No More Nickernackin'

Peter Obourn

When Ada died, Bill went into a funk. All he did, weather permitting, was sit on the bench in front of Walt’s Diner and look at his feet. We figured he’d snap out of it, but after a year, he was getting worse instead of better.

One rainy day, we were sitting in our booth. Molly was behind the counter, topping off the sugar dispensers. Walt sat on his stool at the cash register, reading the paper. Bill hollered out, “Hey, Walt, how about another cup?”

“I’ll handle this,” said Molly. She walked up to our booth, then put her hands on her hips. She winked at me and cleared her throat. Bill was examining his fingernails. She tapped his bald head with her pencil. He looked up. “Get it yourself, you old buzzard,” she said. “Where the hell you think you are, Howard Johnson’s?”

Bill just sat there.

He even stopped mowing his lawn. His Toro rusted in the middle of the yard until only the push bar showed above the grass.

Another morning, Molly was pouring Bill a refill. “I see you moved your house into a wheat field,” she said. Bill just nodded and walked out to his bench, carrying his steaming mug.

Molly stuck her pencil in the hole in her hair and walked over to our booth, her fists shoved down in her apron. “See that?” she said. “You guys got to do something. I give up.”

So, based on an idea Roy had, we decided on an intervention—like they do on guys who can’t stop drinking. Walt was in on it too.

“When we did it to my uncle,” said Roy, “he cried.”

We came out of the diner. I sat on one side of him and Norland on the other. Roy was behind the bench. Walt and Molly stood in front. Bill looked up at the little crowd surrounding him. “What’s up?” he said.

“I’ll tell you what’s up,” said Walt, shaking a fat finger in Bill’s face. “You’re scarin’ my customers sittin’ here like the village idiot all day.”

“This is an intervention,” said Roy.

“A what?” said Bill.

“You useless freeloader,” said Norland. “You sit on Walt’s bench all day, except you go home for lunch. What the hell’s that? This is a diner, where you’re supposed to eat lunch and pay for it.” He waved his arms for effect.

“Yeah,” said Roy.

“Bill, you got to stop your nickernackin’ and mow your goddamn lawn,” I said.

Bill just got up and slowly walked away from us. “Geez,” he said.

“I think it worked,” said Roy.

“Sure it did,” said Molly.

Next morning, Bill got into his 1980 white Cadillac Eldorado with 22,000 miles, still with the “ILOVADA” license plate, and drove right past the diner—didn’t even stop for breakfast.

He honked. I waved.

Norland, Roy, and I sat in our booth waitin’ for him to come back.

“Musta gone to Utica to buy a lawn mower,” said Norland.

“That don’t take three days,” said Roy. “Maybe we ought to go look for him.”

Molly dropped three mugfuls of coffee in front of us, spilling a little of each. “Better not,” she said, “you’d all get lost for sure.”

So we waited. Finally, we got Chief Ollie Burgess to put out a missing persons. In a couple days, Ollie came down to the diner and told us he got a call from Iowa. “We got your guy here,” the policeman in Iowa told him, “claims he ain’t missin’.”

The policeman also said Bill asked him if he knew where some casino was, and the policeman told him there were no casinos in Iowa, but other than that, Bill seemed okay.

After the chief left, Norland said, “Hey, Roy, that intervention on your uncle—did that work out?”

“No, it didn’t,” said Roy.

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