The three men were sitting in a trolley car that had long ago been turned into an expensive drinking establishment. Political figures were on the TV screen above the bar but the men were not paying attention. They had positioned themselves where the walnut and brass bar took a sharp right turn so that two of the men could sit on stools on one side of the L and the third could be perpendicular to them, a position that gave him a chance to lecture the other two in way far more satisfying than if they had been all drinking in a row.
This was a balmy night at the end of summer in New England. The lecturer had been drinking for a long time and had reached that time when inebriation requires each word to be pronounced separately and independently from the words that accompany it as if each sentence was a slow passing train, each word a trolley car onto itself.
“The Gin and Tonic,” he said, “is, sadly, a drink of summer. And now we have to say good bye.” He raised his glass in a toast. His great head of grey hair was pressed in on the sides, unmistakeable evidence that he’d been wearing a baseball cap very recently. “Good bye old friend. Good bye.”
“Aw stuff it Artie. Ur fulla shit.” This sentiment was spoken by a garden gnome of a man whose deep belly hung in the sling of a Tommy Bahama shirt populated with parrots and pelicans. He wore one of those hard white straw hats strong enough to ship a delicate bird’s nest across the country. “Ur fulla shit. Fulla.”
Artie – his proper name was Arthur Middletown – lowered his glasses down his nose so he could properly look down on Tommy Bahama. “Were I to wear that shirt, I would be more restrained in my commentary, I feel certain.” He snorted and then raised his glass once again, and said “End of the season. We will miss you.”
“Jesus Arthur. You sound like you’re running for something.” This came from the third man, a thin garden rake named Ernie Williams who was wearing a bright yellow golf shirt and a baggy lime green sport coat. He had one of those unfortunate chins that protruded so far forward so it looked as if his face was perpetually tipped to the sky, ready to catch a snowflake on his tongue, should one happen to fall. He was not drinking a gin and tonic but nursed an amber colored drink punctuated with a slice of lemon.
“I should have. Big mistake.” Arthur said.
“Ur fulla shit.”
“I would have been a fine candidate. I have gravitas, gentleman. A lot more than these clowns.” He used his elbow to point up at the screen above the bar. By using his elbow he was able to keep nibbling the bar nuts he’d scooped up moments before. On the screen Donald Trump was saying something but it could not be heard; the managers of the bar had turned the sound off, requiring the candidate to make his point solely through the stuttering text of close captioning.
“Yeah Arthur, your gravitas really was a help in your last election. You had sooo much gravitas.”
“Sadly, I have never sought the joys of elected office.”
“Oh really? What about at Sunny Hill?”
Arthur jerked slightly and fixed Ernie with a surprisingly intense look. He said, “I said public office.”
From Tommy Bahama: “Ur fulla shit.”
Ernie ignored him. “No. You didn’t. You said elected office. And last I checked the President of Sunny Hill was elected by the members.
“Oh fuck that.
“Just saying. You ran in that race and as far as I remember your gravitas didn’t do you any good.”
“I got screwed, you know that. Screwed. And I didn’t want it anyway. Just trying to do a favor you know. Some people…” he shook his head at the hopelessness of it all, “some people just don’t get it. Have to shoot off their mouths. Do you even know what the hell happened?”
“Sure I know.”
“I mean really know? I am going to tell you.”
“Jesus Arthur. I was there. You don’t need to go over it again.”
“Yes I do. You brought it up.” Arthur’s inebriation had given way to intensity. “The leadership came to me and they begged me to do it. Begged me. They knew how thankless the job is. Thankless.” Arthur turned and barked down the length of the bar at the pony-tailed bartender who had positioned himself with his back to the three men. When the barkeep turned, Arthur raised his glass to signal that the Gin and Tonic season should be kept going at least for one more drink. “Fucking thankless. But I said I’d do it. Someone had to and I was the obvious one, right. Years at the club. Twice club champ.”
“In the handicap, if I remember.”
“It still counts, buddy, I will tell you that. Picture’s on the Wall. And your’s ain’t.”
“Fullashit.” Tommy Bahama’s head was bobbing lower and lower to the bar top raising the possibility that he would actually plant his face into the bowl of nuts, a prospect that appeared not to concern either of the other men.
“I am sorry I raised it. You don’t have to go through the whole thing.”
“Oh no. You started it and I am going to finish it.” He raised the hand that held the bar nuts. When he pointed at Ernie a lone peanut worked loose and fell onto the bar. “You can’t put the toothpaste back into the frickin tube.” Arthur found the fallen peanut and popped it into his mouth.
“I have heard it before Arthur. You can give it a rest.”
Arthur continued without pause. “I never wanted the job but I said I’d do it. Did you know Carol told me not to? Did you know that? She said ‘Don’t do it Arthur’.”
“Cause she knows them. Those people. The ones that get themselves all twisted up when a man steps forward. Those people. She knew them.”
“Then why didn’t you listen?”
“I should’ve. I wish I did. I sure wish. But I was trying to be helpful. To serve. You know how it is. When you are called, you answer. That’s how I was raised.” He paused as the new drink arrived. The pony-tailed bartender deposited it on a fresh cork coaster and, without comment, headed back to the other end of the bar. Donald Trump was silently, angrily, jabbing the air with his finger in response to a comment from the moderator.
Arthur used a napkin to clean the rim of the glass then he took a healthy swallow. He palmed a few bar nuts into his mouth as a chaser. With his chin he pointed at the glass in front of the Ernie. “You still good?”
Ernie put a flat palm over the glass. “I’m three sheets.”
“Come’on, Ernie. You’re a lightweight.”
“Suit yourself. It’s the end of the season, though.”
“There’ll be another season starting soon enough.”
“Let us hope. It’s what gets us through.” He shook his head and pursed one side of his fleshy mouth. “Where were we?”
“You were ruminating on something.”
The man in the Tommy Bahama shirt and white straw hat jerked up, startled, and stared wide-eyed at each of the other two, gulped fish-mouthed a few times and then slowly, almost gracefully, settled back into his torpor, his face drifting slowly down to an angle where he could check his expression in the reflection of the bar, if the bar was a mirror. The white hat stayed firmly on his head despite the change of angle, as if hammered into place.
“He’s alert tonite, I’d say.”
“He was just checking to see if anything in a skirt has come around.”
“More like checking to see if Linda has come around.”
Arthur snorted. “That woman. Can you imagine whadditbe like? To wake up with her mouth going full yap? Just shoot me.”
Ernie hitched up the sleeve of his lime sportcoat as if to check his watch but he wasn’t wearing one so he made do with inspecting his tan.
Arthur was quiet and for a moment it seemed if he had forgotten about the story he was telling but then he snapped to and started in again.
“Really there’d have never been a problem – everybody knew me, I was the consensus candidate, you don’t get tapped to be the President of Sunny Hill without commanding respect – if the manager hadn’t tried to stop the weekday lunch service on the Porch. Mind you, I had nothing to do with that decision. I wasn’t in office yet, I was just a candidate, you know sort of in the wings, and besides I didn’t have anything against the lunch. I had never thought about it even.
Ernie shook his head. “It was pretty stupid though. How much could they have saved? 500 bucks? A thousand? Pennywise and pound foolish.”
“You could be right, you could be wrong, but it doesn’t matter. My point is that I had nothing to do with it.”
“You didn’t make the call.”
“Exactly. And honestly I didn’t even care but wow did it turn out to be a hornets’ nest. There was a petition with 500 names on the fricking thing and then there was a letter demanding a club meeting on the Porch Question and its signed by some downtown law firm and 20 or 30 of Those People. They were calling themselves The Committee To Save the Porch like someone was trying to use it for firewood instead of just proposing to cut back on luncheon service to be financially prudent. So our dues don’t have to go up again. I mean it was bullshit.”
“Thought you didn’t care.”
“Not much. But those people set my teeth on edge with all their bleating. They always want to raise our taxes so they can spend our money.”
“Now you sound like The Donald.”
“Oh he’s a moron. But that doesn’t mean he is wrong about everything. Anyhow, the Board is all petrified; they want to say go fuck yourselves but they can’t do that. This isn’t Goldman Sachs. People think their club is a democracy so you have to let them have a little meeting before you tell them to fuck themselves.”
“That was supposed to be a little meeting before telling them to go fuck themselves? Really? Someone didn’t read the script.”
“Honestly, who’d have suspected that they show up with 200 people? All over missing their watercress sandwiches a couple of days a week.”
“Some people just like to have lunch on the Porch during the week.”
“People who don’t work during the week.”
“And what is your point?”
“I’m just saying that its mostly women who lunch on the Porch – there’s nothing wrong with that – they aren’t working, they should be enjoying the Club.”
“Just not on the Porch?”
“Geez, listen to you. You sound like one of those people.”
“It could have been handled better. You have to admit that.”
“Hah! I was crucified before I could even start handling it. Plus IT WASN’T MY JOB.”
“You were there. At the meeting. Sitting right at the front.”
“Cause I was the candidate! They said I should join them. I was just helping out.”
“Then how come you were doing the talking?”
“Jeesus Ernie the only one talking was that bitch. You know the dumpy one with the frizzy hair.”
“Yeah. She was going on and on. I mean honestly, it’s a frickin porch for Christsake! It isn’t about the enslavement of women or forced bondage. You’d think the Club was an oppressor! I mean it’s their club! They are members!”
“But why did you get into it?”
“I looked at the Board and they were all just so passive. I mean she is screaming and carrying on and they don’t have the backbone to stand up and say, ‘Shut Up’ even though that’s what needed saying so when she finished I suggested that people could see things differently but we all had to respect the Board and the President because they were what made the Club the kind of club that it is. But Brisbane acted as if I made her point. She kept yelling “Exactly! Exactly! That’s exactly what made the Club the way it is!” and I didn’t even really get what she was saying but I said that I’d had the courtesy to listen all the way through her ranting and she should let me finish my thoughts before she started ragging on me.”
“Oh I didn’t mean it that way. You know. That’s just what came out. But oh my God, like it was a federal offense.”
“You put your foot in it.”
“You know me. I don’t buy into the PC bullshit. Especially at the Club. Just cause we let them be members doesn’t mean that they get to put up curtains and dust ruffles wherever they want. Come on.
“Fullashit. Fullashit. Fullashit.”
“Christ. He is talking in his sleep.”
“What a guy.” Arthur said. “He passes out and dreams of ‘fullashit’. What a marriage that must be.”
“Well, obviously you fucked it up.”
“I didn’t see it that way. I mean it was just a PC thing. Look at The Donald. He has blood coming out their whatevers! On National TV! and he is the most popular guy in the country right now. People don’t care about that sort of crap. I mean most people like it when you say what you think. They like it, Ernie!”
Ernie looked at his wrist and said, “Artie it’s getting late. I gotta be heading home.”
“Bullshit! I told you the whole story and you didn’t say a thing. What do you think? You think I was wrong? You think they should have taken it all away from me? The Presidency? After all those years? All those fucking Committee meetings? You think that’s how they should have treated me?”
Ernie leaned back on the bar stool, arching his back. Then he took off his glasses and slowly polished the lenses on the edge of his lime sport jacket.
“Come on Ernie! Say it! Say what you are thinking.”
“Whaddaya want me to say Arthur? I know you for a long time. Wasn’t very smart.”
“And so you think they should’ve deprived me? You think that was right?”
“What could they do? I mean half the members are women. They didn’t want you. You’d never have won the election.”
“They don’t know me. I love women. I have always loved women.”
“I know. Your Mother was a woman.”
“Come on Ernie. I am not screwing around. They fucked me, Ernie. They fucked me over. I loved that Club. My father was a member for Christ’s sake. He used to take me when they played poker in the locker room and I’d sit on the back of his chair and watch him win. How can they take that away Ernie? How can they take that away from me?”
“Don’t be so dramatic. Its not like they kicked you out. You are there all the time. You were there today.”
“But it’s not the same. It’s not the same. It used to be my club. Now it belongs to those people. Jesus I can’t even go out on the Porch. It’s like they are whispering about me whenever I turn my back. I can’t even use the Porch.”
The men were quiet. Ernie looked at his wrist again. “I gotta go Arthur. I am sorry about what happened to you. I know you loved it.”
Arthur watched Ernie leave. Then he surveyed the bar and the slumped figure next to him. He raised his glass to the mostly empty room. He sighed and for a moment it seemed that he would quit, but he rallied and delivered his toast: “To the end of the season. Fare Thee Well, old friend, Fare Thee Well.”