The din of the watering hole had grown through the evening; the inhabitants were oblivious to the gradually
increasing volume. Due in great part to self-induced inebriation, the co-workers descended on the bar as a
place to vent their frustration but were only successful in being progressively drunker and drunker. Desires
for socializing were quickly making way to aggressive and progressively pointed conversations. As a rule,
alcohol aids the ability to capture and appreciate a momentary epiphany but it doesn't do you any good unless
people can hear you expound on your new insights. If epiphanies start flying fast and furious from all corners
of a bar of working peers, the passion for oratory insights grows exponentially. The law of large numbers is
one issue but the issue of large, loud and drunken numbers is an entirely different matter.
Scott Nagy had arrived after most people as he was experienced enough to understand the genesis of the evening because these workplace social hours were encouraged by senior management to relieve stress and develop some sort of esprit de corps. As Scott Nagy grew older, he wisely realized that these get-togethers were ripe with opportunities for social suicide so he learned to come late, leave early and quietly consume only soft drinks masquerading as adult beverages. The days of wild-eyed drinking, complete with hangovers and a wide spectrum of social regrets were definitely over for Scott. He had finally grown up and started keeping his work and personal life blissfully separate. As the years went on, he realized that his circle of friends luckily evolved away from the work group as nothing good had ever resulted in working and playing with the same people.
He enjoyed his co-workers but had no interest in their lives outside of work due to the brutal truth that all work issues and/or stories found their truth in the middle third between the two people. Work issues magnified the worst traits in most people and his co-workers were a good example. As he watched people drink and overtly socialize, he continued to pick out the petty, the vindictive and the slow-witted as rounds upon rounds of drinks were ordered and summarily consumed. As a manager trainee in a town far from his alma mater, Scott used to socialize with his work friends because they were the only friends he had. Initially, it was like high school with silly crushes but when he first experienced some of his friends being let go due to budget constraints, he knew these types of friendships were the best of the best and unfortunately, the worst of the worst. People would leave to go to other companies and their relationships with the "old gang" would fade accordingly. Friends at work began a tough sell and as the nineties continued, compliance and potential harassment issues squeezed the remaining attraction out with rare efficiency.
Scott sat near the end of the bar, near an open window to avoid the general stink of a drinking crowd, and chatted politely with the more benign members of the group. This group was slightly older than the newer employees; marriage, children and hobbies were pushing out the adrenaline-rich highs of the first job out of college. The company was growing; resulting in aggressive hiring with new people coming in all the time and the majority had shifted precipitously towards youth. Most of the new breed had been at the company less than a year so the sight of a familiar interview suit was common in the company offices. It always interested Steve how when one adds alcohol the polite and docile personalities change to one of loudly posturing as they shared their increasing inventory of opinions.
Susan Wunderlich sat down next to Steve and smiled cordially. They had been co-workers for five years and have been always on the same side of issues. There was no threat between them so when they saw each other, the conversation was genuine and heartfelt as two casual observers with no ulterior motive or agenda. The surrounding group of co-workers was a good one to both socialize with and speculate about the consistent turnover but the lack of true friendship made the interactions detached. Neither of them harbored any desire to fool around with any of the newbies and the constant departures for other jobs (and the constant arrivals of new employees) added to the general noise and made the observed group permanently transient and surprisingly uninteresting.
She ordered a drink because she needed one to dull the volume around her but once the symptoms of her headache were addressed, she would be switching to water to stave off both dehydration and the urge to strangle one of the new teammates. Susan did not fixate on issues outside of her control and felt that topics involving old age, the deterioration of common courtesy and global warming.
“Are they stentorophonic or stereophonic?” she asked as she drained her drink and requested the second and hopefully, final replacement.
“Are you asking about the crowd directly in front of us?”
Steven sipped his drink and said, “Both words are good ones and I would suggest you use them both and add a nice obscenity at the end. The alliteration will become you.”
Directly in front of them was a loud, foul-mouthed sales representative with the generic name of Linda Vester. She was decked out from head to toe in black; a hard body succubus with pointy, shrewish features complete with gesticulating arms and fashionable posture. She knew that she work a room but had no interest in letting nouns get in the way of a self-defined fascinating story, no matter how vacuous. It helped that she was technically attractive but time was not on her side; only a small percentage of the heads she turned five years ago still made either vertical or horizontal motions when she wandered past. She accentuated all her positive attributes while camouflaging the realities of rapidly approaching middle age. When she spoke, which was often, every sentence was packed with superlatives and every self-aggrandized concept was hers (and hers) alone. She laughed louder, spoke faster, drank quicker and communicated harder than most carnival barkers. Saturated with self-esteem, the epicenter of any artificial fun was the loud-mouth tart Linda Vester.
Usually, at similar functions, the duo would spend time mocking Linda and types like her but it was a long week and their energy was best spent reassuring each other that they were the only sane ones in the bunch. They continued to talk but reacted to group comments and made sure to engage in social pleasantries with passing co-workers. Watching the increasingly inebriated Linda Vester hold court with a group afraid to further motivate her rants, the two make a point to look away
“We are surrounded by pretension but I am seeking truth,” said Susan as she grabbed her fresh, second drink. "Watching the numbnutted Linda Vester ramble on is just like watching a car wreck. I am repulsed but for some reason, fixated at the whole event."
“The truth is too small of a topic,” said Scott. “I think you would do better with something a bit larger, perhaps life, love of country, duty and the pursuit of contemplative thought.”
"This is especially true when you have pudding for brains,” responded Susan.
Scott smiled and took the whole scene in as one large observation. Susan’s vitriol was higher than usual but he had no real problems with the folks as he kept a good distance from most of them. He wasn’t angry; he was more fascinated with the dynamic of youth versus age, wisdom versus intelligence. They were young, single and without many commitments; their age and salary expectations allowed them not to place too much of their self-esteem in their newly chosen profession. The options of changing careers or falling back on the mother of all cop-outs, Graduate School, were all still legitimate but for the time being, they were young with money in their pocket. Except for Linda who was almost twice their ages with baggage to spare.
“Pudding for brains? You haven’t used that comparison before,” said Scott. “I like the imagery of that but I thought you were going to compare their brain matter to something more organic, more scatty.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Susan. “I tire hearing my own voice complaining about ignorant youth or foolish loudmouths. It is a fact of life but I constantly attach the foreboding, animus overtones of bitter old age to the breaking point of boredom so I have to step away from it unless I run the risk of being viewed as a total shrew.”
“You’re not a total shrew but you could easily defined as ‘shrewish.’”
“That’s sweet. So, how is your life?”
“On paper, life was fine. But in real life theory, it has both good and bad aspects at this moment.”
“That doesn’t sound too good,” said Susan. She was intrigued to hear him talk about his life in somewhat strained terms. Pulled in by the working theory that misery did indeed love company, she pressed forward for more details but was comfortable that nothing too foreboding existed.
“It is nothing too exotic: I think it is a matter of fatigue, aging and the growing realization that many things do not, and will not, make sense. I am not bitter about it but it would have been nice to realize that things just happen when I was a younger man. And, it is so easy to wish one could travel back into time and right wrongs but realistically, the general awareness of the truth is good enough. Each day, my parents are getting smarter and I appreciate the patience they showed me as an ignorant child.”
“Patience?" said Susan, "All parents go through it and their revenge is when their children have children. I view it as God's perfect lesson.
The crowd, lead by the mendacious Ms. Vester, began speaking louder and louder. People were interrupting the interrupters, which in turn, generated a counter interruption of the original interruptions. Passions were peaking and the volume of their amplified revelry began to bleed over to Steve and Susan’s conversation at end of the bar. They watched together as the group receded and grew with the conversations of little or no importance. Literal waves of boozed up emotion were being generated in the circle of co-workers. A peak was coming and these two wanted to enjoy the quickly following valley of realization when the group falls apart when faced with other commitments.
"I am looking forward to see the group quietly disengage and revert back from the finite sum to the collection of its finite parts," said Scott.
Susan smiled and said, "As a liberal arts graduate, I have several things to say about the sum of ones parts: and it all revolves around the concept of true identity. Or in Vester's case, the concept of her skankiness."
"I will apologize now for not writing this down."
"Your apology is accepted. The main fact to grasp is that each of these people is an entity and that collection of entities represents a sum, albeit a stupid sum, of their collective parts. As a drunken group with the vapid Ms. Venter in its center, it exists as long as the parts are there. If one leaves or just goes to the bathroom, the entity state changes and the old reality disappears."
"So far, your logic is impeccable." Scott waved at the bartender and requested two more drinks and two glasses of water. "Keep going."
"Well the hard part is over," said Susan. "Once you realize the nature of entities of building blocks, you just about grasp the concept of the Law of Identity. Assuming the individuals represent building blocks and have a fixed identity, they do not change. They may get smarter with years but they don't change. Old fools are still fools and the jerks from high school are still likely jerks somewhere else."
“It looks like they are arguing about something less controversial than the sanctity of the family farm,” said Scott. “But I know they are just shouting fashionable phrases gleaned from less-than-prestigious literary and cultural sources.”
“That is a nice way of saying USA Today.”
“It is even a nicer way of saying Entertainment Tonight.”
"I don't mind if they do it, as this supposedly is a free country, but why do I have to waste my time listening to it."
Susan and Steve had finished their drinks and each ordered another glass of water and watched the screaming abate slightly while the group’s drinks were being reordered and bathrooms visited. Linda Vester stood in the epicenter of the splintered group, reloading her ignorance and reapplying her lipstick. She saw the two of them in the corner of one of her yellow eyes and decided to impose herself on their conversation. She was moving the lipstick in concentric circles around the vermilion border of her mouth.
"That is an odd way to put on lipstick, isn't it?"
"Not at her age," whispered Linda. "The excess lipstick will act as a dam to retard the wicking of the lipstick up through the ever-growing network of wrinkles around one's mouth. When you get old, and we all do, you need to adjust your process because if not, your will take on the look of an aged second-grade teacher."
"Do you do it?"
"Not yet but in a few years...absolutely. But I will have enough class to do it in the bathroom. Not in the middle of a gin joint during a drunken group potty break."
During the lull, Linda looked around to see if there were others she could engage with during the interim. She had reloaded her make-up and was ready to lock onto someone until her self-declared posse could regroup. She finally spotted Scott and Susan and her face lit up like a veteran clown. She waved and headed over to talk.
“Hi, Linda” said Susan. Steve nodded and she smiled at both of them.
“Hello, kids. Isn’t this a great night?” Luckily, they both treated it as a rhetorical question because she continued to talk.
”The whole group has been having a long conversation about the things that bug us.”
“Really?” said Steve. “What things are causing you and the group anguish?”
Surprisingly, Linda appeared to understand the word “anguish” and she took a deep breath. Both Susan and Steve clenched their stomachs for the guaranteed verbal spewing that lay just beneath her countless patinas of reapplied lipstick in a vain attempt at masking her rapidly veiny lips.
“There are so many things: dumb people, traffic, high prices for just about anything, untrustworthy housekeepers, pollution, dishonesty, war and injustice, slow lines and reruns."
“Re-runs?” said Steve with an involuntarily choking noise. As Linda looked at him, he was nervous because that comment was supposed to be within his inner dialogue. The sheer stupidity of listing pollution, war and re-runs together on a list was so incredibly brainless that it vaulted over his usual filtering mechanisms and just jumped out of his mouth.
“Yes, re-runs. All the television shows out there and it seems that we just see the same thing over and over again.”
Steve bit down on his lip; this was a matter of her personal stupidity to watch these re-runs and the derivative nature of the original programming had nothing to do with the heinous crimes of humanity. He was fighting the urge to strangle Linda as she stood in front of him, arms resting on her hips with one of her clunky shoes making an annoying tapping on the bar floor but Susan’s voice interrupted his murder plan.
“Really? That is so interesting!”
“Thank you! So, anyway, as I was saying about reruns...”
“Here comes your group,” interrupted Susan. Linda spun clockwise and greeted her toady little friends and was bathed in the voices of the returning and freshly voided group. Susan pulled Steven back to their original places and gave him a look of dismay.
“You can’t kill her,” she said. “There are too many witnesses.”
“How did you know I was plotting her murder?”
“I am a fan of the human condition and your facial expression was a clear indictment of your complete revulsion of her stupidity.”
“Did you hear me plotting to kill her? I was having trouble with my inner dialogue a moment ago.”
“No, I didn’t hear that one. However, I heard that.”
“Oh, I have to keep working on that one.”
“I would suggest that you work on it from a distance. I feel that proximity will eventually cause you to commit the murder that you are continually thinking about.”
They both smiled but Steve knew she was right. It was lucky that they both stopped drinking but the crowd in front of them kept drinking. Now peer-pressure motivation shots of liquor were being dispensed at a troublesome pace.
“This does not look good,” said Susan. “I may be an older woman but I am positive that this whole adventure in speed drinking will end when someone starts to cry.”
“Like most things, the onset of tears is not good for anyone.”
They watched the group swallow down round after round of shots and the group got louder and sweatier but they could see the transformation. The group, now not content with banal conversation, started to elevate the now more attractive Linda Vester as their queen. Her cajoling and encouragement for accelerated drinking achieved her goal of throne ascension. The group was drunk, animated and every guy in the crowd now viewed the slightly wrinkly Linda Vester as a powerful queen and that flawed perception would only diminish with the reduced intake of alcohol. As far as Linda was concerned, office parties were the only way to go.
“She can’t keep whipping the boys into a frenzy,” said Susan. “All this work for a lunch date.”
“I have to give her points for pure, Machiavellian maneuverings. But whatever poor stiff that succumbs to her boozy power will be swearing off drinking by Sunday.”
“I think the winner of the Vester sweepstakes will be looking for an AA meeting on Saturday afternoon.”
“Good point. It appears that you are estimating an early Saturday epiphany.”
“Early Saturday afternoon, late Saturday morning”
The crowd was literally figuratively and literally drunk with interjections. The group was oiled with a variety of premium liquor and the excitable youth were being replaced with apoplectic, sweaty amateur drinkers.”
“Nice use of the word ‘apoplectic’ in this situation,” said Susan. “It adds a nice sense of drunken desperation.”
“That is what I was striving to capture. The choice of the word ‘sweaty’ was something I threw in once I took a look at the moisture being generated by the pack.”
“I was blaming poor drinking aim on some of that but there is no doubt that the combination of drinking and the desire to be heard has caused some of that dampness to transpire in perspiration.”
“Nice use of assonance.”
“Aren’t we smart,” said Susan over the loud and off-key song that was causing Linda Vester to achieve self-actualization through a rare combination of group adoration and copped feels. “Not many people use that word.”
“So sue me,” said Steve. “I read.”
“I see that,” smiled Susan. She squeezed his hand in a sincere, platonic manner. “I got to go home and hang out with my family.” She threw ten bucks down and stood up.
"I have to go as well,” said Steve. He picked up her ten and dropped down a twenty. The tip was going to be healthy but neither cared about the few extra bucks they left on the table. They were sober, at peace with things around them and they were going home. They had the money, they just wanted more time.
The idea that is rolling around in my head is about a
person who has only one idea in his or her life and they keep on shoving down everyone's throat. The old adage of
"if all you have is a hammer, everything is a pencil" meets another old cliché that states "there is
nothing more dangerous than one's only idea." I hope to finish this sometime when I can be less whiny
and more cheeky.
Back to Short Stories