We stood there at the bar and tossed back another shot. It was Thursday evening and everybody had their stories to tell. Elmo poured another round and I started digging into my day at work; another story of keeping the working man down. It was nearly the same story every time, and definitely the same message, but the guys ate it up. I don’t know if the other guys had used up all their stories before I came to town or if they never had any to begin with, but either, it did not change anything. There was a sort of rhythm to it all; a repetitiveness that made the repetitiveness of the rest of our lives wash away. Elmo was always designated bartender, which meant Gus and Earl usually supplied the alcohol. I do not recall how this arrangement had worked itself out, but it had, and nobody bothered to second-guess it.
My role was obvious, and not just in that I brought the stories. “The kid,” “whippersnapper,” I was the only one you could tell was not a grandpa just by name. Gus, Earl, Elmo: these were not the names of anybody I had known in school. Classify me as you will, I was not only the lone man under thirty, but the only one not retired. And this is at least part of the reason they loved my stories so.
* * *
“Lake City Realty”
“Carol, hi. Can I talk to Aimee please?”
The dial has a warmer tone. Carol is one of those people that I would describe as having a stick up her ass, but really, I think it is just me. I think she just does not like my calls breaking up her ryhthm. Or maybe it is because I came onto her at the Christmas party while Aimee was in the bathroom and when she turned me down I called her something i would not have sober. What can I say? I had had a couple too many drinks to overcome the obstacle that was another of Aimee’s company parties and all the people that came with it. Then I had a couple more.
“Hey Tom, what’s up?”
“Oh, hi Aims, how are you doing? I just called to tell you my dad said hi. He wanted me to send you his love.”
“Oh yeah? You just talked to your dad? What did he have to say?”
“Um no, did I say I just talked to him? I talked to him a couple nights ago. He’s doing all right, I told you that. I think I may have forgotten to tell you that he said hi.”
“Shit John, you called me not just to say hi, but to tell me your dad said hi two days ago? Why didn’t you tell me then? I could have said hello back, that type of thing. Did you really need to tell me now? Is that the only reason you called? You know I have a ton of work to do. Plus, you know Carol is always in a bad mood after you call.”
She is just dying to spill the beans to Aimee, but lucky for me wouldn’t dare; long story.
* * *
I had moved into the neighborhood two years ago and they had instantly adopted me as one of their own. I threw a big backyard party to get to know the neighbors and to show off the new barbeque I had just bought with my first bonus. This thing was the world heavyweight champion of grills, and as I soon found out, there is nothing like some good quality steak to bring the neighborhood together.
After the meal, the guys (at the time there was Gus, Earl, Elmo, Hank, and Tom. Hank was reluctantly moved back east about four months later by his two sons after his health started deteriorating. Tom quietly passed away another two months later) took me down to the end of the block. They had one of those green electrical boxes that stood about four feet high that you often find in suburban neighborhoods. Years back the guys in the neighborhood found themselves congregating there; drawn there like college kids to the city bar. Recognizing this, somebody started calling it “The Bar” (arguments still abound as to who started it) and it stuck. Shortly thereafter a couple guys started bringing their post-dinner beers with them in honor of the name and soon a full fledge tradition was born.
* * *
I met Aimee four years ago when she came to work for Lake City Realty back in Wisconsin. I was working there at the time as well, mainly because my dad owned the place. I was never much of a nine to fiver, but I needed some work so my dad took me in. Thing was, I didn’t help business much. I told the people I didn’t like to go screw themselves, and those that I did like, I told could get a better deal cross-town. When Aimee walked in that first day, the attraction was immediate and mutual. Or so would have been the case if she had noticed me at all. I went out of my way that first week trying to impress her; even doing a little work. I’m sure she saw right through me, but I convinced her to go out with me by week’s end nevertheless. That Saturday, we went out to dinner and ended up back at her place. Her apartment looked like it belonged to one of those people that would go to cafés just to drink coffee and smoke.