Vinny talks; I listen.
Vinny argues; I reason.
Vinny’s always right; I’m always wrong.
So goes a coffee-house conversation with Vinny – pal, curmudgeon and nemesis.
On Saturday mornings, I make a brief visit to a mid-city diner for a cup of coffee and few quiet minutes reading a novel or newspaper.
Before I get beyond the front page of the paper or turn the page of my book, Vinny plops himself at my table.
Last Saturday I learned from Vinny that real men don’t read books written by obscure 19th century Scandinavian novelists. Real men read war history.
“What’s wrong with Knut Hamsun?” I asked after setting my novel aside.
“Nothing’s wrong with him,” Vinny said. “I’m just sayin’ his book ain’t true. Why read something that ain’t true? I don’t get it.”
“Let’s talk about something else,” I said. “You’re going to make me mad.”
The only novelist Vinny admires is Ernest Hemingway. And it is his machismo he favors, not his literary gifts or collection of works.
“Okay, smart guy. Whatya wanna talk about?” Vinny sat back in his chair and gestured that I had his permission to speak.
“Are you going to cut me off?” I wanted to know.
“I’d never do that to you,” Vinny answered. I rolled my eyes like a child.
“Okay, something has been on my mind about the presidential …”
“Teachers.” Vinny blurted out. His eyes softened.
“Huh? Pardon me,” I said.
“I was thinking about ‘em the other day. My Catholic school teachers.”
“That’s nice, Vinny. But I thought this was my time to…”
“I remember every one of ‘em.” There was a lump in his throat. “They were da best…”
“Vinny, come on. You said I…”
The softness vanished from around Vinny’s eyes and was replaced by a sneer. “It’s rude to interrupt someone when they’re talking.”
Before I could mutter, “Look who’s calling the kettle black,” Vinny continued.
“As I was about to say before I was rudely cut off, our Catholic educators are da best. Talk about good stewards!”
There was a pause. Vinny was waiting for me to weigh in. I had flattering things to say about our Catholic educators. I decided it was best to save my breath. Vinny was just warming up.
“Okay, I get it. You were one those class clowns, and you don’t have fond memories of your Catholic school teacher,” Vinny said in a loud voice.
“No, no, you’re wrong, Vinny. I do have fond memories of my Catholic school teachers,” I defended myself.
“The teachers in our Catholic schools are the most self-giving bunch of people I think I know,” Vinny said. “They don’t teach for fanfare; they don’t do it for the money. They do it out of love.”
I nodded my head in agreement.
“Ain’t it something? Catholic school teachers get up every morning and walk out their front door wearing the tool of their trade.” Vinny pointed to his heart.
I gave an enthusiastic nod of my head.
“That makes them fabulous stewards. Teachers are full of love, and they willingly and graciously give it away. That’s stewardship.”
I didn’t argue.
Vinny knew he had made an impression. “Who’s the smart guy now?” he asked.
I pointed my finger at Vinny and mimed, “You are.”
“Dang straight,” Vinny said. “What else you wanna talk about?”
I picked up my novel, pointed to the author’s name, and gave my reasons why there was great value in reading fiction.
Vinny hunched his shoulders, inhaled, and prepared for battle.