(Dedicated to my mom and dad)
Man walks into a bar. Immediately, the bartender breaks into a huge grin. “Hey Joe Hayden! Take a seat, let me get you your usual,” he says, pouring the man a scotch and water, neat. “On the house, my friend,” the bartender says as Joe Hayden goes to take out his wallet.
Joe Hayden smiles and waves to the folks around the bar, every one of whom greet him by name. Every one of them, that is, except for the middle-aged, professionally attired woman seated directly to his right.
“Excuse me, sir” says the woman, “but I couldn’t help but notice that everyone here at this bar knows you, everyone but me, that is. What, is this some kind of a joke?”
“Well,” replies Joe Hayden with a twinkle in his eye “actually, it’s not a joke at all. You see, everyone knows Joe Hayden. Everyone. I would be far more apt to say that the joke is that up until this very moment, you did not know Joe Hayden. But, see, now you do too.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the woman says, “Maybe everyone in this bar knows you, but it’s a big world out there. Everyone cannot possibly know Joe Hayden.”
“Well, Ma’am,” says Joe Hayden, “I beg to differ. And I’ll even go so far as to make you a wager that you can’t find one person out there in this so-called big world who doesn’t know Joe Hayden, present company excluded, of course, haha.”
The woman, a lawyer and no stranger to the occasional social spar, opens her purse and takes out a crisp one-hundred dollar bill. “You’re on, Joe Hayden,” she says.
And with that, off they go, the woman and Joe Hayden, in search of someone, anyone, who doesn’t know Joe Hayden. They walk through the town, but everyone knows Joe Hayden. They leave the town and walk into an office complex off a highway 30 miles from the town, but everyone knows Joe Hayden. They leave the state but can’t even find a truck stop where everyone doesn’t know Joe Hayden. Eventually, they hit the furthest reaches of the continental United States, and to the woman’s dismay, everywhere they go, everyone knows Joe Hayden.
But the woman is tenacious. “Okay, Joe Hayden,” she says, “That’s it, we’re going to Rome. We’re going to see the Pope. There’s no way he knows you.”
“Oh! The Pope!” exclaims Joe Hayden, “He’s a great friend of mine!”
“Sure he is,” scoffs the woman.
And off they go, to the airport, where everyone knows Joe Hayden, onto the plane, where everyone knows Joe Hayden, and finally to Rome, where Joe Hayden is greeted warmly by the Pope and invited up to stand beside the Pope as he gives his address that Sunday.
The woman stands in the crowd and watches as the Pope speaks to the people, and Joe Hayden stands beside him waving and smiling warmly. Shaking her head in disbelief, the woman turns to the man standing next to her and says, “Excuse me, Signor, but you wouldn’t happen to know who that is up there, would you?”
The man looks at her, squints his eyes and scatches his head.
“Well, Signora, I’m not sure about the man in the big, white hat. But the gentleman standing next to him, why everyone knows that that is Joe Hayden!”
[Epilogue: Humiliated, ostracized by her peers and no longer able to get work, the woman left the law and became a great novelist. Joe Hayden is still traveling the world, endlessly in search of someone who does not know him.]