Electric Tech Guy Blues
by Frank Smith
There was a tourist couple in the bar. The man was born in Forest Hills and had lived there until he was four-years old. They now lived in Stewart, Florida. He recently retired from his job as a deliveryman for the UPS, and their daughter worked for the Marriott chain of hotels in an administrative capacity. These old folks were so proud of her too. The woman's name was Dora and she was a stout lady with blonde streaks in her hair.
Now, the girl had arranged for her parents to spend the weekend in a nice place up near Times Square. What they were doing in some shitty bar downtown I couldn't tell you. I knew why I was there, but then again we all have bad days down in the desktop salt mines. These people were so cute, that I didn't care they were spending their vacation hanging out in a dump with a bunch of lowlifes. Well, it was still early in the day and I was the only lowlife there. Truth be told, I'm not much of a lowlife. I own a Blackberry and have a subscription to Netflix.
But I knew that I loved this couple. I loved their accents, which were a mixture of the Midwestern nasal twang and an affected New York whine. I loved their printed T-shirts and their khaki shorts. It was their good nature that did it for me. Their easy laughter and poor sense of direction. They didn't know which end of Manhattan was north and which was south. Like so many people of their generation, Brooklyn was an imaginary land in a foreign sea populated by chimeras. In less than six minutes I knew everything I needed to know about them, and on the seventh minute I began creating fantasies about their daughter.
She could have been a pig for all I knew, but I pictured her to be a full-figured classy urbanite-cum-Midwestern doll with a fair complexion, dark hair and a penchant for long skirts and gray turtleneck sweaters. Strangely, she looked a lot like the girl who worked in the subrights department, which means, I suppose, that my fantasies are grounded in a mundane reality.
I asked the bartender to refrain from taking the cost of my next beer from the pile of cash sitting near my plump little fingers. She'd been gingerly pinching a dollar or four whenever appropriate without concerning herself with the thought that I looked like the kind of guy who frequently drank his tip money. The cash on the bar was soggy and I held out hope for the day when I'd muster up the resolve to stumble over to the jukebox. So I took a five from the front pocket of my slacks and slid it across the counter. It was still Happy Hour. I asked for another bowl of mixed nuts. A radio in the back played a commercial which asked us to imagine a man and a gecko traveling across the country quelling the fears most Americans hold in their hearts about auto insurance. "I might need these ones," I said, and I meant it. I instinctively knew that she appreciated my forthrightness, or at the very least my preternatural abilities to form a complete sentence.
For a second the bartender reminded me of this freckled strawberry blonde that I'd fallen in love with after seeing her picture in a nudie magazine when I was a kid. She's a woman now, probably works at Wal-Mart, but I remember her young and full as seen through a soft lens. She wore pearls and posed in front of a makeup mirror and she was alone, which immediately made her a touch classier than the other women in the magazine. It's not because I'm crass that I remember her as well as I do. Some things are important.
When she placed my next beer and a shot down on the pitted counter, I reached out and touched her hand. I didn't mean anything by the gesture, but she scolded me for being fresh anyway. As she turned around, though, I could see a smile on the corners of her mouth. I'm pretty smooth when I'm sober, but when I'm drunk I'm a goddamn sex machine. If there's one thing I've learned from talking to people who have read self-help books it's that you have to put yourself out there every now and again in order to reap any dividends. Or maybe those girlie magazines done warped my mind.
My threshold for liquor had placed me in a more comprehensive category for unwanted editorializing. After muttering something evil about a couple of college kids who had disrupted my reverie by clacking pool balls together, I received a nasty look from the bartender. I held up my half-full pint glass–because I'm a fucking optimist–at the tourists. The man glared at me as he toddled off to make a boom-boom.
Upon the second day air delivery of my next beer and a shot, I made a silent toast to God, Allah, Bob Dylan, Spider-Man, the captain of the John J. Harvey and Bill Clinton. Then I downed my drinks just to see if I could. A cigarette would have been heaven right about then even though we weren't allowed to smoke inside anymore. The bartender offered me another round on her and I told her to put it in escrow. I needed a minute. Chugging that last beer made me puke a little in my mouth and it tasted gross.
In order to maintain aesthetics, the bartender increased the volume on the stereo so everyone could mumble along to "Beast of Burden". This encouraged Dora to order another round for her and her still absent husband. We were all happy. I felt our souls slowly achieving salvation. The woman, my mother, asked for their beers in schooners, and then turned to me and said: "That's what they're called, right?"
"You mean pints?"
"I mean pints. Sorry. I don't mean to sound like a tourist."
"I wouldn't mind the luxury of being able to say that I wasn't from around here. And anyway, you have an awful smart haircut."
"Do you think? Oh, I think I need a trim. Do you know of anywhere I could get a decent haircut?"
"Nope. I cut mine myself."
"Are you taking clients?"
Her husband returned from the bathroom, sidled up to the bar and frowned in my general direction. I defused the situation by commenting on his Mets ball cap. I don't know anything about The Mets, but I'll tell you right now that he sure did. When he realized that I had nothing to add we drifted into a comfortable silence, which I took as my cue to crack open that escrow account and order something expensive and horrible. They left shortly thereafter when my mood turned ugly, but later the whole scene gave me cause to wonder: why can't things remain exactly how they are for a little while longer sometimes?
About the author:
Frank Smith lives in Brooklyn, NY but is originally from the mythical land of Ohio. His writing regularly appears in Maisonneuve and he has also written for Newsweek.com, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and The Black Table. He has an MFA from The New School University and reads too many comic books.