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.