Yesterday was Joe's last day and he has spent the three weeks since giving his notice locked in his office trying to finish a feature and tie up loose ends. I did manage to drag him out to the dollar store where he bought me a Diet Coke (50 cents). Later, we all went to Lucky Strikes for a fare thee well hurrah and I had the lowest score, mainly because I can't throw the ball without spinning it or thunking it directly into the gutter. I discovered that Joe is excellent at recognizing movie quotes in like one line, particularly those related to Top Gun. He also got ones from Bull Durham and The Princess Bride ("As you wish.") Did not get the one from Pretty Woman.
Joe wore a bowling shirt and approached the lane with his quiet confidence. Alberta, who claims to have never been in a bowling alley in her life, beat out Joe by a few points to be the surprise winner. I had secretly hoped I would be a natural bowler, but I was not. The only real casualty of the day was my pride. Next, we went to McSomething's Irish bar and ordered pitchers of beer and told Joe stories all of which were innocuous because he's fairly opaque; or rather, uber professional and does not bring much of his personal life to work with him. He is also unfailingly polite. He never just says "thank you," he always says, "thank you very much." And if you really get him stirred up, he will sometimes say, "Enough" and then you feel like a puppy who has been hit on the nose with a newspaper. That said, you can occasionally get him to reveal something surprising such as the location of his tattoo.
After a few beers, the party dwindled. People had trains to catch, bags to pack, food to eat. Joe announced that he was going home. I said, Yeah, but maybe first we should go to Dirty Frank's for a beer. Was surprised to find that he agreed and also that he knew how to get there. Dirty Frank's is this really divey bar with locals and regulars and a dart board. We played darts and in between each turn, I suggested that we ask each other questions, one last ditch attempt to know something more about him. His first question to me was: "What's your favorite color?" I hope he doesn't ask these kinds of questions during his story interviews. "How did you like school?" Of course, my questions were perhaps too personal like, What are you most afraid of? And, What's the worst thing you've ever done? And, Tell me something nobody else knows about you. He took it in stride and did eventually ask me more interesting questions like, What's your favorite animal? (No, better than that).
Before we left, I borrowed a pen from him and wrote on the paneled wall "Joseph William McLaughlin taught me to play darts here. 12/21/07." Thirty years from now when he moves back to Philadelphia to retire, maybe it will still be there. Or not.
In his empty office, he left behind only one single personal possession, a dead, phallic cactus leaning slightly to the right. I suspect he did it as a symbolic last message of his feelings. I'm also guessing he's not the kind of person who looks back and it is quite likely we'll never hear from him again. Maybe I'm mistaken and he will surprise me again by being a prolific letter writer ala someone from the 1700s, sending hand-written notes on thick paper sealed with red wax. That seems unlikely. "But you're already gone, aren't you?" Name that movie and let me know when Grace finally takes her first steps.