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 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 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:


The Eight Ball

H.L. is a bit of an anomaly.  I would venture to guess that’s been his lot in life, and it would appear to me he never minded it a bit, nor a lot.  He keeps to himself even when he’s engaging us, like he’s studying us as we intermingle.

At least that’s what I always thought to myself.

One day, H.L. was playing pool on the torn felt, six-footer in the back room nobody uses.  I thought I’d join him.

“Hey, H.L.  Need company?”

Like a sock soaked in static cling, he sprung at me, cue and granny stick in hand.  He crossed them under my throat like samurai blades and backed me against the wall.  If they were actually blades, or if H.L.wasn’t so small and more menacing, I might have worried.  It wasn’t completely out of character for him to freak out, so I rolled with the punches. 

Until he freaked me out.

You’re a bit of an anomaly, aren’t ya, Aiden.  You’ve been like that you’re whole life, I bet, and you don’t mind at all.  I can see it in you.  It’s like you’re in your own head when you’re chatting with us, like you’re studying us.  He withdrew his impromptu weapons and snapped from great white back to pool shark.  But yeah, I could use some company.  He returned to the table to set up the game.  We can only play nine ball, though, because the eight is missing.  But we’ll use the ten instead of that.

I was stunned.  I couldn’t assemble any sense of what just happened.  H.L. sensed my dismay.

It’s okay, it’s okay.  He handed me the cue and padded my shoulder.  We’ll use the thirteenball.  At least it looks like half an eight.

I scratched my head and lined up the cue ball, fearful to look at H.L. again.

By the way… he mumbled.  What are the stakes?

Published in: on February 9, 2009 at 11:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Bulls-Eye

I was abusing my body a lot of late, and not in the gutter minded sense.  With the guys up at Marlin’s Inn, seemingly any time of day, and any day, it’s hard to stay away.  But the hops and the barley and the Yellow Dye Number 5 if they even use that was getting the best of me, and it was affecting my work.

So for once, I decided to stick with cola.

Those are rum ice cubes, right?  Keep, the pussy ain’t living up to his name now is he?  Santiago furled his brow at me and nodded to HankPussy, why do you make it so easy?  I wish all the pussies made it so easy.

I don’t know if it was because I was sober, but I cracked.  “Aiden.  It’s Aiden.  Stop calling me a pussy, or Pussy with a capital P, or Fat Fish Pussy, or any of it.”

Kilgore bobbed his head.  I thought Fat Fish Pussy was funny.  My eyes were like darts and his face was the Triple-1, which is what I seem to always hit when I aim for the bulls-eye.  He tilted his head.

“My last name’s Caulfield.  Call me that.  Or Cauliflower… or anything resembling some form of my name other than P-U-S-S-Y.”

I didn’t realize I had stood while I was raging.  Truth and the fact of the matter, I didn’t even really care that he insulted me constantly.  It just felt like it was the thing I should do at that moment.

Hank sat quietly and he took it.  He never faced me through any bit of the fit.  Quite honestly, I thought he was considering hitting me.  And at his age and at my age, it wasn’t a fair fight.  The spit was in him – my mouth was all dried up.

H.L. had been in the bathroom.  As he returned to the scene, he sensed the friction in the air.  Hey, Hank.  Is the pussy giving you lip?

I lost it.  It quickly shaped into one of those laughs you can’t escape, where you gasp for breath like you’re underwater, and your eyes squeeze shut so tight they’re wrung like linen.  It’s the same kind that swallows up everyone else like a sinkhole.  H.L. cracked up so bad, he had to lean on a table, and when it fell, there was no hope for the rest of us.  Luckily he was okay, and when composure was regained, I ordered another cola from Santiago.

H.L. snuck in between Hank and I and draped his arms over our shoulders.  What was so funny anyway?

I answered: “I’m gonna be called Pussy forever.”  And Hank nodded.

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:


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: