I’ll Have a Malibu

“Saw a man die in here the other day, Neeko.” Lamar picked some more pretzels out of the bowl of ChexMix that was sitting on the bar in front of him, popped a couple in his mouth.

“You have an appointment or something? Bars aren’t your thing, Lamar.”

“Some kid architect, due any time. Art Deco restoration.”

“He think you were around for it the first time, or what?”

“Prob’ly. You not hear me?”

“I heard. You saw some guy die in here. Kind of a weird place to kick. Low stress, not much light, limp music.”

“Yep. Sittin’ right over there where the fat guy is sittin’ now. One minute he was there, next minute he was on the floor. Why I fuckin’ hate bars.”

“For a guy hates bars and saw a man croak out you’re back awful soon.”

casablanca1“People have to do meetings in these places now. Used to be restaurants, but they got too noisy or somethin’ I guess. Stock in martinis went up a while back, too. Posers, mostly. I’m waitin’ on fedoras to come back. Everybody under forty’s Bogart or Sinatra.”

“I thought it was the black and white version of Sean Connery they were after.”

Lamar let out a choked laugh. “Yeah. Pussy Galore is out there drinkin’ wine, three and four to a table somewhere, and these cats in here playin’ solo big boy. Fools. Women an wine are a lot more fun than hard liquor and business bullshit.” Lamar made a quarter turn on his stool, looked at the floor by where the fat man was sitting. “He coulda just gone out, you know. Quiet. Peaceful. Man was anguished.”

“You talkin’ the dead dude now?”

“Yeah.” He turned back to the bar. “Do I look like a priest?”

“Not so anyone would mistake you.”

“Dead guy sure did mistake me for one, going on. Confessin’ his life to me. Bartender said he’d been in here four, five hours that night. Wasn’t drinkin’ hard or nothin’, knockin’ back a few expensive scotches. Older guy. Nice suit. Had a job, accordin’ to his wallet. Company plastic, business cards. The emergency boys opened up all that, waitin’ for the cops. Not an Arab oil or age or salary downsize casualty. Makes you wonder.”

“Not really. I see it all the time. Probably divorced, or nobody to go home to, anyway. Or nobody he wants to see when he gets there. Burned all his gas and bridges getting to here, home life is worse than work for some guys.”

“That’s fuckin’ sad, Neeko. Nice lookin’, well dressed successful guy, sittin’ in a goddam bar five or six hours of an evenin’, payin’ retail for liquor. Bartender said he’s been a regular for a while now. No trouble ever, left the waitresses alone. Said he’d talk if somebody sat down, kept to himself otherwise. I know he wasn’t here to watch captioned CNN on four different screens and groove to that Pandora easy listening crap the bartender’s pullin’ off his phone.”

“Maybe he was looking at retirement, or somebody died. Wife, maybe. Maybe he got popped with a girlfriend, no place safe left to go. Maybe everybody at home, including the dog, was just tired of his shit.”

“Maybe. I don’t think so. Guys like him, you’d think he’d have a country club or somethin’. Somewhere besides a bar in the basement of a downtown bank buildin’. Someplace with some friends, other suits and briefcases. Loud nylon shirts and checkered pants, cigars. He was a local they said. And he was in big pain. Man pain, you know? Been carrying it a lifetime, sounded like to me.”

“You said anguished before. Now he’s got man pains? So you have something to say, amigo, or are we gonna sit here and wonder about his dead ass till your appointment shows?”

“‘Third rate.’ That’s what he said. ‘Third rate.’ Layin’ there kind of cross-eyed, man knew he was dyin’, kept sayin’ it. ‘Third rate.’ I was bent over him, getting his tie a little looser, everybody else standin’ back. ‘She said I was third rate. I was a fool to think I was anything else. Third rate. I’ve been proving I wasn’t for so long…I’m dying, right? Gaw-awddammit. Tell her I wasn’t third rate. If I was, then tell her I got over it.’ Grabbed my shirt when he said that last part. I couldn’t believe he kept saying that to me. ‘Third rate.’”

“Third rate? Like a loser third rate, or a has been? You sure it wasn’t ‘third base’ or something else? Him laying on the floor dying like that, you hanging over him, he coulda been looking up at your ugly old ass saying ‘turd face,’ Lamar. You have that effect on some people.”

“Nope, Neeko, it was ‘Third rate.’ He said, ‘She stood there on that porch, smiling, then followed me down to the driveway, told me my car was third rate, my dick was third rate, that clown standing right there with her, and I deserved it, however bad I felt. I was a loser and always had been.’ So I said to the man, ‘Bad divorces happen. People say things. They change their minds, we fuck up, shit happens. Ain’t the end of the world. Don’t mean you’re a loser or third rate or a quitter or nothin’. Just hang on.’ He said ‘Hang on? What for? I fucked my whole life up since I was a kid proving to some girl who’ll never even know that my third rate dick got promoted, or that I spent my life in hock up to my ass driving cars I couldn’t afford, all because of her.’ He was fading about that time, going in and out. I was keeping up CPR on his chest all this time and he grabbed my wrist, told me to stop. Said it hurt worse than dyin’.”

Lamar was slowly twirling a baby pretzel on the bar, a million miles away. Neeko let him sit, let Otis Redding and the clinking of glasses behind the bar wash over them, prayed the bartender’s Pandora didn’t let “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” sneak in like they did on every channel. He didn’t want to hear Lamar go off on that shit, not at the same time he was in the middle of feeling the pain of some stranger’s third rate dick, anyway. “So that was it? Lights out?”

“He was whisperin’ it by now, you know?” Lamar was still twirling the pretzel. “Quiet. Squeezin’ the shit outta my wrist. I know why they call it a death grip. Man was hangin’ on till he unloaded all his pain. He said, ‘No matter what a woman says to you, how young or old you are or how much you think you’re in love, let it wash. Don’t carry it around.’ He went out some then came back sayin’ ‘I’ve been so pissed off, for so goddam long, it was just part of my life. It got in the way of everything. Couldn’t enjoy what was right in front of me.’ I told him ‘Man, women have said some shit like that to me, and maybe they were right, maybe they felt justified some way sayin’ all that. 55f1f65c2c00004e00aaf755Some just walked away and didn’t say a word. Those are the worst, when you don’t know what you did wrong.’ I tried to smile, lighten him up a little. Told him at least he knew her problem, and if he was to see her again he could show her his car and how he’d worked out that third rate dick problem. Maybe show it to her goin’ through the car wash in his fancy ride. Like I was jokin’ with a dyin’ man about women. That’s some shit, right? He said he finally realized he’d let her give him a third rate life by not letting her go, letting her get in the way of everything, be a part of everything he did. He was cryin’, then, I think. Eyes were waterin’. ‘Third rate,’ he said. ‘I fucked my life up over a gold digger tellin’ me I had a third rate car, and a third rate dick? How fucked up was that for a life?’ I said I didn’t know and he said ‘I hope there’s a heaven. I hope she shows up one of these days so I can ask her what the hell? Third rate car. Third rate dick. What the hell? Huh? What…the…hell…’ That was it. Gone. Successful. Nice guy, so they said. Bet he had a hell of a car. And miserable. Just plain miserable, layin’ there that way. All down to how he caught one from a woman that left him sideways. Can you imagine, livin’ your whole life believin’ you’re third rate because some girl got over on you when you were young, rantin’ on your car and your dick? Jesus, man. ‘What the hell’ he kept askin’ me. That one question of his, how messed up a life was that? Hard to answer that one…I keep tryin’ but I may never, you know?”

“Sorry, Lamar, but you need to let him go before his pain gets to you. He’s not hurtin’ anymore, that’s for sure. Looks like your appointment’s here, bro. Stay out of bars for a while. Make them meet you for dinner, forget their martinis. Fedoras make a comeback you should buy one. Us old guys look better in ‘em. They need a face with some character underneath. Like give DeCaprio Bogart’s or Harrison Ford’s fedora? No way. Swing low, aim for the deep bleachers, buddy. I’m gone.”

“You got it, Neeko. Stay loose.” Lamar turned back, looked at the young guy standing next to him. “Evening, Angelo. What’re you drinkin’ tonight?”

539fcaa55c511_-_cos-09-martini-recipes-de-mscn“I’ll have a Malibu, please, Lamar. Pomegranate and pineapple juice martini. Been here long?”

“Not long. Eatin’ pretzels, waitin’ on you. Fuckin’ hate bars, you know that. Saw a man die in here the other night. Sittin’ right over there where the fat guy is now. Next time we do Corner Bakery or La Madeline to talk Art Deco if it’s okay with you. A Malibu? What’s wrong with you, Angelo? Some kind of fruit juice martini? Next your gonna tell me you’re shavin’ your nuts and readin’ Cosmopolitan to keep the women happy.”

“Maybe I should, Lamar. My GF just walked. Told me I had a piece of shit for a car and a third rate dick and she’d already found a better one, I’d never amount to nothing and I deserved being in business for myself and by myself because nobody else would have my sorry ass. You believe that? The shit they say when they leave?”

“Yeah, I believe it. That they say it, anyway. Don’t you hang on to it, though. Let it go. Words like that, carry ‘em around too long and the weight of them gets to be enough they can kill a man.”

“Not me. I say the hell with her, she feels that way.”

“Good. ‘Cause I saw a man who forgot to say that die in here the other night. Malibu. Jesus, Angelo. Like the car or the beach?”

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Published by

Phil Huston

https://philh52.wordpress.com/

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