Mike the Barber's in a foul, foul mood.
He's in his regular booth at the Character Café, sitting over his regular order: two eggs, scrambled hard, and coffee, black. His coffee isn't the only thing steaming.
"It coulda been me!" says Mike the Barber through clenched teeth. "It coulda been me!"
"Tell me about it," says Dot the Waitress.
She's got that seen-it-all, heard-it-all look on her face, the same look waitresses in cafés and diners always have on their face. Deep down, though? A heart of gold. She tops off his coffee and looks him smack in the eye.
"You were right next to him, weren't you?"
Mike the Barber holds his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.
"This close," he says.
He's talking about Joe the Plumber. But he could be talking about life.
Joe the Plumber's gone big-time -- a video on YouTube, an interview on Fox, his name in every conversation. And all because he asked Obama a question. With the cameras rolling.
"I had a question, too!" says Mike the Barber. "But he took so long answering his question..."
The thought just sits there, unfinished. (Like his eggs.) It all could have turned out very differently. It could have been Mike the Barber instead of Joe the Plumber all over that debate. It could have been --
"Look what the cat dragged in," says Dot the Waitress, and she flashes her best early-morning smile at Tim the Mailman, who's just come through the door. He returns the smile, and ambles over to where Mike the Barber is sitting.
"Sorry about last night," says Tim the Mailman, sliding into the booth. "Would've been nice, McCain mentioning you."
"Maybe next time."
"There isn't any next time. That was the last one."
"Well, I'm still sorry. And you wouldn't have been spouting some nonsense about 'socialism' either."
Tim the Mailman is the furthest thing from a spouter. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have opinions about things. And concerns. It doesn't mean he'd have shied away from asking Obama a question or two if he'd been there. A question McCain might have made a big deal about, just like he did with Joe the Plumber's question.
But he wasn't there, Tim the Mailman reminds himself. He had to deliver the mail. He's not like Joe the Plumber -- he can't set his own hours. He --
"Don't get up, fellas."
"Well, if it isn't Madge the Accountant!"
Madge the Accountant's been coming to the Character Café for as long as anyone can remember. The next time one of the fellas gets up for her will be the first time.
"Join the party, why don't you?" says Mike the Barber.
"Doesn't look all that party-ish to me. Pity-ish is more like it."
"Well, join it anyways. We can always use another shoulder to cry on."
Madge the Accountant waves at Mike the Barber to shove over, and Dot the Waitress pours everyone a fresh cup.
"Hey, look at the bright side," says Madge the Accountant. "Maybe his pipes'll leak."
Nobody has to ask who she means.
"It's gonna go right to his head, you know."
"He'll be impossible."
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org