James Richard, or Jimmy Dick, Shaver (known to his close associates, and almost everyone else, as Dickhead) was in the grocery store. The old drunk was not there buying food. Most of his calories came from beer, followed by pretzels. Yes, believe it or not, despite the Ring of Fire, the Club 250 still sold pretzels. They were much better or a whole lot worse than the old ones, depending on who you asked. Hamburgers and fries rounded out his usual diet. You weren't always sure that the ground meat was pure beef, the bun was hand sliced, and the pickle wasn't Vlasic. But someone had managed to get the mustard right.
Jimmy Dick was in the store buying tobacco. As far as he was concerned what you could get was shit. Most folk—everyone who smoked, really—agreed with that opinion. They also agreed that it was way over-priced but then they had complained about that back in the real world. Still, when the local crop failed because the growing season was too short, you bought what was available or quit. As he left the check out lane a man was waiting for him at the baggers' station. There was no bagger, of course. That was because there were no bags, paper or plastic. You brought a canvas bag, a basket, a tote sack or something from home. Cardboard boxes were popular at first, but they wore out. The ones that were still in good shape were bringing a good price on the curiosity market all over Europe, so the price went up as the supply went down. One little old lady thought of her hoard as her retirement fund.
As Jimmy Dick passed him, the man spoke. His English was good. It was understandable, with a heavy German accent of some sort that Jimmy did not place. “Herr Sha—Mister Shaver?” Jimmy stopped. “Forgive me for stopping you, I heard the girl call you Mister Shaver. Are you the Mister Shaver who is the famous philosopher?”
Jimmy had given up fighting it. Only the Dutch can stop the tide. “That's me.” Jimmy waited. Next would come a joke or an insult or—rarely—a compliment. Jimmy had learned that to wait, laugh and leave was the best way of taking the steam out of the sails of whoever was trying to be funny at his expense.
“I would be honored if you would let me buy you a beer and ask you a question,” the stranger said.
Club 250, Jimmy's usual watering hole, would not admit a Kraut. The Gardens, though, were just across the street and they would let anyone in. Jimmy was well known for buying beer for anyone who would listen to him. He was also known to never turn down a free beer. “Throw in a ham sandwich and you're on.”