Shit, Roger saw his friend Arnold there waiting for him. Roger was a few minutes late, but there Arnold was, on time like always, probably because he knew that if he were even a few minutes late that would give people an excuse to leave. There he was standing in line at the cinema waving like an idiot once he saw Roger approaching. Roger raised his hand a bit and have him one of those facial shrugs you give to people you recognize in the hallways. At least they were seeing a movie, Roger had insisted on that; ten minutes of conversation before, then two hours of staring forward, and finally ten minutes after the movie before he’d tell Arnold he had to go water his plant. Of course that meant ten minutes of brain atrophy, listening to Arnold explain that he’d noticed one of the characters had had his shoelaces tied with a single knot in one scene only to have inexplicably appear double knotted in the next! And beforehand, well he knew what was coming beforehand. At least he was sure Arnold wouldn’t try to make conversation during the movie, he always paid close attention so that he could give the movie either a lauded ‘Arnie Aproves’ or the feared ‘Arnie Avoids’ in his Facebook status.
Now Arnold wasn’t a terrible guy. There were certainly worse people in the world. People who take their shoes off and massage their feet in public, people who get words shaved into their hair, people who turn every fucking phrase in an acronym, children and so on. It wasn’t like he was a murderer or something; unless you considered assisted suicide murder. He just had a very annoying habit that will definitely come to light in a few moments.
“Howdy Rog! Thought you weren’t coming” he said, putting away his cue cards, yep cue cards.
“Hey Arnold, sorry I’m late”, Roger said. ‘Still pleating your jeans eh’, he thought.
“Oh no problemo, how’s everything?”
“Not terrible, and you?”
“I’m just glad to do something fun for a change”. He said that the same way a character in a movie says something that is supposed to alert a person in a closet that it’s time to jump out.
Roger sighed, and went along with it. “Oh yeah, haven’t been doing many fun things lately?”
Arnold’s light up, he grinned and stood up straight. Then with a voice you use when you’re being videotaped he said “oh you know, the wife is always dragging me places. Baby showers, the ice-capades, the theatre, our wedding…”
Pretty funny right? The only thing was that Arnold was only 22 and definitely not married. It was another one of his bits that he thought of, probably while sitting on the can, and considered too funny to pass up so he used it, whether or not it applied to himself or the current situation. He’d been doing it for years, bits about his grand-children, his menstrual periods, how his first name rhymed with so many swear words, how awful it was to wear glasses (he didn’t) and so on. Talking to him was like having a conversation with joke a day toilet paper. The strangest part was that he didn’t consider it strange. He didn’t follow it up with a smile that said ‘hey I know I don’t have a wife, why the hell would I make that joke’. Nope, it was totally normal.
Arnold looked very pleased with himself subtly did one of those cocky head bobs from side to side. Roger usually tried to get onto the next subject as soon as possible after one of Arnold’s bits and just completely ignore it. How do you respond to something like that? “So this movie looks like it’ll be pretty good” Roger said extremely unenthusiastically.
“Oh yeah, that TV show said it’s great. But then again I don’t really care what the TV people say” said Roger, straightening up for another go at comedic excellence. “The man on the TV said it’s T-Shirt weather. I say I don’t let the TV pick my clothes, if I feel like wearing a vest I will”.
Roger nodded, looking around at all of the snow on the ground. “Mm hmm”. “How’s the new place?”
“Pretty swell. Just got a new cheese grater.”
“Nice.” “Good area?”
“Yep, right next to a bus stop.”
“Cool, yeah I hate having to walk a while to get to a bus stop.”
Roger looked around, then at the line, then at his watch. Arnold’s gaze didn’t shift from the movie poster in front of them, Roger could tell he was counting down the seconds in his head until he could tell another joke.
“Speaking of numbers” Arnold finally piped up; they weren’t. “Why was six afraid of seven?”
Roger knew this one, it wasn’t like Arnold not to use his own hand crafted material. “Because seven eight nine?” Roger said impatiently.
“No, because seven was a convicted serial killer”.
Roger nodded in acknowledgment, as it he’d just seen the right answer to a math problem. “Yeah I remember you were always good at math”, it didn’t make much sense, but that was the only thing Roger could think to say. Just then the doors to their theater opened and the line they were in started taking those small awkward penguin steps forward. Roger always liked to look at the people seeing the movie he was seeing, these were the people in his demographic, the people with the same interests as him; they all looked like idiots.
He tuned in to the people behind them and heard someone say, “I punch things to see how strong they are.” A few people ahead of them – ‘interesting how ‘people’ become a unit of distance when you’re in a line’ – two guys were debating which of their shoes were the ‘flyest’. Apparently one person’s were ‘sik-wit-it’ while the other’s were more ‘club banging’ footwear. Enthralling.
“Spoken to any of the old fellas?” Arnold asked. By now they had almost reached the theater doors, he must have sensed that this was his last chance to fit in a bit before they got into the their seats.
“Mm yeah here and there, you?” Roger said. He pictured himself facing Arnold on a baseball diamond, tossing him a ball that Arnold who was waiting eagerly to hit it out of the park with a badminton racket.
“I hear Ian’s becoming one mean guitar player” Arnold said.
“Oh yeah, he’s getting good?” Roger asked distantly, even though he knew Ian had never touched a guitar.
“No he’s just a jack ass” Arnold said with a sheepish grin.
Without thinking about it Roger let out a burst of laughter and shook his head. “That’s pretty good” he said with a chuckle, looking at Arnold after one of his jokes for the first time.
Arnold looked a little embarrassed and but utterly content, as if Roger had been the only person to show up at his birthday party. He turned a little red and looked down, smiling, “thanks, I thought you’d like that one”.
They had approached the doors of the theater and were giving their tickets to the usher to be ripped. Roger patted his friend on the back as they walked in, “good to see you again Arnold”.