Back With The Old Men

It was my first day back to Marlin’s Inn

Yeah, there was that whole bit about me being in prison for lighting the bar on fire to prevent my mother from stabbing Hank with a busted catsup bottle, but that was all behind me.

It was around noon on a Tuesday like that one song by that one California singer that dated that bicycle guy, and I entered ever so casually.

The guys were having this conversation:

Kilgore: Sedentary is how you live your life.

Hank: It’s sedimentary!  Like how rocks are collected bits of sediment!  If your ass don’t move off your couch, you become a stalactite!

H.L.: How do you guys spell “cemetery”?

Kilgore: A stalagmite would grow out of a couch.  G for ground.  C for ceiling.

Santiago: I spell cemetery as S-E-M-A-T-A-R-Y.  No, no.  It starts with a C.

Hank: What the fuck are you talking about, Fish?  C is for couch.

Kilgore: Stalactites and stalagmites!

H.L.: I think you’re right.

Hank: I know I’m right.

H.L.: No, Santiago’s right.

Kilgore: No, he’s not.  None of you are.

I stood behind them as the battle reached an apex consisting of silence.  Santiago turned to the speaker controls behind him.  Unbeknownst to me, the jukebox had been playing this:

Kilgore angled t0 face me from his side of the bar.  We dropped about ten bucks in there waiting for you.

Hank didn’t face me and grumbled.  Not counting the twenty yesterday.

I didn’t realize I missed the place as much as I did. 

And vice versa.

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Pass Me The Donut Cushion

After two weeks behind bars, you forget about the woes waiting for you outside.  You spend all your time focusing on the good times, because your bad times are front and center. 

So what?  You lit Marlin’s Inn on fire

So what?  You found out your dad left your home because your alcoholic mother stabbed him.

So what?  I can’t really top those two so whats.

So those were my woes.  But also I forgot about my whoa’s.

Ah, young Aiden.  I hope they treated you well.

I exited the police station expecting to be excited, but instead I felt exacerbated.  My emancipator was none other than: “Hi Grace.  How did you–?”

I’m a judge.  Well, I used to be.  Didn’t Hank ever tell you?  Or my grandsons?

Her grandsons being my childhood friend that we now call Steve, and his douchebag brother, Ryan.  I don’t even feel like getting into it.

Oh, I guess it never came up.

“But how did you–?”

How did I know?  Let’s just say a little birdie called me up, out of the blue, and asked me if I could help.

Hank.  That lovable bastard. 

Kilgore once described him best: Henry “Hank” Chinaski might come across as dire case of torching hemorrhoids.  But his kit still includes the ointment and that blow up donut cushion.

“Well, I’m going to have make sure to thank that little birdie.”

Don’t just thank him, Grace started, like a steamroller of enthusiasm.  She raised up her left hand and revealed a diamond-encrusted band around her ring finger.  Congratulate him, too!

She did get me out of jail, so I let her hug me.

But I sure fought the urge to flip my little birdie.

One Does What One Mustard

Since Kilgore had visited, two days had passed.  Two terribly uncomfortable days.

It was revealed to me in an unceremonious fashion that my fellow jailbird, Eddie Dantes, was Kilgore Trout’s long estranged son.

Don’t act so excited to see me, Pops.

Kilgore shifted awkwardly in his seat, an act he rarely performed.  Usually, he doodled when things went awry at Marlin’s Inn, but in your local jailhouse, the only paper you get comes on a roll, and the only writing tool you get is… well, it goes with the paper. 

Edward, I wasn’t aware you were in town.  The last I heard from your aunt, you were in Tulsa.

I haven’t been in Tulsa for seven years.

That’s about the last time I spoke with your aunt.

Is he one of yours?  Eddie thumbed in my direction.  I was slightly concerned what the yours referred to.

No, I only recently met his mother.  My mom – the reason I’m locked up in the first place.

The cryptic conversation kept up for awhile.  From what I ascertained, Kilgore quite possibly could be a modern Johnny Appleseed.  I know he claims to have left doodles all across America, but he may have also diddled.

When their method of catching up reached it’s end, Eddie faced me and asked: Has this old man done all right by you?

I didn’t know what to say, so I nodded.  He was the third person to visit me.

Eddie nodded back, knowingly, as if my word, or head nod, was enough to mend the pain, or the strain, or whatever the toll was their father and son relationship had on him.

I can visit when I get out.  It was a statement as much as it was a question.

Of course you can.

Eddie nodded to the guard, and he was lead back to his cell.  Kilgore looked exhausted, so I repeated Eddie’s actions and was taken away.  I looked to Kilgore to wave, but he remained lost in his buried memories.

So for two days, Eddie and I spoke nothing of the matter.  In fact, we spoke of nothing at all.  Our routine had come down to exchanging mustard packets for an extra bologna slice in silence.  (I gave him the condiment; he gave me the meat.  Maybe I shouldn’t say it like that, since I was in jail after all.)

I was 41 bologna sandwiches in when an officer stepped forward and opened my cell door.  You’re free to go.  I was hesitant, thinking it was some kind of beat down trick.  I looked to Eddie to wave, but he remained lost in his buried memories.

“How did this happen?  Am I cleared of all charges?”

It appears you have a judge working in your favor and waiting to see you.

A judge?  That worked in my favor?  And wanted to see me?  After I collected my belongings, I entered to the lobby to greet my liberator.

You’ll never guess who it was…

The Surprise Visitor

Prior to getting sprung from the coop, a group of my friends was supposed to visit me.  

It ended up being only Kilgore Trout.

Don’t act so excited to see me, kiddo. 

I had been locked up for almost two weeks, and I didn’t know when I’d see the light of day… other than through the bars of my very small cell window.  And on the way to, and while in, the meeting room.

“It’s not that I’m not happy to see you, Kilgore.  I thought, you know, it’d be everybody.  The guard mentioned I had people that wanted to see me.”

Yeah, that’s the thing about the thing.  Santiago, Hank, and H.L. were all set on heading up here.  But then I found out Santiago wanted to do you physical harm…

I watched for a smile to pass across his lips.  It did not.  Gulp.

…Hank decided he had to see a man about a horse…

This was Hank’s way of saying mind your business, I’m busy.

And H.L. made it as far as the doorway, but he opted out when he saw there was a metal detector.

It didn’t matter.  I was glad someone was there.  Anyone.  Whether my ex, Ashleigh, came back, or my mom.  It could have been Steve, or his good for naught brother Ryan.  I mean, of course, my great friend Ryan, for whom I will be standing up in his wedding to Ashleigh.  How stupid am I?

And I don’t mean to discount Kilgore’s appearance.  It was just, up to that point, we really hadn’t had any extra bonding time.  There was no bonus personal link.  Hank saved my life.  H.L. tries to invent things to make me forget about the woes in my life.

That’s when my next door neighbor and fellow inmate walked in – Eddie Dantes.

The guards told me you were here, but I knew in my gut it wasn’t to see me.

I stared at Eddie in mild confusion, and then faced Kilgore.  We were the only two people in the suffocating room.

Hello… son.

Mother’s Visiting Day

After a week in the pencell, as my incarcerated neighbor, Eddie Dantes, referred to our jailing, I only had one visitor (Ashleigh), and I’d had enough of Eddie’s revenge plots.  I asked the guard if it was true that I had one phone call. 

He told me, Yeah.  But it’s only valid for the first 24 hours of imprisonment.  Then he laughed in way that told me he was fibbing.

Truth be told, the biggest reason I didn’t ask to call anyone is I didn’t know anyone’s phone number.  Stinking cell phones!  Well, there was one number I knew by heart, but she… aaah!

Imagine my surprise at my next visitor, not-so-much in the way that Ashleigh shocked me by simply showing up, but at the amount of time it took for this person to show her face.  I gave it away didn’t I?

In the meeting room, my mom remained relatively quiet.  Usually, once her ramblings started rolling, she was like a vocal freight train.

I, on the other, was relatively quiet when we were together.  So the peace and quiet was nice and quaint, while it lasted.

Why did you go and do a thing like that, Aiden?  ‘A thing like that’ being setting the bar in Marlin’s Inn on fire.

“What was I supposed to do?  You were going to stab, Hank!”  With a busted catsup bottle.  Classy.

You remember then, don’t you?

“Remember what?”

Never mind.

“Never mind?  You don’t get to bring up something and immediately cancel it out?  What are you asking if I remember?”

So how many times has Ashleigh visited you?  I’m sure she misses you dearly while you’re in here.

“Never mind that for now.  What don’t I remember that you thought I remembered?”

My mom proceeded to bring up a bit about my father.  My father, whom I always assumed was a drunk.

You know why your father left us, right?  I stabbed him.  I came home drunk after work one night, and when he confronted me about it, I grabbed a nail file and foom!  Right in his srm.

I sat in silence.  Not only had I no inkling of such an exchange, but my entire understanding of the complexities of my parents’ relationship was completely wrong. 

And did she really use the sound effect of Foom! to describe her stabbing my dad?

She’s so melodramatic I want to poke my eyes out!

Guards Of Many Kinds

While I was spending a bit of time doing time for basically what amounts to overreacting, I was visited by a few people in my life.  Most were expected, though they appeared later than expected.  And one was completely unexpected.  Wait, completely is not quite right.  Utterly unexpected works better.  No.  Absolutely.

Hi, Aiden. 

There was a point in my life when those words from that voice would bring my world crashing down around me.  I think I’m still in that point.  “Hi, Ashleigh.  What brings you to these parts?” 

We were seated across from each other at a folding table in, I guess you’d call it the meeting room.  There was no plate glass between us – but there were armed guards which might as well have been plate glass between us.  And then there’s always the awkwardness that might as well be plate glass…

I heard through the grapevine about what you did.  I used to know well the grapevine on which we hung.  It was comprised of her parents, my mom, and us.  These days – I’m not so sure what the grapevine consists of.

“It’s a technicality, me being here.  The guys told me I didn’t have much to worry about.”

So they’ve been here to see you?

They hadn’t.  “Of course they have.  Us Marlin’s Inn guys stick together.”  I hoped.  When I was being taken away in the squad car, Hank promised he’d get me out of here.  At the time, I wondered how he was doing with that…

So the plans are going great for the wedding, in case you were wondering…

I wasn’t.  “Oh yeah, that’s wonderful.  I should be out of here well before, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

No, no, no.  That’s not it at all.  I just wanted to see you, I guess.

“And you figured I couldn’t go anywhere…”

She laughed.  Oh that laugh.  So I changed the subject.  “How’s Ryan?”  Or at least I tried to.

So, Aiden… does your mom still think we’re engaged?

She did.  “No, I’ve told her.  She’s known since you left me.”

Ashleigh sighed and covered her chest, nodding as if she misinterpreted my lie for something more.  That’s good.  The way she sounded on the phone…

“She-she just probably called everybody she knows.  Which consists of you.  And of course, me.”  For the record, my mom hadn’t visited me by that point.  I remember hoping she didn’t complete her attack against Hank.

Ashleigh nodded, and she bid her farewell.  She put her hand out to touch mine, and I retracted mine away.

I blamed it on the guards.

The Count Of Bologna Sandwiches

I’m not sure what the real difference between a jail and a prison is, but I always pictured a jail to be like the one in that old black and white show where the sheriff whistles, and a prison to be like in that one cable show where guys – well, they do horrible things to each other, even if they’re in wheelchairs!

Lucky for me, after I lit a small fire in Marlin’s Inn, I was sent to jail.

As Kilgore sometimes says:

Thank J.O.D!  That stands for Jack Oliver Daniels.  I don’t know if Oliver’s his middle name, or if it’s just Ollie for that matter, but I’m thankful nonetheless.

While I was there, the guards brought me bologna on bread and bottled water.  I forgot how much I loved bologna on bread!  My mom used to make it for me all the time as a kid. 

And it wasn’t as if I was totally alone.  The guy in the cell next to me was pretty angry at the world, but we had nothing but pleasant conversations… for the most part.

His name was Eddie Dantes, and after a couple days of just eating bologna sandwiches and drinking bottled water, we got to talking.

I was in love once upon a time too, he told me.  It was so true that it felt like we were married.  My beloved Mercedes meant the world to me, and she was stolen so harshly by someone I trusted.

He would go on and on about his true love this and his true love that, so having a fresh perspective to bounce my story off of, I told him all about Ashleigh.  Our ups and downs.  Our ins and outs.  Take that whatever way you may.

His response: See what love brings?  Nothing but despair.  But let it be known… one day, I shall have my revenge.

Yeah, he kind of went on a little bit too much about avenging his lost love, but I couldn’t say I felt much different at times.

Eddie, I’m not saying I’ve achieved any closure on the matter, but couldn’t you find a more constructive way of dealing with your pain?”

What could be more pain-numbing that reciprocity?

Here’s where things got really strange, and my desire to get home increased tenfold.  I started counting down the bologna sandwiches until I got home.

“What are you planning to do, Eddie?  Well, maybe I shouldn’t know.”

It’s okay, Aiden.  You can know.  I’m going to steal my cousin’s Ferrari and smash it up just like he did.

“Um, what?”

That’s why I’m in here.  Attempted grand theft.  My cousin stole my Mercedes and flipped her over.  He totalled her, man.  I was going to the same to his car.

At that point, the guards brought us our next meal.  I really had to re-evaluate how much I loved bologna sandwiches…

Feel The Burn

So, yeah… where was I?

I’m kidding, of course, because I don’t know what else to do.

To reiterate: I didn’t know what else to do.

What would you do if you were standing behind a bar, and your mother was brandishing a broken bottle, raring to wound one of your friends?  Okay, maybe now that I’ve been “scared straight,” I would react more rationally than lighting the place on fire.

Immediately after it happened, I remember feeling like I left my body and was slowly returning to myself.  H.L. grabbed my arm and pulled me out from behind the wall of flames.  I didn’t see my mom or Kilgore anymore.  And Hank tried to extinguish the blaze with a soda gun.

Hank, let the professionals take care of it.  They’re already here.  H.L.was an exercise in calm.  It was like he had been through it all before.

As we reached outside, an ambulance and a fire truck pulled into the parking lot.  Kilgore tended to my mom by her car.  She was crying.

How did they get here so fast? Hank wondered allowed since I was unable to speak.

Again, H.L. had all the answers.  I had a hunch and called them twenty minutes ago.

Fire fighters rushed in.  Their hose drew a line between me and my mom.

That was fucking stupid, you know.

Hank didn’t have to tell me twice.  But he did anyway.

That was really fucking stupid.

When the police arrived, they asked for everyone’s story.  And who knows what they said besides them.  Every tale has more than one version, and the elusive one is the truth.

As the cops placed me in the backseat of their car to be taken away, I felt an extreme calm.  Then I felt extremely clammy.  It all started to sink in.  Everything.  The breakup.  The hook up.  The knock up.  The fuck up that was setting Marlin’s Inn on fire.

Prior to departure, Hank nudged the officer guarding me so he could talk to me.  The officer obliged and opened the passenger door so Hank could take a seat.

Hey kid, he said, without tone or irony.

I sighed, ready to talk, but he continued instead.

That took balls.  And I’m not condoning your actions by any means, but you diffused a bomb.  Things could have went worse, I take it.

I couldn’t look him in the eye, and neither could he until he said this:

I’ll get you outta this mess.  I’ll personally see to it.

Without another word or gesture, he popped out of the squad car and shut the door.  At this point, everyone was leaving… the ambulance, the fire truck, the guys, my mom.

Just as Santiago was pulling up.  I watched him as he walked over to Hank, and from the looks of things, Hank explained everything to him.  Santiago appeared worried, and surprised.  He covered his mouth in shock.  And then Hank pointed at me in the backseat.  Santiago’s stare burned right through me.

I called out to the officer.  “Can we go now!”

Catching Up And Catsup Bottles

Luckily, less than a handful of patrons frequent the Marlin’s Inn, so I doubt anyone’s noticed that it’s been closed for two weeks.  The reason being?  I will get to that in a moment.

Since my last posting occurred awhile ago, I feel I need to catch you up on things.  The reason I haven’t been writing?  I will get to that in a moment as well.

The day: a couple Saturday’s ago.
The time: early evening.
The occasion: Santiago (in my mind) was seeking out the love of his life.
The problem: I was left in charge of watching the bar.
The bigger problem: it was my mom’s birthday and I cancelled our plans.
The biggest problem: Mom didn’t like that.

As she burst into this safe-haven for drunkards and old men, neither group being mutually exclusive, Hank was berating me.  In reality, I overstepped my bounds with him by bringing up the possibility that his girlfriend, Grace, left him.  Not one to recoil from a slight or a fight, he became angry with me just as my matriarch walked in.

She said to Hank: If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

To which Hank replied: You must have me confused with Maxwell House.

I’ll still admit that was a pretty good comeback, and at the time, I laughed under my breath.  I didn’t dare let either of those titans hear me.

You’re coming with me, Aiden, right this minute.  Mom remained firm in her place and firm in her decision.

Sorry to inform you, but Aiden ain’t going nowhere.  He’s got work to do.  Hank slammed his beer and handed the mug to me.  Of all the times for him not to do it himself.

Do you work here, Aiden?

He’s filling in.

Why don’t you mind your own business?

This place is my business.

I turned to Kilgore and then to H.L. for any sign of confirmation.  Each of them shrugged.  Did Hank own Marlin’s Inn?

Mom hurried into the adjacent room, grabbed a pool cue, and held it like a weapon.  H.L. did something similar to me one time.

Son of a bitch, you let my son go.  As if I was being held hostage.

Hank must have been hankering to say this:

Funny you should say “son of a bitch…”

This is when things get a little fuzzy.  From one of the tables, Mom grabbed a catsup bottle and crashed it over the top.  And it triggered something in me… like in that one movie where the director throws a garbage can through a window.

I grabbed the cheapest liquor and splashed it across the lacquered bar.  From the glass full of matchbooks, I plucked one out and lit it.  The fire spread quickly.

From what I’ve ascertained, Kilgore escorted my mom out of the Inn; H.L. and Hank lead me.

So to answer the first question at the start:  repairs have kept Marlin’s Inn closed for two weeks.  

To answer the second: I’ve been behind bars…

…you know what kind I mean.

The Birthday Surprise

I was standing behind the bar a full half hour before anyone stepped foot into Marlin’s Inn.

H.L. was first.  He dropped a five on the counter in front of me and dug in his pocket for change to use in the jukebox.  Of course, he selected some Warren Zevon and proceeded to the MegaTouch.  He paid no mind to me; he was lost in a myriad of puzzles and games.  I filled a clean ashtray with quarters and put it next to him.  Eventually I remembered to fix him a drink.

Within another half hour, Kilgore arrived.  He hung his coat on the rack, whistling all the way to his bar stool.  I made sure he had enough napkins earlier, and sure enough, out came his pen and after a click, scribbling ensued.  I also poured him some spirits without being prompted.

Another half hour passed, and someone unexpected dropped in.  He took his place in front of the spigots, and without hesitation I held out an empty mug.

Thanks, Hank said, and he poured himself a beer.

I leaned against the back of the counter and smiled. 

Everything was smooth. 

Everything was cool.

Everything was how it should be.

Holy shit!  What the hell are you doing here?  Hank shouted in reference to me, as if I had been invisible, or– I thought you were Santiago.

Kilgore and H.L. pried themselves from their distractions to acknowledge me.

I wondered why there were so many napkins, Kilgore said.

And I didn’t have to pick up my coins off the floor, H.L. added.

Where is that refugee anyway?  Hank would never have said that to Santiago’s face.  Nor his back.  To Santiago’s fist?  Definitely.

“He went out to find Ms. Barkley.”

They all howled at that response.

I clarified, “Well, that’s just my guess, anyway.”

With great authority, Hank had this to say:

If anyone’s learned anything in this joint, it’s that a woman ain’t worth the trouble.

I foolishly responded: “Why?  Did Grace leave you?”

Hank stood up on the rungs of his stool to tower over me.  If it weren’t for these other pair of fools needing service – cuz I sure as hell don’t – grace would be leaving me, and you’d be leaving in a trash can.  You understand me, Puss N’ Boots?

I had gotten so used to Hank, that my fear of him had left me.  Guess what came back in a hurry.

Oh, and guess who walked into Marlin’s Inn at the exact moment to hear that.

If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

Hank returned to his seat and turned around.  The other guys faced the fragile woman in the doorway.

All I could think to say was, “Happy Birthday, Mom.”