Saturday, December 27, 2014

Leaving The March

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

I read George Eliot's Middlemarch for the first time shortly after I stopped working at the bar.  The paragraph above is my favorite piece of writing ever.  It is so beautiful and so kind and so perfectly phrased.  And it was in reading that paragraph, after having closed a chapter on my life, that I decided to write this book, even though it took me many more years to actually start writing it.

And today is the day I put it behind me.

Streeters, the bar I worked in throughout my 20's in the 90s, is the inspiration for the bar called The March, but the book called The March is a fairly faithful revisioning of Middlemarch.  The plot is lifted wholesale.  All my characters correlate directly to one in Middlemarch, save Bulstrode who correlates to two (he's both Eliot's Bulstrode and Featherstone) and Rosie who is not really Eliot's Rosamund.  As I wrote Rosie I fell a little in love with her and she ended up coming more from my own imagination than George Eliot's. Rosie is my favorite character.  Oh, Rosie, I'll miss you most of all!

I'll also say here since I know she's reading: Joelle, there's a lot of you in Mary. And since I know he's reading: Danno, Teddy's odiousness is inspired entirely by George Eliot.  There is none of you in him.    

I feel sad to leave all these people, whom I've lived with for a very long time. We've been together for years and years.  When I think of writing this book, I picture myself sitting on the floor by the pool at Senn High while a 5 year old Laney took swimming lessons; desperately trying to keep the laptop dry as I pecked out words and lived in a fictional past.

I picture myself scrounging out an outlet at Shedd Aquarium, so I could finish the last chapter for the first time by the Beluga whales.  I've always really liked those Beluga whales.

I picture myself sitting at a table at a Rogers Park diner, half-eaten grilled cheese beside my laptop, puzzling out some plot point while daring to imagine a life where this was what I did for a living (wrote books, not ate grilled cheese... although I suppose that'd be a pretty good career too).

I loved to write this book.

But, because it is I not Iggy who is the realest, I need to be honest: it's not great.  It has moments that are pretty good. There are paragraphs that hover around really good.  But it is not great.  It is only sort of good here and there.   I failed to hold myself up to the kind of rigorous honesty that you need to make something great.  I pulled punches that George Eliot would never have pulled.  And despite the years I spent writing it, I was lazy as fuck at several points.

And goddammit, I could never fucking figure out how to start this thing!

This doesn't make me sad, though.  Well, it makes me a little sad.  I would have liked to write something that people would read and discuss at book clubs.  I would have loved to have written something really good. But I didn't.

But I still loved to write this book.

I loved living in that world. I love Brooke and Rosie and Tre and Will.  And I'm glad I got to know them.  I loved needling away at sentences and taking long walks to try and figure out how to move the plot into the 20th century.  I loved imagining a Chicago bar in the 60s and describing the work I did when I learned how to work at a bar.

I loved to write this book.

So even if I don't think it's in the cards for me to make a living by writing stories, I can still write stories.  There is merit and there is joy in trying to tell a story even if you are not entirely successful in the telling.

It's time to put The March behind me and start a new story.  And I'll pop those stories up here as they come.  And maybe it won't even take me another 7 years.

The March: Epilogue

Chapter 63

It is too sad, too mean to leave these young people without telling you a bit about how their lives turned out.  An epilogue. Yes. That's just the thing.

Gio and Celia
They were each other’s first loves.  But not each other’s last. They married other people, had children, and are happy.  Gio has a successful career in IT management.  Celia is a buyer for Macy’s.  When they look back on their relationship (which they do less and less, but still, sometimes), they remember each other fondly and give their distant love affair the dignity of acknowledging its seriousness.  When it became a thing, Celia found Gio on Facebook.  They comment admiringly on pictures of each other’s children and are happy to see the other happy.

If it seems sad they didn’t end up together, it’s not.  How many of us have shared our whole lives with our first love?  Or even our second? Third? But we can all consider ourselves lucky if our first love gave us a good romance and prepared us well for the one that lasts.  Gio and Celia are.

Fred and Mary
By then end of 1992, Fred had taken over the day-to-day operations of the Lightweight Group.  He was, as Caleb always said, a natural.  The business runs smoothly, uneventfully and ethically.  The Lightweight Group is one of the few restaurant groups in the city to offer health insurance to its waitstaff and it’s carried on with Brooke’s environmental initiatives.  The L.G.E. bars were green long before it was hip to be so. 

Mary is in the Justice department, just as she’d always wanted.  She’s been involved with several high-profile investigations and has happily become, as she calls it, the fucking bane of the Chicago political fucking machine.

She and Fred are very happy together.

Rosie did indeed take a bite out of the Big Apple.  She was the main DJ at New York’s Lobo for a few years and then enjoyed a brief on camera stint on MTV.  She was a New York trendsetter through most of the 90s, eventually landing a gig at a hot New York Magazine right around 2000.  Although these days, she’s a bit long in the tooth for setting the trends in the clubs, she stays on top of what they are, and covers them with a keen eye and a sharp tongue.  She always knows what bands are about to break, and exactly what kind of clothes the people that dance to them wear.  She’s invited to all the best parties.  

At some point her fearlessness façade gave way to the real thing.

Also, around 30, she stopped starving herself and put on 25 pounds.

She looks great.

Tré ended up, in all places, as a marketing director for a software company.  He bounced around from bar to bar and club to club trying to make a go of a career in the nightlife forefront before being recruited into the fledgling industry of start up software.  You’ll be glad to know that Tré was far too prudent to have taken much of a hit during the bust.

He married a little later in life.  Tré was 40 when he met a nice woman with whom he had a lot of fun. They had a couple of kids together.  They pay cash for everything. 

Tré subscribes to Rosie’s magazine and always gets a big kick out of reading the things she writes.

He and Brooke remain fast friends.  When she married Will, he stood up on her side, right next to her maid of honor, Celia.

Brooke and Will
Brooke does good and important work at an environmental not-for-profit. Will works as a community organizer and as a professor of political science.

They are living happily ever after. 

They have drinks at The March on every anniversary.

After it became public knowledge that she and Will were a couple the L.G.E. staff and regulars had a bit of a gossip field day.  A sustained field day.  As a matter of fact, if you were to pop into The March or Scottie’s for a drink tomorrow night, an old timer might grin knowingly or leer lasciviously at the memory of the girl who was schtupping the uncle and the nephew at the same time.  You know the one – she ended up with the guy who had the money.  They might smirk around theories as to the role that black guy played.  You know the one – he had something to do with the old owner who stole money from the nephew’s mom.

But you and I know the real story: Brooke had planned to save the world.  But she learned that the world was too big for one girl to save.  Instead, she nurtured her own generous spirit, she made friends, she fell in love and she embraced the value of kindness.  The effects of which, as I once read, are incalculably diffusive.

At the end, I offer one last authorial interruption with two fond hopes for you, my reader. 

The first: May you remember that of all the things we have to be grateful for in this sweet old world, our largest debt of gratitude may lie with a person whose name we don’t knew, who’ll never show up in a history book, whose obituary will be listed alphabetically, without an accompanying picture. Our largest debt of gratitude may lie with some kind stranger who lifted the burden of someone else and left our world a gentler and better place.

The second: Neighborhood taverns are not as easy to find on the streets of Chicago as they were 20 years ago.  But wherever you live, however you live, I hope you find your March.  It is, despite all the petty gossip and distant nicotine stains, a wonderful place to be.

The March, Chapter 63: Happy Endings

Let’s dance!

On the night of Rosie’s big gig at Lobo, Fred walked into the office at The March to pick up his new staff shirt.   He was going to work the door for a month or so and then Caleb would put him behind the bar.  They figured he’d have learned the ropes enough to be a fully functioning assistant manager within a couple months.   Mary was sitting at the desk doing paperwork.  When Fred walked in, he grinned at her. “I guess I’m just getting started while you’re on the way out.”

“Fuckin A, Fred,” said Mary. “This is what you want to do?”

“This is what I want to do,” he agreed.

“Well, shit,” she said  “I think that’s genuinely fucking awesome.”

And that’s when Fred kissed her. 

(This, too, was totally romantic.)

They headed out together, holding hands no less, to Lobo. The March staff all planned to show up and support Rosie on her big night.

When Fred and Mary got there, they found Will and Brooke sitting at a table with Gio and Celia.  They joined them and ordered beers and shots.  They crowded around a small table, playing Thumper, laughing, and ignoring or enjoying the stink eye shot their way from the cool club kids.
On her way back from a trip to the ladies’, Brooke passed Tré, sitting alone at the bar, sipping a glass of water.  Even his hair looked deflated.

“Tré!” said Brooke, giving him a hug.  “Why are you sitting here by yourself?  Come sit with us!  We’re acting like idiots.  You’d love it.”

“Oh, no thanks, Brooke,” said Tré.  “I’m just here to see Rosie and then I’m on my way home.”

“Why not,” she asked, sitting down next to him.  “We’d love for you to join us!  All of us would.”

“Shit, Brooke,” said Tré, too exhausted for subterfuge  “I don’t have any money to buy rounds.  I’m days away from getting kicked out of my apartment.  I don’t have a job.  And Rosie hates me.  I’m just too depressed to be around people.  But I really wanted to see Rosie do her thing before I left.”

“Rosie doesn’t hate you,” said Brooke.  “She cares about you very much.  And if you come sit with us, we’ll cheer you up.  And don’t worry about buying rounds.  No one cares about that.”

“I care about that,” said Tré.  “I’m just … just terrible fucking company, Brooke.  Go back to your friends and have fun.”

“You’re my friend” said Brooke.  “And I don’t want you to sit here alone being miserable.  Please come sit with… Oh!  I have a great idea!”

“What,” said Tré.

“You should move in with me!” she said.  “Celia practically lives with Gio and I have an extra bedroom and the rent is next to nothing.  We can float you until you get on your feet.  It’s perfect.”

“Brooke,” Tré smiled.  “I can’t live with you and not pay rent.

“Why the hell not,” said Brooke.  “I have a free room and you’re a nice person.  And I remember how you backed my recycling plan.  It’s the best thing I’ve done and I have you to thank for it.  Listen, Tré.  Just do it!”

He was quiet.”

“As for Rosie,” said Brooke letting him think about the apartment deal.   “You know she doesn’t hate you.  She’s just scared about New York.”

Tré stayed quiet, but something inside of him seemed to ease.

Brooke reached over and took Tré’s hand.  “Tré,” she said.  “Come on.”

He was silent a moment longer, looking down at his sad glass of water.  Sometimes you just have to say ‘yes.’  He smiled at Brooke and squeezed her hand back.  “OK, Brooke,” he said. “Thank you.”

Brooke hugged him hard and then took his hand and led him back to the table.

“Look who I found,” she said, announcing him.

“Tré!” shouted the table.

“We’re playing fucking Thumper,” said Mary. “Like a bunch of dumbasses.”

“You are dumbasses,” said Tré, squeezing in.  “Has anyone taken the black power sign?  That’s always mine.”

“Jagermeister for you,” said Fred, putting a shot in front of him. “And a Heineken.  You have some catching up to do.”

Before too much longer it was midnight and the DJ announced, “We have a special guest tonight.  Ladies and Gentlemen… Rosie.”

The club chatter only died down after about 45 seconds without music.  And when the crowd stopped chatting, the place grew silent, and the silence began to linger.  Tré knew this trick, but still, he began to feel nervous.  Where was Rosie?  The atmosphere thickened in confusion and anticipation.  And just as it seemed that the silence would reach its breaking point, Rosie entered.

She stood up on the DJ platform, somehow managing to look spotlit.  She was wearing a strapless black leotard, fishnets and thigh high boots.  She’d cut off her long flaxen hair and it haloed around her head in blonde, punky spikes.  Her lips were red.  Behind her, the music began to swell with a familiar “ahhh-ahhh-ahhh- ahhh.” Rosie threw her arms in the air and turned slowly around.  Her back was tattooed with a succulent, blood red apple; a yellow snake wrapped around it, its mouth open, just prepared to take a bite. Rosie leaned into the microphone and said, “All right, Chicago.  Let’s get this shit started.”

LL Cool J boomed out of the speakers, and demanded, “Don’t call it a comeback.”  And as Mama Said Knock You Out filled the room, Lobo exploded in delight.

The night before the whole city had celebrated the Bulls victory.  Tonight, the people who’d served them drinks and cleaned up after them, celebrated Rosie’s.  She was off to New York the very next day.

And the March crew?  They danced all night.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The March, Chapter 62: Things That Fell Apart Start Coming Together

Chapter 61

Ducky, you love this girl.  You love her and you have to tell her.  And if she laughs, she laughs.
-Pretty in Pink

Chicago went bananas the night the Bulls won their first championship.  People streamed out of bars, running up and down city streets, in between and around the cars.  Major thoroughfares turned into parking lots, but happy parking lots (save for those few poor non-basketball loving souls).  For most of Chicago, it was all high fives and hugs, spontaneous renditions of We Are the Champions.  But in some places the madness teetered on the edge of violence, in others it spilled over.  Bullets fired in the air, after all, will eventually come down.  The teeming, inebriated flocks on Division Street flipped a cab onto its back.  But for most of us, it was fun; mad, wild fun.

Eventually the outdoor celebrations waned and people hustled, en masse, back into the bars they’d poured out of.  The vibe at The March held firm at non-violent levels, but the crowd shortly began to feel like more than the slight weekday staff could handle.  Caleb had scheduled an experienced crew with himself behind the bar, Brooke on the floor and Will at the door.  This should have been ample even on a very busy Tuesday night.

But this wasn’t busy.  It went so far past busy that busy became a fond memory.  This was championship busy.  People, who were until very recently, the most casual of sports fans, folks who’d always opted for Friends on Thursday nights over the basketball game, swarmed, drunk on Jagermeister and victory.  They clamored for beers and shots shots shots!  They toasted loudly and dropped their beer bottles.  They delayed orders, holding onto Brooke’s arm, reliving the glorious moment of John Paxson’s winning shot.  Offkey versions of Queen and Gary Glitter filled the air.  It was bedlam.

Fred walked into this chaos: Will was holding two cases of Old Style against the wall with his body, while dealing with three clearly underage girls.  Brooke was desperately collecting glassware that Caleb didn’t have time to wash while a drunken inamoratus hovered over her repeating, “It was so awesome!  Did you see it?  It was AWESOME!”  Grinning fools waved bills at Caleb as he whirled around, cracking open two beers in each hand, ringing up an order, making change.  Suddenly he stopped, looked around, and made an executive decision.  He grabbed the bar mic and barked into it: “STAFF – TO THE BAR.  NOW!”

Fred grabbed one of the cases from Will and positioned himself between Brooke and her would-be basketball boyfriend and said, “Let’s go.”

The three hustled to the bar apace.  Caleb said, “We’re switching up: Brooke, you’re back here with me.  Will, congratulations, you’re a server now.  But you still need to get people proofed and don’t go getting tip-happy.  Also, do not come up here without glassware.  We’ll tell you what things cost.”
“Caleb,” said Fred.  “Do you want me to watch the door and help out on the floor?”

“Oh, man, I could kiss you,” said Caleb. 

They quickly made the changes.,  Brooke worked the service end of the bar and moved like a dervish, washing dishes, pouring shots.  Will proved a capable server, moving quickly back and forth between customer and bar, cheery and confident.  Fred kept on top of everything and anything that got missed.  He thwarted fights and kept minors out of the bar.  He bussed tables and mopped up spills.  He went so far as to tidy up the bathroom after a 22 yr old lost a violent and disgusting battle with his last shot of Rumplemintz.

The evening ran surprisingly smoothly.

Caleb called last call at 1:30 and they made quick work of ushering everyone out of the bar.
As Fred helped Will put stools up on the bar, he noticed that he felt happy.  He’d worked really hard and stank of cigarette smoke and spilled beer and the lingering, foul malodor of that poor kid’s upchucked Rumplemintz.  But he felt sore in his body in that way you do after you’ve worked hard at a rewarding task.  The Heineken that Caleb gave him tasted really good. 

“Caleb,” he said on his way to the bar to grab a beer.  “Do you think I have a future in tavern management?”

“Yeah,” said Caleb, tipping his bottle towards him.  “I think you’d be great.”

In the meantime, Will and Brooke sat in the office.  Brooke was tasked with helping Will do his first paperwork.  They shared the small space, side-by-side over the scarred pressed wood desk, counting money. The silence between them was thick.

Brooke broke it. “I like you, Will.  I like you and I think we should be together.”

Will froze.  Time stretched out in unreasonable ways.  Brooke stared down at the desk, the dollar bills she’d been marrying into stacks of twenty-five death-gripped in both hands.  She was tense down to her toes, embarrassed and afraid.

Will turned to look at her, face in pretty profile, staring hard at the desk.  He smiled.  Worrisome, frustrating feelings began to gather themselves up, nod a reluctant farewell, and lift themselves from his weary shoulders.  Save one.

“I like you too, Brooke,” he said.  “I like you so much.  I never think about anyone but you.  But if we’re together, than people will talk so much shit about you.  They’ll say you were only with Teddy for money.  I can’t stand for people to think things like that about you.”

Oh, of all the pernicious fictions that young men accept as fact, the most depressing among them is that female virtue is theirs to protect and defend.  First of all, that kind of virtue is overestimated to a ridiculous degree, valuable mostly as something the loss of which is easily weaponized.  Second, whatever responsibility for it there is belongs to the woman to whom it is attached.  And these girls, even all those years ago, worried less and less about being called sluts.  It’s an invective that says more about the one hurling it than its target.  Brooke, for one, couldn’t have cared less.

In love for real this time, though, Brooke knew that Will’s intentions were good.  And she happily expected lots of time to usher Will into a good feminist mindset.  So rather than be offended, she smiled.

“Will,” she said,  “I couldn’t give the tiniest rat’s ass what people say about me.  I only care what you think right now.” 

And this time she meant it.

And they kissed.  And it was totally romantic.

The March, Chapter 61: Brooke and Rosie and Pint Glasses of Coke

Chapter 60

Sometimes you gotta say ‘What the fuck’
-Risky Business

A Friday night shift at The March begins at 9:00 pm and ends around 5:00 am.  It was a long subterranean night and felt especially so in nice weather.  By June, the night staff will have taken to convening outside in advance of their shifts, sitting on the stoop leading up to the neighboring apartment building or standing near the door. They’d chat, sip cokes and smoke cigarettes, watching the regular folks walk by. 

The 9:00 pm shift was a killer, but it had its charms too.  It separated The March staff from the regular working stiffs, who’d finished their workday hours ago, and were already well into their cups by before the March bartender had rung up her first drink.  They felt a little cooler than the rest of the world sitting on that stoop, watching the others go by, their day just beginning.

Brooke pulled up to The March at about 8:30 and locked her bike up.  She was surprised to see Rosie sitting on the stoop.  She was even more surprised to see that Rosie was wearing the same thing she was: bike shorts and an oversized March tee-shirt with Chuck Taylors.  It was Brooke’s standard bartending attire. But, Rosie looked practically un-feathered.

“I’m going down for a coke, Rosie,” said Brooke. “Do you want one?”

“Diet,” said Rosie.  “Thanks.”

Brooke brought the drinks up and sat next to Rosie.

“Are you OK, Rosie,” she asked.

“No,” said Rosie.  “Tré broke up with me and I’m depressed.  I’m sick of all the soap opera shit with my father. I’ve had it with this stupid place and this stupid town.”

“Yeah, people suck,” said Brooke.  She’d heard what everyone said about Tré and Bulstrode and Will and even her.  People were loud.  And stupid. Blah blah blah Rosie’s scumbag father had been in some kind of cahoots with Tré.  Blah blah blah new uniforms.  Blah blah blah the March rebrand.  Karl Rafferty blah blah  blah.  And somehow she herself was some kind of money-grubbing whore because she was the former girlfriend of the relative of someone Bulstrode had defrauded.  Blah blah blah. None of it made any sense.  It was all just so much sacrificial lamb at the altar of gossip.  People sucked and people loved to feel victimized.  As best she could tell, somehow everyone who’d been part of The Lightweight Group had been victimized somehow by the situation.  It was contemptibly ridiculous. Honestly, the planet was on the verge of destruction and people wanted to distract their selves with the most idiotic stuff. 

Still, she was sorry for Rosie who seemed as depressed as she’d ever seen her.

“Are you upset about Tré or your father,” she asked.

“Fuck, I don’t know,” said Rosie.  “Both, I guess.  And other stuff.”

“What,” asked Brooke.

“New York,” said Rosie. “I’m upset about New York.”

“Why?” asked Brooke.

“I have this audition at Lobo next Sunday,” she said.  “If I do well and impress the owner, he’ll send me to New York.”

“But if you’re so sick of Chicago, isn’t that good,” said Brooke.  “You’ll totally kill it.”

“I know I will,” said Rosie.  “But I still want Tré to go with me and he won’t.”

“I thought you guys broke up,” said Brooke.  “Why do you want him to go to New York?”

“I love him,” said Rosie.  “I’m scared to go by myself.”

“You’re scared,” said Brooke, incredulous.

“I know,” said Rosie. “Ain’t that a pisser?”

“I don’t get it,” said Brooke. “That just doesn’t seem like you.”

“Pffft,” said Rosie. “It took me years to convince people that I’m not like that.  I cultivated this shit.  But I cultivated it among a bunch of Midwestern yokels.”

“Yokels,” said Brooke.  “I’m no yokel.  But I remember the first time I met you. I was totally intimidated by you.”

Rosie laughed bitterly.  “You were supposed to be.”

“Yeah, I know. But I don’t know why you’re scared about New York,” said Brooke.  “You can intimidate people in New York just as easily as you can intimidate people in Chicago.”

“Oh, Brooke,” said Rosie.  “No offense, but it’s easy to intimidate some enviro-girl in a message tee who probably…. I don’t know… cuts her own hair or something.  New Yorkers are different.”

“I think you’re probably overestimating New York.  Or underestimating me,” said Broke.  “People are people.  And the thing about you is that no matter how much show you put on, you never seem to care what people think.  That’s what makes you cool.  You can pull off that don’t-give-a-fuck thing just as well in New York.  Besides, even if it all goes to shit there, you can always come home.  Planes fly both ways, right?”

“I guess they do,” said Rosie, thoughtfully. “I guess I never thought about coming home.”

“Nobody’s gonna hold you hostage there,” said Brooke.

They sat silently for a bit, sipping their cokes, watching the regular people.

“You know what, Brooke,” said Rosie.  “You really are a nice person.”

“You don’t need to sound so surprised,” said Brooke, grinning.

“When you first started here, I kind of thought you were an asshole,” said Rosie.

“I kind of was,” said Brooke. “I used to be less nice.  But I like it here.  I like the people here.”

“People like you too, you know,” said Rosie.

“Well, sure,” said Brooke.  “Caleb and Mary like me.  And I know Gio likes me.  I guess you like me too.  I’m starting to fit in.”

“No,” said Rosie, meaningfully.  “People like you.  Really like you.”

“Thanks, I guess,” said Brooke.

Rosie took a good, hard look at her.  Brooke really didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about.  Well, Brooke didn’t have to be the only nice person here.  Rosie could be nice too.

“I’m talking about Will, dumbass,” she said.  “Will likes you.  He likes you more than he likes me, which is quite a shocker, I know.  But trust me: that boy’s got it bad for you.”

“No, I don’t think so,” said Brooke.  “There was this night a little while back where I all but jumped his bones at 3:00 in the morning outside The March and he went for a drink at Scottie’s instead of home with me.”

“Will’s an idiot like they all are,” said Rosie.  “He was probably being chivalrous or some bullshit like that.  He’s into you, Brooke.  And I think you make sense with him.”

Brooke took a minute to digest that.

“Well, if he likes me so much, why doesn’t he do anything about it,” she asked.

“He probably just needs a push,” said Rosie.  “Stick your tongue down his throat or show him your ass or something.  All that bike riding is working, by the way.  Your ass is almost as nice as mine.  And that, my friend, is saying something.”

With that, Rosie stood up, brushed off her shorts and headed downstairs.

Brooke followed her, smiling.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The March, Chapter 60: Will and Tre and Jaegermeister

Chapter 59

I know you are but what am I?
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

The fallout from Farebrother’s story was swift and sudden.  Bulstrode and Susan made no statement, offered no rebuttals or defenses.  Farebrother’s story was appropriately sourced, the information it contained incontrovertible. Gossip spread through L.G.E. like wildfire.  Brooke’s abandonment of her rich old boyfriend made a new kind of sense now that his nephew was a rich young man.  And Tré was obviously wrapped up in it somehow.  He was the one who had waltzed in here and changed everything.  He was Bully’s boy. 

Bulstrode’s name was withdrawn for consideration as an elder at their church.  He and Susan quit attending services.  Susan began RSVP-ing regrets to social engagements.  She found she didn’t really mind. She knew Bulstrode better than anyone and loved him anyhow.  All things being equal, she was fine to retrench in their beautiful home, watching Oprah and eating peanut butter on crackers.

Bulstrode and Will came to an agreement quickly.  Mary handled the legalities.  There’d been a healthy settlement from Bulstrode and the Gold Coast flat had been signed over entirely to Teddy.   Will emerged from the situation financially secure and free of Teddy’s influence.  He should have been happy.

He wasn’t.

But he was maybe a little less unhappy than Tré.

Bulstrode told Tré that he was abandoning the rebrand and offered him a job as an assistant manager at one of the bars or restaurants.  But Tré declined.  Tré knew his reputation as Bully’s Boy.  He’d be unwelcome at any of the bars. 

Besides, he wanted to unhitch his wagon from Bulstrode’s falling star as quickly as possible.  Just a week ago, it seemed hard to believe, he’d been the man at the forefront of exciting changes, bold new initiatives.  And now he idled, indebted to a failed man.  Worse than that, indebted to a man who’d built his whole reputation on a lie and his whole business on a theft.  Tré wanted out of this onerous, gross relationship.

Bulstrode could have forgiven Tré’s debt.  But he didn’t.  So, Tré emptied out his bank account the day he left L.G.E.  He walked out the door knowing that creditors would begin calling any day now again.  He was back in the bad straights.  And they got even more depressing when he got home to find a note from Rosie saying only,

I’m not coming back, Tré. You can still come with me when I leave.  I love you but I can’t be here anymore.  There’s nothing here.

She had a point.  But he still didn’t want to go. He found $20 in a pair of jeans.  He took it to The March, his last thread of optimism hinging on finding some solidarity on a barstool.

Will was drinking alone at The March when Tré got there.  So he joined him.  Why not?  They were equally notorious.  Will was the guy who had Bulstrode by the balls.  And Tré was the guy Bulstrode had by the balls.  The regulars in the corner had gossiped themselves silly since the story came out.  

When word got out that the two were sitting at the bar together, staff from Scottie’s came by.  Neither 
Will nor Tré cared.  They were too depressed to care.

“How you doing, man,” said Will, when Tré joined him at the bar.

“Fucked,” said Tré.  “You?”

“I’m kind of drunk,” said Will.  “Fucked too.  And I like Brooke.”

“Everyone knows you like Brooke,” said Tré, accepting a Budweiser and an expression of reluctant pity from Caleb.  “Well, everyone but Brooke.”

“I probably love her,” said Will.

“You probably do,” said Tré.

“Let’s do shots,” said Will.

“Only if you’re buying,” said Tré.  “I’m busted.”

“I’m buying,” said Will.  “I have money now.”

They did two shots of Jagermeister.

“Rosie broke up with me,” said Tré.

“Are you sure,” asked Will.

“What the fuck does that mean,” said Tré.  “Of course I’m sure.”

“Sorry,” said Will.  “You guys just seemed already broken up.”

“Oh,” said Tré.  “Yeah, I guess I could see that.”

“Two more, Caleb,” said Will.

They did the shots.

“I could go with her to New York,” said Tré.  “She’d like that.  But I don’t want to.  And I don’t have any money.  I quit my job.”

“Rosie’s moving to New York?” asked Will.

“She’s doing this show at Lobo next weekend,” said Tré.  “You should go.  If she does well, she expects to get offered a job at Lobo New York. And then she expects to end up on MTV”

“Fuck.  She'd be great on MTV” said Will.

"I know," said Tre.

"Why don't you go with her?" asked Will.

“I’m not running away with my tail between my legs,” said Tré.  “I’m not. Goddammit! I did good fucking work here.  It’s not fair that it all got shit on because Bulstrode is a son of a bitch.  I’m not running away.”

“All right, all right,” said Will, signaling for more shots.  “But, you know, it sounds like you’re the one breaking up with her.”

“It’s complicated,” said Tré.  “She’s going and I’m not. I’m not.  But, fuck it, man.  I hear the way people talk about me.  They think I’m just some charity case carrying Bulstrode’s shit.  If I run away from that, then they win.  That’s who I am.”

“Take it easy, Tré,” said Will.  “I don’t think people think that.”

“Of course they fucking do,” said Tré.  “Open your ears.  They talk the same kind of shit about you.  Well, about you and Brooke anyway.”

“What do you hear?” said Will.

“They’re say that Brooke left Teddy when you got money.”

“That’s bullshit, you know,” said Will, appalled.  “Brooke isn’t like that at all. But if she gets with me, then people will keep on saying that shit about us.”

“I know,” said Tré.  “Brooke is cool. I mean, it’s weird she was with your uncle or whatever.  But I know her.  She’s cool… Brooke is cool but people suck.  Hard.  If you want to be with her, you should just tell her and fuck what people think.”

“I can’t,” said Will.  “It’s not fair to her.”

“You’re an idiot, Will,” said Tré.

“I know,” said Will.

The two sat at the bar drinking shots of Jagermeister until they were so drunk Caleb cut them off.  Tré went back to Will’s apartment with him and passed out on the floor.  Will passed out in the bathroom after violently throwing up.

They woke up the next morning miserable and hungover.  But also a little better.  It’s easier to be unhappy when you have someone to be unhappy with. 

They went out for breakfast.  On Will.

The March, Chapter 59: Farewell to Teddy

Chapter 58

Alright, alright, Mickey's a mouse, Donald's a duck, Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy?” 
– Stand By Me

Will left The March, and emerged to a beautiful, early summer night outside.  The warm day had been a bit of a secret down at The March, sequestered away in a basement as it was.  But its sister tavern, Scottie’s, with its enviable street level access and its ceiling-high windows opening to the outdoors, enjoyed the illusion of a charming al fresco bar from the inside.  On these gorgeous summer nights, seats by those windows were at a premium.

Teddy’s normal table, on the other hand, was never at a premium.  It was a rare evening that he walked into Scottie’s to find it occupied.  His was a lonely, away table, visited only en route to the cigarette machine or the men’s toilet.

Will came in to find Teddy sitting at this table, papers strewn out in front of him, his ashtray half full of smoked-to-the-filter Camels, a 10 oz mug of Old Style almost empty.  Will sat down at the table and guardedly initiated a conversation.

“I’ve just found out something about my mother,” said Will.  “And I want to talk to you about it.”

Teddy sighed.  “Stories about your side of the family are all so distressing and fraught.  I’ll be glad to be done with them.”

Will marshaled his patience.  “After this, you will be,” he said.  “I’m less interested than you in carrying on this relationship.  But this concerns you so just shut the fuck up and listen.”

“Carry on then,” said Teddy.  “And try to avoid lengthy narrative.”

Will swallowed his irritation, or at least the part of it struggling to make its way out.

“My grandmother evidently had an affair with the man, Bulstrode, who owns this bar and The March and a whole bunch of other,” began Will.

“Everyone knew that,” said Teddy.  “She was silly and too interested in male attention.  It drove my mother crazy.”

“You know what, Teddy,” asked Will, anger boiling over despite his best efforts.  “I didn’t know that.  I didn’t know any of it and no one in our fucked up family could be bothered to tell me.  Just like no one could be bothered to tell me any more about my mother than what shit she was or any more about my grandmother than what a silly whore she was.  But, you know what, I loved my mother.  And I bet I would have loved my grandmother if anyone had given me a chance.”

“Your mother and grandmother…” began Teddy, ready to launch into the litany of embarrassment and outrage he’d inherited from his mother.

“Fuck it, Teddy,” said Will.  “For the rest of this conversation, let’s just take it as understood that your mother was a sainted vessel of self-control and financial judiciousness which she has handed down to you. My mother and grandmother lacked her obvious virtue.  Can we just take that as understood and move fucking on?”

“Fine,” said Teddy, also irritated.

“When my grandmother got sick, she asked Bulstrode to find my mother,” said Will.  “To settle her estate. Did you know that?”

“I knew he was involved somehow,” said Teddy.  “But, of course, there was no money.”

“Yeah, except there was money,” said Will.  “A pretty good chunk of it.  And Bulstrode never tried to find my mother.”

“She dropped off the face of the earth,” said Teddy.  “She lived in that hippie commune.  Who could have found her?”

“The hippie commune,” said Will.  “Wasn’t off the face of the earth.  It was listed in the motherfucking white pages!  No one tried to find her.  Bulstrode didn’t try to find her and you didn’t try to find her.”

“She died, Will,” said Teddy.  “And I took care of you.  I never knew of any money left from her estate and I did the best I could by you.”

“Pity, huh,” said Will.  “If you’d tried to find her, if anyone had tried to find her, than I wouldn’t have needed you to take care of me. I wouldn’t have needed your money.”

“Well, you took enough of it anyway,” said Teddy. 

Will gave up.  “Look, John Farebrother is going to write a story about James Bulstrode and his connection to our family.  I thought it was right to tell you that the story was coming out.  Get your blessing since it’s our family.  But, whatever.  I don’t care about your blessing”

“I don’t care either,” said Teddy.  “Your side of the family is not my family.  My mother and her sister had little to do with each other.  I couldn’t care less what’s written about my desperate aunt and her hippie daughter.”

“I have one more thing to tell you before I leave,” said Will.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, what now?” said Teddy.

“I’ve got a pretty good legal claim for half the value of that beautiful apartment you live in,” said Will. 

“Of course you don’t,” said Teddy.

“Of course I do. It belonged to your mother and my grandmother equally,” said Will.  “It might not be crystal clear anymore, but I bet with just a little effort I could go full on Bleak House trying to get that property away from you.”

“What do you want, Will,” said Teddy, icily.

“You don’t mention Brooke or me ever again,” said Will. “You don’t tell anyone about any promises she may or may not have made to you.”

“She did make me that promise,” said Teddy. “She did promise not to get involved with you.”

“That’s neither here nor there,” said Will.  “Brooke and I aren’t together and won’t be. You’ve salted the earth there.  But you encouraged people to think things about her that you know aren’t true.  And I want it to stop.”

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” said Teddy.  “I’ve told no lies and it was my relationship not yours to discuss.  But I don’t care.  If it’ll keep you out of my life, I’ll pretend that the whole thing never happened. 

“Fine,” said Will.  “I’ll get enough money from what Bulstrode owes me to pay for school, to start me off.  And I’ll finally be done with all you bitter, mean-spirited, evil old men.”

With that, Will stood up from the table and left.

Before Will had even made it to the door, Teddy had re-engaged with the work before him. Without looking up, he began scribbling on the untidy mess of papers in front of him, scribbling the same heartless, banal judgments that were on every other piece of paper he’d scribbled on in bars for the last 30 years.  If you laid those papers down side by side, they’d cover the breadth of Chicago, they’d bury Illinois and teach no one a thing, change nothing.  They’d be as insignificant as the mark Teddy left on the world.

He lifted a hand up and gestured to the bar for another beer.

And that’s it for Teddy.  We won’t visit him again.  We’ll leave him there on his barstool, with his mug of beer and endless, barren pages of research.  He’ll have no special comeuppance, Farebrother’s story will be published, but it won’t expose or embarrass him.  Teddy won’t even be in it.  He’ll pass what years are left to him alone at his sad table.  The young men and women that work at Scottie’s will find him increasingly distasteful, but also innocuous.  When he leaves of an evening, they’ll mock him as a terrible tipper with poor personal hygiene.  And then they’ll chatteringly giggle about that waitress at The March who totally did it with him.  Ewwwww. But come the next night, they’ll bring him his beers and leave him to sit at his table alone, joylessly anticipating an apocalypse.

Teddy abides in the life he’s created for himself.  He will never be beloved, and should never be forgiven.  But, pity’s cheap.  And about all we can give him.

The Tyranny of Christmas

Oh, don't worry - this isn't a serious post.  I'm not going to write about smug Christians and all that "reason for the season" stuff.  Although, you know, Jesus might be the reason for *your* season, but he's not the reason for *the* season and can't we all just get along anyway?

No, this post aims not to take issue with the religious among us, nor am I going to take this time to decry the infinitely decriable materialism and corporatism that runs rampant through Christmas.  Instead, I am here going to pose a simple question:

Why does Christmas get all the snow songs?

Why is "Let It Snow" a Christmas song?  What about "Winter Wonderland" or "Sleigh Ride" or,  for crying out loud, "Jingle Bells?"   None of these songs have FA to do with Christmas.  They are only about cold.

And I live in a cold place.  I live in a place with tenacious, lingering cold. I live in a place where it is cold forever.

Dammit, I want "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in February!  I need "Winter Wonderland" to get me through a March snow. I should have been singing "Frosty the Snowman" with Laney when we were building a snowman that one April snow.

How did it happen that Christmas managed to co-opt all the cold weather songs?  We might not be able to stop Wal Mart from taking over America.  We might not be able to stop Bill O'Reilly from fomenting theocracy via a wholly made-up War On Christmas, but dammit, we should be able to sing "Let It Snow" whenever it starts fucking snowing.  Right?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The March, Chapter 58: The Story Comes Out

Chapter 57

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles an hour, you're going to see some serious shit.”

 – Back to the Future

The NBA playoffs were in full swing.  On any given game night, crowds sat glued to the TVs, nursing beers.  If the Bulls won, they stayed and celebrated.  If they lost (and they only did that twice), they stayed and commiserated.  The whole city was in thrall to its basketball team.  Chicago was hungry for a championship.

But basketball games, unlike football, basketball or hockey, don’t lend themselves to heavy consumption.  In basketball too much happens with too few breaks.  Even during halftimes, the patrons were too busy dissecting the action thus far to order extra drinks.  It’s in that way that even though the bar might be crowded, the bartender isn’t busy.

It was during such a halftime, when most of the bar was arguing whether John Paxson or Michael Jordan was more reliable from the key, that Will was relieved at his door shift and joined John Farebrother, Wally Cadwallader and Mary at the bar.  Caleb leaned companionably against the back bar, sipping a cup of coffee.  Mary was fending off another sales pitch from Wally. Farebrother was uncommonly quiet.  He had a story to tell and was waiting for Will.

“Will,” said Farebrother, when Will sat down next to him.  “I was hoping you’d join us here tonight.  I have a story to tell you and I was hoping to be able to tell you amongst friends.”

“Sounds good,” said Will, expecting Farebrother to regale him with some juicy tale out of Chicago’s sordid political past.  Will asked for a draw of Budweiser and settled in to listen.

“Um,” said Farebrother, starting off more hesitantly than was his wont.  “You are aware that a man died in the L.G.E. offices last week?”

“Sure,” said Will.  “Everyone knows that.”

Caleb, Wally and Mary were quiet, wary of what Farebrother was up to.

“Before his demise,” Farebrother continued.  “He sat with me right here at this bar and told me some things.”

“Probably all lies,” said Wally.  “You should stop chatting up the derelicts that wander in here.”

“Not lies, Wally,” said Farebrother. “I’ve done my due diligence before deciding to tell Will what was told me and what I hope, given Will’s blessing, to become a corker of a story in the Reader.”

“My blessing,” said Will.  “What do I have to do with it?”

“Are any of you aware,” said Farebrother.  “Of how Bulstrode got the capital to fund his rapid acquisition of this bar and the ones following it?”

“Before my time,” said Wally.  “He’s always been loaded since I knew who he was.”

“I’ve heard rumors,” said Caleb.  “Just rumors.  And you know how bars are.  These drunks are like high school girls when they get a sniff of some good gossip.”

“They are!” said Will.  “The people here do gossip like cheerleaders!”

“Sometimes gossip is nothing but lies,” said Farebrother. “But sometimes there’s a kernel of truth in it.  I’ve heard people talking about a woman that Bulstrode had an affair with.  A married woman, older, who was politically connected and greased the wheels to get him started.”

“That’s what I’ve heard too,” said Caleb. “Sordid, but not criminal.”

“During my conversation with Karl Rafferty,” said Farebrother.  “I got to understand that this is the barest bones version of what happened. He told me the whole story and, Will, this directly impacts you.”

Will looked at him skeptically.  “Me?” he asked.

“The woman he had the affair with was your maternal grandmother, Will,” Farebrother continued.  “Ellinore Ladislaw.  She had an affair with Bulstrode back when you were a baby.  She loved him.  She trusted him.  And when she got sick, she named Bulstrode the executor of her estate and asked him to make sure your mother got the money. Bulstrode said he couldn’t find her and kept the money.  And there was money, Will.  Money that should have gone to you.”

The four were silent for a few moments.

“Fuck,” said Mary.

“That about sums it up,” said Wally, looking concernedly at Will.

Will was quiet.

“Are you sure of all this, Farebrother?” asked Mary.

“I’ve been digging around all week,” said Farebrother.  “James Bulstrode was the executor of Ellinore Ladislaw’s will.  And there was a good sum of money that went to him.  They’d kept their affair pretty quiet, but it turns out it wasn’t only Karl Rafferty who knew about it. I looked up some of Ellinore’s friends from those days.  They’d known about ‘her bartender.’  It all lined up as Rafferty said, Mary.  Will, this is all true.”

“Will,” asked Caleb, gently.  “You understand that this could be good news.  It sounds like Bulstrode owes you some money.”

“I don’t understand,” said Will.  “My grandmother knew where we were.  Roughly.  I mean, I think she knew where we were. Why didn’t she just tell my mother herself?”

“She probably knew, like you said, roughly where you were,” said Farebrother.  “But I think the only people who know why your grandmother didn’t find you herself are dead now. Rafferty says she told Bulstrode.  Bulstrode might could make a convincing case that he tried to find you and couldn’t.  Still, he’s been telling people for a quarter century now that he built this business up on nothing but savvy and hard work.  And that lie in and of itself is pretty damning.”

“Maybe he did find my mom,” said Will.  “She wouldn’t have wanted that money.”

“She would have wanted it for you,” said Mary.  “Or, shit, she would have donated to some cause or other.  Besides, if she’d turned it down, Bulstrode would have made sure she signed something.”

That was true, thought Will.  He would have.

“Will,” Wally continued.  “This is rough.  But it’s also good news for you.”

Will was silent.

He went on.  “Look, you’re in school on loans now.  You could walk out of grad school free and clear.  You could buy yourself a little condo and get started with your life.  The money Bulstrode owes you can help you get started.”

“I guess,” said Will.  “I just need to process this.  I’m kind of confused.”

“Think logically about it,” said Caleb, gently.  “Get organized.  The way I see it, there are two issues here.  The first is how do you get the money.  And, you know, I’m not even sure you need to make a legal claim.  My guess is that Bulstrode will just hand it over.  Like Farebrother said, this story is going to expose Bulstrode for a liar.  He’s not going to want to drag it out.  The second issue is how do you feel about this story going public?”

“Yeah,” said Mary.  “On the downside, everyone will know your shit.  On the upside, everyone will know Bulstrode’s shit.”

“That’s a hell of an upside,” said Wally, repulsed by the story in light of Bulstrode’s unshakable attitude of moral superiority.

“I think I’m OK with it,” said Will.  “But I think I need to talk to my cousin first.  Right?”

“You talk to whomever you want to,” said Farebrother.  “Get all the advice you can. But, remember, this is your story.”

Helluva story, thought Will, suddenly forced to rethink his whole history.  All his life he’d been told that his grandmother had wasted her money; that she’d been foolish and spendthrift. He’d believed the whole of his mother’s family was careless, that he was loveless.

But maybe that wasn’t true.  Farebrother had brought him evidence, of a sort, that Ellinore had thought of her daughter when she was dying, thought of him.  Maybe this family rift wouldn’t have been so final if both his mother and grandmother had only managed to live a little longer, or had put their faith in each other instead of social movements and James fucking Bulstrode.

Will thought of his mother.  He had loved her so much.  And she’d loved him.  He thought of sitting on the hospital bed with his mother at the end.  She’d told him that it was OK leaving this world knowing that there would be someone left who loved her; that loving him and being loved by him was her legacy.

It made him feel so sad to think that Ellinore had died with only Bulstrode’s cheap promises left to anchor her soul to this world.

But even in these sad reckonings, he began to see one door suddenly open.  Or, more to the point, he saw a door he was ready close.