One thing nobody ever forgets is their first job. Whether you loved it or hated it, it's with you for the rest of your life. My first job came along one summer when I was in the 9th grade. My folks decided that it was time that I learn about such things so, out I went into the cold cruel world of business and landed a job working at the food and ice cream counter at a Sommers-Rexall drug store. Sommer's-Rexall has been defunct for many years now, but I promise I had nothing to do with their demise.

Now, I say I worked at the food and ice cream counter, but the common term for my job was "soda jerk."  Basically what I did was serve up coffee and soft drinks behind the lunch counter. It was hardly a character building job, but it was a cool place to work because most of my friends were regulars at said lunch counter and it was a pretty good way to meet girls. . Mostly what I did that summer, though, was make banana splits.

It was summer and the big promotion was banana splits for something like 50 cents. Being a quick study, I learned how to split a banana and put three scoops of ice cream around it in short order. I then proceeded to make banana splits every damn day of my life for three months. I was 15 when I got that job and it was only two years ago that I could bring myself to eat one of the nasty things. Making those splits was the bane of my existence. Having said that, there was an up side to the job and that was some of the characters I got to meet that summer.

Now, most of the people I met were really nice. Working class stiffs who came in for their afternoon coffee. I remember one guy in particular who came in every single afternoon at 4:30 on the nose and ordered a cup of coffee and peanut butter crackers. I always made sure his coffee and crackers were waiting at the counter when he arrived.

We would pass the time of day while he enjoyed his break and then he would drop a dollar tip on the counter and leave. That was a pretty generous tip since his bill only came up to 75 cents. He was just an all round nice guy and he was one of my favorite customers, but my true favorite character was, as far as I was concerned when I first met him, was just a scary old man. I hated to see him come in and he came in every day. I avoided him as much as possible until one day when I was forced to get to know him better.

Now, this guy looked like a modern day pirate. All he needed was an eye-patch and the picture would have been complete. he had an air of intense anger about him. His mouth was either in a constant state of frowning except when he twisted it into an angry sneer. Everything about this guy was scary. I'll be honest with you; I was terrified of that old man.

One day, he came in with his usual sneer and bad attitude and ordered his cup of coffee. It may have just been my imagination, but he seemed even more angry and hostile than ever as he took his seat in one of the booths. It took every bit of courage I could muster to walk over to the booth to take his order. He always ordered the same thing, but I wasn't taking any chances. As I walked over he simply growled out the word, "coffee." I could tell he was in a particularly foul mood that day and was no doubt looking for trouble.

I filled a cup with st4eaming hot coffee and took it to him. I suddenly realized that my hands were shaking. He noticed it and made some kind of snide remark that only served to make me more nervous. As I approached the table with the hot coffee, to my horror, the cup slipped off the saucer and that hot coffee went everywhere.

Actually, the term "everywhere" is actually misleading. Every single drop of that coffee landed in the pirates lap. Now, you've heard of one's life flashing before one's eyes. Here I was only 15 and was about to be cut down in the prime of life. I braced for whatever might be coming my way.

It was then that I heard a sound I didn't expect to hear. It very slowly dawned on me that this guy was laughing. He wasn't just laughing, he was roaring with laughter. At first, I thought he might be laughing about how he was going to kill me, but then it dawned on me that this guy really thought that getting hit with a cup of hot coffee was funny. the guys at the table with him thought it was funny too and soon, the whole table was enjoying the incident. I wasn't going to die.

I mumbled some weak apology, but he was laughing too hard to hear it. It was then I noticed something in that mean old man's eyes. There was a twinkle in there and I suddenly realized that I had misjudged that man for all that time.

I'll never forget that man. From that day on we were fast friends. I started ;looking forward to his visits. He was a very interesting person. As it turns out, he owned a garage and worked on cars for a living. He had a great reputation as a mechanic and all his customers were fond of him.

The funny thing is that, I never knew his name. I just referred to him as "the pirate." I learned a lot about dealing with all kinds of people that summer, but the pirate taught me the best lesson of all. Sometimes  we misread people completely and as a result, we miss out on some great opportunities to get to know some pretty interesting people. I've found people pretty darn fascinating ever since that adventure. It's just that sometimes, we have to put hot coffee on a person to get to know them.

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