Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The March, Chapter Five: Hello Teddy

You are my density
- Back to the Future

The pitcher cost $4.50, which means that Brooke’s very first tip had been a good one. The regular clientele at The March was comprised of generally nice people who tipped pretty well.  Tipping, you know, is an excellent indicator of character.  If you are currently auditioning future partners, don’t offer second dates to people who tip poorly.  The bad character of a poor tipper will always out eventually.  I recommend you do not waste your valuable time on them.
From time to time at the March, a wannabe regular’s light tipping habits had been exposed, and that person was then denied entrance into the exclusive ranks of regularity.  Thus had bad tipping been almost completely excised from the ranks of The March regulars.  Except for Teddy who was a terrible tipper and a regular.  He’d achieved this by dint of sheer disagreeableness: as an isolated regular, he commanded no special attention from staff and no camaraderie from patrons. So eager to be away from him, no one took much notice of how badly he tipped.

The other regulars at The March were an affable, easy-going group; quick with a laugh and genally slow to take offence.  They represented various ages, three or four different races, a few sexual orientations.  They mostly all knew each other on a first name basis.  The March was their refuge and home away from and so they were careful to treat it and its staff well.

You’d have loved it.  If you are a reasonably good tipper, that is.

Brooke hustled around the room, taking orders, serving drinks and bussing tables.  She noticed the evening going more and more smoothly as time passed.  Mary was patient with her and passed on loads of good information.  The Wednesday evening crowd was light enough that Brooke never felt overwhelmed but brisk enough that she didn’t get discouraged.  By the end of her shift, Brooke was calling her drinks in the (mostly) right order, (mostly) dressing them correctly, and confirming cost with Mary before Mary rang her up.  Eight regulars had learned her name.  She’d learned the name of two.  Can you guess?    Have I been too portentous?  I guess it’s time to meet Teddy Causobon.

Teddy, as the most disagreeable regular, had his usual bar stool away from the rest of the crowd.  It was, in effect, reserved for him.  But even if it hadn’t been, I doubt many would have chosen that stool.  It was in a lonely corner, rather uncomfortably near the men’s room.  Nightly, Teddy sat on the same barstool, spread his work out in front of him, placed a twenty in front of the work, and nodded acknowledgement of his usual 10 oz draft beer.  The beer would be silently replaced upon empty until another was explicitly denied.  He sat there every night, by himself, smoking, drinking and reviewing the notes he’d taken that day.

For most of his adult life, Teddy had been researching the depressing topic of man’s historical neglect and abuse of the planet.  He intended to compile his findings into an exhaustive compendium, titled A Guide to the Suicide Planet.  He’d been working on it for close to 30 years.  It was nowhere near done.

Around 10:00, Teddy would get up from his lonely seat, pocket any change left over from the twenty he’d replaced a few hours ago, and leave two dollars for the bartender.  This was his schedule every day: awake at 9:00, library and/or university from 9:30 to 5:00, The March from 5:00 until 10:00. Repeat.

Teddy was able to live without generating an income.  Some years ago, he'd inherited the family flat, a roomy and well-appointed apartment a few blocks from The March, as well as an annuity.  His only other family was a second cousin who lived out west, with whom Teddy did not get along, but whom he supported (somewhat stingily) from the aforementioned annuity.

In Teddy’s over 50 years’ of life he’d never held a job, never endorsed a paycheck.  And yet he regarded himself as the most diligent man in Chicago.  To be fair, he came to this opinion honestly - he had thousands of pages of notes, annotated and footnoted.  He’d read millions of pages of dry, historical volumes and managed to keep a sea of information organized sensibly within his own head. 

At around 7:30, when Teddy was deep into his work, Brooke passed behind him pocketing a tip.  The door opened.  A warm breeze blew in through the room. One of the papers in front of Teddy drifted up and then down, landing on the floor in front of Brooke.  She picked it up and noticed the subject, which was a typically disheartening tale of rank human abuse of our only home.  She handed the paper back to Teddy.  Their eyes met and Brooke, I am sorry to say, found herself rather smitten.

How, you might wonder, could this twenty-two year old girl end up attracted to a man nearly thirty years her senior?!  And not just a man inappropriately aged, but a balding, flabby man in stale, ill-fitting clothes. 

This could only happen to a girl as single-mindedly passionate as Brooke.

You, for example, may love the New York Yankees.  I am led to believe that many people do with near boundless enthusiasm.  You might be a fanatical fan, who reads box scores daily and pours over scouting reports in the off-season.  You might be someone who can recite the lineups for the past 25 seasons from memory.  And you live in, let’s say, Halifax, Nova Scotia.  There you are in Halifax, sitting in a bar, having a beer, and bemoaning the fact that the Yankees just cannot get a break from injuries and you are ignored by all your fellow patrons because they just don’t care.  Suddenly, someone strolls in, sits next to you and says, out of the blue, “Man, can you believe Jeter's on the DL again?”  

Wouldn’t you fall a little in love?

Brooke’s shift ended uneventfully.  She managed her paper- and –sidework competently enough.  Caleb had since relieved Mary behind the bar and told Brooke about her “post times,” three draft beers or well-cocktails that she was entitled to, gratis, upon completion of her shift.  Normally Brooke would have eschewed the offer and headed home to the serious business of saving the world, but tonight she asked for a rum and coke and sat tentatively near Teddy.

Clearing her throat, she said, “I see that you have some work on Rachel Carson.  When I was in college we read Silent Spring and it changed my life.

Without looking up, Teddy responded.  “It was a fine book.  Probably didn’t make a bit of difference, but a fine book nonetheless.”

“What do you mean,” asked Brooke.

In all the years that Teddy had reserved that particular stretch of real estate, no one had ever asked him what he meant about anything.  Especially no pretty young women with gorgeous long dark hair.  And so Teddy bared his teeth in a weird approximation of a smile and began expounding on his theories concerning our Suicide Planet.

It was an unpleasant topic. It was also, frankly, rather silly.  Nihilism almost always is.

At the other end of the bar, the regulars chatted inconsequentially.  It might have been a different world.  No one there was concerned about the imminent demise of the planet.  They were much more interested in sports.  Mary sat next to a regular by the name of John Farebrother, freelance journalist, Irish Whisky enthusiast.  They argued back and forth about the Bulls.  Mary felt like they had a good chance of winning it all this year.

“Mary,” said Farebrother. “I’ve got a few years on you.  Trust me: it never pays to expect things will work out well for a Chicago sports team. You have no idea how many times I’ve written stories about sure championships only to have my hopes dashed.  The ’84 Cubs alone almost ruined my career.  They definitely ruined my health.  I still get heart palpitations thinking about Steve Garvey.”

“Oh, fuck off, Farebrother,” said Mary.  “Your pessimism is passé. The Bulls are not the fucking Cubs.  Michael Jordan is a whole new thing.”

“Passé pessimism?” asked Farebrother, mimicking hurt feelings. “You wound me!  I’m an optimist from way back.  I voted for Jimmy Carter twice!”

“You are old,” said Mary, laughing.  “Do you need me to talk a little louder, help you to the bathroom, explain that new fangled telephone thing?”

“Come on, Caleb,” said Farebrother, addressing the bar.  “You’re older than me.  Do you have anything to say about this?”

“I’m good,” said Caleb, pouring himself some coffee.  “Young at heart and all that.”

“I don’t know why you guys care about The Bulls,” said another regular named Mike.  “The Black Hawks are gonna kick ass this year.”

A collective groan went up from the bar.  Things had gone badly (heart-breakingly badly) for the Black Hawks last year in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

“Oh what foolish optimism lurks in the heart of the Chicago sports fan,” said Farebrother.  “Pour us some Jameson, Caleb, I need to wash away painful memories!”

From her perch in the wait station, Rosie ignored the boring sports talk and instead studied her nails. She glanced down the bar.  Teddy was sermonizing and Brooke was nodding eagerly at everything he said. 

“Jesus,” she said to herself.  “What is with the new girl?”

Chapter 6