by Michael Davidson
No one cards us at the Cat. They are familiar with our mugs by now. Locust steps up to the counter and asks for three Maker’s Mark. The bar tender plucks a few chords of chitchat while she pours our first round. Years of smoking cigs, drinking, serving drinks, and singing her favorite tunes around closing time has wrinkled her face in all the right places. Her voice sounds like honey gravel.
I look up at the tv and see the NBA Playoffs. Lakers are getting killed. I automatically side with the winning team.
Someone drops a quarter into the jukebox. Otis Redding, the man, croons about his lost lover he has been loving a little too long. I shake my head as if the song means more to me than the person who paid for it to play.
Locust finds his way to our table with three gorgeous drinks. Before giving thanks, I put my time in with the bar tender to ask for a bowl of unshelled, salted peanuts. She does her old-lady swagger to the other side of the counter, shovels twice into a bowl, and slides the feed to me like something magical.
Otis Redding goes on serenading the bar. My feet want to jazz, but my brain doesn’t let anything happen. Dear Lord, why is it so hard for me to dance, to let loose? Why am I so self-conscious, so aware?
Drink, man. You got some catching up to do.
That’s Rob. He’s getting ready to order a second round. Locust is sucking on a cube, waiting patiently. I take my tumbler and warm my insides.
Maker’s Mark good! Maker’s Mark good!
Rob cracks open a shell. Scoops out the peanut. Heaven. Another quarter coasts into the jukebox. Radiohead plays. In Rainbows. I like the falsetto. It makes me feel very translucent. I take off my sweatshirt for ventilation.
I didn’t ask you earlier, but what’s with the shirt?
That’s Rob cutting to the quick. I throw back a hard-earned peanut and tell the truth, sort of:
I went for a run today. This is my running shirt.
Really? I didn’t know you ran in a wife beater.
I do. Sometimes. Every now and then. Not often, but sometimes I do.
Locust sees something I overlooked. He carries Rob’s investigation to a new level:
Wait a sec, you forgot to tear off the price tag.
Yup, that’s it right there.
Locust points at what is undeniably a price tag from the only deep discount store in the neighborhood. I don’t know what I was expecting. You can’t never wear a wife beater and then just one day wear one and not expect to get comments from your friends, especially when you wear it out to a bar at night. Truth is, I was in such a hurry to leave for the Cat that I forgot what I was wearing. But damn. I wish they would’ve said something earlier.
All right, I bought this last night at El Cheapo. I had a date, but she stood me up.
You had a date so you went to El Cheapo and bought a wife beater?
What kind of date was this?
A running date. We were supposed to go running this morning.
And she played truant. Damn, man. Sorry to hear that.
Always one to know when to move on, Rob unshells a peanut, pops it into his mouth, and asks if we’re ready for another.