By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Figuring he might be a veteran, I ask if he’s seen Pearl Harbor.
The movie, Pearl Harbor.
I move closer. The tall guy, who looks a good 10 years younger than Tom, vacates a stool so I can sit.
“I didn’t see it yet,” says Tom, motioning for the bartender to get me another beer.
I tell him I saw it; thought the battle looked staged.
“Well, I guess you had to be there.”
“He was there. He was at Pearl Harbor,” says the tall guy.
“I wasn’t there,” says Tom. “I was in the service. But do you know something?”
He waits for me to ask. What?
“They say FDR knew about it beforehand,” he says.
I’d heard that.
“If it is true, then that’s not right. But you have to put everything in perspective. FDR needed a reason to get into the war. Still, it’s a fucking shame. More than 2,000 men dead, to get into a war.”
I ask him where he was when he heard about it. He stares directly at me for some seconds, and starts to cry.
“I was in a munitions factory in Louisville, Kentucky, making 20-millimeter bullets. About this long.” He holds his thumb and index finger six inches apart. “I was 16 years old. I don’t think we’ll get into that sort of confrontation again.”
Why? Because technology has made that sort of confrontation obsolete? Or because we think we have a better understanding of the world?
“You said it: We think we understand. I am a lawyer — was a lawyer, I retired 30 years ago. Figuring things out is very simple. You ask questions: who, what, why, how and when. If you can answer four of the five, you can usually figure out the fifth, and then you have the right answer.”
“But knowing what’s right doesn’t change anything,” says the tall guy, who remains standing. I ask his name.
“I tell my friends my name is Richard. Not Dick, not Richie. If you’re not my friend, I tell you my name is Sam. Is that plain enough for you?” He tips his bottle toward Tom. “I sat two seats away when she came over, you notice that, partner?”
“But you’re welcome to sit with us, friend,” says Tom.
“He’s got stories,” Richard says to me. “He worked in the asshole of the ship. Ask him about torpedo juice.”
What’s torpedo juice?
“That’s when you take the fuel for the torpedoes and filter it through four, five pieces of bread. You can get drunk on that,” says Tom. “But then the Navy found out about it so they added something called pink ammonium, I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s a poison.”
So, some people died by drinking it?
Richard and Tom look at me as though I’m an imbecile.
“You got that glaze on your face like you’re a Scientologist,” says Richard.
“You know, you’re stupid, but you’re still beautiful,” says Tom.
“It’s all these idiots in Southern California — they’ll follow anything,” says Richard. “Do you know who Mary Baker Eddy was?”
“Good, you know something. But did you know that in Mary Baker Eddy’s casket, to this day, is a telephone with a live connection? If anyone wants to call her with a question, they can.” Then Richard backs off. “Talk to this man. He’s a veteran; he buried his friends. I buried my friends.”
Was Richard in the service?
“Of course I was. Wasn’t your father?”
Merchant Marines; couldn’t go to Korea because of a heart murmur.
“Yeah, that’s what he tells you. Merchant Marines, it’s another way of saying, ‘I didn’t want to serve.’”
Where did Richard serve?
“None of your business. I gotta go. You ever been to the racetrack?”
“Yeah, probably once. I work at the track. I’ve handled more money than anyone in this place. Do you know I can’t pass a drug test because the hundred-dollar bills are all impregnated?”
I get another imbecile look.
“With cocaine. People sniff so much out of them, and they’re made of linen.”
So it seeps onto your fingers, and into your system.
“Now you’re understanding. I gotta get to the track.”
Have a good day.
“Well, I woke up this morning, didn’t I?”
So . . . it’s a good day already?
“There, you’re finally understanding something. I leave her to you, partner,” he says to Tom. When I tell Tom I have to roll too, he grabs my wrist, and looks at me with undiminished hope.
“Can I call you?”
When I tell him I’ll see him around here, he loosens his grip, and gives my hand an avuncular pat.
“Well, I tried,” he says, and goes back to his scotch.