Disclaimer: In an effort to remain true to the characters, the dialogue in this scene contains a proportionately fair amount of vulgarity. But, I think it’s a good picture of how these characters would deal with life’s deeper questions.
The last customers filed out of the coffee shop and Manuel swore out loud as the mop water came too fast and left a messy splash on the lobby linoleum. Now he’d actually have to mop the floor, instead of spot mopping it just enough to make his boss Paul happy.
Paul was usually cool, almost one of the guys. Almost. He would be if he wouldn’t spend so much time worried about what Julia, the district manager, thought. It was all a matter of sexual politics, Manuel thought.
Men and women in the workplace. Women were never good as bosses, he concluded. It was like they wanted to emasculate all the men that ever worked for them. Women were great. He loved women. But they tried too hard to demand respect. He could respect a woman, as long as she respected him. Take his girlfriend Marta for example…
Joel interrupted his thoughts as he clicked the front door locks shut.
“Wanna smoke?” Joel asked. He jangled the store keys in hands and his voice was thick with bored resignation.
Manuel looked around and shrugged. There wasn’t much more to do now, other than to finish mopping and count the money.
“Sure,” he said. He let the mop clatter to the floor and Joel tossed the keys onto the counter. They wordlessly ambled through the kitchen and slipped through the back door. The back door had to be propped open if you wanted to come back in, and a small crowbar was kept by the door that purpose. Manuel silently set it up, and then he and Joel ventured away a few feet.
It was dark, and the scattered lamplight from the back of the shopping center sent shadows across the walls. A chain link fence set against landscaping, separated the next property over. The dumpster was just a few yards away, and the mild odor mixed with the stale stench of the walk-in freezer still coming from inside. The rumble of the street rang far in the distance. They were alone.
Manuel slid down the side of the wall and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He clicked open a Zippo lighter and then drew long. Joel packed a pipe and Manuel raised an eyebrow as the smell came wafting out.
“You ever worry about getting caught with that shit?”
Joel shrugged. “I won’t get caught,” he said simply.
Manuel made a face, but didn’t comment. He inhaled his own smoke and basked in the guilty pleasure of Joel’s secondhand. Joel pulled a bottle from his pocket.
“Want some?” He offered Manuel the first drink.
Manuel took it and let the amber liquid run deep. He handed it back to Joel who did the same.
“What are we doing here, man?” Manuel asked.
Joel smiled sheepishly. “Just smoking and shit. We do this all the time. Thought you were cool.”
“No, no, man. I’m cool. I’m talking about life, man. Like, what are we doing here on this earth?”
Joel rolled his eyes. “Marta and her church shit again?”
“Chicks are crazy. All of them.”
Manuel laughed. “Hell, yeah.”
“Like take Julia…Julia’s a bitch,” Joel rolled his eyes. “The shit she gives Paul…”
Manuel swore in agreement.
Joel continued. “Then there’s this girl I’ve been talking to—“
“Callie, that comes here?” Manuel gestured behind them to the inside of the coffee shop.
“No, Callie’s…no. She’s another one, God. No, this chick I met—anyway, name’s Amber. Jesus. She’s crazy. Don’t trust any of them. There are all liars and whores, man. All of them.”
Manuel ignored the idea that Joel was including Marta in this bunch. He and Marta had been together for two years. That was about 23 months longer than any of Joel’s longest relationships. Manuel drew a deep breath and went back to his original thoughts.
“But maybe she’s starting to make some sense, you know,” Manuel said. “Maybe she’s right. What’s it all for, you know? We do all of this to get paid, and maybe get married, maybe not. Have a few kids. And then what? They grow up, go to school, get jobs, have a few kids…where’s it all going?”
Joel shrugged. “Hell if I know.”
Manuel laughed. “Yeah, for you it’s all about smoking and chasing skirts.”
Joel swore at Manuel and his eyes flashed back.
“Sorry, man,” Manuel shrugged and studied the concrete.
Joel silenced as the Subway girls came carrying big Santa Claus bags out to the dumpster. He nodded at them and watched them leave, their ponytails swishing out of their uniform baseball caps.
“You wanna know what my life is about?” Joel answered afer the Subway girls had disappeared behind an unmarked door. “It’s about trying to find hope and happiness in this fucked up world. Is that so wrong?”
“But what if we’ve got all wrong, man?” Manuel said, his voice rising with emotion.
“About everything. About God, life and the meaning of it all. What if we’re all wrong?”
“Then we’re all fucked.” Joel answered. “But I don’t think it’s about right or wrong. I think it’s about doing what makes you happy.”
“Are you happy?” Manuel asked.
Joel laughed. “Hell, no. Who the hell is happy?”
The sat in silence for a few minutes letting the question hang in the air like the cloud of smoke that now engulfed them. A siren rang far in the distance, and the crickets obnoxiously dominated the conversation. Finally Manuel spoke.
“Marta,” he said. “Marta’s happy.”
Joel didn’t answer for a long time. When he did, his response shocked Manuel.
“It’s a lost cause, man.” Joel’s voice dripped with bitterness. “Cause God hates us all.”
Manuel swore. “That is some dark shit, dude.”
In one swift motion, Joel extinguished his pipe and moved back inside.
“You coming?” he asked. “We have to finish closing.”
“Yeah,” Manuel said tossing his cigarette to the ground.