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 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 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?

The Parting Words

Since my recent hook-up with Ashleigh, I’ve been dreaming about her more frequently.  I’ve called her from random phone lines once or twice.  Okay, three times, but I’ve hung up before either she could answer or her voice mail would pick up.

Calling her is like sticking your face in a frying pan to see if the bacon’s done.  You’re supposed to stand still and watch and wait and see.  Kilgore had been giving the best advice since the entire affair, meaning the fling thing, occurred.  Hank’s remained uncharacteristically silent.  He hasn’t even been telling me to shut the fuck up much, or calling me a pussy.

You could get trichinosis if you don’t.  H.L.’s words sent a shiver through me.  We hadn’t used protection.

I stood up, worried.  “How would I know if I had an STD?”

Hank guffawed.  Well, first you would have had to fucked someone, or something.

“But I did.”

He chortled this time and then faced me.  When?

“On Valentine’s Day.  Where the hell have you been?”

Hank stopped to process the last weeks worth of conversations and occurrences.  You mean to tell me you weren’t just whining again because she showed up at our home base?  He called Marlin’s Inn our home base.

Santiago stepped forward and pointed around the corner to where the ladies restroom exists like temple to our–

Hank slapped me in the back of my head.  You don’t go fooling around with another man’s woman.  Even if that other man fooled around with her when she was your woman.  Hank dug in his pocket and pulled out a twenty.  Here ya go, Cuban.  He called Santiago that whenever he tipped well, because Santiago basically said he could.  He placed it on the counter as he removed his coat from the cushioned seat beneath him.

We all watched in wonder as he made his way toward the exit.  He looked back at me and said:

You don’t shit in a man’s shoes, and then tell him to walk a mile in ’em.

After he was gone, and we realized he most likely wasn’t coming back, Kilgore asked us, Did anybody get that?

Unfortunately, I did.

The Threat

After Hank stopped me from leaving Marlin’s Inn that fateful Valentine’s Night, no one had much more to say to me.  It was closing in on closing time, and Santiago already shut off the neon bar signs and was moving onto the TV’s.  The cabs outside were honking, but they’d wait – we all tipped well.

H.L.won a free game on the MegaTouch system and was milking it for all he could.

Kilgore crumbled up a couple of his drawings and slipped them into his pocket as he stood to approach Hank, who was sitting beside me.

So what’d you and the pooper scooper have to say to each other?  Wait, the pooper scooper’s the other one.  What’d we call the slimebag? Kilgore asked him, speaking first of Ellis, then of Ryan.

Nothing of importance. 

Hank’s response caused Kilgore to pat my back.  He doesn’t mean you’re not important, Aiden.

Shit, Hank said, coming alive as he spun around.  If we’d talked about him, I’d have said we shot the shit!  Meaning he – a gracious thumb pointed at me to clarify – was the shit we were shooting.

That’d be a fun game, H.L. muttered.  Shooting shit.  On the MegaTouch or in real life.

Are you done yet? Santiago wondered.

I just won another game.

Kilgore put up his hands.  Why so defensive, old friend?  It’s almost as if you’re… hiding something.  I faced Kilgore as he backed away toward the exit and the awaiting taxi.  He held his hands in the air and wore the biggest grin I’ve ever seen on him.

Hank harrumphed and spiraled back toward the beer tap.  Santiago grabbed the spigot before he could.  Their mutual stare-down was a short-lived showdown.

H.L. and Hank split the next taxi, and instead of letting me walk home, Santiago offered me a ride.  He drove a noble Cadillac Brougham, as mint as it was in ’85, just like he said.  It was the same color burgundy as the couch in the ladies restroom where Asheigh and I had our “fling” I need to decipher.

We didn’t really talk much as we drove down the road, but we hardly spoke at the bar either.

I had him drop me off in front of my apartment complex.  As I got out, he had this to say to me:

If you made a mess that you did not clean in “there,” understand that I will kill you.

The Valentine’s Day Massacre

It was Valentine’s Day, and this was how the universe chose to wish me a well one.  Perhaps I shouldn’t inflate Ryan Antolini’s hot air balloon-sized ego and put him in the same company as the powers that be… so it’s exclusively Ryan’s fault he showed up at Marlin’s Inn with Ashleigh Hayes, the woman I was supposed to marry.

Ryan, let’s leave.  Ashleigh tugged on his coat sleeve with a weak grasp.  If she truly wanted to leave, she would have grabbed his hand.  I know.

Hold on.  I need to make nice with some new friends I crossed the last time I was here.  She pouted as she threw her arms down, then quickly tucked them into a fold.  Ryan faced her.  All I need is a second, Ashleigh.

I had my back to the bar since their unexpected arrival, facing the expanse of the joint.  At the mere mention of the name, Ashleigh, Kilgore and H.L. emerged from the billiard’s closet, and Hank perked up from his slouch beside me.

Did that sunuvabitch just say what I thought?  Hank turned around as Ryan approached him, and not me.

Old man, I think we got off on the wrong foot.  Ryan extended his hand to shake Hank’s.

Hank wanted nothing to do with it.  That ain’t your foot.

Distraught, Ashleigh rushed toward the restroom sign.  She was crying, and Ryan didn’t seem to notice.  I stood up and slipped away from the pair of stubborn pompous fools.  They continued to ignore me as I headed also toward the restroom sign.

I’m trying to make a peace offering, Ryan explained, open palm still out and up.

You’re lucky, Hank began.  I no longer smoke.  He imitated putting out a cigarette in Ryan’s hand, and I darted around the corner.

The remainder of what happened between those two I’d have to hear second hand, so to speak.  And what happened between Ashleigh and I?  Well, I haven’t quite figured that out myself.

What I can tell you is this:

  • The ladies room in the Marlin’s Inn is way nicer and cleaner that I ever would have guessed.
  • They actually have a couch in there.
  • Ashleigh kept saying she made a big mistake…
  • …but I don’t know if that’s because she left me for Ryan
  • …or because, how can I put this eloquently?

We did it.

Happy Valentine’s Day, My Ass!

It was setting out to be an interesting Valentine’s Day at the old Marlin’s Inn.

For starter’s, the Lovebirds returned.  The time was midday, so we anticipated that this was merely the starting point for the Prince and the Princess’ big Hallmark Holiday plans.  It would eventually turn out we were wrong.

The Prince approached Santiago as openly as he had he first visit.  Howdy gentlemen, he said to us all.  Garçon, if you would be so kind to put a round for all these gents on my tab.  My old lady and I are getting hitched, and I want to celebrate.

Hank vocally grumbled.  The remainder of us grumbled internally, but we each took our drinks with a nod.

And a pair of super dooper Long Islands for us, thanks.

As Santiago handed the Prince his mugs, he clarified something.  You called me “boy.”

I did.  I’m so sorry.  Well, how do you say bartender in French?

“Barman.”  But I’m Cuban.

Well nice to meet you, Cuban.  The Prince left a hefty tip for Santiago, so he answered to Cuban the remainder of the night.

How come when I refer to you as Cuban, your butt puckers and your urethra gets its panties all up in a twist? Hank wondered.

Santiago pointed his finger in Hank’s face. Because you are a racist and a bigot.  And you don’t tip.  I am an excellent “camarero“, and you never seem grateful for that fact.  (I found out camarero is Spanish for bartender.)

Technically, Kilgore began, a bigot is a racist.

Shut the fuck up weirdo!  Santiago and Hank said together.

As the Prince and the Princess danced and drank the early evening away, another pair of visitors appeared.  It was my co-worker Ellis, and he was accompanied by some mystery woman who was possibly his recent ex.

This one’s on you, puss.  I always sensed that Hank didn’t like it when I became a regular.  I really think he’d rather be all alone in this place.  Simply him and his beer taps.

Ellis rushed right to Hank, stole his hand and shook it.  I owe it all to you, Mr. Chinaski.  Thanks for setting my mind straight.  I mean it with all my heart.

The last time Ellis followed me here from work – or was invited here by me out of pity or whatever – the crew gave me the cold shoulder as I had them.  They stepped away from their infinite positions at the bar and sat with Ellis the rest of the night, listening to his unending sob stories, dispensing advice like stale Pez candy.  We all laughed about it the next day, but Hank must have gotten through.

You touch me ever again and thank me so much, I’ll punch you right through your chest and rip out your heart.  Understood?

Like in that Indiana Jones movie?  Sure, Mr. Chinaski.  I get it.  And Ellis winked at him, like he thought he got it, when he really didn’t, at least in Hank’s mind.  Hank jerked his hand away and returned to facing forward.

Ellis engaged me next.  I got back with the misses.

“Great,” I responded, thinking it probably wasn’t the best idea.  After all, they had trouble.  Didn’t she cheat or something?  I must not have been paying that much attention, but I swore she was unfaithful.

I promised her I’d never cheat again, and she took me back.  Mr. Chinaski told me to say whatever she wanted to hear, and that I should iron out the details later.  His cuckquean waved from their table.  I’ve got to get back, otherwise she might accuse me of another affair.  Imagine that!  He laughed as he grabbed his order, and I avoided imagining any such thing.

As the hours passed, Kilgore and H.L. took up a game of pool against the Lovebirds.   Ellis and his sucker would take on the winner.

Hank and I sat quietly at the bar.  Santiago hand dried some glasses.  I wanted to bring up a topic to Hank, but I sensed he knew I wanted to bring up a topic he didn’t want to hear.  So I chose to mope and think about my Ashleigh.  I thought about the six Valentine’s Days we spent together, and the six elaborate celebrations I held in her honor.

I thought about how I never would have never cheated on her.

I thought about how much I loved her.

And I thought about how I would have never brought her to this bar.

The frontdoor squeeked as it cracked open in the middle of my travels down memory lane.  The play list had just ended on the jukebox, and from the other room, Kilgore and H.L. cheered as they sunk the thirteen ball standing in for the eight ball.

And I felt it.  The chill down my slouching spine was unmistakable.

Hello motherfuckers!  With those words, Ryan Antonlini made his presence known.  And he brought Ashleigh with him.

The Rub

Work isn’t something I like to carry around with me, literally or figuratively, but when it follows you, what are you going to do?

Who’s the pooper scooper?  That was polite compared to Hank’s usual standards.

The Pooper Scooper in question was Ellis, one of my co-workers.  His girlfriend had dumped him just in time for Valentine’s Day, and that reminded me of Ashleigh, so shared sorrow forced the invite.

He looks like a tool, Hank continued as I grabbed two beers from Santiago.

“Technically, Hank, a pooper scooper is a tool.”

I sat at one of the tables with Ellis, out of earshot of the gang’s barbs at our emotional states.

When I went up for round two, Hank had more to say.  What’s with all the girl’s names, anyways?  Yours, his, your girlfriend…

“That’s because Ashleigh is a girl.”

Not him.  The one we call Steve.

As the night persisted and the brews melted away the bruises, I slowly realized something.  Ellis was a tool!  Some choice phrases between sips and sobs:

  • We were gonna spend forever together, together forever.
  • Everyday we wore the same color underwear.  Today was supposed to be purple!
  • She made the best cereal in the morning.
  • Her hands fit perfectly in my favorite pair of blue jean’s pockets.  Like a glove!
  • We didn’t make love… we invented it.

When I headed to the bar for a later round, as I had with all previous rounds to keep present parties apart, I failed to return to Ellis’ aid and company. 

Besides, by that point he was crying at photos in his wallet.

I shrugged at the guys and sighed, and when it became clear I was planted to my bar stool, in planned unison, they stood up and joined Ellis.