Two women and a man were sitting under clouds of cigarette smoke at the counter of the Golden Angel restaurant late one night. They must have been there a long time. They were shrill and restless, their voices climbing on top of each other as they all struggled for attention.
The women were obviously friends; the man was a stranger. He looked like a middle-aged hippie, graying curly hair down to his shoulders, long sideburns and mustache. He was wearing sunglasses, a bad omen in a city that's now dark by 5, but the shades didn't hide his sinister expression. The two women were much younger; the one sitting next to the guy was a plump, dark, round-faced girl wearing acres of jewelry. She had a dreamy, fey manner and every few minutes would look fetchingly at the hippie, who seemed oblivious. He had zeroed in on the friend, a nervous blond dressed in black who had egg-white skin and crimson fingernails and lipstick. She was coarse but aggressively sincere, loud in her observations. She pointed a sharp finger at her girlfriend.
"We saw a bunch of deaf people on the bus today. They were so cool."
"What was so cool about 'em?" the hippie wanted to know.
"Well, I mean, these people were talking with their hands, it was so great."
"It's no different than people talking with their mouths," the guy reasoned.
"Sure it is. It's a lot different."
The hippie nudged the stranger seated next to him. "Hey, if you couldn't talk with your mouth, wouldn't you learn to talk with your hands?"
"What?" said the other guy crossly.
"Forget it. What about you?" The hippie was staring in my direction.
"Sure," I answered, "unless my hands were full."
The hippie nodded darkly. "Very funny."
"Do you think deaf people worry about diseases?" wondered the girl with the jewelry.
There was a heavy pause, and the atmosphere suddenly changed. Finally the black-clothed girl broke the tension. "Sexual diseases--what I say is, I don't sleep with anyone. Wait until it's worth it, and then risk everything."
"Like you did a few weeks ago," interjected her friend.
"Yeah, what a mistake. No call, no nothing. Like I don't even exist."
"Well, there are men who are professional gigolos, you know," offered the hippie. "I know two in Germany, Americans, who just got off the plane and started taking phone numbers from women in the airport. They make enough in a few months to spend most of the year in Jamaica!"
"Wow!" said the black dress. "I wish I had a way to make money so that I could pay for my schooling. And I want to go to a good school, a liberal one, like Antioch, where you can get credit for some semesters for going to another country and speaking English. Like you could go to Japan for two or three months and just speak English there and get credit."
"You know," said the hippie suddenly, "you remind me of my ex-wife."
"What? What do you mean?"
"You both want something for nothing. Your minds both work the same way."
"Yeah, well, at least they work. Have you ever heard of that saying, 'A mind is a terrible thing to waste'? I think you ought to..."
The girl with the jewelry interrupted the sudden feud. "I don't think I'd want to go to a school where you have class with a thousand other students in an auditorium and sometimes you never even see your teacher, you're just taught by videotape."
"Well, not every class can be like that, right?" asked the hippie.
"I wouldn't want to go to a small school, either. It wouldn't be safe for a woman even to come home from a bar alone at night in those places."
"Just stick out your thumb and get a ride," replied the hippie, as if that solved everything.
"Well, maybe if you're a guy. But if you're a woman, you don't want to hitch alone."
"I guess," the hippie conceded. "I guess I can identify with that."
"Listen to this," announced the girl in the black dress. "Once when I was walking in Evanston I got mugged. And I wasn't even alone, I was with a friend and it was early evening. This guy just came up behind us--I looked at my friend and told her to run--and he knocked me down and took my purse, the only time I ever had some money on me, $100. I'm just glad I'm not dead."
The girl with the jewelry turned to the hippie. "See, women get taken advantage of in this country."
"Women do?" he exclaimed. "Hey, I just got divorced after 13 years of marriage and my wife got $80,000--two houses--and I got taken advantage of, and I'm male."
"Yeah," sympathized the black dress, "that's terrible. Why did you get divorced?"
"My wife started fooling around with other women." He enunciated each word loudly and carefully.
"Why don't you announce it to the whole restaurant?"
"Because I don't care who knows."
"My parents got divorced too," the other girl joined in. "I thought it was unfair to my dad because he worked all those years. Of course, he was having an affair with his scretary, but so what?"
"I think a mate should be honest," the black dress pronounced. "They should be faithful because they want to be, not because they have on a ring. I'm never getting married."
"I used to feel that way," said the hippie, "idealistic like that. But when I was living in Canada I got lonely, so I got married. And I never fooled around on her--except when I was away on business trips."
"What kind of business are you in?" asked the black dress.
"Funny business. I'm in funny business," was the mysterious answer.
"Why the hell did your wife start going out with women?" demanded the black dress.
"I don't know. Probably some weirdness in the genes..."
"Blue jeans?" interrupted the other girl, but the hippie was on a roll and ignored her sarcasm.
"I'm a great guy, you know. I'm not macho. But one day I came home from a trip, and she tells me this whole story. What else could I do? I had to get her hostile. And then a week later, her lawyer calls up and starts talking alimony. I hung up on him and called my wife. I said, 'You're liberated? You're liberated? Listen, liberated people don't even think of asking for alimony.'"
There was a silence while the two women looked at each other as if psychically rehearsing a response.
"I think they do sometimes," said her friend.
"You're both wrong." The hippie was tense. "Totally wrong."