“How long have the hot dogs been in there?” asks a man with a faded black backpack and four-day scruff on his face.
The ferry has just shoved off and the sun has hit the place in the sky that puts a flat gold patina on the water, the color of candlesticks in an attic. A handful of us commuters had waited an extra half hour in the overflow lot of the dock. The heavy traffic off the island was unusual for a Wednesday.
I didn’t hear the food server’s answer, something wearily indignant. Whatever it was must have satisfied the man because he walked out of the galley clutching a foil package and half a dozen napkins. For a brief moment I considered getting my own, smothered in mustard from a dozen tiny packets. Eating like a wanton traveler with a thousand places to go. Instead, I ask for a beer.
Another man, in a road crew yellow t-shirt sips his own beer a few seats away. He is so largely built, I can’t see the seat under him. Suited for his work, I think. I feel bad flicking my eyes away from his open gaze. It’s the kind that invites talk, maybe more. I could have sat down with him, shared a table and stories over plastic cups of Red Hook.
We would have talked about the long wait tonight–What’s with that? Vacationers? I would ask. He would probably concur and then tell a story about a cousin who works at Microsoft but has a house on West Beach. I would murmur how nice that area is, even though I had only driven down the road once, to pick up a couch from a co-worker a long time ago. She told me how salty the air was there — the ocean touched everything.
This man and I would exchange the reasons we were riding the ferry at 6 p.m. in the middle of the week. Me for my job with the County. Him for a contract job with DOT. I would notice how his sunglasses left a pale shadow around eyes the color of tilled soil. In a sliver of time, I would see that we would have dated and it would have been beautifully disastrous–all beer and tall trucks, his big body handsome in a suit for some night in the city. He would, at first, be overwhelmed with how his hands could fit around my waist and what I knew about ancient things like hubris and strange things like catharsis. I would, at first, want nothing more than throwing a ball to his mutt in the yard and laughing together at terrible comedy club acts. He would make me the best steak of my life. I would finally learn to shoot pool the right way. His friends would get too drunk and puke outside his front door.
I smiled slightly as I found my usual table. He nodded, tipped his half-empty cup at me.
“Yea, I just ate. Uh huh. A hot dog.” It was the dusty, backpack man. I see now that his hair is rumpled from a helmet and he is wearing heavy-toed boots. He’s sitting a few seats away, speaking into a flip-phone wedged between ear and shoulder. On his table among the napkins, there is one bite left, and it, admittedly, looks really good — bun fluffy, mustard dolloped along the seam, foil creased just right. “Yea, it wasn’t bad at all. Not perfect. But just what I needed right now.”