Before I settle onto my barstool I already know about my neighbor’s diabetes. He’s detailing the limits of his diet to the drinker to his right. Then he reproduces a bit of hockey game play-by-play. When the bartender asks, the man not only tells the date of the game, but the starting time, and select highlights from the box score. This is Raymond the Great. Though we haven’t yet been introduced.
His monologue is occasionally interrupted by questions from the bartender or the drinker to his right, but for most of the hour I spend at Simon’s, Raymond talks at a steady clip. He also drinks four Christmas ales, asking himself before finishing one whether to order the next and answering yes, promising each will be the last.
Raymond’s been a dishwasher most of his life. At IHOP, until getting laid off, then, for the past dozen years, at Rivers Casino. He lives with his brother, who is also a dishwasher. I think they’ve always worked the same places.
He’s turning sixty in a few weeks and is busy planning a big blowout. All his friends will be there. They’re gonna close the bar that night for sure.
He shows me the cap he had embroidered in honor of the Chicago Wolves’ Calder Cup win in 2008. He likes it except for the fact it doesn’t say ‘World Champions’ like he asked. I say he should take it back and have them redo it. He agrees, then goes into play-by-play from some other broadcast. A few minutes later, he mentions the cap and how it doesn’t say what he wanted it to say again.
The man to his right has left and the bartender’s all the way down the bar, so it’s just me and Raymond holding it down by the door. He thanks me for talking to him. I say it’s my pleasure.
He sings in the choir at his church whenever he’s not working Sundays. He knows a lot about pipe organs. The pastor at his church is the one who christened him ‘Raymond the Great’ for his knowledge of church music. He goes on and on about how many pipes the one in his church has, but I have no memory nor interest for figures. I just like that he’s so proud of his nickname.
I don’t know how to leave things with him, so, when he goes to the bathroom, I leave without saying goodbye.
I hope whatever he gets for his dinner doesn’t make his diabetes worse.
—Listen to my epic talk with musician Emmett Kelly.