Boys In Blue
There ain't shit on TV on a Saturday afternoon. My buddy Lyle and I come in here after our morning shifts and knock back a couple and bitch about how there's nothing to look at except the girl serving us drinks and the guys arm wrestling on television. Lyle runs his own industrial parts store and I work most of the machines for him. There ain't much work left for me in Dover, so I learned the carbide trade as fast as I could. We work half days on Saturday. Lyle says he does it just to get out of the goddamn house and I don't mind getting the overtime pay.
When I play my cards right, I get most of my drinks bought for me. Lyle comes up to me and asks if I don't mind going out to the Polynesian lounge on the way home and I have to shuffle my feet and look at the ground before I answer—like I got something big and important on my mind. I always say yes, but I gotta make him think I'm doing him this big favor. Most of the time I sit at the bar and look at the black gook underneath my nails and the grease smears that won't come off my hands even after I scrub with that orange scented Lava soap. It ain't bad, working with your hands and since I get my money under the table, it ain't bad working for Lyle. “So how are your parents doing,” Lyle asks me after a big first drink. “Oh, you know, they're fine. Just getting old.”
Lyle nods and his whole back sways with his head. “You know, I haven't seen them in years.”
Lyle and I grew up together. He spent most of his time as a kid at his grandparents' house because his parents were divorced. They just so happened to live right next door to my family. “Does your mom still make that great lasagna?”
“Sure,” I tell him. “Whenever Peg comes to visit, she'll do it all up in style. Most of the time, we eat easy meals. You know, since it's just my mom and me living there now.”
We take some drinks and act like we care about the meatheads on TV turning red in the face. The Celtics don't play today so there's nothing to do during the day except avoid going home. I watch the girl bartender setting up. She finished dumping buckets of ice into bins behind the counter and now she's cutting cherries. Her fingers are really thin and the tips are red from the juice.
She catches me staring at her hands—okay, and maybe a little bit at her tits—and then she asks, “you guys okay with those drinks.”I shrug and look over at Lyle. It's rude to order up another round on someone else's tab, so I wait for him to answer.
“What do you think, Pete? Another round?” He says this and then reaches into his side pockets and pulls out a money clip. That's what I like about Lyle. You might look at him and see these faded Wranglers and it might make you think that he's another deadbeat like the rest of us and then, just like that, he whips out a thick roll of bills.“Sure.” I'm in no rush. I know my mom's at home sitting under an old blanket she knitted for one of us years ago and watching her goddamned cable news. She's been like that since the whole World Trade Center thing. My old man was a cop and died five years before the planes even flew into those buildings, but he died on duty and so she's been glued to the TV since then. We've got troops in Afghanistan now and she waits for news about the Taliban and all that other shit. I watch Lyle move his fingers along the tips of the bills. He's a pretty good boss. I mean, I've worked a bunch of different jobs around here and no one's been as nice as he's been. None of them took me to bars, anyway. “So how's the home renovation going,” I ask him. “You gonna need anymore help with stuff in the spring.”
“Yeah. When the snow melts, I think I'll need your help.”
When the bartender returns with two new bottles for us, Lyle gives her a ten and tells her to keep the change. He's generous like that. I think about how he gives his two boys all the toys they want because he didn't have those things growing up. That's the kind of stuff that makes a man a man, not just getting his hands greasy from working with machines.“So how's Danielle doing? The boys driving her crazy yet?”
Lyle tilts his head to the side like he has a crick in his neck. I know he gets bored not being a bachelor anymore and all, but it's great that he has the family he always dreamed of. “Shit, Pete,” he says to me. “I don't know. Danielle's driving me crazy, if you've gotta know. She can't understand why I gotta be working as much as I do, but she sure knows how to shop with all the money I'm making.”
“I bet it's real tough running your own business. It's all on you. I can respect the hours you put into the store.”
I see Lyle look at his gold watch and get a pissed off look on his face. I don't know if it's getting too late or not late enough. He doesn't want to be here and he doesn't want to go home either. We're getting too old, the both of us, and driving out to a strip club just seems to be too much work. “How's your mom's house, Pete,” he asks me after taking a drink.“It's seen better days, I guess.”
“You need any help fixing the place up for her? I got my tools in the back of my truck.”
I shake my head. “Nah, it's mostly just your typical wear and tear. Nothing major. We only use three rooms in the house anymore, four if you count the bathroom.”We both rock in our seats and work our way down our third round. Each time the front door opens, a bell rings letting one of the servers know they have customers. The lunch crowd starts to file in and the bell rings every couple of minutes. “I'd like to come down there,” Lyle tells me.
He laughs. “The old neighborhood. You know I haven't been there since my grandmother died and we sold that house.”
“Well, I'm the only kid your age left on the block,” I say this as a joke, but it doesn't get a chuckle out of Lyle. He just waves at the bartender for another round. I can count on leaving here with a buzz and some overtime money and I think that I could be doing a lot worse for myself than this. “I'm serious Pete, I really get homesick sometimes. Maybe that's not what I should call it. I don't know what it is, I just miss the old days, I guess you could say.”
I shake my head. “It's probably because you just don't have that house to go back to anymore. Believe me, the neighborhood's still no treat.”
“Yeah.” Lyle wraps his lips around the bottle and leans back.“But my mother would love it to see you. She gets pretty lonely, I think. It might cheer her up.” “Doesn't Peg stop by anymore” Lyle asks. “Every now and then. She's going through what they call a trial separation from her husband, so she doesn't want to come home and hear my mom's shit about how she's a bad wife because she won't take her lumps.”
It's unlike me to talk about something real. Usually I try to talk about sports or the weather, but with Lyle it's different. Maybe it's because we grew up together or maybe it's because he knows things about me I couldn't ever tell anyone else, but I can talk to him and not worry about sounding boring or stupid.
“You're telling my that John beats her?”
“I'm not saying that exactly,” I tell him. “Sometimes he comes home from work with a bit of a temper. That's how it is with cops. I'm not saying that John's not at fault, but Peg grew up with one, and Mickey was one too. We come from a family of cops and we saw how our old man acted.”
“God, I feel bad for your mom, Pete,” Lyle says. “Losing her husband and her son too.”
I take a long sip. “Yeah, she wasn't ever the same after Mickey died. My old man, that was a doozy, but nothing could prepare her for what happened to Mickey.”“
They say that mothers never recover from losing their kids.” Lyle shakes his head. His mouth's kind of open and his eyes are big like he's watching a train wreck in slow motion. Up on the TV, the men with bulging biceps are leaning in opposite directions trying to tear each others' arms off, but Lyle isn't watching them. I wonder if he's thinking of his own mother or if he's just trying to fill up the silence. “Yeah, I guess they say those things for a reason,” I say, trying to lighten the mood a bit. “Especially with Italian mothers.”Neither of us says anything for a while. I think we're both self-conscious now and scared of getting weepy-eyed drunk like we used to when we were younger and still wet behind the ears. I watch a few more matches of arm wrestling and nurse the rest of my beer. Every so often, I catch glimpses of hunched and angry old men that remind me of my father and I regret bringing the subject up at all.
The bartender must have picked up on our serious vibes because she's hung back in the corner trying to read a textbook and, when she sees something she likes, highlights certain important passages. She doesn't come by to ask us if we want another round and I hope Lyle will want to leave soon too.
“You know what I just thought of, Pete,” Lyle says to me. “What?”
“You're the only guy in your family that isn't a cop.”
I nod. “I was lucky enough to still be in high school when my old man got shot. I knew right then and there that I wasn't going to get a job where there was a good chance I'd die before retirement. Mickey was older, so he was already out of the academy by then. And me, I just drifted along from job to job.”
“Do you ever wonder how things could have been different?”
“I'd be lying if it said I didn't, but mostly, I just think about how rotten things have turned out. I don't know though, sometimes I wonder if I'm where I am now because I wouldn't accept my fate.”
“You mean how we end up being just like our dads?”
“Something like that.”Lyle snorts. He rubs at the stubble under his chin and looks at his watch again. “Pete, I'm serious about coming by to help out around your mom's house. We can fix up that deck in the back or redo the roof. I'm sure there's a lot of work that needs to be done. We won't get to it all at once, of course, but you know, it could be a little project.”
“Maybe,” I answer. “Thing is, she just cleans and watches TV anyway, I don't even think she cares about that stuff or even notices it, if I'm being totally honest with you.” I take it for granted that I've always had my mom, I guess. Lyle hasn't been so lucky and he's always wished he had parents like mine. We've got nothing to brag about, but I guess it's better than nothing. Maybe he thinks that now that Mickey's gone he can fill his shoes. I don't care if he does; I feel awkward around my mom now, like I should be doing something different, like I should somehow be different. “What about your family? I'm sure your kids could always use more time with you.”Lyle looks me in the eyes and says, “you know, I thought I'd be a hell of a dad when I finally had kids. You know, everything my dad wasn't. But I don't know how to raise them. Danielle and the boys have some kind of clique that I'm not a part of. They're like this unit I can't break into, so I'm just gonna stop trying.” Lyle's eyes have that glossy shine that comes with a few drinks; I'm sure mine have the same dull glow. I think of a way of telling him I want to go, but when the little minx of a bartender comes back to our corner, I don't have to. Lyle's buzzed enough to take his chances on this girl and I know that if I leave now he'll think I'm trying to help him out. Or at least I won't be responsible for what happens next.
“Hey Lyle,” I say to him. “I think I better get going.”
“All right,” he says. He puts out his hand and I shake it. Then he turns back to the girl. “I'll write my cell phone number on the back of my business card,” I hear him say as I start heading toward the door. It's better for both of us that I don't hear the rest of the conversation. Where he goes after that opening line, I don't want to know, and whatever happens after that should be his problem alone.
I walk to the Montecarlo that I've been driving since my brother Mickey died, and I hesitate before I turn on the engine. Part of me wants to go in there and drag Lyle out by the blue collar of our factory uniform, but the other half of me realizes the truth of what he said earlier. Nothing ever changes, we ended up being just like our dads. I get on the highway and head toward the old neighborhood, wondering if we'll really work on my mother's house in the spring, if anything will really change.