Lamar reached over the bar, picked up the remote, pushed the “return to last” button and CNN changed to a Spanish Language soap opera. He read the subtitles long enough to find out Ramon, the guy in the jet-black hairpiece, had been sleeping around on a very exotic looking woman with big, pouty lips who was pushing near R rated breast exposure in a seriously flimsy blouse. He punched in the Weather Channel. He knew all about last night’s storms because that was all every local station covered with their roaming interns standing in front of trashed houses interviewing old ladies with pocket dogs and tattooed chainsaw men who spit tobacco. He pushed the number he thought would give him a Hart to Hart rerun on the oldies channel and got Mr. Rogers on PBS. He set the remote down.
Neeko reached in front of him, put the remote back behind the bar. “Reagan’s gonna look up, see that sweater and know it was you.”
“Only place I can think of where the neighborhood is having a lovely day. And he’s dead, so what’s that say?”
“Fred was a hell of a piano player. Always wanted a pair of his slippers.”
“My dad had his sweater. Not the same, somehow.”
“Would you have wanted Mr. Rogers for your dad?”
Lamar pushed the bowl of Low Sodium pretzels towards Neeko. “No. We had a train set, though. Wasn’t very magical. Dad kept changing up the layout and cussin’ when there was a short in the track somewhere. Only ran right about half the time.”
“Sounds like the government.” Neeko made a face and pushed the pretzels back. “Things taste like cardboard, Lamar. We didn’t have a train set at my house, but I was told by my mother that my sisters pooped rose petals and all girls were princesses. And that we should all try to get along and do something constructive with our day. I think she might have been Mrs. Rogers.”
“That’s it right there. Do something constructive.” Lamar waited until the handful of cardboard pretzels he’d popped were gone. “Damn I’m sick of politics. Everything is push back. People trying to push the culture back fifty years, people having duck shit hissy fits about keeping things they didn’t want five or ten or twenty years ago. Enough, you know? Shut up, put the phone down, go to work, fix it.”
Reagan draped her bar towel over her shoulder, leaned both hands on the bar. “I go to the kitchen to see why it was taking them fifteen minutes to get a gourmet hamburger out during business lunch and what do I find? You two still here and Mr. Rogers. Jesus, Lamar. I thought you were a Hart to Hart man.”
“I’m a Rockford man, actually.”
“A clumsy, inept, step on your dick then shoot yourself in the foot three times getting where you need to go man? Sounds like our government to me.” She looked around the bar, none of the lunch stragglers were paying attention to the televisions. She picked up the remote from behind the beer taps, pointed it at the cable box and switched back to the soap, set the remote down on the back bar out of reach. When she turned back she caught the looks from Neeko and Lamar. “What? They wear the best clothes on this one. I wonder if guys in Mexico really walk around in bullfighter pants like the Mariachi’s at El Fenix, only without shirts.”
“According to the girl with all the hair and not much blouse they all have one or two too many girlfriends.” Lamar drained his lemonade, picked up a few more low sodium pretzels.
“It’s the bullfighter pants.” Neeko winked at Reagan. “Makes them irresistible. Maybe we should get you a pair, Lamar. They’re so tight it would give you something to bitch about besides politics. And the extra girlfriends would put your wife right up your butt.”
“Funny guy. I’m not bitching about politics, I’m tired of hearing about politics. It sounds like an unsupervised grade school playground. Like they all need to watch Mr. Rogers, get on the train, get their shit sorted in the magic kingdom and realize they’re getting paid to run the country, not tweet their brain farts and refuse to engage in some kind of constructive dialogue. All the talking heads and their bullshit opinions and speculating and theorizing. They’re no better than the Ancient Aliens people. We don’t know how it got this fucked up, we can’t seem to fix it, so we’ll blame it on each other or little green men or immigrants or the Russians or the right or the left and it’s just a giant babbling blame fest.”
Reagan wiped the bar with one hand, gave Lamar a fresh lemonade with the other. “It’s all over the internet. People unfriending each other, claiming to turn off the TV and stop the constant barrage and getting sucked right back in. I read where depression has cranked way up. It really is almost too much non-information.”
Neeko held up his empty glass for a refill. “It is depressing when all you get from your leadership is drama and everywhere you look the ‘Oh me, oh my God, it’s the end of the world’ crowd gets into it. I unhooked from a lot of websites myself. Re-blogged hate and blame and conspiracies. Couldn’t handle it. Whine, whine, whine. The worst thing is nobody is trying to fix it. They just bitch and point fingers and whine. What’s so funny, Lamar?”
“I worked for a man one time…” He twirled the straw in his drink, slowly. “Let me back up. We had this guy, all he could do was complain. About everything. Manufacturing, marketing, admin. The dealers. Bitch, bitch, bitch. No solutions, just complaints. His whole world was a righteous, unproductive, incompetent mess that was everyone else’s fault and he let everybody know. He was a real no rainbows kind of guy. One day, after a couple years of that, we’re in a meeting and he doesn’t say a word. Not a damn thing except ‘thank you’. It was like we’d done a meeting and didn’t feel like we needed to Febreeze our brains when it was over.” Lamar hit his lemonade, chuckled a little.
“So?” Reagan cocked her head to the side. “A little long on fond workplace memories, way short on point. You need to take a nap, adjust your medication?”
“Right.” He pointed a finger pistol at Reagan, “Bang,” acted like it kicked. “I was in the owner’s office a couple of nights later, doing a midnight save-the-world over an expensive scotch meeting, and I mentioned Steve, the no rainbow guy’s, turnaround. Asked the boss if he had anything to do with it. He nodded, said ‘I told him a little story I like to tell when folks around here get all doomsday. When I’d just started this place we were broke, the bank here in town wouldn’t loan me the damn money to buy a van to run parts between two old barns we were using for plants back then. I was feelin’ mighty sorry for myself, close to throwin’ in the towel. I went to eat dinner out at my Daddy’s house. I bitched and moaned, told him how bleak my world was, how nobody gave a rat’s ass if I made it or not. I was just some crazy redneck boy with a soldering iron and I’d never amount to nothin’. Daddy, he thought a minute, said ‘Son, there’s always hope. You just have to figure out how to fix it.’ Well I bitched and moaned some considerable bit more and asked him, thinkin’ he’d tried to pass me on down the road with some light at the end of the tunnel platitude bullshit, ‘how the hell am I supposed figure that out, how to fix it?’ He looked at me like if was still young enough he’d have bent me over his knee, and he says ‘Don’t know how the hell you ever gonna see how to fix anything, boy.’ I was an upstart young smart aleck back then and I said ‘You know what my problem is, old man, why don’t you tell me?’ Well, Daddy just sat there, looked at me like I was dumbass personified. He popped the top on a nasty Falstaff, I remember this clear as the day it happened, and he pointed the foamy top of that can at me and said ‘You keep lookin’ at the world through shit colored glasses, son, what the hell do you expect to see?’”
The silence in their little circle was weightless. Reagan switched the television back to Mr. Rogers. “The only reason I put up with you two gents is the stories. You know that, right?”
“We tip okay, too. For disenfranchised old white guys who didn’t vote the way everyone thinks we did.”
“Voting is what matters. I need to put this place back together for dinner. Both of you, get out of here, put on your Mr. Rogers sweaters and go tell everyone what a lovely neighborhood it would be if they all voted.” She grinned, threw the bar towel at Lamar. “And clean their glasses while you’re at it.”
No small hat tip to Hartley Peavey
Photo from the internet. If it’s yours, holler.