Three Little Words

A dorm parent of mine at boarding school once told me to never let anyone surprise the shit out of me. He ended up going to jail for touching one of his wards, so I guess he was really talking from the heart when he’d said that. I’ve tried to carry that lesson with me. But every once it a while I’d forget it. It happened a few times at the chop shop, not just with Wayne the proselytizing pornographer, but also with Sal, the operations manager.

Sal lorded over Gene, the Shrek-ish sales manager, and reported to Scott, the out-of-town owner. At 50 years old, Sal could be at times extremely approachable and at others somewhat intimidating, a symptom of what sometimes occurred to me as split personalities. He made a big deal out of the fact that you never had to knock on his door, but when you did, he was a terrible grump. He loved tequila and bourbon, but he hated cursing (and probably dancing, too). He was a health food nut, but he had once owned a Subway franchise (pre-Jared), which also told me that he was opportunistic and thrifty and a man of limited culinary acumen.

“Praised be He,” Sal said one afternoon, mouth half-filled with corned beef. We were sitting at a bar near the chop shop, a place where we ate food as a vehicle to wash down the booze that called out to each of us like Monday sirens.

“Praised be He,” he repeated to Bradley, Billy the Vet, and me. My ears swallowed those words with a tinge of discord. While Sal always seemed to be a man of principal, a family man, one who might coach children’s sports or join the Elk’s club, I didn’t know him to be a religious man. So, like the others, I ignored him, hoping that whatever point he was getting at would simply go away. But he wasn’t finished. He was only getting started, and it was about to get worse. As we all stared uncomfortably at the mirror behind the bar, he said, “I love you.”

“Okay,” Bradley said, turning to face him. “I was willing to overlook the God bullshit since we’re in the only church I know. But I love you? Where’s Dave. He’ll back me up. This kind of talk is unacceptable.” Dave was the bartender. He was a handsome man, which Bradley had pointed out aloud on more than one occasion, much to the pleasure of those waiting to mock him (which was pretty much all of us).

“Your boyfriend, Handsome Dave?” Billy asked. “You’re so gay.”

“You’re so gay,” Sal repeated. “Maybe that could be another one.” We all looked at him, lost in his nonsense. “What do those sayings have in common: praised be He; I love you; you’re so gay.”

“They’re all things that should never be said in a bar between two men,” Bradley said.

“That’s true,” Billy followed. “Unless it’s a Christian gay bar.”

“I don’t think they have those,” Bradley replied.

“Oh, c’mon Bradley,” Billy said, “Of all people, you should know they do. They’re called rectories.”

“Not funny,” Sal said. “My cousin Thomas is a priest, and he’s a good man. And he’s only interested in broads, trust me.”

“Wait,” I said, “your cousin is a priest and he’s into women?”

“Well he’s no homo, if that’s what you mean,” Sal said.

“I didn’t say he was a homo,” I replied. “But that doesn’t mean he’s into women either. He’s a priest. Isn’t he supposed to only—I don’t know—be into God?”

“I asked him the same thing years ago,” Sal said. He then took another mouthful of his meat sandwich.

“…And…?” I pressed. “What’d he say?”

“He said: all men err.”

“Err?” Bradley said.

“It means fuck up,” Billy said.

“Yeah, Billy,” Bradley said exasperatedly. “I know that.”

“And that brings me to my point,” Sal said.

“Thank fucking God,” Billy said. “And what is your point?”

“Three little words,” Sal said. “Every man needs a motto, and that motto should always have three words in it. I love you; praised be He; all men err.”

“Or: you’re so gay,” Billy added.

“Yeah,” Sal agreed. “Whatever. Any three words. It’s like—your thing.”

“How about: shoot me now?” Billy said, looking for a high five from Bradley, who was in the middle of giving birth to a new thought, which was:

“How about: suck my dick?”

We all looked at him. He made it too easy.

“So what’s your motto?” I asked Sal.

“Veni, vidi, vici,” he said.

“What the fuck is that?” Billy asked.

“It means: I came, I saw, I conquered.” Sal said.

“Dude,” Bradley jumped in, knowing he was at last right about something, “that’s six words.”

“Not in Latin,” Sal said.

“Last time I checked, you weren’t from Mexico,” Bradley said, again met with blank stares.

“Three words,” Sal said. “Three little words. What about you, A.C.?”

“What about me?” I asked.

“What would yours be?” he replied.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“That one sucks,” Billy said.

“That’s not his motto, moron,” Sal said. “Don’t worry, kid. It’ll come to you.”

And Sal was right; it did come to me. About a month later, I was leaving the office, thinking that I was the last one there until I saw his office light seeping from beneath his closed door. By habit, I walked in without knocking. Apparently, he though he had been the last one there as well. He was sitting behind his desk, facing the door. His eyes yawned widely, his eyebrows reaching as high as they could. There was a bottle of tequila to his side. His upper lip was covered in white powder, and there were lines on his desk like a Morse code novel written in cocaine.

“Hey bud. How you doing?” he said with the speed of an auctioneer. “Whatchya need? Watchya want? Want a shot? Want a line?”

That’s when I figured out my motto, and while I try to make it something to live by every day, in reality they were the only words I could think to say aloud at the time: “Holy fucking shit.”

One Comment on “Three Little Words”

  1. Liz Getty says:


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