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:

napkinwheresaiden

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?

The One Upper

Ryan excused himself from the uncomfortable gathering to get back to work.  The controversy already faded regarding the last card set at the Edmont Bingo Hall.  People wanted another chance to stand up and scream.  Worrying about whether Ryan called out his grandmother’s numbers was a moot point.

That left Hank, Grace, and I.  So I slapped my hands together and readied to tell my attempt at a possibly offensive joke.  Right away, Hank guessed the punchline.  It could be Jesus or pussy in general.

“Yeah.  That’s what makes it funny.  The double meaning?”

Hank wiggled his head, curled up his moustached lip.  That’s when Grace chimed in.  I always wanted to make some kind of joke about how getting stoned, hammered, and nailed in the time of Jesus was a bad thing.  Grace’s hearty laugh at her own unfinished joke caused Hank to lose it.

The only thing I was losing was my patience.

The Face Off

I brazenly approached Hank and his new group of “friends.”  They all looked so happy.  Like a family.  Who finds happiness in a bingo hall?  I mean, the Edmont Bingo Hall is a nice place, but they don’t even serve beer!

As I placed the denizens setting up for their next round of called letters and numbers, I finally looked at Hank, Ryan, and his grandmother, Grace.  I mean really looked at them.  They did look like a family, in a non-facetious way.

Whether I was overcome with embarrassment, respect, or doubt, I abruptly spun the opposite way, fully intending to leave.  That’s when I heard that unmistakable gruff.  Although I never heard him use such language.

Aiden!  Head over here boy.

Had Hank gone soft?  I would venture to guess senility first.  So did as I was asked.  My about-face was less about facing them and more about being polite.

“Hello HankRyan.”

Twice in one day?  To what do I owe this pleasure.  Thanks for pointing that out, Ryan.  I wanted to say that so bad, but the good in me wouldn’t allow it.

Hank outstretched his hand.  I heard you’re standing up in Ryan and Ashleigh’s wedding.  That’s quite a stand-up thing to do.  When Ryan told me you agreed to do it, I thought he was doing stand-up.

Why did he say stand-up so many times?  Again, I’m going to go with senility.

The Riddle

Almost as soon as the fire started, it was extinguished.  Bingo players had the misconception that Ryan might have somehow cheated, allowing his grandmother Grace to win the jackpot.  Guess who acted as the fire hose.

Hank hurried to the front and he grabbed the microphone from RyanShut your trapholes.  Nothing here is fixed.  It’s a private company owned by none of us, and quite frankly, $500 ain’t all that much for the hassle.  Now if it was a church bingo, I could see…

Rumbling started up again, but for a different reason.

I was still in shock over the fact that Hank kissed Ryan’s grandmother.  Ryan.  That dirty bastard.  First he stole my Ashleigh.  Then he stole my friend.  Actually, first he gave me a D while he was my teacher, and that stole my perfect record for me.

I hid at the back and plotted what I would say.  I stewed about whether I’d approach him at all.  Once the audience settled, I refined my hiding style, especially when Hank or Ryan would enter my area to hit the restroom.  And I worked on my ice-breaker to Hank.  It was to be a joke.  This joke, specifically:

“What makes a man do everything he does, is the answer to everything, strikes awe in a man’s heart, should be eaten no more than once a day, and no man can ever be?”

I guess it’s more of a riddle, but my answer will depend on whether his answer will be Jesus… or pussy.  Hopefully, he laughs.  I don’t care if Grace laughs.  In fact, I hope it offends her.

The Scandal

I arrived just in time to here this classic exchange:

Ryan: B-4.

Players: And after!

I had arrived at the Edmont Bingo Hall, and it was a more lavish than I would have anticipated.  It had the allure of an old saloon, and the swagger of a modern casino.  In fact, I felt slightly under-dressed.

Ryan was up at the front, hosting the festivities.  Having to see him twice in one day was a little harrowing, but since I am standing up at his wedding… yeah, why did I agree to that?  My guess is because Ashleigh basically asked me a yes or no question, and when it comes to Ashleigh, I always say yes. 

I’m working on that.

I took a seat near the rear exits, opposite the restrooms.  I spotted Hank right away, but I did not see Kilgore, H.L., or Santiago.  I don’t know how I beat them here, especially since I had to wait for a taxi to arrive.  Bastards probably didn’t even plan on coming here.  They tried to trick me, and succeeded.

When Ryan called O-69, I was shocked.  Santaigo was right that the number existed.  But only one person moaned – an older woman next to Hank.  That reaction was followed by her standing up and shouting, Bingo!

Everyone politely clapped, and an employee checked her bingo card and shook her hand.

The next action shocked me.  I don’t know why it did, but the fact that I wasn’t expecting it probably is explanation enough.

She leaned over to kiss Hank.  On the lips.  He was smiling like I’d never seen before.  The employee then lead Hank’s paramour to Ryan’s desk.  Ryan handed her what I presumed to be a check, and then he announced her win over the P.A.

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together once again to congratulate Grace on her win.   Not only did she win tonight’s jackpot round, but it’s her 80th birthday.

The community of dabbers’ applause sounded genuine, even though it was forced.  And Grace seemed spry for 80.  She started soft-shoeing in celebration, until Ryan stopped her dancing to give a hug and plant a kiss on her cheek.  I don’t think he knew his mic was live, but everyone heard what he whispered to her.  Everyone gasped, including me.  But I’m sure it was for different reasons.

He said:

I love you, Grandma.

The Din

After my lunch at Pencey Cafe, you know, the one where I agreed to stand up in Ashleigh and Ryan’s impending wedding and ending up hiding in the restroom until the pair left, I headed to the only place I could find solace and advice, comfort and whiskey sours.  “I must be an idiot.  Scratch that.  I’m the king of all idiots.” 

Yup.  You’re a human being.  That was Kilgore’s attempt at a pep talk.  Same can’t be said for Horselover over there.

As if on cue, H.L. was balancing peanuts on the end of his nose and trying to catch them in his mouth.  He had returned to his old position at Marlin’s Inn, on the short side opposite Kilgore’s, smack dab in front of the MegaTouch.  And speaking of smack dab…

You know what I was thinking, fellas, Santiago began.

I didn’t know you thought, Kilgore finished.  He was in a rare mood tonight.

I might be up for a little bit of bingo tonight.  What do you say?

I knew the guys were trying to distract me from the day’s events, but heading to the place a moonlighting Ryan was prone to be hardly qualified it as a good idea.

That sounds like a good idea, Kilgore said.  Grab your coats.

“I think I’m staying,” I said, knowing I was staying.

Santiago grabbed his coat and handed me the keys.  Don’t forget to turn off all the beer signs.

And with those words, the trio abandoned me.  Like Ashleigh.  Like Hank.  Like my father.

The din of the old boob tube and the buzz of the neon tubes and the rush of the beer through the rubber tubes were the only sounds I needed.  Or so I thought.

I started patting my coat and pants pockets, searching for a crumbled napkin containing a doodle.  Finally, from inside my jacket, I dug out the map that Kilgore had drawn me one day earlier.  Upon locating it, only one word escaped my lips:

“Bingo.”

…The Words Right Outta My Mouth

I had been thinking about going for awhile now.  When at work.  When at home.  When up at Marlin’s Inn.  But in reality, actions speak louder than words, and words speak louder than intentions.  So in reality – I was still on the “words” part of whether I’d go find and talk to Hank.

For the past week, Hank has been basically acting like a baby.  Those are Santiago’s words – not mine.

Also Santiago’s words:

Besides, if he’s finished with here, he has a tab to close!

I never understood the concept of a running tab at a place as dinky as this.  I’m sorry.  I love the Inn, but it’s a shit-hole.  And I’m just one of the turds swimming in it as long as it lasts.  Those are Kilgore’s words – not mine.

Also Kilgore’s words:

When the powers-that-be decide to flush, I’ll see where the pipes take me.

I mean, what if Hank had died instead of taking up bingo, seemingly full time?  I’m sure if he even has a will, paying off his debt at the local hangout is nowhere to be seen, signed, and carried out.  Who has time for foolish games like bingo anyway?  Those are H.L.’s words – not mine.

More of H.L.’s words:

I haven’t even told you guys about the pink light yet… right?

Someone once told me this: 

It takes two people to forge a bond.  It only takes one to break it. 

Those are Hank’s words – not mine.

The Zinger

The little hand on the beer-logo clock were making their second round for the day.  Hank had not shown up for the second day in a row.  And I was starting to second guess my actions.

When Ashleigh and I “hooked up” on Valentine’s Day, I hadn’t thought about the fact that I was helping her cheat on the man she cheated on me with.  And to Hank – that’s a major no-no.  But so much so that he refused to return to Marlin’s Inn?

H.L. had taken Hank’s seat next to me and he tried to pull our absent comrade’s ol’ tap pull trick.  But Santiagowould have none of it.  Every time H.L.’s short arms reached over for a self-served refill, Santiago would actually slap the top of his hand.

Kilgore sighed heavily apropos of nothing, and he engaged me apropos of something.  You want to know where Hank is, don’t you kid?

I shifted in my seat.  The silence over the last two days was deafening.  I didn’t realize how much that walking pile of negativity lit up the place.

Remember when your old teacher stopped up here to speak with Hank?

Of course, I remembered.  It was that night I became no different than Ryan.  He stole Ashleigh away from me; I borrowed her back.

I’ve been meaning to save this bit of info to rub it in one day.  Give him the old Caribbean jerk ribbing he gives all of us.

“What is it that they talked about, Kilgore?”

He shook his head.  He really wanted to save this savory fact for later: He plays bingo.  Ryan does, too.

The rock that was Santiago cracked first.  H.L. took his distraction as an opportunity to refill his own mug.

“You’re telling me the pair of them go to crowded halls full of smoking seniors, pull out their fuzzy troll dolls, and dot their liquid dabbers, all in the name of small cash prizes?”

I trailed him there once.  I think they both agreed to keep each other’s secret.

I couldn’t believe it.  None of us could.  Bingo seemed like something H.L. would do.  Maybe even Kilgore, or Santiago.  But Hank?

Santiago actually made a joke.  It wasn’t accurate, but it surprised us:

Do people moan when they call O-69?