d come up with next, but I trusted she had Dan’s best interests at heart. She always did.

The thing with the meatloaf had worked out so well, Dan began requesting meatloaf. Iris knew he was in danger of becoming as addicted to meatloaf as he had been to baloney. So one day, after he’s packed a meatloaf sandwich, she switches bags. The new bag has a beautiful shrimp salad in it. Colorful, full of fresh ingredients, like you might get at a really fancy restaurant. At lunchtime, when Barbara sees that shrimp salad she goes gaga. “I love shrimp!” she croons, “Can I have a taste?” Naturally, Dan gave her all she wanted. By the end of lunch that day, I heard her say, “You know, Dan, we like so many of the same things. We should have dinner sometime. You know, like a date.” She winked at him. He was stunned. I was stunned.

Iris! I’ve got to hand it to her! The hook was set. Dan just had to reel that beautiful fish in. But, would he have the nerve to actually ask her out? Really, she’d already asked him out. The ball was in his court. What would he do?

A few days passed and it seemed like he was going to blow the opportunity. Before he got up the nerve to actually make a date with her, Iris solved the problem once more. She asked him if he would mind if she had a friend join them for dinner on Saturday. “Sure,” he says, thinking it’s one of her old lady friends from church or bingo. Imagine his surprise when Barbara walks through the door at 7 o’clock that Saturday night. I bet his poor, dumb jaw just hit the floor. I’d give a bundle to be able to go back in time and witness that firsthand. Seems Iris and Barbara had been shopping at the same grocery store and had become friends, coincidentally. Yeah, right, coincidentally, sure. The only woman that gives Dan a second thought, the only one he’s ready to fall in love with, and they accidentally shop at the same grocery store? Give me a break. Where Iris is concerned, nothing ever just happens. She’s a mastermind, I tell you. Barbara was ecstatic. “I can’t believe Iris is your grandmother,” she cried, giving him a big, spontaneous hug.

Well, that was that. The rest as they say is history. They dated. Barbara was over at their place all the time after that. Heck, I think Barbara fell in love with Iris as much as she fell for Dan. Who wouldn’t? They were married later that year. I was best man at the wedding. They had their reception right here in this same hall. Hard to believe their daughter, Sandy, is already old enough to be getting married. It did my heart good to see him giving her away today. Lovely ceremony, wasn’t it? They’re such a nice-looking couple. Time sure flies.

Yes, I swear. Every word of that story I just told you is true.

Huh? What became of Iris? She’s doing great. At 94 she still drives a car, if you can believe that! Yeah, that’s her over there dancing with the groom’s father. Cuts a hell of a rug, that Iris. Look at her go!

___

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  • alex

    Bret for PRESIDENT!

  • Bea

    A sweet story that well illustrates how sometimes even the simplest interventions in each other’s life can make great improvements for us all. Well done!

  • henryfegan

    outstanding achievement in humorous storytelling. Love Iris and love the happy ending. Good stuff. Looking forward to seeing more of the author in print.