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.

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The Obvious And The Oblivious

As quickly as Hank had stopped frequenting the Marlin’s Inn – and as quickly as he had started again – he suddenly stopped again. 

But I was going to take it in stride; he set my worrying free.  Ashleigh wasn’t expecting, so no longer was I expecting that call: Hey, you might be the dad.

My guess is that outside of what family I know (that being Ryan and Steve), Grace has another granddaughter whose gas tank is full… that’s how Kilgore put it one time.

He said:

“Knocked up” is such a violent sounding term.  It’s like a boxer’s move, or the way to explain a failing automotive engine.  Why don’t we say a woman’s “gas tank is full?”  Or she’s “getting a new car seat?”  Heck, let’s stick with the car thing and go with “her brake lights are on.” 

Hank was still around at this point, and he had his own idea:

You could say “her headlights are getting bigger.”

He was always good for a line like that. 

As I recounted the story to Ellis, who I guess was becoming a regular at the Inn, H.L. started on about his car stool, and the way its engine knocked up sometimes.  That’s when I give it a shot of whiskey.  Cleans the works right out.

Kilgore was sure not to miss a beat: Sounds like Horselover’s car stool can handle its liquor better than you, Aiden.

I used to be able to drink the hard liquor, but until recently the my innards aren’t too into it.

Ellis tried to get in on the humor.  Yeah, Aiden, I bet the car stool could drink you under the table.

No one laughed.  I was about to insult him in the same way that Hank used to rip into me, until Santiago snorted.  He actually snorted.  Then he couldn’t breathe.  Tears filled his eyes as he tried to regain composure.  His browned leather skin turned a red I didn’t know it could. 

Ellis looked worried for Santiago, but us others were simply perplexed.  We knew his laughing was uncontrolled, but we simply did not get the joke.  And the more confused we appeared, the further he descended into hysterics. 

He gasped to explain.  We couldn’t understand.  I firmly believe Ellis didn’t even get his own joke.

What it is, Santiago?  What the hell is so damn funny? Kilgore demanded.

Santiago grasped the counter and wiped his face with the bar rag.  He inhaled deeply:

A stool goes under the table!

It was so ridiculous that it spread to us all.

Except Ellis.

Of course.

The Truth Sets You Free

Despite my nostril-burning whiskey shot move, I held my own at Marlin’s InnSantiago wouldn’t bring drinks to Hank and Grace, so on occasion, Hank had to approach the bar to refill his pitcher.  And since I sat where he used to, right in front of the beer taps, he had to hand the plastic pouring device to our bartender and wait.

It’s nice to see you’ve manned up and stopped being a pussy.  Hank – the proprietor of pleasantries.

“Yeah, since I’ve gained some distance and perspective on the situation, I thought I’d head back up here.”

Santiago handed the holder of hops to HankIt’s not Ashleigh, he said.

“What?” I barely managed.  I said it so slightly, I might not have said it at all.  Armed with his supply of suds, he stepped away in silence.  I spun in my seat, but Hank was already striking conversation back up with Grace.

He said it’s not Ashleigh.  Ellis had to put his nonsense in.  Looking over his shoulder, he continued.  I didn’t think she was that old anyway.  Ashleigh, I mean.  I didn’t know you were into GILF’s.

I only smiled in response to what Hank said.  Ellis interpreted it as a conversation between us, and I let him keep talking.

Not that I’m knocking grandmothers and their ability to be, um,  sexual.  I would assume they’d know a lot of tricks from all their years, you know.  And they might even have more in their repertoire because they can’t move like they used to, due to brittle bones.  Like how when a person that can’t smell has heightened senses.  Or when a person doesn’t have great balance, they find ways to adjust.

I returned to facing the spouts before me, and the spouting beside me.  “What the fuck are you talking about, Ellis?”

The Warm Whiskey Shot

I returned to Marlin’s Inn feeling like a new man.  If time can mend a broken… who am I kidding?  I was still a mess, but I wasn’t going to show it.

The day’s were longer now, so it felt strange to enter the bar and have my eyes adjust from leaving the sunlight.  I blinked at the coat rack, and looked at it twice before remembering I wasn’t wearing one.  Spring was finally here, or at least it was close enough.

Hank and Grace were seated at the same table.  I wondered if it was “their table,” but instead of making a meaningful exchange, I nodded as I passed them.  Grace raised her glass; Hank just looked at me.  Whatever that meant.

My eyes weren’t fully adjusted until I reached the bar and discovered Ellis was sitting in my spot.  I could have asked him to move, but I was in good enough spirits not to let it grate on me.  So I sat in Hank’s old spot.

Thank goodness you’re here, my co-worker began.  There’s so much I need to chat about that we can’t chat about at work.

There was probably more of a reason that I didn’t chat with Ellis than simply being at work.

My girl’s left me.  Again, Aiden.

Instantly, I’d had it.  New Aiden wasn’t going to put up with this.  “Which girl, Ellis?  Huh?  Which girl left you?”

The love… the love of my life.

“Did I ever meet her?”

I never brought her in here.

“Then pardon me when I don’t give a damn.”  I threw a look at Santiago, and he handed me a shot of whiskey.  It was warm, and while I was hoping for a beer, I slammed it anyway, down the gullet, over and onto the counter.

Ellis nodded beside me.  Understanding?  Perhaps.

I barely looked over at Kilgore.  He waved his pen.

I barely looked over at H.L.  He was lost in his game on the MegaTouch.

I didn’t look back at Hank.  But I’d like to think he would have gestured, too.

As I sat in my self-congratulation, the warm whiskey chilling in my throat decided it didn’t like being there, and it shot back out through my nose.

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:

barstool

I was surprised… but I equally wasn’t.

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 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 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.