The Escapists

H.L. and I are not cut of the same cloth.  I, on one hand, strive to fit into the machine, or at least find my place in it.  At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m trying to make sense of everything.  He, on the other hand, absolutely does not fit.

In fact, I always thought that if he could find a way to disable the machine, he would.  But he – like life – is full of surprises.

The last time I had any kind of social exchange with Horselover Fat, it didn’t go too well, in my opinion.  Since then, he’s offered to erase my memory possibly, and he’s rocked the mic on St. Paddy’s Day, so has my opinion of him changed much?  I’d say yes.  Bringing beer to my home just as I’m running out helps, too.

“I didn’t expect to see anybody, let alone you,” I told H.L. upon his arrival.  I had stayed away from Marlin’s Inn for a week.  I had my reasons.  And I had my reasons to turn him away, too, but he had twenty-four reasons to stay.  I invited him indoors and lead him into the kitchen.  There was no way that beer was getting warm.

I told you, those guys have been bumming me out lately.  Hank has his GraceSantiago has his Kat.

“So they are an item!”

An item is singular, so yes… they are singular.  Everyone’s mind is preoccupied.

“Don’t you usually occupy yourself,” I said, emptying the case into the fridge, making sure to hand H.L. a can and put one on the side for myself.

The MegaTouch runs on energy.

I waited for him to say more, but he didn’t.  He simply cracked open his brew and wandered back into my living room.

Is this that video game system where you can bowl and play tennis and box?

Having finished the aluminum transfer, I answered by handing a wireless controller to H.L.  “You bet your Wii it is.”

He had a ball.  And his glee was contagious.  I hadn’t touched the system for awhile now, but the absence in deed made the heart grow fonder.  We played every sport and every competition and every co-play on every disc that I had.  But I started getting sleepy, and I turned the regular game play over to him.

The last thing I remember him saying as I dozed off was:

What does it mean when your Wii glows blue?

It made me chuckle on my way to dream land.  The next morning I awakened on time for work, and early enough to the puttering of a go-cart engine outside.  H.L. was nowhere in sight in my living room, so I rushed to the window to see him riding one of these away:


I was surprised… but I equally wasn’t.

The Home Delivery

I’ve stayed away from Marlin’s Inn, oh, about one week now.  I’ve been coming home from work and cracking open bottles all by my lonesome.  I think it could be a bad idea, but it’s one that I don’t plan on sticking to for long.

As Kilgore once said:

It’s not a sin if you don’t sin alone.

I think he was talking about war, and the justifications that go on in a soldier’s mind, but not to take the heaviness out of it, I think it can also be applied to the thought process of a drunk.  Or an addict.  Or a whatever might be considered bad.

When Ashleigh cheated on me with Ryan, was it his fault for taking her away? 

Was it her fault for wandering? 

Was it my fault for not being there for her?

When Ashleigh and I had our quickie (yes, that’s the word I’ve been looking for) in the ladies restroom at Marlin’s Inn on Valentine’s Day, was it her fault?

Or mine?

Or Ryan’s?

The reason I’ve locked myself away in my apartment is because my good-old-buddy-old-pal Hank is dating Ryan’s grandmother, Grace.  And Grace announced to my world that she’s going to be a great-grandmother.  And since her other grandson Steve is a good friend of mine that doesn’t even have a girlfriend, I connected the dots and figured Ashleigh’s expecting.  And remember that bit about our quickie?  That’s why I’m running low on Lowenbrau, and wondering why the party store doesn’t deliver.

I never expected anyone to seek me out, and yet, someone did.

There was a knock at the door, and like the knock, my heart, um, knocked.  Who was it? 

Who did I want it to be? 

Who did I not want it to be?

When you drink alone on your couch while watching old TV shows on the retro networks, I think you get drunk a lot faster.  Is it because you’re not hindered by conversation, or is it because a sofa is way more comfortable than a stool?

I looked through the peephole, and it was the last person I would have expected.  For some reason, that made me laugh a little bit.  I cracked open the door to find the strangest little man I’ve ever known, Horselover “H.L.” Fat.

He said as he held up a case of beer:

It’s a sin to drink alone. 

Then he added:

Plus those guys have been bumming me out lately.  I figure you can’t be any worse.

The Mayor

I wanted to throw up.  Honestly I did. 

My body wanted to expel the lingering demons, too, but I think they already made it into my bloodstream.

So in the men’s room of Marlin’s Inn I gagged.  I coughed.  And I could shake the ill feeling for the life of me.

Ashleigh Hayes, the former reason for my existence and current bane thereof, was pregnant.  Possibly.  Her grandmother, Grace, said so… in so many words.

I could probably manage to deal with that fact, if not for the face that we had our fling on Valentine’s Day.  If I didn’t drink so much on the day before, I might be inclined to think my pangs were sympathy morning sickness, except the night kind.

I was left alone for a comfortable stretch of discomfort.  Up until Hank came in.

Mind if I piss? he asked.

“It’s a free country.”

My back remained to him at the urinal, even though I stood up from a hunched over position.  Let it be known, I would never kneel to vomit in a public restroom.  The floors are disgusting.

So rather than awkwardly listen to what I thought would be a stuttering stream of urine, and in fact turned out to be completely the opposite sound, I started talking.

“Can I ask you a question?”

A free country, right?

With the flush of a toilet, things turned back to, well, not normal… just not as odd.

“Did you stop coming here because of what I did?”  I was referring to cheating with another man’s girl, who used to be my girl.

The world don’t revolve around you.  I thought you’d have figured that out by now.  Hank started washing his hands while I still faced my porcelain basin below me.

“It’s just that after what happened on Valentine’s, and the things you said to me… I thought…”

I thought you might stop being such a pussy by now.  He grabbed paper towels to dry his hands.  The girl moved on.  So should you.

“But it’s just that… what if the kid’s mine?”

Trash in the trash bin.  How far did things go?  I thought you just stepped up to the plate.

Why must I constantly clarify things?  And why don’t I know any good baseball analogies?  “Let’s just say, I did my half.”

Hank got blunt.  I missed blunt.  I thought you didn’t technically fuck her.

“Technically, I did.  It was just quick.”  First time’s a blast.  So to speak.

As I stared at the bowl of water at my feet and that drain to Shitsville, where I could one day hope to be mayor, I heard nothing behind me.  No pissing, no flushing, no washing, no drying.

It was the most uncomfortable sound of all.

The Bomb

To begin, I don’t know how I made it to work the morning after St. Paddy’s Day.  I awoke, feeling new and stone sober, and even at an earlier time than I do on any other given day of the week.  All without feeling sick.

Then lunchtime came.  And so did my hangover, but it was more in my head than my stomach.  I muscled through the remainder of the day, and I promised myself I’d go home and get a good night’s sleep, but curiosity was getting the best of me.  I wanted to know more about Ms. Kat Barkley, the proprietor of Marlin’s Inn, and possible paramour of Santiago.

I’d only go in for a drink, I told myself.  Or two.  Then I’d leave.

Upon arriving at the Inn after work, a surprise awaited.  There once was a time where I enjoyed surprises, but that time has long passed.

How’s it going, kid.  Hank had returned.  He was at least back at the bar, but instead of his seat in front of the taps, he now resided at the table where the Lovebirds usually nested.  And he wasn’t alone.

Hiya, Aiden He was with his possible paramour, Grace.  I still couldn’t believe he was spending time with my ex’s future grandmother-in-law, in any capacity.

I merely nodded at the pair and headed to my stretch of lacquered wood between liquored friends.  Santiago handed me a beer, but I couldn’t take it.  I couldn’t take any of it.  I mean, I no longer felt sick.  It was the situation that was wearing me down.

Hank abandoned this place.  He ditched us to play bingo and drink at some other dive.  And he was going to just come back in here without consequence? 

I looked at H.L.  His eyes were glued to what else but MegaTouch.

I looked at Kilgore.  He scribbled away without incident.

I took a swig of my beer as I looked at Santiago.  He merely raised his eyebrows.

So I slammed my mug down and walked back over to Hank and GraceGrace’s arms were flailing about, animating her most likely boring story.

“Excuse me,” I said.  I guess I’m even polite when I’m angry.

Oh, honey, I was just about to tell Hanky here my big news, so you can hear it too. 

Goodness, I thought, could this woman be anymore annoying?  Well, the answer was yes, because she grabbed one of Hank’s hands and took one of mine.  Shaking both of them firmly, she said:

I’m gonna be a great-grandma!

That’s when it all hit me.  “I’m going to throw up now.”

The Toasted (Addendum)

Before I get to the beginning of the end of my world, I had a few more things I wanted to bring up about St. Patrick’s Day.

  1. H.L. is a great singer.  I don’t think I made that clear.
  2. It seemed that Santiago wanted to talk about Ms. Barkley with me, but Kilgore was around the entire time.  The reason why it seemed like he wanted to have a word with me was because he said so.  Just that he wanted to have a word with me.  Not that it was about Ms. Barkley.  That’s my interpretation.
  3. Kilgore swore he saw a leprechaun come into Marlin’s Inn.  Here’s his unfinished doodle of it/him:napkinleprechaun
  4. And the last thing… The Princess made it a point to come over and talk to me.  I found out her name is Esme.

The Toasted (Part 3)

Noon was rolling around on St. Patrick’s Day.  Kilgore shouted: It’s a hold up!  And only I seemed to dart my eyes around concerned. 

Even my old (young) buddy Steve caught on to Kilgore’s playful announcement.  He raised both of his hands in the air equally, then shortened one to imitate the minute hand.  When I still didn’t comprehend, he pointed at the grandfather clock on the wall.  I remember laughing when I realized it was a grandfather clock though, and how most of my friends are old men.

Wuz and his band had finished setting up awhile before the hold up, so now they were working on setting themselves up, which required lots and lots of booze.  By the way, his was band was called ATWEBTAW, which was short for All There Will Be, There Always Wuz… It said so on the drum.  And here I thought it was a clever saying.  Forgive me for my dimwittedness, but in my defense, I had been drinking since the bottle crack of dawn.

Noon also meant we had a new addition to the party.  Her name was Kat Barkley.  And she was the proud owner of the Marlin’s Inn.  I loved her right from the start because she brought pizzas.  Santiago loved her simply right from the start, oh so many years ago.

She commanded attention as soon as she entered, but not in the way that young girls do.  She may have been in her “fifsixties” (I’m terrible with ages, weights, and heights), but she was so magnetic and enigmatic.  And did I mention she had pizzas?

Hello boys, the cavalry called.  You all can thank, Santiago, not me.

As we thanked our solemn yet stoic bartender, that’s when I saw it – a smile.  It wasn’t a smirk, or a leftover from some boorish joke.  It was a 100% genuine smile.  One that told me right away – and was later confirmed by Kilgore – that Ms. Barkley meant something awful to our usually dismal Cuban friend.  And I mean “awful” in every way possible.

Clad in a tight wool trench coat that met her leather heeled boots at her knees, she placed the pizza boxes centrally and with merely the curl of one finger, lead Santiago back to the hidden areas of the bar.

While they were away, we devoured the soggy sauced slices.  I never knew pizza could taste so good, and I wondered if it had more to do with eating lunch after five hours of boozing, or if it’s simply that – what was the name of the place?  Oh yeah!  Perhaps it’s that the Moveable Feast Pizzeria makes the best pies, period.

Santiago returned to his place behind the bar not a moment too soon because a bus load of boozers arrived, and I literally mean a bus load.  As a part of a party bus called the Safe Patrick’s Day Parade, this group of thirty or so people in their thirties or so (I told you I’m bad at ages) filled Marlin’s Inn to the gills.  (I’ve been dying to say that.)

Wuz and the crew took up their places and their instruments.  One spot remained empty – behind the microphone.  H.L. rushed forward to take it.  Who knew?  Together, they did a cover of this song, and the place came alive.

Ms. Barkley was nowhere to be seen through the remaining festivities, so I assumed she left as quickly as she arrived.  Kilgore and I kept Santiago company between the visiting patrons’ refillings and between ATWEBTAW’s sets.  The bus eventually departed as did the bulk of the people, but the activity inside still drew more random people in from the outside.  A few other “regulars” even made their appearances throughout the course of the day… The Lovebirds for one, and my co-worker Ellis for another.

At one point, Ellis pulled me aside and begged me, Please don’t tell the office I’m out drinking.  They think I called off sick.  Didn’t he realize I was doing the same thing?  And was that girl he was with his new girl, or his new girl on the side?  He didn’t swear me off on any of that, but I swear I didn’t and still don’t even care.

St. Paddy’s Day was that one day of distraction that I so desperately needed.  Because after what happened the next day, I deserved some recent happy memories…

The Toasted (Part 2)

The friends Steve brought by Marlin’s Inn were decent guys.  Mark Clemens and Sam Twain were their names, if I remember correctly.  He met them at college or work, I forget, but I enjoyed the fact that they referred to Steve as such, given that prior to meeting Hank, he was Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.  And as they mentioned, Steve Snodgrass sounded funnier.

Mark and Sam made the kind (and wise) gesture of buying us “regulars” a couple rounds of Irish Car Bombs, made of whatever Irish beer, Irish Cream, and Irish whiskey Santiago managed to scrounge together.

So Aiden, Mark began.  The trio of newcomers filled the long row of seats between Kilgore’s short side of the bar, and me.  Mark just happened to plop beside me.  I hear that you’re going to be in your ex’s wedding party.

Ashleigh Hayes, the girl I was supposed to marry, was marrying Steve’s half-brother, Ryan Antolini.  “Steve told you about that?”

No, Mark continued.  I heard it from this old guy that hangs out at another man bar I go to.  I kind of fit the pieces together, you know?

I was stunned.  Had Hank traded his usual spot for another?

The door burst opened and a fuzzy, hippie-looking man entered.  He pushed a cart full of electrical equipment, and H.L. hopped out of his seat, eager to greet him.  By the time my attention was restored, I turned to Mark to ask him more about the old man, but he was already in another conversation with Steve and Sam.

Santiago tapped my shoulder and pointed at the entrance.  Will you help them?

I motioned at Kilgore.  “Why aren’t you asking him?”  Santiago said nothing so I did something –  I stood up to help.

Outside, there was a van full of musical instruments.  I assisted H.L. and the stranger with lugging in more equipment.  As the other guy and I reached for the drum set, it felt like the right time to introduce myself.  He gladly returned the gesture.

My name is Wuz, as in All There Will Ever Be, There Always Wuz.

Funny thing was… he looked like a Wuz.

The Toasted (Part 1)

I called it an early night that St. Patrick’s Eve.  I had planned on getting to Marlin’s Inn early the next morn, even earlier than when I had to be at work, from which I took the day off.  In light of my recent distractions and overall general malaise, I had been unaware of the marketing for the bash being planned.

Flyers had been spread around the area, primarily by H.L. and Santiago.  There were many other bars in the area, but none were as “eclectic” a selection as Marlin’s Inn, and typically that makes for a great drunken day.  Why else would I spend so much time there?

There were two reasons that this celebration was going to be different, according to Kilgore:

  1. Hank can’t stand a crowd.  Unless of course a dame is involved.  Which usually, there isn’t.  But this time there is!  Plus he hasn’t been around!
  2. The owner’s back in town, and she’s making the big push.

That last statement gave me three questions.

  1. “Owner?”
  2. “Back in town?”
  3. “She?”

I always thought Santiago might have been the owner, and I’m still convinced he was at one point.  But more on that later.  A whole bunch more.

I had a difficult time getting to sleep.  It was the first time I was generally excited about something in awhile.  You know that kind of excited, the one that includes butterflies in your stomach, buggy eyes, and antsy pants.

When I showed up at 7am, Steve was there.  He had brought some of his friends I didn’t know.  This was the first time I heard his explanation of a man bar.

First thing about a man bar is that the entrance is hard to find.  Inside, it feels like a basement, with outdated wood paneling, torn linoleum floors, and water- and smoke-stained drop ceilings.  There are no windows, and if there are – they’re insignificant.  The tables and chairs look like they don’t belong with each other, even though they were made for each other.  The walls are adorned with beer-logo emblazoned knick knacks, mirrors, lights.  Sometimes there are trophies; sometimes car parts; sometimes out-of-season Christmas lights; sometimes all the above.  The TV’s are still picture tubes, and there may even be one that doesn’t work which no one’s bothered to replace.  Last thing about a man bar is the regulars.

He pointed at Kilgore, H.L., and I.  Quite frankly, it made my day.

But remember… that’s only the beginning.

The Toast

St. Patrick’s Day was upon us, and the bar was decorated for the occasion.  This meant old beerors featuring shamrocks and green neon lights were brought from some hidden storage place inside Marlin’s Inn.

The fact that there were no decorations for Valentine’s Day, New Years, Christmas, et. al. simply means there was no alcohol-related paraphernalia for such occasions.  Well, not that the materials didn’t exist.  Santiago didn’t have access to any.  Well, maybe the bar had some locked away, and it was only for the impending drunkfest that he gave the extra effort.  I would ask, but as with most things Santiago, there I don’t go.

I had never seen H.L. more excited.  So I asked him about it.

I have plans, he said with a grin.  Then he said no more.  The grin actually said more than he did, and I didn’t know how to feel about that.

Kilgore gave the best advice for facing the day.  Oh yeah, and did I mention I was taking the day off?  Two times in as many weeks I would be missing work.  What was I becoming?

Anyway, back to Kilgore’s advice:

Remember that the day is more about pacing than racing.

Here’s to hoping for a memorable Paddy’s Day! 

Here’s to hoping I can remember everything that I want to, and forget everything that I don’t!

Here’s to hoping _______!

(You can fill in the blanks…  Everyone can fill in the blanks.)

The Next Round

This is where I’m supposed to be.  At Marlin’s Inn.  Drinking some beer.  Watching TV and shooting the turd, as Kilgore likes to say.

I was going to confront the others about the bingo hall bait-and-switch they pulled on me, but the first thing said upon my return.

We went to a different bingo hall to get your mind off of things.  Santiago said it.  I believed him.

Unsure of whether I would make it back or not, Kilgore doodled this:


I was going to tease him and say I wasn’t Santiago, so why the upside-down question mark?  Cubans use upside down question marks, don’t they?

But the truth and the fact of the matter was that the diagram fit me to a T.  I felt like an upside-down question mark.  My life has been in a constant state of flux, and I don’t have the capacitor to deal with it.  Sorry.  We were just watching that time travel movie from the 80’s at the bar.

I didn’t know if that’s what inspired H.L. to approach me, but he came up and asked, What if I told you I was working on a device that could erase your memories so you wouldn’t have to keep dealing with them?

And I told him, “I’d tell you that if it worked, I might be interested in it.”

And he told me, What if I told you I already tested it on you guys, and it kinda sorta worked?  I’m just getting some kinks out.

And I said, “What?”

H.L.simply grinned and returned to his MegaTouch.  I’ll keep you posted.

Hmm… I wonder.  Was he talking about that day of the mystery?