Roast beef with Dean

Three mornings ago, I stepped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around myself, and emerged from the bathroom to find a man in a bathrobe, seated in the kitchen chair.

It happens. It's a shared house. Three other men live here, and the guy in the chair was one of them, Dean.

"I made a roast beef," he said, "and it's really good, with cloves and barnacles, juicy perfection…" Yeah, he said 'barnacles.' I don't know what that means on beef, and wasn't about to ask.

Instead I grunted politely and walked across the kitchen and into my room, closing the door, of course. Dean raised his voice to be sure I could hear, and continued describing the roast beef — "Robert and 'L' said it was the best they'd ever had."

Dean loves to cook, and loves to tell people he's a great cook, which he isn't. He gives me spiels like this once or twice monthly, so I knew what was next, and indeed, shouting through the door he offered me as many slices of beef as I want, which is zero.

I replied through the door, "Maybe!" and, "Thanks, Dean!" because I've tried 'Fuck you' but it only ratchets up my annoyance, not Dean's.

The conversation, if that's what it was, wasn't a coincidence. Telling me about the roast beef was why Dean was in the kitchen. He wasn't cooking anything at 6AM, wasn't making a snack or washing dishes, and he wasn't waiting for a chance to use the bathroom. He was there to tell me about roast beef.

Ten minutes later, time was running short. I needed to be at the bus stop, a 2-3 minute walk, and had only a few minutes to prep my lunch. Dean had stopped talking, but even with my door closed I knew that he was still in the chair in the kitchen.

Well, I was wrong. He was standing, leaning on the wall in the kitchen, when I emerged from my room to make my sandwiches. As my door squeaked open, he started talking about roast beef again. "It would be great in a sandwich," he said. Maybe I mumbled a reply, maybe I didn't; I don't care, don't remember. My sandwiches were tuna.

Then I went into my room again, did my last few bits of getting ready for work. Dean was still in the kitchen, leaning on the wall, waiting for me, but instead of discussing meat the moment I opened the door, he began laughing — stage laughter, not real laughter. Without my asking, he told me about something from a TV show he'd watched the night before, and chuckled again, louder, and started replaying lines of dialogue from the sitcom.

The other men in our house would usually stop, listen, and share Dean's morning chuckle. Even I've played along a few times, because I pity the fool more than hate him. But with a bus to catch and a billion better things to do, I only offered a hearty fake laugh, "Ha Ha!" and continued toward the front door.

Dean followed me across the kitchen into the living room all the way to the door, doing characters from the sit-com. Then I was on the porch and sidewalk and gone, but Dean couldn't follow. He wasn't wearing shoes.

♦ ♦ ♦

That wasn't an ordinary morning with Dean. Some days he's still asleep as I'm getting ready, other days he's already gone to his job. It happens often enough, though, to be far too often, and makes me wonder what goes on inside that man's head.

How tragically alone and lonely he must be, to reach out for even the shallowest, most rushed conversation with a stranger down the hall, after I've made it clear — in these exact words, a few times — that I'd rather be a stranger down the hall.



  1. Doug, when you reviewed Local Hero I forgot one of the best things about the film: the music. Mark Knopfler composed and played the soundtrack. Here is the main theme in under five minutes.



    1. Sorry for the long delay in answering. I found an extended version, launched it on repeat, and got a rare good night's sleep.

    2. Doug, I've read eight or ten books of columns by Calvin Trillin and years ago he tried to start a movement to end letters (what we sometimes wrote before there were emails) with NRA, which means "no reply anticipated". He said he'd found himself in endless loops of meaningless jabber, so he started the NRA movement. Just assume that any time I comment and don't ask for a reply, there's an understood NRA at the end of my comment. You're working, writing, and eating dangerous food from your roomie. A busy man. And sometimes I just think of something and decide to write about it. NRA.


    3. Understood and appreciated, and I feel the same way.

      I wasn't aware of Cal Trillin's quest, but I've sometimes added something similar to my emails. "No reply needed," or something like that. Weirdly, it seems to almost guarantee I'll get a reply, so I stopped adding it.

    4. After reading a few of Mr Trillin's books, I think he knew that NRA would actually draw more responses than "write soon" or even "write when you get work". Trillin specialized in unmasking the social order. He was, of course, the primary founder of the annual Greenwich Village Halloween parade. He decried that use of the word "annual". "It's a Halloween parade: more often than once a year doesn't make sense -- less often is a lost opportunity."

      I referenced Mr Trillin in the past tense. He's a magazine writer and magazines are on the ropes, but at 88 he's still getting published several times a year -- a fine reason for buying a magazine.


  2. It's the barnacles that impart a delightful crunch to roast beef! Just make sure you can see a dentist soon afterwards. Give Dean a hug for me (ha ha, just kidding).

    - Zeke Krahlin

    1. Ours is a non-hugging household, thankfully. Even when my flatmate 'L's father died, it was just five minutes of regrets and hearing him out and then we all wandered away giving him a few light punches on the shoulder, and it's never come up again.

      We're men, I tell you.

    2. Claude Personal Space ReignsDecember 24, 2023 at 4:04 PM

      Hugging. Hmmph.

      Some people - the huggers - don't know how to read the huggees.

      This is my first X-mas at my job (been there 11 months) and I was sickened to see everyone hugging everyone else after our weekly meeting last Friday, because... X-mas, I guess? No thanks, mangs. I excused myself and eluded embrace. They don't pay me enough for that indignity.

      I ever meet Doug, I'll hug that big oaf. But my co-workers? Fuck that shit.

    3. Yeah, you I'd hug.

      Hugs after a meeting at work? Fuck no. I do not hug co-workers, acquaintances, even most of my few friends. Family, but only rarely. A few times, homeless people, when they've asked. I am not a hugslut.


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