By Sean Dietrich
A seated dinner. A conference center. I finish making a speech. I walk off stage and dodge a few airborne rotten vegetables on my way to the lobby. Which is where I meet him.
He could pass for one of my uncles. White beard, tweed jacket, big smile. He shakes my hand and holds it tight. Firm. But, not ridiculously hard.
Some guys will shake your hand firm enough to crush it. There used to be a guy in our church who would shake hands so hard you could hear the bones in your knuckles break. Whenever I saw him coming, I would run and hide behind a qualified church organist for protection.
But, there was no escaping church handshakes. Eventually, I would have to shake his hand. So, I would always shake it firm and look him in the eye.
Because that’s just how guys are.
Which raises a very important point that has nothing to do with this column. Most women don’t understand how hard it is being male. Men are expected to adhere to all sorts of gender-specific behaviors that make no sense. Shaking hands with a death-grip is only one of those things. Putting the toilet seat down is another.
The toilet-seat issue is a hot-button topic for married people. Women tell their husbands to put the seat down. But men keep forgetting and leaving it up every time they’re finished (ahem) shaking the dew off the lily.
World wars have been fought over this issue. Monarchies have fallen. But I want to set the record straight.
Ladies, if your male counterpart keeps leaving the toilet seat up, you ought to be glad. Because I have good news: This means he cares.
Any man who lifts the seat before using the toilet is being considerate. If he didn’t love you, he would leave it down. Lifting the seat means that your male has been raised right. And more importantly, it means that he knows what would happen if he didn’t lift the seat.
You (the lady) would see a defiled toilet seat – then, you’d be so horrified that you’d file for divorce and move in with your sister in Prattville who drives you nuts, which would cause you to feel listless and disconnected, and you would take up heavy drinking, thereby spiraling downward until you started hanging out in dimly lit bars that play honky-tonk songs like, “Lookin’ For Love In All The Wrong Places.”
There, some hopeless bar fly would ask you to dance. A guy who doesn’t comb his hair; a guy who has NASCAR tattoos on his neck; a guy who has not had stable employment for 40 years and still lets his mother do his laundry. You would marry this man because of alcohol and because you sort of miss doing laundry. And after your wedding, you would discover that this man does not lift the toilet seat like your ex-husband did. In fact, this man has worse toilet-bowl-aim than a sawed-off shotgun. So, you will have to hitchhike to Canada to start a new life.
This is why good men leave the toilet seat up.
I’ve gotten a little off track here.
So, my new friend and I shake hands. He introduces himself. I introduce myself. He eyes my belt buckle. He asks about it.
“What’s the story behind your belt?” he says.
My buckle has “Coors” engraved on it. The buckle is big—about the same size of the unabridged edition of “Gone With The Wind.” I wear it every day.
The story is: My father used to love Coors Banquet Beer. Back then, Coors was a big deal. Guys his age used to make all-night drives to buy entire crates of Coors because you couldn’t just buy it at any old place.
After my father took his own life, we scattered his ashes in Colorado on a mountain he loved. My life went on. I quit talking about him, quit thinking about him and I didn’t visit him. Not until I was a grown man.
About thirty minutes after I visited his mountain grave, I went to a farmer’s market below the mountain. I found an old woman selling flea market junk beneath a tent. She had a fifty-dollar Coors buckle for sale, and I almost lost my composure.
“You’re not from around here, are ya?” said the lady.
“No,” I said. “Florida.”
“Long way from home.”
“See anything you like?”
“Yeah. How much for the buckle?”
“Make me an offer.”
She smiled. “How about five?”
“Why so cheap?”
“You look like you really want it.”
I gave her the money. I attached it to my belt.
She said, “You must really like Coors, huh?”
“No,” I said. “But I knew a man who did.”
And I’ve been wearing it ever since.
I tell this story to my new friend. He nods. He says, “I just knew there was a story.”
Then, he shows me his own buckle. It has a pelican engraved on it. It’s magnificent. He has a story, too. Before he tells it, he bites his lip and says, “It was my son’s…” He pauses, then adds, “He died the same way your daddy did.”
We are two men. Two men in a lobby who understand each other. We are strangers, but not really. We both miss someone. So we shake hands again.
This time we shake so hard you can hear our bones crunch.
Because that’s just how guys are.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register, and he has authored seven books.