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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One Does What One Mustard

Since Kilgore had visited, two days had passed.  Two terribly uncomfortable days.

It was revealed to me in an unceremonious fashion that my fellow jailbird, Eddie Dantes, was Kilgore Trout’s long estranged son.

Don’t act so excited to see me, Pops.

Kilgore shifted awkwardly in his seat, an act he rarely performed.  Usually, he doodled when things went awry at Marlin’s Inn, but in your local jailhouse, the only paper you get comes on a roll, and the only writing tool you get is… well, it goes with the paper. 

Edward, I wasn’t aware you were in town.  The last I heard from your aunt, you were in Tulsa.

I haven’t been in Tulsa for seven years.

That’s about the last time I spoke with your aunt.

Is he one of yours?  Eddie thumbed in my direction.  I was slightly concerned what the yours referred to.

No, I only recently met his mother.  My mom – the reason I’m locked up in the first place.

The cryptic conversation kept up for awhile.  From what I ascertained, Kilgore quite possibly could be a modern Johnny Appleseed.  I know he claims to have left doodles all across America, but he may have also diddled.

When their method of catching up reached it’s end, Eddie faced me and asked: Has this old man done all right by you?

I didn’t know what to say, so I nodded.  He was the third person to visit me.

Eddie nodded back, knowingly, as if my word, or head nod, was enough to mend the pain, or the strain, or whatever the toll was their father and son relationship had on him.

I can visit when I get out.  It was a statement as much as it was a question.

Of course you can.

Eddie nodded to the guard, and he was lead back to his cell.  Kilgore looked exhausted, so I repeated Eddie’s actions and was taken away.  I looked to Kilgore to wave, but he remained lost in his buried memories.

So for two days, Eddie and I spoke nothing of the matter.  In fact, we spoke of nothing at all.  Our routine had come down to exchanging mustard packets for an extra bologna slice in silence.  (I gave him the condiment; he gave me the meat.  Maybe I shouldn’t say it like that, since I was in jail after all.)

I was 41 bologna sandwiches in when an officer stepped forward and opened my cell door.  You’re free to go.  I was hesitant, thinking it was some kind of beat down trick.  I looked to Eddie to wave, but he remained lost in his buried memories.

“How did this happen?  Am I cleared of all charges?”

It appears you have a judge working in your favor and waiting to see you.

A judge?  That worked in my favor?  And wanted to see me?  After I collected my belongings, I entered to the lobby to greet my liberator.

You’ll never guess who it was…

Feel The Burn

So, yeah… where was I?

I’m kidding, of course, because I don’t know what else to do.

To reiterate: I didn’t know what else to do.

What would you do if you were standing behind a bar, and your mother was brandishing a broken bottle, raring to wound one of your friends?  Okay, maybe now that I’ve been “scared straight,” I would react more rationally than lighting the place on fire.

Immediately after it happened, I remember feeling like I left my body and was slowly returning to myself.  H.L. grabbed my arm and pulled me out from behind the wall of flames.  I didn’t see my mom or Kilgore anymore.  And Hank tried to extinguish the blaze with a soda gun.

Hank, let the professionals take care of it.  They’re already here.  H.L.was an exercise in calm.  It was like he had been through it all before.

As we reached outside, an ambulance and a fire truck pulled into the parking lot.  Kilgore tended to my mom by her car.  She was crying.

How did they get here so fast? Hank wondered allowed since I was unable to speak.

Again, H.L. had all the answers.  I had a hunch and called them twenty minutes ago.

Fire fighters rushed in.  Their hose drew a line between me and my mom.

That was fucking stupid, you know.

Hank didn’t have to tell me twice.  But he did anyway.

That was really fucking stupid.

When the police arrived, they asked for everyone’s story.  And who knows what they said besides them.  Every tale has more than one version, and the elusive one is the truth.

As the cops placed me in the backseat of their car to be taken away, I felt an extreme calm.  Then I felt extremely clammy.  It all started to sink in.  Everything.  The breakup.  The hook up.  The knock up.  The fuck up that was setting Marlin’s Inn on fire.

Prior to departure, Hank nudged the officer guarding me so he could talk to me.  The officer obliged and opened the passenger door so Hank could take a seat.

Hey kid, he said, without tone or irony.

I sighed, ready to talk, but he continued instead.

That took balls.  And I’m not condoning your actions by any means, but you diffused a bomb.  Things could have went worse, I take it.

I couldn’t look him in the eye, and neither could he until he said this:

I’ll get you outta this mess.  I’ll personally see to it.

Without another word or gesture, he popped out of the squad car and shut the door.  At this point, everyone was leaving… the ambulance, the fire truck, the guys, my mom.

Just as Santiago was pulling up.  I watched him as he walked over to Hank, and from the looks of things, Hank explained everything to him.  Santiago appeared worried, and surprised.  He covered his mouth in shock.  And then Hank pointed at me in the backseat.  Santiago’s stare burned right through me.

I called out to the officer.  “Can we go now!”

Catching Up And Catsup Bottles

Luckily, less than a handful of patrons frequent the Marlin’s Inn, so I doubt anyone’s noticed that it’s been closed for two weeks.  The reason being?  I will get to that in a moment.

Since my last posting occurred awhile ago, I feel I need to catch you up on things.  The reason I haven’t been writing?  I will get to that in a moment as well.

The day: a couple Saturday’s ago.
The time: early evening.
The occasion: Santiago (in my mind) was seeking out the love of his life.
The problem: I was left in charge of watching the bar.
The bigger problem: it was my mom’s birthday and I cancelled our plans.
The biggest problem: Mom didn’t like that.

As she burst into this safe-haven for drunkards and old men, neither group being mutually exclusive, Hank was berating me.  In reality, I overstepped my bounds with him by bringing up the possibility that his girlfriend, Grace, left him.  Not one to recoil from a slight or a fight, he became angry with me just as my matriarch walked in.

She said to Hank: If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

To which Hank replied: You must have me confused with Maxwell House.

I’ll still admit that was a pretty good comeback, and at the time, I laughed under my breath.  I didn’t dare let either of those titans hear me.

You’re coming with me, Aiden, right this minute.  Mom remained firm in her place and firm in her decision.

Sorry to inform you, but Aiden ain’t going nowhere.  He’s got work to do.  Hank slammed his beer and handed the mug to me.  Of all the times for him not to do it himself.

Do you work here, Aiden?

He’s filling in.

Why don’t you mind your own business?

This place is my business.

I turned to Kilgore and then to H.L. for any sign of confirmation.  Each of them shrugged.  Did Hank own Marlin’s Inn?

Mom hurried into the adjacent room, grabbed a pool cue, and held it like a weapon.  H.L. did something similar to me one time.

Son of a bitch, you let my son go.  As if I was being held hostage.

Hank must have been hankering to say this:

Funny you should say “son of a bitch…”

This is when things get a little fuzzy.  From one of the tables, Mom grabbed a catsup bottle and crashed it over the top.  And it triggered something in me… like in that one movie where the director throws a garbage can through a window.

I grabbed the cheapest liquor and splashed it across the lacquered bar.  From the glass full of matchbooks, I plucked one out and lit it.  The fire spread quickly.

From what I’ve ascertained, Kilgore escorted my mom out of the Inn; H.L. and Hank lead me.

So to answer the first question at the start:  repairs have kept Marlin’s Inn closed for two weeks.  

To answer the second: I’ve been behind bars…

…you know what kind I mean.

The Birthday Surprise

I was standing behind the bar a full half hour before anyone stepped foot into Marlin’s Inn.

H.L. was first.  He dropped a five on the counter in front of me and dug in his pocket for change to use in the jukebox.  Of course, he selected some Warren Zevon and proceeded to the MegaTouch.  He paid no mind to me; he was lost in a myriad of puzzles and games.  I filled a clean ashtray with quarters and put it next to him.  Eventually I remembered to fix him a drink.

Within another half hour, Kilgore arrived.  He hung his coat on the rack, whistling all the way to his bar stool.  I made sure he had enough napkins earlier, and sure enough, out came his pen and after a click, scribbling ensued.  I also poured him some spirits without being prompted.

Another half hour passed, and someone unexpected dropped in.  He took his place in front of the spigots, and without hesitation I held out an empty mug.

Thanks, Hank said, and he poured himself a beer.

I leaned against the back of the counter and smiled. 

Everything was smooth. 

Everything was cool.

Everything was how it should be.

Holy shit!  What the hell are you doing here?  Hank shouted in reference to me, as if I had been invisible, or– I thought you were Santiago.

Kilgore and H.L. pried themselves from their distractions to acknowledge me.

I wondered why there were so many napkins, Kilgore said.

And I didn’t have to pick up my coins off the floor, H.L. added.

Where is that refugee anyway?  Hank would never have said that to Santiago’s face.  Nor his back.  To Santiago’s fist?  Definitely.

“He went out to find Ms. Barkley.”

They all howled at that response.

I clarified, “Well, that’s just my guess, anyway.”

With great authority, Hank had this to say:

If anyone’s learned anything in this joint, it’s that a woman ain’t worth the trouble.

I foolishly responded: “Why?  Did Grace leave you?”

Hank stood up on the rungs of his stool to tower over me.  If it weren’t for these other pair of fools needing service – cuz I sure as hell don’t – grace would be leaving me, and you’d be leaving in a trash can.  You understand me, Puss N’ Boots?

I had gotten so used to Hank, that my fear of him had left me.  Guess what came back in a hurry.

Oh, and guess who walked into Marlin’s Inn at the exact moment to hear that.

If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

Hank returned to his seat and turned around.  The other guys faced the fragile woman in the doorway.

All I could think to say was, “Happy Birthday, Mom.”