Monday, April 21, 2008

Happy Jack

“Jackie Davis is a son-of-a-bitch!” Patrick held a golden beer, fresh from the tap, in his one bear claw and sucked heavily from a cigarette in the other. He drew his beer to his mouth and inhaled the frosty brew. “Says to show up at 2:30, won’t get here ‘til God knows when. Arrogant bastard.” He took another deep gulp from the mug and slouched back down to rest his elbows on the bar.
David chuckled. “What do you expect? It’s Jack. Guy’s never been on time in his life. What do they say? ‘He’ll be late to his own funeral.’” They looked at each other in agreement and shared another drink.
The bar they were meeting at was called, “Al’s Corner”. It sat at the corner of 5th and Pontiac, sandwiched on all sides by never-ending urban sprawl, sitting out like a transient at a banquet. The outside of it was worn, painted over and again every few years. Little flakes of paint shown at the corners and along the bottom of the building waiting to be pulled.
The inside of the bar was rather nice in comparison to its outer shell. Half of the room was dominated by the bar area. Semi-rectangular and dimly lit, lined on all sides by leather-clad stools, the bar area is where the regulars resided. Behind the bar was an assortment of different kinds of alcohol, neatly arranged by sizes of bottles, not potency.
The other half of the room was filled booths and pool tables, the kind of things you would expect to see in a bar. Neon signs hung along the walls: Budweiser, Coors, Miller. Typical things.
Patrick and David sat under the dim light of an O’Douls lamp. Queen had just come on the jukebox – “Another One Bites The Dust”.
“One more round.” Patrick said to the bartender, just finishing off the last of his first. He looked toward the door. Still no Jack.
“You know, this asshole really has some nerve. He’s lucky we’re friends or I’d beat the crap out of him.”
Dave glanced at his watch. 2:42. He ran his hand through his long, black hair and sighed. “I told you, man. What did you expect? He never shows up on time. I mean, remember when his brother was getting married. Jack slept ‘til 2 that day, right on through the ceremony. He showed up to the reception, like, 30 minutes late. Steve was pissed, remember? Probably the reason he didn’t ask Jack to be his best man. Knew he’d be late to the whole thing.”
Patrick took a drag of his cigarette and laughed, “I remember hearing about that. Could only imagine the look on Steve’s face. Parents, too.” He took another sip from his beer and looked around at the other patrons. “You know, this place really isn’t that bad, at least not as bad as you’d think it’d be judging from the outside.”
“I was thinking the same thing. I drive by this place all the time and just think how crappy it probably is. And then I think about all the people that live around here and how crappy they think it looks. But then it was here first, you know? These houses, they just popped up around it. So what’s the point of complaining about something you could have easily avoided, right?”
“Who says they’re complaining?”
David thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I just assumed they do. I probably would.”
The bartender came around from the other side of the bar. “You boys good?” she asked.
“Yeah, we’re good for now.” David responded.
“Actually,” Patrick said, “Can I get one more, for now?”
“Sure thing, darlin’.” The bartender left the men for a moment to retrieve Patrick’s beer.
“Hey man,” David began, “we’ve only been here, like, 20 minutes or so. Jack’s not even here yet. Think about slowing down, huh?”
Patrick shifted his gaze from the bartender to David. “Don’t worry, man. It’s cool.” He reassured, and then reverted his eyes to the bartender. She returned with his beer, not noticing Patrick’s stare, and placed it on a napkin in front of him. “Enjoy,” she says, and left once more.
David looked at his watch again. Light from the door caught his eye and he jerked his head to the source. “Where is this guy?” he asked to no one in particular. He followed the person who had just come through the door, a tall man in jeans in a shirt wearing a baseball cap. He walked around the bar towards a booth in the far corner and took a seat. “Hey,” he said to Patrick, “Let’s shoot some pool.”
Patrick snickered, “Seriously? You do know you’re going to get your ass handed to you, right?”
David paused. “Probably, but it’s better than sitting here waiting for Jack and watching you drink your ass to oblivion.”
“Touché. Let’s do this”
The two men picked up their drinks and got up from their stools. There were three pool tables arranged in a row. Hanging ‘Miller’ lights illuminated the individual tables. Two construction workers already occupied the far table. “Let’s use this one,” David said, motioning to the table on the opposite side. “Where the hell are the balls?”
“You gotta go ask for a set from the bartender,” one of the construction workers said.
“I’ll get ‘em,” Patrick offered.
“Yeah, don’t take too long, eh? Try and keep it in your pants.” David placed his beer on the shelf near the wall and walks over to the jukebox. Jimi Hendrix – “Castles Made of Sand”.
Patrick returned to the table, pool balls in one hand, fresh brew in the other. “Let’s go, prick,” he yelled across the bar.
David moved between patrons and pool tables back to the shelf and grabbed his beer. “Damn, must not have been feeling it, eh? It’s okay man, you can’t win them all.”
“Screw you, man. She’s gay.”
“Ah, yeah, that’ll do it. Did you get another beer?”
“Yeah. I had to. Otherwise she would have thought I was creepy for going over there and not getting a beer just to talk to her.”
“But you got the balls.”
“Huh. Yeah, I did. Well, I can’t take it back now.”
“Jesus, man.”
The two men shared a laugh for a moment and then Patrick racked up the balls. “Break?” he asked David.
“No thanks, man. I scratch that shit every time. You do it.”
“Pussy.” Patrick lined up his cue ball with the racked balls at the other end of the table. He took careful aim at the balls, drew back his pool stick, and let out a thunderous break.
“Wow. That was pretty shitty.” David said, looking at the table. No balls in the hole.
“At least I didn’t scratch, ass.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Hey, maybe next time try breaking without four beers in you. Who knows, you may just get one of those striped ones in.”
The two went back and forth, exchanging shots and scratches. David had a good string of shots and was down to one ball but Patrick fought back. Both were on the last ball.
“Alright, loser buys next round.” Patrick said
“How about loser calls Jack and asks him where the hell he is?”
“And buys the next round?”
David lined up his shot. The eight ball was along the far wall and his cue ball sat between the side and far pocket on the opposite side. He steadied his hand, pulled back his stick, and tapped the cue ball towards the eight. It struck the eight ball and wall simultaneously and sent the eight ball towards the far corner pocket. “Money,” David said with confidence. The ball rolled toward the pocket, hit the corner, then the other, and ricocheted out towards the middle of the table. “Dammit!”
Laughter bellowed from Patrick. “Man, that sucks. Hey while I’m winning this game you can call Jack and get me another beer, all right? Thanks.” Patrick made the shot with ease and returned to the shelf to wait for his beer.
“I’ll be right back,” David said to him. He set down his pool stick and headed for the door.
“Don’t forget my beer!”
David made it to the entrance and went outside to call Jack. Fresh air and sunlight met him there. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and hit the ‘4’ button. Speed dial – Jack. The phone rang four times before going to voicemail. “Hey Jack, where the hell are you? It’s past 3 already. Patrick and I have been waiting a while now. Call us. Or better yet just get your ass down here.” David hung up the phone and went back inside.
His eyes had to adjust for a moment. He walked over to the bar and called to the bartender. “Can I get another round, please?”
“Sure,” she said, “and you can tell your friend over there to stop looking at me. I already told him I’m not into him.” She turned to get their beers. David looked over to Patrick who was practicing bank shots with a few balls.
“Oh, yeah he had said that because you were, you know…” David shifted his mouth and made a motion with his eyes, hinting at what Patrick had told him earlier.
“’You know’ what?”
“Um, like, not into men, period.”
The bartender narrowed her eyes and looked toward Patrick. “You mean gay.”
“Listen, tell your dickhead friend if he looks over here one more time I’m gonna walk over there and shove that cue ball up his ass.” She dropped the beers on the counter and walked away.
David returned to the pool table and set the beers on the shelf. “Gay, huh?”
“She’s not gay, dummy. And she said if you keep eyeing her she’s going to come over here and give you a colonic with the cue ball.”
Patrick chuckled. “Whatever, man.”
“No, seriously. That’s what you get for trying to be a bad-ass.”
“Blow me.” Patrick picked up his beer and took a drink. “What’d Jackie say?” He asked.
“Nothing. Couldn’t get him. I had to leave a message.”
Patrick threw his stick on the table. “What the fuck, man! It’s been almost an hour. I got shit to do today, man.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“So what the hell are we still doing here then?”
“Jack wanted to meet us here. Said it was important.”
“Yeah? You know what else is important? My fucking time. Watching the game. Not sitting in this bar all day. Who the hell does he think he is? Call him again.”
“I’m not calling him again. I left a message. You call him.”
“Screw that, man. He’s pissing me off big time.”
David took a sip from his brew and thought for a moment. He offered an idea. “All right. Let’s play another game. If he’s not here by the end of it then we’ll leave. We’ll tell him we had other shit to do today and we couldn’t wait around forever.”
“Screw that. Let’s just leave now. I’m sick of always waiting around for that guy. I mean, I love him to death but sometimes he’s such a prick. An inconsiderate prick.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m his friend too. But let’s just play one more and then we’ll go from there.”
“Fine, but I’m going to beat the shit out of you just so we can end this thing and leave.”
“Whatever. Just break.”
They began their second game. The Who – “Happy Jack” came across the speakers.
“Hey, didn’t Jackie’s parents name him after this song?” Patrick asked before sinking his third ball in a row.
“I couldn’t tell you. I don’t think I’ve even heard this song before.”
“It’s kind of screwed up when you think about the lyrics. I always thought it kind of fit him, though.”
“Like how?”
“Well it’s just about this guy who gets fucked with and stuff like that but he doesn’t care. Hence the ‘Happy’ part of it.”
“Yeah, I guess it does fit. Remember the swing thing back in 4th grade?”
“Aw shit, man. That was pretty brutal. I remember him just taking it from those kids.”
“Yeah, but then he just got back on the next day. Smile from ear to ear”
“Well, it probably wasn’t half as bad as being at home all day. God, his parents were so screwed up.”
“Yeah they were. I remember sleeping over at his house once. We were playing Nintendo in his room when we heard his dad come home and start yelling about God knows what and smashing things. I don’t even remember where his mom was at the time but I remember thinking how insane it was.”
They paused for a minute and took a drink. “It’s surprising Jack didn’t turn out all messed up like some of the kids you see,” David said, finishing off the last of his beer.
“Seriously…but that prick still can’t show up on time to save his life! Eight ball side pocket.” Patrick sunk the shot with defiance. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Patrick downed the last of his beer and the two headed for the door. “Guys,” a voice said from behind them. They turned to see Jack sitting at the bar. He stood up to greet them. “There you are.”
Patrick looked him up and down. “Where the fuck have you been?” he scowled, “And what the fuck happened to your arm?”
“Shit, I’m really sorry, guys. I got held up with an appointment. I tried to get here as soon as I could.”
“Yeah, well we’ve been here over an hour already, Jackie, so you’ll have to excuse of if we’re not sympathetic.”
“I know. I know. I’m sorry. Let me buy you guys a drink.”
David motioned to stop him. “No, thanks man,” he said, “We’ve already had a few. Some more than others.”
“Screw you,” Patrick rebutted, picking up on the hint.
“Look, Jack, what’s going on man? We’ve got things to do, too, so let’s just get on with it.”
Jack looked at the two. He scratched at the bandage on his arm. His forehead scrunched as he tried to begin. “Okay. Okay.” He looked for the right words. Patrick and David were getting restless.
“Get on with it, Jackie boy.” Patrick demanded.
“All right.” Jack took a deep breath in and exhaled slowly. “Here it is. I’ve never done this before so I don’t really know how to say this,” he paused for a moment, “I was late because I was at the doctor’s getting some blood taken.”
“For what? To test your gayness?” Patrick said, amusing only himself.
“Jesus, man,” David scoffed, “don’t be an ass. Jack, what the hell is going on?” A mixture of worry and curiosity filled David’s face.
Jack inhaled, “I’ve got cancer. Leukemia, actually.”
“Fuck you.” Patrick exclaimed. “No fucking way. You’re a real dick, man.” Patrick spun around and headed for the door.
“I’m serious, Pat. This isn’t a fucking joke.”
David looked at Jack. Shock replaced the curiosity.
“No, it is a fucking joke, Jackie. That’s exactly what it is. You stroll in here all late and tell us you’ve got cancer. Who the fuck does that?”
“I do, I guess.”
“No, man, you don’t. You’re full of shit.”
Jack shifted his stare to David. “Dave, what’s up man?”
David tried to shake himself awake. “I don’t even know what to say.”
“I do,” Patrick interrupted, “let’s get the hell out of here. That’s what I say.”
“Patrick, God dammit, shut the hell up! I am not fucking with you. I have leukemia. This is not a joke. You’re my friend God dammit! What the fuck did you want me to do, not tell you? And then when my hair starts falling out and I look like the guy from ‘Powder’ then what? Tell you it’s an early Halloween costume? Or write it in a Hallmark card so that you feel good about the fact that I’ve got cancer? What the fuck, man.” Jack caught his breath. He looked over to David who was still standing in the same spot. “Dave, it’s going to be all right, man.”
David glanced over to Patrick who had taken a seat at the bar and just ordered a drink. He looked back up at Jack. “I’m so sorry, Jack. I don’t even know what to say.”
Jack moved closer to David and put his arms around him. “Dave, don’t worry. It’s going to be all right. It always is.”

Monday, April 7, 2008

This is this. And that is that.

"This is a hat. It goes on your head, see? And this is a pencil. You use it to write or to draw. This is paper. You use the paper to write on with your pencil. See? This here, this is crayon. It’s like a pencil but with color. Only there are already things like that. They called ’colored pencils’. Crayons are thicker. You can use them to draw, too, or to color in books or on your drawings. See? Try and stay in the lines when you color. Or not. Haha. I guess you can do that, too. Okay, this here, this is a watch. It goes on your wrist. Like this, see? Use this to tell time. This hand, this one tells you the hour. And this one here, it tells you the minutes. So right now it’s 3:42. You’ll learn more about this stuff later on. But just be careful. You don’t want to break it or anything. Well, what else? Oh! This thing is a necklace. You probably won’t want to wear this or anything but maybe you will. It’s pretty amazing. It was your mother’s. She wanted you to have it. This is sapphire in the middle, like your eyes. And hers. Right here. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? She was something else."