I’ll be back
Will’s relaxed presence at The March was pissing Teddy off. He couldn’t bear walking past Will on his way to the bar, even though the two ignored each other entirely. And it galled him to see Will fitting in so well at The March. No one seemed at all bothered by this interloper who had infiltrated his bar. And it was his bar. After all, he’d been sitting on his barstool longer than any other regular. Hell, he’d been coming to The March longer than most of the staff had been alive. But they just welcomed in his loathsome relative, who looked so at home leaning against the door or carrying cases of beer to the bar. He bantered easily with guests, flirted with waitresses, followed orders from Caleb cordially. It was intolerable. Teddy was betrayed.
And so he decided to betray The March. After 25 years of doing his post-research drinking at The March, Teddy decided to take his business elsewhere and began exercising his boozy post-mortems at Scottie’s, also an L.G.E. joint and conveniently located right around the corner from The March. It wasn’t quite the same there. Teddy didn’t like it as much. There was no quiet dark spot at the far end of the bar. Instead, Scottie’s had a large island bar right in the middle of the room, with two top tables around its perimeter. No one had regular places to sit. Instead, people just sat wherever there was room, no matter how many nights in a row they came in. It was anarchistic. You never knew who you’d end up sitting next to.
Teddy hated that.
But he hated it less than walking past Will every night. And eventually Teddy did manage to sort out reasonably unobjectionable seating: a tiny table, situated between the basement and the cigarette machine where he could sit, spread out his papers and not risk distasteful barroom camaraderie from strangers. It was unpleasant to sit there when intermittent smokers waged battle with the machine, an ancient thing known to reject any bill more than three turns outside the mint. But it was better than sitting at the bar knowing that it would be only minutes before someone would attempt to strike up banal conversation about that ridiculous basketball team. Before too long, Teddy became known to Scottie’s staff as “cigarette table guy.” Also for being unpleasant, cheap and rude. But, seated at his isolated table away from the horrifyingly intimate island bar, he wasn’t threatening enough to be sent away.
Will was overjoyed to have forced Teddy out of his comfort zone. But more than that, Will was having fun. He like school and he liked working at The March. And he especially liked not having The Future looming in front of him. It’s not that he’d abandoned the notion of a future in politics; rather, he’d put planning for his future on temporary hiatus and was looking only as far forward as midterms or his next shift at The March. It was liberating and he’d have been entirely comfortable if only he could exorcise a fervent desire to find himself working one of those quiet weekday nights at The March with Brooke. But, no matter how hard he worked to keep his focus off Brooke, images of her bright eyes and beautiful hair would spring unbidden into his mind.
Fortunately, Caleb was no dummy when it came to potential drama and Will’s crush was obvious to all save Brooke. Caleb scheduled Will at the door on weekend nights when Brooke and Gio were at the bar. Brooke was first cut that night, and home long before the post-shift social that happened in the gray morning hours. When Brooke was working her waitress shifts, and the quiet, close atmosphere was more amenable to cozy chats between wait and door staff, Caleb scheduled another doorman.
Brooke found that she enjoyed Teddy’s absence from The March. He’d always been a bit of a drain, especially where Will was concerned. It was nice to get to work and just be with March people; folks generally pretty easy to get along with.
She preferred her weekend nights behind the bar to her weekday shifts on the floor. Bartending with Gio suited her. He was garrulous and liked chatting up the clientele. Brooke, on the other hand, was the lightning fast workhorse. She did all the service bartending (mixing drinks for the waitstaff), washed all the dishes and stocked most of the beer. Gio chatted with the regulars, flirted with the ladies, exchanged good-natured insults with the guys and made about 10 times the tips Brooke did, which were split evenly between them. This worked to everyone’s satisfaction.
Sometimes, though, John Farebrother or one of the other regulars would ask Brooke about her recycling plan. If that topic came up, Gio knew he’d be the one pouring pitchers for the waitresses and washing dishes. Once she started talking about her recycling program, it was hard to shut Brooke up. Her recycling program (and Brooke thought of it as hers) was going gangbusters.
The March was one of the few bars around to sport both black and blue garbage bins. The staff was accustomed now to emptying ashtrays and tossing used cocktail napkins into the black bin while throwing bottles and broken glassware into the blue one. The March had adopted this easy environmentalism without complaint.
It wasn’t much, Brooke knew. She hadn’t spent all this time with Teddy and ended up a pie-eyed optimist. But she didn’t embrace his fatalism. It didn’t matter to her whether or not Teddy believed that his work could save the world. It just mattered that he do it, finish the book and launch it into the world. When it was out, Brooke was sure that people would embrace its message and begin treating their world right. Or she was almost as sure as she had been, anyway. At least, she was used to being sure.
In the meantime, she could relish the feeling of forward motion generated by the recycling program.
As an added benefit, those blue recycling bins represented a nascent, cool environmentalism. This, along with the very trendy, very hot weekend DJ-ing that Rosie was doing, meant that the hipness quotient at The March had increased manifold. The March, at least on weekends, was becoming something of a destination spot for Chicago twenty-somethings.
This had not escaped Tré’s professional notice. It was time to kick off the rebrand across the business and he approached Bulstrode about making The March the inaugural store. In the plan he presented to Bulstrode, he explained that The March was enjoying a nice uptick in weekend business thanks to Rosie, but it still retained its hold on its large core of regulars. If the rebrand went smoothly (and why wouldn’t it?), it wouldn’t alienate the regulars while increasing the attractiveness of the bar to new visitors. This would increase buy-in at other bars. Bulstrode agreed.
Once it was all decided, Tré came into The March to help Caleb plan for imminent construction.
“I don’t know,” said Caleb. “Why us? Our numbers are good, people like the place. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
“That’s not really how we see it,” said Tré. “We’re just bringing all the stores in the company in line. The March will be the flagship.”
Mary snorted from behind the bar. “Flagship my ass,” she said. “More like some bullshit yuppie fern bar.”
“Come on, Mary,” said Tré. “I’m not an idiot. And I like this place. We’re not going to ditch the place. We’re just going to change the sign, clean up the place, get some new uniforms, new barstools…”
“Uniforms!” said Mary. “I’m not wearing a fucking uniform!”
“Cam down,” said Tré. “It’s just a tee shirt. A plain, simple black tee shirt that says L.G.E. over the right-breast pocket. Wear it with jeans or shorts or whatever. We’re not trying to turn this place into a Friendly’s”
“Tré,” said Caleb, carefully. “Of course we’ll do what you tell us. You don’t have to convince us, because we don’t actually have a choice. This place belongs to Bulstrode. But I just want to make sure you know that I’ve been running this place for 15 years now with limited interference from corporate and I’d prefer to return, post-rebrand, to that way of business.”
“The way I see it,” said Tré. “Is that once we’re done with our limited remodeling and rebranding, we’ll be out of your hair and moved on to another joint.”
“Let’s hope so,” said Caleb, looking significantly at the door. “But I’m not hopeful.”
Bulstrode was walking in, looking uptight and irritable. He joined the three at the bar, demanded a diet coke from Mary and dove right in.
“You guys ready for this,” said Bulstrode. “We’re kicking off soon.”
“Here we go,” thought Caleb, as he nodded grimly.
“Here we fucking go,” thought Mary, pouring the soda.
When Tré and Bulstrode walked out after the meeting, they were both anxious and overwhelmed. Bulstrode was being blackmailed and Tré was mired in debt. Both situations were bad – exhausting and nerve-wracking. But Tré was 30 years younger than Bulstrode. Despite it all, Tré had a little energy to spare. He hadn’t run out of hope.
Bulstrode couldn’t help but take notice. He wondered if Tré might not come in handy at some point.
That little glimmer of hope was contagious, but corrupted as it was communicated.