This is a short story.
“But imagine if Bowie had been convinced at an early age to never stand out, never be weird, always toe the line. What a disaster that would have been,” sulked the man into his latte. He could’ve sworn he asked for a large black, but he paid for a large black and got extra with the milk. He wasn’t gonna complain.
“Or worse,” harrumphed his companion. “What if he had been Bowie, with all the Bowie impulses, but never was rich?” He stirred his cappuccino without looking up, smiling faintly to himself without mirth.
Latte blinked and touched his own glasses out of nervous reflex. “I don’t follow you.”
Cappuccino was still stirring, but now removed the spoon. “Think about it,” he said without looking up, tasting the spoon. More sugar. He added some. Then, stirring again, he looked Latte in the eye. “If Bowie were just Bowie, a guy, and not Bowie the guy – what would he have been? Annoying and fey at best, dead at worst.”
Latte sputtered while Cappuccino sipped, having found a satisfying sweetness, “Nothing you’re saying to me makes sense.”
Cappuccino, whose real name was Al, waved his free hand in the general vicinity of the window. “Look at all of these unique and special assholes,” he said. Latte, whose real name was Geoff, gazed out into the street.
Al pointed with his spoon. “This one with the blue hair and the leather and the roller skates? She probably thinks she’s an artist. She probably thinks she’s unique. But look about a hundred feet over here, Geoffrey. No, other way. See that? Girl with pink hair, leather, and roller skates.” He stopped a second. “Actually, there’s a lot of them out there. Maybe there’s a flash mob or something. Anyhow, that’s beside the point.”
“What is your point, Al?” asked Geoff, who had sweat on his upper lip and receding hair line and had barely touched his latte.
Al laughed. “When weird people don’t have money, they’re just another unique asshole. And back in the day, when he was coming up, working class England would’ve killed him. Dressing like a girl and all that. He’d have been poof bashed or whatever those fancy assholes call it.”
Geoff was quite beside himself. He wiped his forehead with a napkin. “How can you say that about Bowie?”
Al laughed. “I’m not saying that about Bowie. I’m saying if he never had money, or fame, he would have been seen as just another annoying unique asshole like all the other annoying unique assholes. It doesn’t pay to be interesting, Geoff. Unless you have money, it seems contrived.” He took a substantial gulp of cappuccino.
Geoff wadded up his sweat-drenched napkin and bounced it on the table. He took a hearty swig of his latte. “Oh yeah, well, what do you know about it?”
Al, who looked like a cross between Robert Loggia and sensibly priced overstuffed couch, looked long into his cappuccino and laughed. With a twinkle in his eye, he told Geoff, “When I was 17, I did a performance art piece for the local community college where I wore a black leotard and draped myself in sausage.”
Geoff spat up a good portion of his latte on to the table, which he then mopped up with the sweaty napkin wad.
Al laughed. “Ten pounds of sausage. In links. And you know what my father did when he came to see my performance? He beat the shit out of me. That’s what he did. He said ‘Your mother and I didn’t suffer under Mussolini for you to waste perfectly good food!’ And he was right. He was right to say that, and he probably should’ve beat my ass two years earlier.”
Geoff just shook his head.
Al continued, “So do I love David Bowie as much as the next guy? Yes. But if he hadn’t been rich, somebody’s dad would’ve beat the shit out of him for being an annoying, unique asshole.”
Geoff stared out the window at what was indeed a flash mob of girls with unnaturally coloured hair, leather jackets, and roller skates. He sighed. “Bowie would’ve thought this was stupid.”
Al laughed, draining his cup. “Or he would’ve made it a lyric.” Doing an unnervingly spot-on impersonation, he sung to the tune of “All the Young Dudes”, “Skaters on Main, hair made of paint. Skaters on Main, leather and pain.”
Geoff was just sulking now. “I don’t think you appreciate Bowie at all. I think you think he’s a gimmick.”
Al slammed the cup down so hard, the other café patrons finally noticed the two old men by the window. “Get out,” he barked hoarsely.
Geoff sat back and blinked. “What?”
Al’s hands balled into fists on the table. “In all the years I’ve known you, you’ve never stooped so low. Get out.”
“I never want to see your face again.”
Geoff’s eyes went wide. “We were in Nam together.”
“Out,” hissed Al, and Geoff knew it was time to go. He left a couple dollars on the table and headed out into the rain.