The Mystery

Something has been bothering me since I couldn’t remember what H.L. swore I would never forget, and for a change it’s not You-Know-Who.  The guys at the bar were my last resort, since Steve was clueless about my inquiry. 

His reponse: What are you talking about?  We never went back outside the first day I showed up at your bar.  It was snowy as hell.

Snowy as hell.  Snowy as H.L.  He rides his bike up to Marlin’s Inn, no matter the weather.  What he wanted to show us might have had something to do with that.

When I arrived, I removed my winter garments and hung them on the coat rack, like we were apt to do.  I used to keep my jacket by my side in the early days because I didn’t know them from Jack Hanna.

Kilgore referenced the frequent guest of talk shows and host of Animal Adventures when I first met him.  Do you think Jack Hanna ever made love to a sheep?  You know, just to know what it was like?

I plopped down next to H.L. who was sitting at a table working on a jigsaw puzzle.  He was working on it upside-down because he considers using the picture to be cheating.

H.L., remember that day awhile back that you lead us outside to show us something we’d never forget?”

Sounds like something I might do.  He scraped through the pieces to find the remaining edges.  The frame was mostly complete.

“I think you were showing us something to do with your bike.”

Sounds like something that would be outside worth showing you.

“Could you refresh my memory about what it was that you showed us?”

He looked up from his gray cardboard shapes.  I’d have to build an entirely different machine to do that.

Defeated, I took my seat at the bar.  Santiago had my drink waiting.  Hank laughed.  I remember that day.  It was the first time you brought Snodgrass up here.

Snodgrass wasn’t an epithet Hank created for Steve.  It was his actual last name: Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.  His mother remarried when she moved here.  That’s how I met T.JSteve.  For the record, Ryan Antolini is his older step-brother, and my mortal enemy.  I never thought I would have one.

Steve Snodgrass asked about Fat’s name that day.  He asked what the H and the L stood for.  You told him, Fat

HorseloverHis frame was complete.  Onto the middle.

…and the prick didn’t believe you.

I can’t say I believe for certain in the validity of H.L.’s claim, but who am I to argue?

“Hank, do you remember what he showed us?”

Hank paused.  He tilted his head at me and spoke.  It sure weren’t no pussy because if you ever seen one in person, you’d drop dead.  Your poor ticker would loose all the blood to your little hard-on-that-couldn’t.  And–

“Ha ha.  You’re so effin’ funny.”

Did you just curse?  Did he just fucking say effin’?

Santiago was getting a good chuckle out of Hank’s rant, so he prepared a stiff drink, on the house.  You can guess where the next jokes went.

Aiden, Kilgore called to me.  He was the only one that referred to me by my first name.  I think I may have doodled in the stall.

His response kept Hank and Santiago roaring.  They definitely had caught each other’s contagious laughs, and they were soon finding it hard to catch their breaths.

“Be careful, old men.  Your lungs aren’t up to snuff anymore.”

In between gasps: Don’t say another word pipsqueak.  You’re gonna kill us both.

Kilgore stood up.  Let’s go to the john.  I’ve got something to show you.  The barkeep and the drunk lost all composure they regained when Kilgore dropped that bomb.

In the bathroom, Kilgore recounted that night.  I do recall meeting Steve, and I thought H.L. might have passed on into the next world.  It does seem some memory fragment is missing.

We opened the stall door and checked the wall to find this:

stallwalldoodle

We could have scraped away Santiago’s paint, but by then it seemed like too much work.  Besides, we had drinking to do.  We rejoined the others and imbibed the remainder of the night away.  At one point, H.L. removed a small can from his coat pocket and headed to the restroom.  Upon one of my relieving sessions, the stall looked like this:

stallwall2

Weird.

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The Initiates

Whenever I arrive at Marlin’s Inn, the crew is always there.  As if they’re always there.

Santiago’s cleaning dust out of unused glasses.  Kilgore’s on the bar’s short side, scribbling away in between sips.  Hank is right in front of the taps.  That way if Santiago’s taking a piss or dropping a deuce…

Reinventing the wheel is Kilgore’s version of what I like to say.

Rollin’ Cuban cigars is Hank’s.

…then Hank can reach over and help himself.

But the first day things went out of whack, it happened to be the day Steve decided to show up.  Actually, I walked in with my childhood friend T.J. and left with Steve.  More on that in a minute.

So this is the infamous Marlin’s Inn.  T.J. had asked how I was handling the whole Ashleigh thing, and I explained that this place was my escape.  So you’re kind of like Frasier on his old show before he was on Frasier.

I introduced him to Santiago, who gave him a two finger salute.  Then to Kilgore – he waved.  Then to Hank.  Guess how many fingers were included in his salute.

“Where’s H.L,” I asked the fellas.  Kilgore was the only one to speculate.

Dead.   He pondered the severity of his hypothesis.  Possibly dead.  He tilted his head to see if his marbles might roll differently.  No, probably dead.

What’s your name kid? Santiago asked as we took our seats at the bar, on the long side, between Kilgore’s corner and Hank.

T.J.  Short for Thomas Jefferson.

Hank roared.  We already have one initiate in here.  I can’t be having two.

Not realizing what he was directly talking about, I started to think he didn’t want two young guys disrupting his place.  His escape.

It’s enough I gotta call H.L. H.L.  I’m not calling some twat-minded snot T.J. too.

In defense of the lad, you call H.L. by his last name of Fat.

Fish, keep your nose out of this.  Hank finally turned his stool to look at us, instead of through the beer logo mirror behind the bar.  You’re Steve. 

T.J. now Steve gulped hard.  Hank then swiveled his seat forward and reached over to refill his mug while Santiago watched, leaning on the far end of the bar.

Not another word was uttered.  Not another exchange about it.  T.J. was now Steve.  He was always Steve.  He will always be Steve.

By this point, H.L. finally arrived, not dead, possibly dead, or probably dead.  You’ll never guess what I saw.  I’ll never forget it.  And probably neither will you, as it will be in our collective unconscious.

Crap, what was it?  I can’t remember right now, but I know it was good…

Reality Spits

There were no big games on.  Not even any little ones.  And foreign sports never count.  

These facts were killing Hank.  The man loves to gamble more than Casanova loves women.  His favorite line when on the subject: We’re insatiable poke-her players.

Due to the glut of options on the tube, Santiago put on a reality show.  I’ll admit I avoid the drivel as much as the next guy, but any program that can distract me from thinking about Ashleigh is a welcome one. 

What is this fecal stew brewing on the view screen?  Can’t we put on some highlight reels?

Get up and change it.

Santiago called Hank’s bluff, so the group of us sat around watching some aged rocker trying to date loose women with looser screws on a bus.  It happened to be on a channel that I thought was known for playing music videos.  At least they did when Ashleigh and I would hang out in her bedroom, necking to some… dare I say?  I dare not say unless I’d like another reaming from Hank.

Picking up ladies like those is tantamount to an elephant picking up peanuts.  We all looked at Kilgore for his explanation.  It’s easy.

Did you know elephants purr?  That’s how they communicate.  H.L. began purring like an elephant, which sounded a lot like a cat.  He took a sip of his draught beverage and continued making noises. 

My sixth wife was an elephant, and I sure could make her purr.  Hank claims to have been married eight times, but I don’t believe him.

H.L. used the back of his hand to wipe the foam forming on his lips that came from purring with a mouth full of beer.  It completed the picture of a cat – far from an elephant.

Kilgore had an epiphany:

I’ve got a reality show for you.  Hank would even watch it.  The show’s producers would go around and abduct burly men.  Men outside doing manual labor.  Cutting down trees, digging graves, building garages.  A huge group of them, around a dozen… if that could be a huge group.  They’d get locked in a barn and be provided with unlimited amounts of whiskey.  Once a hierarchy was established after a few days, a pig would be unleashed upon them.  I mean, the hugest hog you’ve seen.  They could make horror stories about this swine.

We all waited once again for a punchline, but Kilgore went back to his brew.  I asked what would happen, and Kilgore shrugged and smiled like that was the answer.  Santiago had to get full-size towels because napkins weren’t enough to clean up H.L.’s mess.

Fish… you’re a fucking idiot.

The One That Got Away

“I’ll never forget the day I met her.  It’s a day that I’d like to forget, and a piece of my soul tries to forget, but some people take residence in your heart.  And like a clogged artery, it only gets worse before it gets better…”

That’s the biggest crock of shit I ever heard spill from your light beer soaked lips.

Hank was unusually cordial with me the day I recounted how Ashleigh and I came to be an item.  It was the last day of the month that wasn’t a weekend or holiday, so he had drank just about half of his pension in one sitting.

What do you know about clogged arteries?  If you think it’s anything near constipation, well, you’d be a little right.  An uptight, pinched-ass wad like you has probably had more than your share of backlogging.  And how did you say she spelled her name again?

So I spelled it out.  Again.  The first time, I clarified each letter because he didn’t hear her name right.  Or so I thought.

Too many letters.  Too many issues.

Kilgore was unusually quiet, and H.L.was playing MegaTouch at the end of the bar.  He pestered Santiago for quarters so often, that Santiago busted a roll of quarters across the floor.  Play that game, he said.  H.L. barely frowned and swiveled his padded seat to stare at the random arrangement of silver disks.

Fish, how would you spell a name like Ashleigh?  Hank kept things simple.  Kilgore’s a Trout.  A Trout’s a fish.  H.L. was a Fat.  And on occasion, I was… well, he liked to call me a certain name, too.

Fat Fish Pussy over here tried correcting me.  You hear that?

Kilgore heard, but he was drawing what he thought an Ashleigh would look like.

Hank, truth be told,” I started.  He didn’t let me finish.

Truth should always be told.  That way you’re never caught with your pants down.

Like your friend Ryan.  This was the input Kilgore waited to share.

Ryan’s no friend of his.  No man cheats with another man’s girl.  No way, no how.

He wasn’t my friend in the first place.  He was my friend, Steve’s, older brother. That became one of our teachers.  That stole Ashleigh.

H.L. scurried about the stained and buckling linoleum tiles.  The quarters are spread out in such a way that they represent a giant copper-nickel rectum.

Like I said…  Hank – ever the poet.  She’s an Ash-hole.

Kilgore's napkin

Kilgore's napkin

The Wake Up Call

You. know the old saying, Misery loves company?  Well, I believe I’ve met the company’s founding fathers.

They frequent a bar between my work and my apartment that’s not quite a hole-in-the-wall as much as it’s a crater.  Marlin’s Inn is the place’s name, to keep you caught up.

I was in a funk when I first stopped by, but that’s enough about me.  This is about a cadre of the smartest guys I ever met, or the dumbest to ever crawl upon their bellies on the planet.  All I know is that I don’t know what I would have done – where I would be at this exact moment – if I had not stumbled into Marlin’s when I did. 

My life was drying up faster than a turd on an Arizona Thursday, as Kilgore might say.  I had to relinquish the demons digesting the light of my soul, H.L. actually did say.  And stop being a pussy – I heard that one at least fifteen different ways from Hank before it started to sink in.

For a 21 year-old to sour up and bitch and moan is an insult to all the years I didn’t sour up and bitch and moan.

Following these words, Hank ordered me a shot of whiskey with only a nod.  Santiago obliged not missing a beat.

The old men at the bar sure don’t make my life any easier.  But it’d sure be harder without them.