You ever wake up and think, wow I haven’t been happy in five years? What happened to my life and who killed all the joy? Did it just slow leak like a tire and now here I am, stranded, in the ugly daylight?
But you know what, it’s okay. Jeopardy’s on and I’m at the bar. I never miss Jeopardy. None of the guys do. Not Roger or Mr. Juan or even Sarah, who’s a flight attendant. They turn off the music and crank the TV and put on closed captions for the old people who can’t hear so well.
And we all watch Jeopardy together.
Dr. Oz is the guy right now, the host. He sucks. No one likes him. Everybody wishes they’d given Katie Couric another week.
“If Trebek was here, he’d punch that phony in the nose,” says Sarah.
She might be right, I don’t know.
But I was sitting there, sipping my beer, watching this guy name Bryce losing, which bummed me out, because he’d done so well yesterday. You want someone to root for, you know? Doesn’t matter if they’re nice or not. You just want the dorky guy with the funny hand motions to win again in the last minute. Not too much to ask for.
In walks this new guy. He was tall-ish, taller than me anyway, blonde, and clearly fucked up. It’s only seven and this guy can barely walk. He orders a beer and leans against the bar, which you’re not supposed to do because of Covid, but he’s so fucked up Bill the bartender just ignores him. Sometimes it’s best that way.
I can’t stop looking at the guy. It’s distracting me from the show. I can tell Roger’s getting annoyed at me. He barely speaks and watches the TV so fierce it’s like he wants to beat the shit out of it. Whenever Roger gets an answer right because he pumps his fist a little bit and it’s nothing but joy in the room. But this guy, the blonde guy, him I know.
And then it hits me. This the dude who tried to mug me once, like a year ago. I mean, it’s not a big deal. It was a very ineffectual mugging. But it’s him.
I’m so happy I can’t believe it. It’s like seeing an old friend for the first time in years, or maybe a celebrity. I want to hug the man. I want to buy him a beer. I want to know everything about him, if he has a girlfriend or a dog. I’m definitely buying him a beer, just as soon as the next commercial break. I’m so excited I’m bouncing my knee, and Mr. Juan gives me a mean look.
“Cut that shit out,” he says. “You’re shaking the whole booth.”
So I cross my legs and watch Bryce bomb question after question, sinking his total into the negatives, but I don’t even care anymore. I’m going to talk to the guy who mugged me. Maybe we’ll get to be friends, hang out. Maybe he’s got a cool sister I can date. Anything’s possible.
The first round is done and there’s a break before Double Jeopardy, and on come the prescription drug commercials, because that’s all they show during Jeopardy. That and car insurance. I’m nervous, and I ask Mr. Juan to move so I can get up.
“What’s the problem?” he says.
“I got to piss.”
Mr. Juan takes his sweet time, grabbing his can, muttering, all that stuff. It’s like waiting on Christmas morning, I’m so happy, so excited to talk to this guy. It’s like one of those great Meg Ryan movies from the 90s except instead of my one true love it’s the guy who slammed me into a wall five times and tried to steal my wallet, who I only got away from because I pushed him and he tripped over a No Standing sign. This is the best day I’ve had in months.
I grab my beer and walk towards the guy. I’m a little wobbly myself, because I’ve been here for several hours already, and the first few beers always go down too quick. But that’s fine because if I wasn’t a little drunk I wouldn’t be doing this at all. I like to talk to people, it’s one of my favorite things in the world, but I’m usually scared to, and I say it all wrong. I can fuck up a greeting like no one’s business. Even ‘hello’ comes out like vomit. But not today, not four beers deep at 7 pm, not during Jeopardy.
Right before I get to the guy he sneezes, spilling his beer down his sweatshirt. Like the whole beer, right down his chest. He stares at the empty glass like where did my beer go?
He turns and looks at me.
“You need a napkin?” I say.
The man stares me right in the eyes. His are bloodshot, a little yellow around the rims. Blonde stubble on his cheeks, chapped lips. He looks maybe thirty, younger than me, with fresh white sneakers. A sweetness to him, like you could scoop him up in your arms and be his mother forever.
If he recognizes me, he doesn’t show it.
“This fuck,” he points to Bill, “just made me spill my beer.”
“Easy,” says Bill. “You spilled that yourself.”
“Sneezing,” says Mr. Juan. “Spraying Covid around.”
Roger doesn’t say anything at all.
“This fuck,” says the man again, “made me spill my fucking beer.”
And he throws the glass on the ground, shattering it right at my feet. A chill goes over me, I’m not kidding you. I feel it all the way into my toes.
In two seconds Bill is around the bar and has the man by the collar, him stumbling in a half-walk, as Bill takes him to the door.
“Throw his ass out,” says Sarah.
“Yeah,” says Mr. Juan. “It’s Final Jeopardy.”
Bill pushes him outside and he just kind of seems to take it. He walks over to the curb without turning around. He screams in Polish or something and punches the hood of my friend Herman’s car.
Then he’s gone, out of my life forever.
I can’t go back inside for Final Jeopardy. I’m shaking so hard I can barely move. It’s tough even to light my cigarette.
“Tragic kid,” says Nona. She’s like the old grandmother of the bar. She hates when I smoke. Her husband died young, of a heart condition, and she can’t stand for any of us to take a risk. To Nona, her husband is Heaven, long gone but drawing nearer every day.
“I knew his parents,” says Nona. “Father died, mom married some asshole. That’s how it goes. Haven’t seen him in this neighborhood in years. Good riddance, right?”
“Yeah,” I say, trying to keep my voice from breaking. Deep breath in, let the smoke out. You’re good, you’re calm, you’re not going to freak out again. Just speak. You can do this. Ask the question.
“What’s his name?” I say.
“Macy,” says Nona.
Macy. Can you believe that?
Jimmy Cajoleas is from Jackson, Mississippi. He lives in New York.