God Bless America
Bonnie Reyes was bent over in front of the jukebox, rolling her behind while she studied the selections. Mmm-mashed potatoes, Arnie Borden said, and just like that Big Alice was on him like bees.
I don’t have to put up with this, she hollers. Hey, I don’t have to listen to this either, Arnie tells her right back.
People up and down the bar were waiting impatiently for Cora to serve their beverages but Cora couldn’t stop laughing.
Nobody has to listen, Cora says. Is this a great country or what?
Sully’s been seeing this soccer mom whose husband has no time for her. Downtowner Motor Inn, Mondays and Thursdays, noon to two. She’s a little bossy, Sully says. You know—not like that, like this? But you can’t beat the reliability, and plus, he says, he has to be there anyway to service the vending machines.
I don’t have any problem with perverts, Irene Judson says. I like perverts. At least they know what they want.
Yeah but what about those creeps who mess with little kids, Schneider asked her.
They’re not perverts, Irene tells him, they’re rapists. Maybe they call theirselves perverts, but that’s why perverts get a bad rap. Because of the rapists.
Jack Buckley’s got this droopy old basset he calls Hoover after the vacuum and rain or shine maybe three or four times a day he’ll walk Hoover down to the Tap where the dog screws himself into the floor and Buckley knocks down a couple-three vodka rocks and watches whatever’s on the tube. It’s a good thing for Hoover they take these walks, Buckley says. Otherwise the lazy bastard wouldn’t get any exercise at all.
One busy night Cora gets her girlfriend Denise to help behind the bar, and just like that Freeman decides he’s in love with her because she’s so kindly and good-looking and with such a pretty smile. Also he doesn’t like her working in a tavern and he wants to meet her parents, and by then Cora sees she’d better take Freeman aside.
Listen, she tells him, you have to be patient with Denise. Her experience with men is very limited.
Teddy Pappas used to make the odd dollar stealing homing pigeons. This was back when guys used to keep flocks on their roofs. Teddy would clip the pinions on a bird he’d buy from a listed dealer and keep it in his coop until its feathers grew back. That way the bird would be trained to the coop, so when Teddy threw it into some other guy’s flock, chances were it would lure away some stragglers. Decoy-homers like that were called throw-ups or Judas birds, and it was a pretty good scam. Only you couldn’t always trust them, Teddy said, because a lot of times the sombitches wouldn’t come home.
Home for the Holidays
Kling and his ex share custody of the kids but she takes them for their Easter and Christmas vacations. That way, she tells him, he can have some time for himself.
Noonan and the missis have been recovering the bliss of making love before he goes to work in the morning. It happened just last week, he was telling us. The kids just left for school, the missis was sorting laundry. Noonan tiptoed behind her and slipped his hand into her housedress. The place was so quiet, it was so nice, Noonan said. They’re kissing each other, they’re doing the old gimme-that-thing. She certainly couldn’t tell him she was tired, Noonan said. She’d just gotten eight hours of sleep.
Punch Me 50¢
Gaffney’s broke so he gets this idea, he’ll hang this sign around his neck and stand on the corner over by the CTA Brown Line stop on Western Boulevard. Gaffney himself came up with the concept but Cora helped him with the pricing.
Something He Saw In the Paper
Buddy Kerrigan was a compliance officer with McDonald’s in Oak Brook. It was Buddy’s job to see that each McDonald’s franchise in his region operated exactly the same way as every other McDonald’s franchise, and since this required a great deal of travel it served as a natural cover for Buddy’s hobby, which consisted essentially of not coming home. It worked so well in fact that it never occurred to Buddy that his wife Selma was not only onto him but fed up enough to hold a garage sale where she raised enough money to rent an apartment within walking distance of their daughter’s grammar school, and Sunday evening when Buddy came home to an empty house he was so stunned by the echoing vacancy that he went from room to empty room calling Selma’s name for almost a quarter of an hour before he realized how foolish he looked. Even the refrigerator was empty. She had sold his tools, his fishing tackle and golf clubs, the S.U.V. of course was gone, and she had taken all the phones. I’m screwed, Buddy groaned. All she’d left him were his clothes and half a roll of toilet paper in the downstairs powder room.
Only that was no small thing, Buddy said. It wasn’t how it looked. He had to call her, he kept saying. She was trying to tell him something.
Through A Glass Darkly
Everything was a racket for Mooney—banking, insurance, golf, women’s wear—everybody had an angle. The day before he passed a bunch of us visited him in the hospital. Mooney was just lying there. He knew this would happen.
Howard the Hound
As a ladykiller Howard Anthony Costello seemed unlikely. Medium height, thinning hair, not fat but not fit, drove a ten-year-old compact with a sprung frame, but his hesitant speech and unprepossessing appearance made his relentless attentions credible to the ladies. He took pains with those gals. He catered candlelight suppers of scrambled eggs and Champagne. He bought them flowers. He kissed them silly. And if, after all that, they felt touched by poor Howard, or maternally protective, or romantically possessive, well, what of it, said Howard, to feel safe was to feel safe. His weaknesses were as useful as strengths in that regard, and more disarming.
I let those other guys scare ‘em, Howie says. After that I look pretty good.
Wycoff nails his wife Gloria with insights from his prior marriages. All his observations are at least five years late, accurate maybe but altogether inappropriate. I think you must have me confused with someone, Gloria tells him, but it only drives Wycoff crazy. He can’t believe he went through everything he went through for no reason, and although Gloria is a different woman entirely, Wycoff can’t believe that a past so filled with misery should have no application to his life.
Don’t laugh, Gloria says. This is a dangerous man.
A Religious Experience
The other night a few of the guys got into it with Cora whether there was anything to the legend of the mercy fuckers. This, if you don’t know it, is the belief that there’s this missionary sisterhood like pelvic Maryknolls who travel Chicago’s neighborhoods bringing transitory relief to the desperately hard-packed.
Cora was frankly skeptical. To her it just sounded like one-night stands. You really think it’s true, she asked.
I know it’s true, Donny Wallace said.
Me, too, another guy said. I think it was Teddy Pappas.
We don’t know how else to explain it, Frankie Danza said.
Leave a Message
Over by the men’s Buddy Erikson’s yelling into his cell so you can hear him over the jukebox:
Hey, Sandy, it’s been three days since you promised to call me back, O.K.? It’s like being married with you all over again.
We liked each other fine, Riley said, but maybe that was the problem, like we’re shitfaced so we have to prove something?
We could have been friends, Riley sighed. We could have gone to sleep.
Every morning Jimmy Barber jumped off a cliff by getting out of bed. Well, Jimmy would warn himself, here I go, since even when he bet the winner the spread would put him out of the money.
Sooner or later though, Jimmy said, things had to come right for him because basically what choice did he have? It stood to reason, Jimmy said. He couldn’t just lose and lose, since how else he was ever going to see past the end of the month?
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Billy Whalen is seventy-two but he walks every day and keeps himself up. How old do you think I am, he asks people all the time, so this guy down the bar looks Billy over and takes a guess. I dunno, he says. What, like seventy? Seventy-five?
Billy frowns and looks disgusted.
What, the guy says to him, eighty?
Seventy-two, Billy says.
That’s what I said the first time, the guy says. Maybe you didn’t hear.
That Obscure Object of Desire
Whitey Slater came back from the Chinese restaurant nextdoor and placed a fortune cookie on the bar, rounded side up with the cleft down the center.
Okay, fine, Cora said. There’s a resemblance.
But don’t you see the problem? How can I look at one of those things and not think about it?
But you think about it anyway, Cora said. When do you ever think about anything else?
It’s true, Whitey said. This is my life.
Tenderly he gathered up the cookie and smoothed the creases in the cellophane.
Do the Math
I’m doomed, I’m a dead man, Drucker says. Three exes, five kids—that’s eight lawyers.
I’m easy, Jill was telling us. It’s a love-me thing but on the other hand you meet a lot of people.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love When We’re Drunk
Roland was telling Mikey about this woman he was seeing in Milwaukee.
She’s no spring chicken, Roland says, she’s almost fifty, but she’s not bad. Only she’s got these ways. I mean there’s times I don’t know what she’s talking about.
Mikey shakes his head, very sympathetic, then he tells Roland about this woman, she cuts off the guy’s dick when he tries to fuck her but she gives it back to him in the morning so he can go to the toilet.
Roland shakes his head. Boy you got that right, he says.
Cora has to close by 2 A.M. or else the patrol comes by with their hands out, but as usual someone’s locked herself in the ladies’ and Safransky’s having a problem climbing down off the floor.
God I’m tired, Cora says. Up here, Safransky, open your eyes.
The Breakfast Club
Although by 7 a.m. most of the breakfast clubbers have already thrown up twice, a few of them are still pretty shaky, so Tommy the day-guy sets their shooters on the front edge of the bar. That way they can beak their drinks with their hands shoved deep in their pockets. According to Tommy it’s little courtesies like these that keep them coming back.
© Bill Teitelbaum
[This piece was selected by Valerie O’Riordan. Read Bill’s interview]