Originally published in somewhat different form as “Social Climbing,” one of four stories published under the pseudonym Thomas Sparrow in his 1999 debut Northwoods Pulp: Four Tales of Crime and Weirdness and later translated into Japanese and published by Fushosha.
From his spot at the bar, Nick screamed, “YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE, SAM.”
Peter McKay glared at Nick and blinked his eyes several times. Then his benevolent pose returned. John McKay got up from the table and walked slowly over to a leather couch in front of the fireplace. He picked his brown cashmere topcoat off the couch. His face glowed yellow from the flickering flames as he said a perfunctory goodbye and walked up the stairs. A moment later I heard the outside door open and close. Sam couldn’t hold it any longer and broke down into a giggling mess. Tom Geno grinned along with Sam—he could afford to. Miko regained some composure after downing his brandy but still had the look of a stunned rat.
Now Nick screamed again—at all of us this time: “OUT. ALL YOU ASSHOLES GET OUT OF HERE. THIS IS THE LAST FUCKING TIME I DO THIS SHIT. OUT—GODDAMN NOW!!!” Then he raked his hand across the top of the bar, sending bottles and glasses and ashtrays flying, gave us all one last glare and stormed up the stairs.
That gave us something to smile about as we showed ourselves out into the blustery March night. And I needed a laugh real bad. The sky was cloudy and there wasn’t a star in sight. I shivered. The hawk was blowing from the North and the dampness went right through me. But it was more than the weather had me shaking. Things hadn’t turned out very good tonight. And my whole life was the shits. I was in debt to the brothers for ten grand and after that performance in there I felt sure Nick would soon lose all patience with my financial delinquency, You don’t throw good money after bad, one of his favorite sayings. And after I didn’t turn the cards his way, I definitely qualified as bad.
Things were worse than I knew. Funny how you can get started into patterns without realizing it, and before you know it you’re going down some road leading somewhere you don’t even want to go. You don’t know where you’re going till you arrive and then later when it’s too late you’re not sure how you got there. And for the life of you, no matter how hard you try, you can’t find the way back. That’s the way it was for me.
My love life was also the pits—too many classless, ignorant bar flies with a marked propensity toward procrastination and sloth. I read that last part on a men’s room wall somewhere. But what do you expect from a divorced guy for Christ sake—church socials and discussion groups?
My ex-wife Loraine and I were flower children sweethearts back in the sixties. Then after seven years of marriage she caught me in the car with a topless twenty-year old and kicked me out of the house. Losing Loraine wasn’t so bad though, because by then we really had nothing in common—and even the sex was stale. All she wanted to do was go bowling and eat, while I, according to her, only cared for drinking beer and “staring at little chickie’s chests.” Fact it was imported beer never seemed to make an impression on her. Sometimes I miss the early days when she loved me still.
(To be continued)