"Eddie Buys Rounds"
Four p.m. on a Friday at Joe’s Bar & Grille – 82nd St., Indianapolis – is typically one step away from anarchy. Reeking of stale smoke and mildew, it is frequented mainly by retirement age urban hillbillies whose livers exist on borrowed time and whose Social Security checks are accepted at the bar. A diverse cast of others come and go, but racist misogyny passes for wit most any time. The waitresses have devised a thousand-yard-deaf-stare to simulate a pretense of hearing/ seeing nothing offensive or degrading. It’s a useful survival strategy. I would advise no one to ever bring a date that they liked to this unhygienic, somewhat foreboding establishment. If the fossils at the bar could still get it up, gang rapes on the pool tables would be all too common.
But that’s just idle chit-chat, neither here nor there. Background information, as it were. If you give me a reason to come drink at Joe’s, I probably will. And my friend Hal, a functioning alcoholic high school teacher, asked me to meet him there for drinks with his colleagues. Only Harold wasn’t at Joe’s yet, so I grabbed a seat at the bar next to the least threatening character present. I sat next to a thirty-five-ish looking white guy wearing a white suit. To complete the theme, I ordered a White Russian, which turned out to be an unfortunate move as the neophyte bartender brought back what appeared to be a large vanilla milkshake. Two septuagenarian barflies relentlessly lambasted my drink of choice and my perceived lack of balls by bandying about such words as “vagina,” “bib,” “homo,” “die of shame,” and “Wild Turkey, motherfucker.” That’s when it happened: Eddie – and I wouldn’t know that was his name for hours yet – leaned in conspiratorially and became my focal point for the next few hours.
(Hal showed up but in life you make choices. And this was a tough one because Hal is a fun drunk, witty and engaging, and I don’t see him all that often. But I sensed that an adventure lie in staying with Eddie and I was right.)
“Watch those two,” Eddie warned, making a sweeping gesture with his drink in hand. “The younger one just got out of prison today and they’re celebrating. He’s got a hair-trigger temper.”
One need not be a psychic to see that Eddie had called this one correctly. The ex-convict was heavily tattooed in the Aryan Brotherhood neo-Nazi prison gang style and every pore of him exuded a raging angst looking for a reason to explode. He could have passed for an extra from American History X, sporting a shaved head, a goatee, a prominently missing tooth, along with the gratuitous tattooing. Judging by his guns – and he was wearing overalls without a shirt beneath – he had put his prison yard time to good use by bench pressing copious amounts of weight. He and a geezer who may or may not have been his granddad were among my most enthusiastic persecutors.
“Ticking time bomb,” I whispered to Eddie about AB, as we now called him. AB was stupid but there was no fucking way we were going to say so. It was like being on a middle school playground again. Henry Reese was the meanest bastard I ever crossed in the 6th grade and he could hit hard. AB was the Joe’s Bar & Grille version of Henry Reese, out on parole. His ‘grandpa’ was even more repugnant. (Had he picked him up from the Pendleton Reformatory upon his release earlier that morning?) Gramps did most of the insulting. I adopted the waitress’ strategy and just drank my fucking milkshake.
Eddie leaned in again. “We’re on the cusp of a change,” he whispered as I nodded. Then he ordered a round of drinks for AB and Gramps. “It’s the third round I’ve fed them,” he explained. “I fear them and want them on my side if something breaks out.” He spoke softly but his blatant candor grabbed my attention and endeared him to me.
Typically, it takes hours of liquor bonding for two strangers to get to this point. Eddie and I hadn’t been sitting next to each other for more than a minute and forty-five seconds as all this played out. Eddie then asked me if I would stay and drink with him indefinitely.
“I’m not gay,” he qualified without me even wondering it.
“I’ll drink with you, but is it just because you want some backup if AB and Gramps make a move?”
“No,” he said, taking a deep swill from his Jim Beam & Coke. “I got engaged today and I’m celebrating. I met a girl in 7th grade – September 8, 1988. She wouldn’t have anything to do with me for a long time.” He gulped his drink, and the way he’d emphasized the word “long” made me wonder. I was doing the math: 1988 to 2011 is a long damn time. “Anyway, today she finally said yes.”
Eddie bought me another White Russian but I told the bartender how to make it this time.
This story was going to take some time. I had no idea how much.
Next installment – Eddie’s generosity grows.