“…Shovel them under and let me work…
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.”
-Carl Sandburg, 1918
THE FUCKERS think they can stiff me on the drinks, but I’m unstiffable, baby, and I’ve got them all on probation; I am not soaking up another fucking round until the Fuckers buy one, just out of common courtesy. Look at ‘em, the fat fucks. Yeah, wave at me, fuck you. Wave back though. Never know.
Hate this bar. Too much fucking brass. Looks like a goddamned machine. Matches, matches…Norma giving me that look of disapproval, fuck her, over there with Chuckles, playing the faithful girlfriend. Chuckles smoked like a goddamn chimney, and you never saw her complain to him. No law against smoking, yet. Goddamned bluenoses ruining it for the rest of us, kill myself if I want.
Hands on my shoulders, it’s Charlie Hammonds, maybe reading my mind.
“How’re you doing, Mack?”
His breath is a natural disaster, a rich supply of pepperoni, scotch, cigarettes, and bar nuts, all of it wheezed into my airspace with gusto, against all local ordinances. I wince, but manage a smile. Say something about being fine.
Chuck signals the bartender, a busty brunette who smiles at me in a friendly way, instant erection and quick fantasy, three seconds of something that will never happen. I flash my charmer smile, not much but all I have. Chuck lingers, sipping a new drink. Irritating man. The bartender waited a moment, was she eyeing me can’t tell, now she walks away, and I’m left with Chuckie. Bastard. I smile at him and beam death threats his way via karma police band.
“Listen, Mack, got a proposition for you.”
“Fantastic. Buy me a drink, then. No one else has.”
Chuck’s always a soft touch, and he laughs, and brings the brunette back to me with a wave of a fifty dollar bill. I myself cannot remember what a fifty feels like. I smile at the bartender like a rich man anyway.
“He’s got a proposition for me.” I say.
She grins. “Be careful. He looks mangy.”
“He’ll have a scotch on the rocks, a double.” Chuckles says, oblivious.
Eyes meet. I shrug my eyebrows, she pours liquor silently. Could happily murder Chuckles, wonder if she’d rat me out. Takes Chuck’s money and walks off, I eye her ass appreciatively, wondering if I have it in me to be a seducer. Am I the guy who picks up bar chicks and bangs them? Can’t tell from internal probing. Never know with Chuckles hanging about like a bad skin.
“So listen, chum, and let me talk to you about something.”
He’s already talking, goddammit, the words coming out in a mushy jumble drowned out by the buzz of bar noise, sounds like a foreign language at first, until some mysterious higher function inside me deciphers it, translates it. Monstrous little bugger. Images of murder, Chuckles looking pale and wan, bled dry.
“Norma has this friend, you see -great girl, knockout, and she’s been bugging me to set her up with someone, and I figured, you’re perfect: no noticeable scars, relative good health, no public history of VD: perfect! Whatya say, double with Norma and me sometime? Come on, it’ll be -”
Glance back at the bartender, was she looking at me? Can’t be sure. Chuckie is still droning on. Norma, christ, he had no idea, there was no fucking way Norma wanted me to date one of her disciples, her minions, one of the many shellacked women ready to drain me of my precious bodily fluids and make me into a Chuckle. Pod people. Always recruiting. Had to be strong, forget this male bonding polite bullshit.
“No thanks, Chuck.”