Now, I’d mentioned before that I had been to Murfreesboro. When I first joined the paper at CRU, the then-editor had the gall to stick me on sports. I knew nothing about any sport aside from baseball, and the Cumberland Rift University baseball team was the worst—absolute worst—in the NCAA. Any coverage of their games could have been summed up by a cartoon stick figure hanging himself. So, naturally, they stuck me on football. The first game I covered was versus MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University) in a bowl match in their home town.
I learned two things on that trip: the first was that a journalist has power over editors—all you had to do was act a little nuts while on assignment and they had a coniption fit and did whatever they could to make you behave. The second thing was that MTSU girls were easy. They were the polar opposite of CRU girls, who were so damn uptight about life—results of being brought up by Fundie parents who thought CRU was a Christian institution—that you brushed them in the hallway and they ran screaming.
That, by my reckoning, was exactly what Cloyd needed. So I reigned him in—his eyes darting from object to object in the midrange, two-bed room—and told him we were going to an adult playground.
“Gosh! You mean a bar?”
I blinked. “You’ve been to a bar?”
Cloyd guffawed. “Course I have! Dale took me to one. Dave Silver, he took me to another one where we got into a fight with some folks who called him a Jewface, and then we got arrested. I didn’t much like gettin arrested. They put these big iron thingies on your wrists and, gosh almighty, do they smart like no one’s business. Say, you ain’t never been arrested, has you? If you hain’t, then, boy, I got one up on you, and I ain’t ever even—”
I reached back and slapped Cloyd. “Shut up.”
Cloyd’s eyes got wide for a second, terrified wide, and I thought he was going to start crying. Thank God, though, he didn’t. “Why’d you do that? I thought we was friends.”
“We is.” I shook my head. “We are friends. You just... man, there’s this thing called a filter. It tells you when to stop talking. You’ll develop it, just... shut up for a second.” I reached into my bag and pulled out a black shirt (stained, but it was barely visible, and if I remembered correctly, this bar didn’t have strong lighting) and gave it to Cloyd. “Put that on.”
“But I got on a shirt.”
“Yeah, a blue-and-red plaid shirt that’s going to give any sane person an aneurism. Put the black shirt on and we’ll go get you some tail.”
“But I’m a person,” he said. “I don’t have a tail. Oh! You mean to eat! Gosh, I ain’t ever had tail before. I had hoof after Mr. Gamble killed Horse and gave me the hooves to eat. I didn’t much like that, though. I felt bad eating Horse and—”
I reached back my hand and he shut up.
He took off his shirt and, well, fuck. The guy was built like a Goddamn bodybuilder. If his story about pulling a plow every day of his life weren’t true, then he sure as hell did a lot of manual labor. If we could get him to calm down enough to talk to a girl, all he had to do was flex a little and she’d be putty.
“Gosh,” Cloyd said. “I don’t think I like this shirt.” He started picking at the fabric. “It’s mighty tight.”
“Yep,” I said, grabbing the keys and making my way out of the door. “That’s the point.”
“Oh!” Cloyd said. “Is this like one of the shirts that Dave called a douchebag shirt? I don’t wanna be a douchebag, Mr. Yudavitch. The douchebags got into a fight with us at the bar.”
“Clothes don’t make you a douchebag. You, in fact, couldn’t be a douchebag if you tried.” We stepped into the elevator. “You’re a simpleton.”
Cloyd snorted. “You sound just like Apple.” His face fell. “I miss Apple sometimes. Too bad I threw him into the woods. Shouldn’t-a done that. That were stupid.”
We walked through the lobby, I nodded to Derek, and we headed out into the night, across the hotel parking lot, through a massive mall parking lot, and towards the bar. Cloyd jabbered the entire way about topics ranging from how to survive head-butting contests with goats, how to wash in a creek, to how to rip ticks out of your skin with only your teeth. I zoned out and steeled myself for the onslaught of frat boys.
Sure enough, we walked into The Ostrich and the first thing I was hit with was the low, thudding bass of whatever hip-hop was top in the charts that week. The second thing I was hit with was the overpowering stench of Axe body spray. The third thing I was hit with was the sight of loads of women wearing pastel-colored t-shirts with Greek lettering on them. “Ah,” I thought, “the sorority girls.”
“Gosh,” Cloyd said. “It stinks in here. Worse than the barn after Goat got sick that one time.”
“An apt description,” I said. “Your powers of observation are overwhelming.” I got the bottle of whiskey from my jacket and felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned to see a Behemoth in a black t-shirt. The man must have been seven feet tall, had a shaved head, and probably could have killed an ox by staring at it. One thing I’d forgotten about this place was that they had the audacity to have bouncers. (A common occurence in establishments like The Ostrich.) Behemoth cleared his throat and spoke in a voice somewhat like James Earl Jones. “No outside beverages.” He held out his hand.
“No worries,” I responded. “It’s empty.” I gave him the empty bottle, tipped my cap, and we walked into the bar proper.
The place had about twenty TVs sprinkled around the bar, most of them tuned to SportsCenter, and a couple on some tennis match in Europe. The sound system thudded with recycled bass notes set to some abitrary rap lyrics about materialism and mysoginy. All around the bar, there were guys wearing pastel-colored shirts hovering—orbiting—around bleach-blonde women tanned to the point of orangeness.
There were two accents spoken in a place like this—for both genders. There was a fake California/Valley/surfer accent with a like of “bro”s thrown in like pepper in a soup; and then the native Tennessee accent. A soft lolling sort of thing that took its time getting out of the speaker’s mouth. It was different than the one I was used to: The East Tennessee accent is a harsh, nasally version of a Southern accent.
I looked over and saw Cloyd wincing. “What’s up?” I asked.
He wined some more as the music got louder for a second. “I don’t like this music, Mr. Yudavitch,” he said. “It ain’t as nice as the Baitman I listened to before—this stuff makes my head hurt.”
I ndoded. “That’s because you have a working brain, my friend. Come, let’s adjourn to the bar and get some alcohol to dull the pain.”
I took him by the shoulder and guided him through the crowd (passing by a guy in a pale blue polo shirt, I heard “So yeah, down at the A-Chi-O house, we’re having a Madden tourney,” and almost threw Cloyd at him) to the bar at the opposite end of the room.
You can tell a good bar by the best kind of whiskey available. Here, the best kind of whiskey they had was Jack Daniel’s. Luckily, I wasn’t going for quality here, just sheer, blackout-inducing quantity. I paid the bartender—a petite girl who may or may not have been 21 herself—and waited as she struggled to pick up the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s to pour a couple singles on the rocks. I looked back and groaned.
“What’s wrong?” Cloyd asked. “You ain’t a-gonna puke again, is you? I don’t think you want to, on account of if you do, it’ll be on me, and this is your shirt. Say, you think I should climb on back there and help the lady pour the water?”
“That ain’t—isn’t water, Cloyd. It’s whiskey. We’re drinking. The reason I’m groaning—no, stop trying to climb over, you’ll get arrested, and I don’t have the money to bail you out. The reason I’m groaning is because this,” I gestured out to the crowd, “is our generation. And our generation is doomed.”
“You sound a lot like Apple. Apple started soundin sad when he talked about people. Cept he used this other language that I ain’t heard you use yet. I don’t reckon I get why we’s doomed. They look like they’s havin fun, don’t they?”
Oh, they did. Off at the other side of the bar, underneath a TV showing a replay of a double play in the Cardinals-Cubs game, a girl slapped a guy in a Billabong t-shirt, and he shouted, “Don’t do that again, bitch!” before getting dragged off by his friends. She probably caught him putting a roofie into her drink.
“I can guarantee you, if you were to go out amongst these people and ask them who the President was, a third of them would tell you it was still Bush, a third would say McCain, and a third would say something like ‘some nigger what don’t belong in Washington.’”
“I don’t know who the President is,” Cloyd said.
“Yeah,” I said, “but you have an excuse. You’ve done so many drugs that your face looks like it’s about to collapse in on itself. No offense.”
“No matter,” Cloyd said. “And I ain’t never done no drugs. My face ain’t about to collapse in on itself, but I did get kicked in the face by a horse once. That hurt a lot, but it’s okay, I kick-killed the horse a little while later. Weren’t a-cause of revenge, though. Apple told me I couldn’t kick-kill a horse, so I did, and Horse died, and Mr. Gamble went to town on me.”
I turned and blinked at Cloyd. He grinned.
The bartender finally put the whiskeys on the table. I glanced at her and saw she was sweating her ass off. I tipped her a couple of dollars, said, “Babe, you need to eat something,” and led Cloyd over to a booth facing “Baseball Tonight.” “The point,” I said when we sat down, “is that out of all of these people here, you and I are probably the most intelligent.”
“Shucks,” Cloyd said. “I ain’t that smart at all.”
“Exactly, that’s my point.” I held my glass up. “L’chaim,” I said. I clinked glasses with Cloyd and took a sip of my whiskey.
“What’s that mean? I ain’t ever heard that, and it don’t sound normal.”
“It means ‘to life.’ Drink some of your Jack.”
Cloyd took a sip from his glass and winced. “That don’t smell right. It smells like Mr. Gamble. I don’t think I want this if it smells like Mr. Gamble.” He put the glass back ont he table and shoved it over to me.
I picked up the glass and drank from it. “Fair enough. What’d this Gamble guy do to you? Head of the commune? Touch you places he shouldn’t?”
“What?” Cloyd asked. “No, he was just a right ornery fella what wanted to kill me afore I got to realizin that I didn’t want to be chained up to a plow all the time. Shot at me a few times with one of his shotguns, but I dodged him. I ain’t seen him in a while, and I hope I ne’er see him again. Probably won’t, on account a how he refuses to go to the cities, and here we are, in the city.”
“Hmm,” I said. I finished off the whiskey and caught the attention of a waitress—she looked older than the bartender, and looked capable of picking up something heavier than a shirt. “Ma’am,” I said, “can we have two pints of Red?”
“Sure can,” she said, and walked off.
“Two pints of red?” Cloyd asked.
I nodded. “Among other things, we’re going to find out what you like to drink. Red doesn’t taste anything like whiskey, and actually smells nice, so we’re going to give that a shot. Cloyd, you ever fucked a girl?”
Cloyd sat back, grinned and blinked.
I shook my head. “Vey iz mir, what sort of stuff did they do to you at that commune?”
“I told you,” Cloyd said. “I weren’t on a commune, I was on a—”
“I know, you were kept prisoner on a farm by this Gamble scoundrel.”
The waitress returned with the two pints of Red lager, set them on the table, and put down the bill.
I raised my glass, Cloyd raised his, and we clinked. He sipped from his and said, “Dang!” He took a swig. “I like this! It tastes like summer, or somethin. Somethin nice, anyway.”
I grinned and said, “Reds it is.”
By the time he finished his pint, Cloyd was drunk. Admittedly, it wasn’t really smart of me, thinking he could handle alcohol after seeing him leap up and down in amazement at potted plants in a hotel lobby. But, there you go. You let your guard down for a second, not fully understanding the person you’re with, and they go and get absolutely plastered on a 4.6% red lager. “Oh well,” I thought, watching Cloyd sway back and forth in his seat, “he’s having fun.”
“Sssay,” he said, “you—you think that nice lady over there,” he pointed to a sorority girl wearing a teal shirt and pink hotpants, “wants to dance? I dance. Apple told me how to dance, and—and so I can dance. Don’t you think I can dance.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sure you can. And, as to the lady, you won’t be sure unless you go ask, will you?”