Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Post

A few weeks ago, I went outside and found my car pinned between two other cars. Like this:

It was super annoying. I am not thankful for this.  In a nutshell, the owner of the car behind slammed into mine, pinning me between her car and the one in front, and then, presumably, stumbled home.  

The driver's dad or brother or friend or something came walking out while a cop was writing the police report and tickets.  The dad or brother or friend or something assessed the situation and said:

I don't see the problem here

You guys, this has been the most convenient anecdotal metaphor of my life.  I have pulled it out at least three times since it happened.  A developer at work declines an enhancement and because he doesn't see the problem here.  My daughter doesn't want to do her homework and she doesn't see the problem here.  Every 28 hours a black man is killed by some authority figure and we don't see the problem here.

I didn't mean to get heavy.  It's Thanksgiving.  I have my fat pants on already.  But, how wonderful is was to be gifted by some rando with such an awesome metaphor.  You can use it if you want.  It's my Thanksgiving gift to you.

Here are some other things: I am thankful for husband who puts up with me when I'm crazy and who makes me laugh and who cleans the bathrooms.  I am thankful for my daughter who is the light of my life and who does her homework mostly without complaint and who is strong and healthy and absolutely beautiful.   

I am thankful for my mother who came to visit and make Thanksgiving seem so much more festive.  I am thankful for my brother and my sister-in-law, Jennifer, who doesn't have cancer anymore and that is something to be so so so very thankful for.

And I am thankful for my in-laws because they are wonderful.  Isn't it just the greatest to have in-laws you like?  I was told by the pop culture I consume that in-laws would be crazy and intrusive.  They aren't.  My Iowa family (this includes the ones who live in Illinois) are so much damn fun.

I am thankful for my neighbors, Michael and Jonathan, because they are so good to us and so much fun to be around.

I am thankful for my virtual friend, George.  I love George!  Are you friends with him?  You should find him on Facebook and friend him up because he's wonderful, despite how he doesn't like Happy Endings (this is his only flaw).

I am thankful for all the friends I have on-line that I don't know in real life.  Jill and Nan and Justin!  If it weren't for Facebook, I wouldn't know you at all.  This is so much better.

I am thankful for my Cousin Honey,  Shawn, who emails with me every day and introduces me to her cool friends and all the great books she reads and is my very best friend.

I am thankful for Jessica who Skypes with me every day and makes me laugh so hard and who is my very best friend.  This works.

Jeanne and Claire, I am so thankful that I have you guys and will get to decompress over wine and apps with you on Saturday.  You are my very best friends. 

I am thankful for my friends IRL and Virtual.  Larry you gave me a shout out and here's one to you.  You make me smarter with the stuff you say.  Plus I really love it when you sing.  I'll send you a dollar for a video of you singing Almost Like Being in Love.

Dan, thanks for all the theater and all the conversation.  Have I mentioned that I love you a lot? I do!

I am thankful for this shitty blog which gives me a place to say what I think because otherwise it would spill out and I would start talking about terrible and disappointing democrats on conference calls.

I am thankful for my job because I like it and they pay me.

I am thankful for my stinky dogs because they are so cute.  Bunker hugs me.  For real.

I have a good life.  I am thankful for it.  And you, even if I didn't mention you by name.  Thanks for being you.  Unless you're Alison Grimes. She's the worst. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Quick Post on Mike Brown

As I was driving into work yesterday, I thought of this book Revolution, which was a typically wonderful suggestion from my cousin honey, Shawn.  Specifically this line:

The world goes on stupid and brutal, but I do not.  Can't you see?  I do not.

Whenever something horrible happens in America, I remember the conclusion of this great book.  The main character makes a choice to not be stupid and brutal; the world can go on cruelly, but she will not.  

I steel myself against the horrors of the world by reminding myself that I can choose not to be cruel. I can choose not to be brutal.  If I find myself thinking racist thoughts (like being afraid of a young, black man, just because he is young and black), I can choose to stop thinking those thoughts.  I can deliberately refuse to be a racist fuckwit.  I can opt out of the system.

And right as I was starting to feel pretty good, I glanced down at my phone and saw a post from a friend of mine who wrote that she had to stop her car on her way to work so she could cry; cry because is the mother of a young, black man and she has to be scared for him in a way that is entirely incomprehensible to me.  

It hit me like a ton of bricks right then what a tremendous privilege it is to choose not to participate in racist America. I can opt out of a racist system because I am white.  My friend can't. Her son can't.

It matters to refuse to be racist, to refuse to be stupid and brutal.  I will keep doing this. I will teach my daughter to do this.  And I will cut anyone out of my life who chooses stupidity and brutality.  But I hope I always remember what a tremendous privilege it is to make a choice on this when so many people don't get to.  Because if I don't, all the rest matters a lot less.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The March, Chapter 52: Oh, Will

Chapter 51

One thing about living in Santa Carla I could never could stomach, all the damn vampires!
-The Lost Boys

Saturday nights at The March were becoming less and less fun for the more seasoned regulars.  With the classy new décor and Rosie’s growing popularity, they were turning more and more into a cheesy bacchanal.  The boys were all sweaty bravado, on the prowl for Ms. Right Now, laughing too loud at lame jokes, loudly clinking bottles of Amstel Light in a desperate camaraderie.  The girls wore miniskirts and eyeliner, growing shriller with each vodka/cranberry, dying for the approval of those silly boys.

Most of the regulars complained bitterly from their corner about these weekend bon vivants.  But John Farebrother didn’t resent the young folks for their Saturday nights.  He’d been one of those silly boys himself, after all, some years ago.   But, he did tend to stick to home on Saturdays.

On Sunday evenings, though, good music came out of the jukebox at levels you didn’t have to shout over. There was usually someone around to play Scrabble or chess with.  The clientele was made up of regulars, or off-clock industry types for whom Sunday was the start of a quiet weekend.  These people, and John Farebrother was one of them, came to the bar to chat, to watch a game, to relax.
On Sunday nights, the camaraderie at The March was lightly toasted and easy.

Farebrother walked in expecting to see Gio behind the bar, as he had been on Sundays for the past few months. But Gio had begun working regular hours at an accounting firm.  While he was still game for weekend night bar shifts, it was too hard getting up at 7:00 am if he’d just gotten to bed at 3:00.  So, he told Caleb he was done and the next bartender in line was promoted to these plum shifts, where bartenders didn’t work too hard, and there was no waitress on to share tips with.
The next bartender in line was Brooke.

Will was the doorman that Sunday night, given the shift due to his experience and reliability, despite Caleb’s worry about the potential for romantic drama. He greeted Farebrother at the door, saying, “Be nice to Brooke.  She’s totally nervous.”

“So Brooke has moved to Sunday nights,” said Farebrother. “So long as she can open a bottle of Old Style and get the whiskey into a shot glass, she’ll be fine.”  But he knew what Will meant.

Farebrother had observed Brooke behind the bar on her Friday and Saturday night shifts.  She was the speed queen, the workhorse.  But she wasn’t comfortable leaning back against the bar, shooting the shit with the corner regulars. And on a Sunday night, that was pretty much what you could expect to be doing.   Small talk was part of the gig.

Brooke was nervous.  She’d begged Gio and Celia to come sit at her bar and ease her in.  They were happy to do it.  Gio was looking forward to being on the fun side of the bar on a Sunday night, sitting next to his girlfriend.

Farebrother joined them at the bar and settled in comfortably.

“On your first night,” he said to Brooke.  “It’s always wise to bring in reinforcements.  I’d better buy them a drink and make sure that I’m getting in good with the new barkeep.”

Brooke smiled and set shotglasses upside down behind Celia’s and Gio’s beer bottles (these serve as a marker for the next paid-for drink).  “I was gaming the system,” she said.  “Guaranteeing myself a friendly crowd.”

Will wandered up with a case of Budweiser.  “I’ll help you, Brooke,” he said.  “If it gets busy, I’ll wait on some tables for you.”

Rules are, if he waits on tables, he gets to keep tips,” said Gio.

“And I know how to bring it when it comes to getting tipped,” said Will. “I’m not above showing a little skin.”

“Slut,” said Brooke.  “You let me know if anyone gets handsy. I’ll take care of them for you.”

The night progressed easily.  Farebrother, Gio and Celia chatted about this and that. Brooke wiped bottles down and cleaned out the well. The conversation lagged for a bit, until Gio brought up the topic of Celia’s graduation.  Farebrother told them he’d gone naked under his graduation gown.

“Are you making a suggestion,” asked Celia.

“Wouldn’t dare to,” said Farebrother.  “Just recollecting.  That’s how we did things at the University of Chicago.”

“That is the nakedest school,” said Gio.  “I’m always hearing stories.”

“Well, it was the 70s,” said Farebrother.  “That was a pretty naked decade.”

Brooke laughed and mixed up some drinks for a table of guys who’d come in after a workout.

By 10:30, Brooke was leaning comfortably against the back bar chatting with Farebrother, who’d begun a game of chess with his friend, Dan.  Her tip jar was pleasingly full.  She was drinking a glass of ice water and lemon juice. 

Farebrother and Dan began arguing good-naturedly about Michael Jordan’s place in the pantheon of great ball players and whether it was coaching or talent that was responsible for his performance so far.  Farebrother was on the side of “Michael Jordan is the greatest player the game has ever seen.”  Dan was more “He’s pretty great, but the coaching is greater.  The triangle offense is responsible for as many wins as Jordan is.”

“What’s a triangle offense,” asked Brooke.

Farebrother and Dan were thrilled to explain it to her.  They started with words; long descriptive passages with peppered with unfamiliar familiarities like “point” and “paint” and “key.”  When she looked befuddled, Dan tried sketching it out on cocktail napkins in expansive (if tipsy) detail.  Straws were manipulated into models.  Finally, they brought Will over and performed a live demonstration, which illuminated Brooke not at all, although it did amuse her.

When Farebrother went home, Brooke and Dan played a couple of games of Backgammon.  Brooke won.  Dan bought her a shot.

Before she knew it, it was 1:15, the bar was empty and it was time to begin closing up.  She went into the office to do her paperwork while Will broke the bar down and restocked the beer.

Brooke was done before Will, so she sat down at the bar to have a beer and count her tips.  A few minutes later, he joined her with a beer of his own.  She handed him a $10 tip out.

“Good night, huh,” said Will.

“Yeah,” she said.  “I could get used to this.”

They were quiet for a little.

“They must have come for the recycling today,” said Will.  “It was empty out back.”

“Someone worked it out with Fred’s pickup guy,” said Brooke.  “They come on Sunday mornings.”

“That was Tré,” said Will.  “I think he’s got an idea to brand all the L.G.E. places as green or something.  Recycling will be part of the whole thing.”

“He told me!” said Brooke.  “Tré is such a good guy.”

“Yeah, he’s a pretty nice guy,” said Will.

They were silent again, looking around. They both felt a little like you did the first time your parents went out and let you stay at home by yourself: a little privileged and grown up; a little like they were getting away with something.

Brooke fetched them a couple of more beers and they settled down on stools, backs against the bar, surveying the empty room.  The barstools were all upside down on the tables, legs pointing towards the ceiling.  Will had flicked all the neons off, so the only light came from the front door and the back bar light.  Old popcorn and cigarette butts littered the floor. A weekend’s worth of revelry and conversation and arguments and dancing and drinking and romance echoed, but they were alone in a place no one else was allowed to be, drinking beers they hadn’t paid for.

“Tré is a good guy,” said Will, unnerved by the silence. “But it was your idea, after all.  You were the one who got it started.”

“It’s not much,” said Brooke. “I mean, I know that recycling some bottles isn’t going to save the world or anything, but it feels like something.”

“I know,” said Will. “I know just what you mean.  It’s moving forward.”

“Forward,” said Brooke.  And then she didn’t know what to say, and found she felt kind of awkward.

Will felt awkward too.

Brooke looked over at Will, who was studying the floor, and picking at the label on his beer bottle. She started to wonder what he would do if she just turned around and kissed him.  Or maybe if she just touched his hand.  She gripped her beer bottle a little tighter and did not reach for his hand.  Why was she suddenly thinking about reaching for his hand?  Oh shit, was Teddy right about this in the end? 


“Well, I guess we should lock up,” she said, in a loud voice.

The two walked together out the door. Brooke turned the key and they emerged to the empty sidewalk.  They stood in the quiet, cool night for a few seconds, feeling like the only people out and about on this early Monday morning.  The moon was out.  Everything felt fine and close and still.  Brooke unlocked her bike and was about to get on when she stopped. To hell with Teddy.

“Will,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said, more eagerly than he’d meant to.

“Do you want…”

She trailed off.  Will’s attention had turned to the other end of the street, where the doorman from Scottie’s stood on the corner, grinning down the street at them.  Scottie’s was open until 4:00 am on Sunday nights.

“Hey, you guys,” he yelled down the street.  “Heading straight home, huh?”

“Uh, no,” said Will.  “I think I’ll head over to Scottie’s for a drink.  Be safe getting home, Brooke.”

“OK,” she said, abashed.  “I will.”

She rode off alone.

Will and the doorman walked toward the open bar together. 

“I guess we should feel special,” the doorman said.  “You sending a good looking girl like that home on her own just to visit with us.”

“She’s just a friend,” said Will.  “We just work together.”

“Maybe I should take a run at her,” said the doorman.  “She does have a nice ass.”

“Fuck off,” said Will.  “Just shut the fuck up.”

He walked into Scottie’s alone.

The March, Chapter 51: Rat Bar with Rafferty

Chapter 50

I’ll hit the brakes and he’ll fly right past me
-Top Gun

Bulstrode peered into the lobby bar of a downtown transient hotel and watched Karl Rafferty roll a cigarette.  Rafferty’s hair was longish and thin and obscured his eyes as he bent down over his cancerous chore.  He fingered the tobacco into its paper nest, rolled it up tight, and gripped it at one end between his finger and thumb.  He inserted all but the end held into his mouth and pulled it through his lips to seal.  Cigarettes rolled and sealed, Raff examined it, found it satisfactory, nestled it between his lips and struck a match.  He inhaled deeply, smiled, took a pull off a bottle of Old Style and said something, leeringly, to the bartender, who rolled her eyes.

Bulstrode was seized with a maddening, toxic nostalgia.  This Rafferty sitting at the bar was exactly the same as he’d been in 1965.  Older, bonier, closer to death. But still, somehow, exactly the same.  He rolled his cigarettes the same way, pulled off his beer bottle the same way, leered at female bartenders the same way.  He was the exact same ratlike little man Bulstrode had once thought himself permanently shed of.   But Bulstrode, goddammit, was not the same man he’d been in 1965.
Tré arrived at the entrance to the lobby bar and greeted Bulstrode.  He was surprised to be meeting Bulstrode in this seedy place.  But he’d been doing exactly what Bulstrode had told him to lately.  If Bulstrode wanted to meet him in this dump, then Tré would meet him there.

“Hi, Tré,” said Bulstrode.  “Look, I need you to know that this man we’re going to meet is not my friend. He is merely someone I used to know and someone to whom I feel the obligation of past collegiality.”

Obligation of past collegiality, thought Tré, what the fuck does that mean? 

But he kept that thought to himself and just nodded briskly and followed Bulstrode into the bar.

“Bully,” said Rafferty, turning around in his barstool, in obvious good humor.  “Have you brought me the deed?”

“No, I’ve brought you something else,” said Bulstrode.  “Let’s sit at a table and I’ll tell you what I have in mind.”

“Brought your Gal Friday,” said Raff, grinning at Tré and laughing loud at his own joke.

“Tré Little,” said Tré, squelching his dislike and holding out his hand.  “I work for Mr. Bulstrode.”

“I used to work for him,” said Rafferty.  “But back then we just called him Bully.”

“I don’t care what you call me,” said Bulstrode, wearily.  “Let’s just sit down.”

When they sat down, Tré pulled out a file and, at a nod from Bulstrode, began speaking.  “Bulstrode asked me to scout out some appropriate properties for you downstate,” he began.  “I found a great place off Rend Lake that…”

“Downstate?” exploded Rafferty.  “Fuck that!  I done my time downstate.  I’m a Chicago man. I’m staying here and you’re giving me what I want, Bully.  Or else.”

“Just let Tré finish,” said Bulstrode.  “You may change your mind.”

“It’s a place called Fishtails,” said Tré.  “It’s a great bar.  They do a brisk business and have a GM who’s been there a number of years and seems amenable to hanging out and running the place.  I’ve got some numbers here…”

“Aw, fuck it, Bully,” said Rafferty.  “You know I’m not going downstate.  I got no idea why you ever thought I would.  Give me what I want or…”

Bulstrode put a hand up.  “Tré,” he said.  “Can you go have a coke or something at the bar and let me talk to Rafferty alone?”

“Sure,” said Tré.

Tré sat down and ordered a soda.  He looked around the place, at the cheap formica finish on the bar, the bartender who’d definitely seen better days, the cigarette burns in the ratty carpet.  This looked about as far away from the direction The Lightweight Group was headed as possible.  Tré wiped the lip of his glass with a napkin before taking a sip.

As Tré sipped his coke, he cast sly glances over at Bulstrode and Rafferty.  They were whispering intently to each other and Bulstrode’s face was turning red.  Raff seemed to be enjoying himself.

Tré wondered what the hell he was doing there and was beginning to suspect that obligation of past collegiality meant a little bit more than what Bulstrode pretended.  Tré had come in thinking that maybe this was some act of Christian charity or something.  Bulstrode was, after all, a religious man.  But the whole thing seemed so sleazy.  Was Rafferty some kind of black sheep relation?  Did he have something on Bulstrode?

Rafferty stood up to go to the bathroom and Tré looked back at the bartender before Bulstrode could catch him staring.

Bulstrode’s eyes darted up to Tré, his irritation with Rafferty’s intractability visible.  What was the point of having Tré here if he couldn’t sell lazy, shiftless Rafferty on a life of permanent vacation? Ah, but it wasn’t really the boy’s fault.  Rafferty wouldn’t even let him speak.  Maybe they could have pitched him a place in Wisconsin if Rafferty could have left the state.

Bulstrode knew that Tré was nervous about the situation, but he wasn’t too worried about Tré suspecting any malfeasance.  Tré was in too much debt to him to interpret anything too broadly.  He would want to remain ignorant of any wrong-doing on the part of his benefactor.

He picked at a hangnail and waited for Rafferty to come out of the bathroom.  Tré looked up as Rafferty exited, smiling, eyes open strangely wide.  Tré recognized the look.

Raff lurched over to Bulstrode, hiking up his pants, seeming more confident. “Look,” he said.  “I’m heading out of here.  Going over to The March for a drink.  You’ve got a week to get the paperwork in order.  Now pick up my tab for me, wouldja?”

As he left, Bulstrode walked over to the bar, wallet in hand, to pay the tab.

“So, Rafferty was in a real good mood when he left the bathroom, huh,” said Tré carefully.

“Yeah, so what?” said Bulstrode.

“You know what he was doing in that bathroom, right?” said Tré.

“What?” said Bulstrode.

“Mr. Bulstrode, that guy was wired.  I mean it’s none of my business, but he just went into the bathroom and did a couple of rails of cocaine.  It’s obvious.”

“Cocaine?” said Bulstrode, opportunity forming.

“Yeah,” said Tré, feeling uncomfortably like he wasn’t so much gossiping as paying back a debt with information.  “We should probably let the guys at The March know that he’s coming.”

“Oh, they’ll figure it out,” said Bulstrode.  “Cocaine.  Imagine that.”

Denise Huxtable and Rape Culture

I loved The Cosby Show.  I was the same age as Denise Huxtable only not nearly as cool as she was and I worshiped her.  Do you remember the pilot episode and how she only wore makeup on half of her face? You may not understand that this was incredibly cool if you are too young or too old to ever have worn blue mascara.

Denise graduated from high school, went to the same fictional HBC attended by her father, and got a spin off.  Then Lisa Bonet made a racy movie with Mickey Rourke and got fired from A Different World .  And then she married Lenny Kravitz (so dreamy) and then came back to The Cosby Show with her new TV husband, Martin, and his daughter, Raven-Symone, who could fill the cute little girl quotient that Keshia Knight-Pulliam was now too puberty-y for.

When Denise came back to The Cosby Show, I was really glad to see her and her fabulously cool braids.  Denise was cool.  She was so much cooler than Sondra.  God, Sondra was insufferable.

This brings us to my first inkling of Bill Cosby as a patriarchal fuckwit (patriarchal fuckwittery is, you understand, the foundation of rape culture):  In a scene shortly after Denise's return, Cliff sits across the famous Cosby kitchen table from Denise's husband, Martin, and asks him if Denise was a virgin on their wedding night.  And Martin confirms that she was.  And Cliff is happy.

How fucked up is that?  I mean, it is fucked up enough that he thinks it's any of his business - but it is especially fucked up that he has this conversation without Denise there, just a couple of guys sitting around talking about the state of the hymen in which they both feel a certain ownership.

That's rape culture, in its most insidious form. The woman is absent, her character is reduced to the sum of her sex partners, and all of this is open fucking forum for the men in her life.

Deciding the character of a woman based on her sexual history, dividing girls up into good or bad based on their sexual behavior, deciding that her sexuality is something you have a stake in  - this is rape culture.

Fathers of daughters, I can't say it enough: you want to raise good strong women, teach your girls that no one, not even you, gets to make her sexual decisions.

And Bill Cosby can go fuck himself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The March, Chapter 50: Mary Forgives Fred But is Fucking Depressed

Chapter 49

Friends? No, we are not friends. I don't take this shit from friends -- only from lovers


Fred left his Monday night class bored and in the mood for something, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.  Fred was well familiar with feeling in the mood for something without knowing what it was.  And, like so may of us do when suffering from unfulfilled, unknown wants, he opted for diversion.  He headed to The March for a drink.

Despite having repaid his debt, he still felt awkward going to The March.  He was dying to both run into and not run into Mary. 

This was his first trip post rebrand, so before heading to the bar for a drink, he took a full tour.  He thought the place looked great.  He was especially happy to note the addition of a separate toilet stall in the men’s room.  He’d once been interrupted mid-pee by a drunk guy who’d walked in, unzipped and sat on the toilet, striking up a conversation about whatever was occupying his addled mind and apologizing haphazardly for the smell.  Fred shuddered at the memory.

At the bar, he waited for Caleb to finish what was evidently an annoying phone call.

Caleb hung up and set an opened Budweiser in front of Fred.  “These kids,” he said. “You can’t count on any of them.”

“What’s up,” asked Fred.

“Oh, my goddamn doorman just booked a gig and has decided his future as a rock star is more important than his current obligations, so he quit,” said Caleb.  “On top of that, I’m breaking in a new waitress on the floor, so I don’t know how I’m going to keep track of IDs.  These kids from Loyola have been swarming lately.”

Staff unreliability was one of the great travails of Caleb’s life. He’d lost count of the number of doormen he’d hired who just failed to show up one night, forcing him into a scrabbling bind.  It was beginning to chip away at his faith in the next generation.

“I’ll check IDs for you,” said Fred.  ‘I don’t have anything else to do – I might as well sit at the front of the door and proof people.”

“Really,” said Caleb.  “I’ll pay you fifty bucks.”

“Cool,” said Fred, who was light on cash since he’d repaid Caleb.  “I can always use a little extra beer money.”

“Just grab a stool and hang out by the front door,” said Caleb.  “Ask anyone who looks younger than 30… wait… younger than 35 for an ID.  If it looks questionable, just bring it to me.  Thanks again.  You’re really helping me out.”

“No problem,” said Fred.  “Let me trade this beer in for a coke.”

Situated on his stool up front, Fred had fun.  He was a rare species of Caucasian American Gen-X in that he tended to enjoy his fellow man.  Most of us have a touch of the misanthrope in us; but for that particular generation, at that particular point in time, disdaining your fellow earth-walkers as hopelessly dull, uncoool and dim-witted was practically de rigueur.  Fred, though, had an easy touch and a way of accepting people as they came.  He liked people.  And people liked him. 

(The easiest way to get people to like you is, by the way, to like them.)

Fred welcomed guests into the bar cheerfully.  If they didn’t have ID or presented an obvious fake, Fred turned them away, but did it without asserting or enjoying his meager authority. Instead, he looked a little sad for this unpleasant part of the job and turned them away kindly.  The 19 year olds left the bar without feeling humiliated, encouraged to keep on trying at the next bar.

He chatted with the new waitress who brought him cokes generously spiked with grenadine and cherries.  When it got busy, he grabbed a bar rag and helped bus tables and wipe them off.  At the end of the night, he stacked barstools on top of tables, and brought cases of beer up to Caleb.

It just made sense that Caleb would offer him a job.

“Fred,” he said. “Don’t you want a job here?  I bet we’d have you behind the bar in a month or two.”

“Thanks, Caleb,” said Fred.  “But my father would kill me.  He’s already depressed by having a sexpot daughter who plays records for a living.  I’m supposed to start interning at a law firm for one of his friends this summer.  That plus school and I won’t really have time for anything else.”

“Not for nothing, Fred,” said Caleb. “But do you want to intern at a law firm?”

“Not really,” he said.  “But I don’t know what else to do.”

“Well, I guess you have to do whatever you think is best,” said Caleb.  “But since I feel like I owe you more than cash for this favor, let me give you something else to repay you: I suspect if you stop by tomorrow and pay Mary a visit, she won’t send you away.”

“She will too,” said Fred.  “She hates me, Caleb.”

“Mary never hated you,” said Caleb, gently.  “And I know that she misses you hanging around.  Pop by for coffee in the morning.”

Caleb left a note to leave in the cash drawer letting Mary know that he’d un-banned Fred and urged him to visit her. 

The next morning, when Mary opened the drawer and saw the note, she was surprised by how happy she suddenly felt.  “Fuck,” she thought.  “Am I really this excited to see fucking Fred again?”

Fred came in about 10:30 as Mary was slicing limes.  He offered her a cup of good coffee and said, “Hello” with the question mark hanging audibly off the end.

She put the knife down and rolled her eyes.  “All right, Fred,” she said.  “It’s OK that you’re back.  I guess I’m glad to see you even if you’re still not doing anything fucking worthwhile with your life.”

Fred settled down happily on his stool.  “Most people,” he said in a friendly manner.  “Think that being in school and getting good grades and not gambling are worthwhile.  I got an internship at Kirkland this summer and law school starts for real in the fall.  I’m following the straight and narrow.”

“That would be great, Fred,” said Mary.  “If that were what you wanted.”

“But so long as I don’t know what I want,” said Fred.  “I’ve got to do something.  I missed you.”

“I missed you too, fuckface,” said Mary.

They settled easily into old habits.  Fred did a crossword and sipped sofa and watched Mary as she went through her morning routine, puzzling through whatever was troubling her as she did her set up chores by rote.  This time, though, Mary wasn’t thinking about school or law review articles or anything like that.  This time she was thinking about Fred.  She had missed him, the fucker.  But he came back almost exactly like he’d always been.  She’d thought he’d be changed by his exile.  But he was the same person, still doing what someone else expected instead of figuring out for his own fucking self what his life should be.

Maybe she should just let it go.  Let him ride out his miserable career.  Eventually, he’d figure it out.

Still, it was really fucking disappointing.

The March, Chapter 49: Slut

Chapter 48

Penny Pingleton - you are absolutely, positively permanently punished

- Hairspray

Teddy awoke equal parts relieved and bereft.  He’d lost his helpmeet and research assistant, his maid and his cook. But the companion he’d really wanted, the one who adored and revered him, left a long time ago, if she’d ever really been there at all.

He bundled up the rest of her things and took them to The March early in the morning when he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be there.  He set them at the bar and handed a note to Mary.

Darling Brooke (it read)

I understand why you’ve left me.  I am too old and too set in my ways for a young woman like you.  Youth is delightful but capricious.  Perhaps if we’d met later in life, when you were a bit older, we’d have managed to make a life together.  Alas, you are too young and I am too old.  I have enjoyed our time together though.  I will remember you fondly and wish you nothing but happiness in your future.  I only ask that you remember the promise you made on our last night and stay true to my one small request.

Yours, Teddy

Then Teddy left The March.  It would be his last visit there.  Teddy didn’t really regret its loss, even though it had been his place for so many years.  A bar was just a bar and The March had gotten a little trendy for him, anyway.  He’d stick with Scottie’s around the corner.  He liked his tiny table just off in the corner by the cigarette machine.  It had become accepted as his table and was always empty and waiting for him when he arrived.  The beer tasted just the same there as it had at The March.

But he was not as sanguine about everything as he let on.  He felt cheated.  He felt like Brooke had won.  And he felt that  Brooke didn’t deserve to win.

When he got to Scottie’s that evening, he sat at his little table, papers strewn inelegantly about, ashtray teeming, shirt mis-buttoned, unable to concentrate on what he was reading.  He felt revolted and disturbed and it had nothing to do with his research that day.  He’d long been inured to the revulsion caused by man’s abuse of the planet.

He sat at his table, drawing cigarette smoke in, his mood emanating poisonously.

Scottie’s assistant manager and nighttime bartender, Gracie, walked past him on the way to the bar.  Consummate professional that she was, she greeted Teddy on her way past. “Hi, Teddy,” she said.  

“Here again?  I guess you’ve given up The March all together and gotten some taste.”

She expected a grunt, a curt request for another beer and for Teddy to carry on with whatever endless, boring task he had at hand.  But she was surprised when he stopped reading and looked at her.  He seemed to be pondering something, trying to make some decision.  And then he started talking.

“As you may be aware,” he said.  “I was involved romantically with Brooke Dotry, who works at The March.  That relationship has ended, making my presence there unwanted.”

“OK,” said Gracie, nonplussed.  “Sorry to hear that, I guess.”

“Love affairs will end,” said Teddy.  “Such is the sad fact of them.  And Brooke has promised that she will not engage in a romantic relationship with my cousin, Will, whom you may also know works there. I believe it was as he interjected himself into her life that our relationship ended.  That promise made, I’ve decided not to burden her with my presence at her place of business.”

“Wow,” said Gracie.  “I guess that seems fair enough.  Can I get you a beer?”

“Please,” said Teddy, returning satisfied to his work.

Of course, a bar is not just a bar.  All bars have their own personality and flair (or lack thereof).  As such, Scottie’s and The March, sibling members of the L.G.E. family, practiced a fairly intense sibling rivalry.  They were similar in tone, had the same prices and roughly similar regular clientele.  But Scottie’s had long held itself as the alpha sibling.  The Marcia to The March’s Jan.  It was above ground and had windows that opened to the out-of-doors.  So Scottie’s was fresh and airy while The March was dank, sequestered and odoriferous.  But then Tré and Bulstrode had decided on The March as their rebrand flagship. Now Scottie’s looked a little run-down and shabby next to the pretty new March.

Scottie’s staff and patrons were resentful of this and prone to grumbling about Tré and Bulstrode.  The fact that The March’s least appealing regular had migrated to them did little to mitigate their disgust.

At around 3:00 or so that morning, the crowd at Scottie’s had emptied a bit.  A few regulars were scattered about the bar, but the staff was mostly killing time until last call.  Gracie, a waitress, the doorman and one of the late night regulars were lingering around the wait station, chatting.

“So, you know that guy, Teddy,” said Gracie.

“Who?” asked Regular.

“He comes in before you,” said Gracie. “The old dude who sits at the cigarette table and drinks draft beers.”

“That guy is gross and he tips for shit,” said Waitress.

“Did you know he was dating Brooke, that bartender over at The March,” said Gracie.

“She lived with him,” said Doorman.  “I’ve seen them walking home together. I never got it.  She’s pretty hot.”

“I know that girl,” said Waitress, who may have had a bit of a crush on Doorman.  “She’s smug and weird.  Plus, if she dated that dude, there must be something else wrong with her.”

“Well,” said Gracie.  “Apparently there was something going on with his nephew, Will, who also works at The March.”

“The doorman” said Waitress.  “That guy is cute.  He could do better than Brooke.”

“So, wait,” said Regular.  “She’s living with the old guy and fucking the his nephew?”

“That’s how it sounded to me,” said Gracie.

“Does the old guy have money or something,” asked Regular.

“Must,” said Gracie.  “I can’t figure why else anyone would be with Teddy.  But, apparently part of the break up was that she not go out with Will anymore.”

“Wonder if she made that agreement out of the goodness of her heart,” said Regular, with an evil smile.  “Somehow I kind of doubt it.”

The four of them closed out the evening discussing it.  Over the next few days, the information emanated out into the crowds amongst beers and Jager shots.  Before too long, Brooke’s reputation in the L.G.E. world had metamorphosed from “Girl Who’s Into the Environment” to “Girl Who Took a Payout from her Gross, Old Boyfriend to Stop Fucking his Nephew."

Which was pretty much exactly how Teddy imagined it would go.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Open Letter to my Uterus

In this blogpost, I am going to have a frank and open conversation with my uterus.  Squeamish gentlemen may take warning.

Dear My Uterus,


It was over thirty years ago that you first, rather obnoxiously, made yourself known to me.  During the first years of those monthly visits, I'd lie abed, lightly dosed on Tylenol and my mother's soothing instruction to "just go with it" while you contorted yourself up in a childish insistence for recognition.  "I am here!" you hollered.  "Pay attention to me!"

"Yes, mistress uterus," I sighed into the pillow gripped to my midsection.  "I hear you."

Years passed.  I discovered the halcyon bliss of birth control pills which silenced your yawp.  Mostly.

I wed.  I stopped taking the birth control pills and I asked if I could store a baby in you for a while.  You declined.  It's OK, uterus, I'm not mad about it anymore.  I got my baby without you and I couldn't have asked for a better one.

We've had a cordial relationship these past 10 years or so.  Monthly, you stop by for a visit.  You've been less obnoxious.  You sort of stop by and say, "Hey.  Still here.  How are you?"  And I sigh and say, "Fine. You're here.  Whatever."

But hasn't this relationship run its course?  In my 20s I often greeted you tears of elation; in my 30s it was tears of loss.  But now, here in my 40s, all that's left is weary resignation.

I don't need you to feel young and relevant.  I can kid myself that I am still that because I like Vampire Weekend and sometimes put blue streaks in my hair.  Am I lying to myself?  Who cares.  I don't need you to make me feel young. Frankly, I'm cool with middle age.  I feel like I make it look good.  Am I lying to myself about that?  I repeat: who cares?

Dear My Uterus, I am tired of your monthly pronouncements.

Take a hint, my uterus.



The March, Chapter 48: An Ally Is Always Handy, Even If You're Not Sure Why

Chapter 47

Heather, why can't you just be a friend? Why do you have to be such a mega-bitch?

When he first got the idea to kick off the revamp at The March, Tré had felt confident in his choice.  He’d always liked The March, always felt comfortable there.  But, contra Caleb, Tré never credited the general seediness that lingered around its edges with The March’s welcoming vibe.  As a matter of fact, Tré had always felt that The March was welcoming and comfortable despite its seediness.  Clean it up, class it up, make the bathrooms less of an adventure and it would still be The March.  It would still be a place people wanted to go.

But over the past few months, Tré’s confidence had taken a beating. Between his increasingly worrisome financial situation and Rosie’s abiding unhappiness at his refusal to pull up stakes and move, Tré was like an open vessel into which Caleb and Bulstrode could pour their competing anxieties.  On Monday, he worried that The March would end up too fancy for its customers and turn into a shell of its former self; a place where three or four guests sat of an evening, quietly sipping martinis and checking their watches.  On Tuesday, he worried that the shiny new fixtures and tasteful artwork were no more than an inconsequential band-aid over gaping squalor.

But then the party had happened, and it had gone so well.  Bulstrode’s fancypants friends had enjoyed their expensive scotches and pretty good Chardonnay.  They’d had fun with the exquisite (but safe) thrill of upscale slumming.  By the time Rosie had come and turned up the volume, they’d been about to head home anyway.  They couldn’t wait to tell their kids away at Cornell or Brown about their evening and that girl with the wild makeup and crazy clothes and that loud music.

In the meantime, Rosie had kicked it into high gear just in time to salvage The March regulars from feeling resentful and usurped.

God, Tré thought.  Rosie had been great.

Going forward, there’d probably be fewer upstanding Art Institute docents and corporate CEO’s enjoying happy hour at The March.  But they might well end up a more welcoming happy hour destination for bankers and corporate middle management.  And if Rosie kept doing what she did, it could carry on as a destination spot for late night party people.  In the meantime, the old school regulars would be content filling the gap.

Tré had done a good job.  The day after the party, he’d walked into the Lightweight offices, buttons about to burst.

Bulstrode didn’t hear him come in.  He was lost in a correspondence.

Bully – a long time ago you stole my life from me.  You set me up and got me sent to jail.  You owe me and you know it.  But I know I can’t keep asking you to give me money forever.  So, I have a solution.  I been drinking at The March, just like the old days. And I like that place.  You give me that bar, sign over the deed to me or whatever, and I’ll leave you alone.  If you don’t, I’ll tell everyone what you did to get that place in the beginning.  I’ll tell them all about Ellinore and how you kept the money she asked you to give her daughter.  And then what will all your fine friends think of you? 
- Rafferty

Blackmail is an evil taskmaster.  It’s desperate and squeezing.  Rafferty had something over Bulstrode and so long as Raff was around, he’d be able to carry on extorting from Bulstrode.  This time he wanted Bulstrode’s flagship bar.  And not only did Bulstrode not want to give that away, he had no confidence that once given ownership of The March, Raff would actually leave him be.

Bulstrode had to get rid of Raff.  He needed a plan. 

Amidst his anxious pondering, Tré knocked on the door and stuck his head in.

“We had a good night, huh, boss?” he said. 

Bulstrode looked at Tré and the seeds of an idea began to germinate.  Bulstrode began to wonder if there were not some unknown benefit to a more robust alliance with Tré.  He wasn’t quite sure why, but the idea had a grip on him. 

“It was a rousing success,” said Bulstrode, in a cheerful, booming voice.  “Excellent work.  As always, excellent work.”

Tré grinned. “Thanks, Mr. Bulstrode.  We’re on our way now.  By the end of the summer, we’ll be done and The Lightweight Group will be one of the most recognizable brands in Chicago.  We are on our way now.”

“Indeed we are,” said Bulstrode.  “Now, come on in and sit down.  I want to talk to you about something.

Tré came in and sat down, smiling but wary.

“Tré,” said Bulstrode seriously.  “A while back you asked me for an advance on your salary in order to extricate yourself from some financial stress.  Are you still feeling that stress?”

“Well, yes,” said Tré, embarrassed.  “But I’m confident I’ll find my way out soon.”

“It’s terrible,” said Bulstrode.  “To feel so trapped by circumstances.  I remember being young like you once, with big dreams and not enough money to make them happen.  I may have made some mistakes too, when I was young.”

“Oh,” said Tré, wondering where this was going.

“I have a lot of faith in you, Tré,” said Bulstrode.  “You’ve really proved yourself of late.  I’ve decided to help you.  Will $5,000 get the situation resolved?”

“Yes,” said Tré, hopeful.  “That would resolve the problem.”

“All right,” said Bulstrode, opening his checkbook.  “I’m writing you a check for $5,000.  The terms are straightforward enough.  You’ll pay me back $425 a month until we’re even.  Should take about a year.  Can you manage that?”

“I can,” said Tré.  “But what about interest. I should pay interest on a loan like that.”

“I don’t think so,” said Bulstrode, handing him a check.  “We’re partners in this endeavor.  I’m invested in your future.  Let me do this for you.”

“Wow,” said Tré, staring at the check.  “I don’t know what to say.  You’re saving my life. Thank you, Mr. Bulstrode.  Thank you so much.”

When Tré came home that night, he found Rosie in a bathrobe, watching TV and painting her toenails.

“Hey there, rock star,” he said, settling beside her and kissing her deeply.

“Hey there yourself, you Titan of industry,” she replied, smiling.

“Guess what,” he said, nuzzling her neck.  “Your father gave me a loan today.  I paid off my landlord and sent a check to my credit card companies.  I’m back in good shape.”

“He just gave you a loan,” she said, surprised. “Out of the blue?”

“I proved myself to him with The March rebrand,” said Tré.  “He has some faith in me again.”

“I don’t think so, Tré,” said Rosie.  “My father doesn’t have faith in anybody and he doesn’t just give people money without expecting something back.”

“But he is getting something back,” said Tré.  “He’s got me back and fully on board.  Thanks to me, Bulstrode will get exactly what he wants from the L.G.E. rebrand.  I’m good at this job and he knows it and wants to keep me happy. “

“But, Tré,” said Rosie, shaking her head.  “You were working your ass off for him without getting the money.  It’s not like he was worried about losing you.  You need to be careful.  I bet he wants something from you that you won’t like to give him.  If he gave me money, I’d have to go to college and start dating a frat boy.  Fred has to go to law school.  Dad always wants something for his money.”

It was hard to ignore the logic there.  But what did he have to offer Bulstrode?  He didn’t have any money, any family connection.  And he wanted to feel good.  It had been a while since he felt good.

“Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said Tré.  “I don’t want to fight.  Let’s celebrate.  I want to drink and dance and walk into a club with the hottest girl in Chicago.  Let’s go to Lobo.”

“Well, you don’t have to ask me twice,” said Rosie.  “I bought a new dress today.  But promise me you’ll be careful.”

“I will,” said Tré, sliding his hands into her bathrobe.  “But before you put that new dress on….”

The March, Chapter 47:

Chapter 46

It happens sometimes.  People just explode.  Natural causes.
-Repo Man

As the party raged on at the March, Teddy was finishing up his nightly trip to Scottie’s.  On his way home, he’d stopped at The March and noticed that Will was nowhere to be seen.  He decided to stop in for a nightcap.  He was curious about the new look.  And he was curious about Brooke. He’d lost sight of how she was out of his sight.

At the bottom of the stairs, he ran into Caleb, who was keeping watch at the door.

“How you doing, Teddy,” Caleb asked, extending a hand.

“I’m doing well,” said Teddy, returning the handshake.  “Has your party been successful?”

Caleb nodded and smiled.  “Surprisingly, it was OK.  Started off a little stiff, but give people enough free booze and it’s hard to stop a good party from breaking out.

“I see,” said Teddy.  “Perhaps I’ll make my way to the bar.  I see there’s a seat available.”

“Nice chatting with you,” said Caleb, with an ironic grin.  “Enjoy your beer.”

But Teddy stopped midway to the bar.  He saw that the whole staff was gathered around the wait station, doing shots.  Gio was leading the toast: “Here’s to free drinks, free love and pretty, pretty people!”  Brooke laughed with the others and drained her shot.

Will, standing right next to her, drained his and let out a “Woo!”

Teddy turned on his heel and left, without Brooke having seeing him.

An hour or so later, Caleb cut Brooke.  She and Gio split their tips, Brooke had a drink at the bar with the first cut waitress.  At around 2:00 or so she headed home, on foot, as she was inclined to.
A block or so into the walk. She was surprised to find Teddy sitting at a bus stop, smoking a cigarette.

“Teddy!”  she said.  “What are you doing here?”

“I came into The March to see you, but you were drinking with your friends so I decided to leave you and just wait for you here.”

“Why didn’t you just come in?” she asked, exasperated.

“I didn’t want to interrupt you with your friends,” he said.

“Well, let’s just go home,” she said, starting to walk.

“I’ve been here for hours,” he said, still sitting.

“I was working hours ago,” she said.  “I didn’t have a drink until about a half hour ago.”

“Yes you did,” said Teddy.  “You were at the bar with Will and you did a shot.  I saw you.”

“Wait…” said Brooke.  “Are you talking about staff shots?  We do staff shots every night at midnight, Teddy.  All of us.  Not just me and Will.”

“You should quit,” said Teddy.  “I have enough to support us both.  Maybe you should quit and we could get married.”

“Oh, Teddy,” said Brook.  “It’s 2:00 a.m., and you’ve been drinking and I’m tired.  I don’t want to talk about getting married.  Let’s just go home.”

“When you leave me,” said Teddy. “Promise me you won’t start sleeping with Will.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Teddy,” said Brooke.  “Don’t be so stupid.  Let’s please just go home.”

“Not until you promise me that,” said Teddy.

“Why are you so freaked out about Will,” said Brooke.  “We’re barely friends.  We’re just people who work together.”

“Then it shouldn’t be hard to promise me that,” said Teddy, standing up and looking down at her.

“Fine,” said Brooke, walking away.  “I won’t ever date Will. I won’t ever sleep with Will. I won’t flirt with Will. Now can we please just go home?”

Teddy smiled and took her hand as they started walking home.  After a few steps, Brooke pretended to have an itch on her shoulder and dropped his hand to scratch it. 

As they walked into the apartment, Teddy asked her if she were hungry.  He usually only asked that when he wanted something to eat, and Brooke generally took that as a cue to make him a sandwich or something.  But this time, she demurred saying she was really tired.  She washed her face and then went straight into her room.  She sat on the edge of the bed, thinking.  She heard Teddy cooking a grilled cheese sandwich.  She heard him not doing his dishes.  She heard his snuffling and grunting walk down the hall.  She heard the old man noises he made in the bathroom.

And, all of the sudden, just like that, she was done.  She didn’t want to be there anymore at all.  She was sick of the smell of Teddy’s cigarettes and the food he ate.  She was tired of washing his clothes and cleaning his house.  She was sick of the condescension and superiority.  And she was sick sick sick of the endless fucking research for a book she knew would never be finished.

She sat on the bed for a few more minutes, gobsmacked by the revelation and the feeling of relief that poured through her.  She looked at her watch and saw that it was just past last call at The March.  Caleb and Gio would still be there.  She could go home with Gio and stay with him and Celia.  She grabbed a few things, stuffed them in her duffel bag and fled from the apartment, walking swiftly back to The March.

Teddy lay in bed and listened to her leave.

Brooke got to The March a little after 4:00.  The doors were locked, but she knocked loud and Will let her in.  “Did you forget something?” he asked.

Brooke couldn’t quite find the words.  She stood there, dry-eyed and shocked, stammering, “No… Teddy and I… I just…”

Gio who’d been counting tips at the bar, looked up and said, “You broke up?”

“I left,” said Brooke.  “I just didn’t want to be there anymore.”

“Oh, Brooke,” said Gio.  “That’s gr… Um, are you OK?  Do you want me to take you back to our place?  Celia’s asleep, but I can probably wake her up?”

“Not yet,” said Brooke.  “Can we just sit here for a minute?  Can I have a drink or something?” 

“Caleb,” called Gio.  “Brooke’s here.  Can she have a drink?”

Caleb came out of the office, took a look at Brooke and said, “Sure.  Have ten drinks if you want, sweetheart.”  He walked behind the bar and mixed a cocktail.  “Jack and coke, honey.  Good for heartbreak.”

And just like that Brooke’s disastrous first love ended.  She emerged as most of us do: older, wiser, and glad of her friends.  Gio told her funny stories about the night.  Caleb resisted the urge to hug her. Will hung back and grappled with the glad feelings coursing through him.

When Brooke got back to the apartment she once shared with Celia, she crawled into bed with her sister and cried a little.

She’d loved neither well not wisely, but she’d been brave enough to give it a shot.  And love is one of those things you get better at with practice.

As Brooke lay in bed, softly crying on Celia’s pillow, Will sat on a rock at the shore of Lake Michigan and started out at the water, letting his mind wander.  He thought about Harold Washington and ward leadership.  He thought about his own grandfather.  He thought about school and classes and how The March looked all polished up.

And he thought about Brooke.

Teddy lay in his lonely bed, in his lonely apartment, thinking less of Brooke than of the empty space she left behind.