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 Good Question

I called off sick today. 

I’ve held my job as long as I’ve dated Ashleigh, and I’ve never missed a day.  Not when I’ve been sick.  Not when the weather’s been poor.  Not when I’m hungover… which happens more and more often since she’s left me.

I started working originally to support our dating habits.  She was bound to have other suitors, and many of my fellow classmates came from money, like T.J., whom thanks to the guys is now known as Steve.  I guess somewhere deep inside, either insecurity or responsibility or both pushed me to try and get hired at age fifteen.  I remember I had to get approval from my parents and the school.  Maybe even the state.

And I’ve never called off.

Not to extend vacations.  Not to go to parties.  Not on a whim to be a teen.  Not even when Ashleigh begged me.

But I did it because of her.  What the hell is wrong with me?  I’m sitting in my car in the teachers’ parking lot at my old high school waiting for “Mr. Antolini” to leave for lunch.  That was my plan because Ryan used to leave when he was my teacher – he’s bound to do it still.

When the lunch bell rang, I studied the crowd spilling out of the building.  There were more young folks than old, since students were able to leave these days.  It wasn’t that long ago I couldn’t even run to my car if I forgot a book in the trunk.

Upon finally spotting Ryan Antolini cautiously exiting through the teacher’s lounge door, I started my car.  That’s just before reality hit me, in the form of the campus security guard.

He was large, and in charge, and knocking on my window, motioning for me to roll it down.  I obliged with a meek grin.

He boomed rather than said:

You mind telling me why you’re hanging out in a high school parking lot?

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:

stallwalldoodle

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:

stallwall2

Weird.

The Initiates

Whenever I arrive at Marlin’s Inn, the crew is always there.  As if they’re always there.

Santiago’s cleaning dust out of unused glasses.  Kilgore’s on the bar’s short side, scribbling away in between sips.  Hank is right in front of the taps.  That way if Santiago’s taking a piss or dropping a deuce…

Reinventing the wheel is Kilgore’s version of what I like to say.

Rollin’ Cuban cigars is Hank’s.

…then Hank can reach over and help himself.

But the first day things went out of whack, it happened to be the day Steve decided to show up.  Actually, I walked in with my childhood friend T.J. and left with Steve.  More on that in a minute.

So this is the infamous Marlin’s Inn.  T.J. had asked how I was handling the whole Ashleigh thing, and I explained that this place was my escape.  So you’re kind of like Frasier on his old show before he was on Frasier.

I introduced him to Santiago, who gave him a two finger salute.  Then to Kilgore – he waved.  Then to Hank.  Guess how many fingers were included in his salute.

“Where’s H.L,” I asked the fellas.  Kilgore was the only one to speculate.

Dead.   He pondered the severity of his hypothesis.  Possibly dead.  He tilted his head to see if his marbles might roll differently.  No, probably dead.

What’s your name kid? Santiago asked as we took our seats at the bar, on the long side, between Kilgore’s corner and Hank.

T.J.  Short for Thomas Jefferson.

Hank roared.  We already have one initiate in here.  I can’t be having two.

Not realizing what he was directly talking about, I started to think he didn’t want two young guys disrupting his place.  His escape.

It’s enough I gotta call H.L. H.L.  I’m not calling some twat-minded snot T.J. too.

In defense of the lad, you call H.L. by his last name of Fat.

Fish, keep your nose out of this.  Hank finally turned his stool to look at us, instead of through the beer logo mirror behind the bar.  You’re Steve. 

T.J. now Steve gulped hard.  Hank then swiveled his seat forward and reached over to refill his mug while Santiago watched, leaning on the far end of the bar.

Not another word was uttered.  Not another exchange about it.  T.J. was now Steve.  He was always Steve.  He will always be Steve.

By this point, H.L. finally arrived, not dead, possibly dead, or probably dead.  You’ll never guess what I saw.  I’ll never forget it.  And probably neither will you, as it will be in our collective unconscious.

Crap, what was it?  I can’t remember right now, but I know it was good…