Closing Time

By: The Baditter-Bunny Queen

Darn Janet. Darn her and the horse she rode in on and the whole stinking wagon train. I hate redneck bars. I hate bars, I hate rednecks, and right now I hate men in general. That isn't an every day kind of thing. Most of the time I like men. Heck, every now and then I even love 'em, or some of 'em. Usually just one at a time. But right now I hate them all and wish they would die of some flaming pelvic disease. I don't even know if men get those, but if they do, I hope they hurt like crazy.

I'm usually not this annoyed. That's right. Annoyed. I get a whole lot worse than this when I'm mad. Hard to imagine? Laugh all you want. I would, if I were in the mood. Right now I'm annoyed with everything. Work sucks, but then again doesn't it always, and my love life is swirling in the bowl, if you know what I mean.

And there goes Janet, just waltzing around as pretty as you please with some guy I used to hate, I mean date, in high school. It kills me to look at her. We've been out of school almost fifteen years, but you wouldn't know it by looking at her. Janet never was what you'd call skinny, or even thin. She's actually kinda on the chunky side. But she's one of those glows-from-within kinda people. You know the ones. You're at a party and things are almost going your way and then here comes one of those glows-from-within-ers and all of a sudden every guy in the room is following her around. If you're lucky, you might manage to keep the attention of some guy named Larry who's not even supposed to be at the party but is because he's getting a divorce and his sister felt sorry for him and brought him in the dim hope of maybe hooking him up with some desperately pathetic loser girl in search of anything that's swimming around relatively unattached. Only he decides to drown his soon to be ex-wife in a bottle of gin and the next thing you know you're introduced to one another when he falls over in the floor and pukes all over your shoes. You wind up being his designated driver because you feel sorry for the jerk because his heart is obviously broken in teeny tiny pieces and nobody else wants to be within a hundred miles of his irritating whiny story. You give him a sympathetic ear because you think maybe he got a bum deal out of his ex. I mean, the way he talks about her, he must be a great guy, right? He just raves on and on about her. So you let him sleep at your place on your couch because his ex threw him out of the house and he has no place to stay because he can't remember how to get to his sister's place from this side of the city. He wakes up the next morning, apologizing all over the place and you think it's kinda cute the way his hair keeps falling into his eyes. He has a nice smile. His teeth are a little crooked, but you don't really care because maybe you've finally found a nice guy. He likes to talk over breakfast. He's a sensitive type, the kind every woman looks for. You think you've finally found Mister Right, and he's sitting right across from you at the breakfast table. You smile and talk over coffee and bacon and toast and the next thing you know he's moved in with you. He still gets the couch, but you know that won't last too long. He's still getting over his ex. He'll come around eventually. Right?

Wrong. Six months later he's still sacked out on the couch and still raving about his ex- wife, whom if you ever met at this point you would congratulate her for having the sense to leave this loser by the roadside. He's a whiny little nobody and has the really buggy habit of wanting to talk all his feeling out with you. Like I said, I hate rednecks, but I hate whiners more.

So you kick him out, just like his ex did. And the very next night he's outside your apartment in the street, yelling up at your window for you to just stick you head out so he can talk to you. You haven't returned any of his phone calls and he really needs you. You threaten him with bodily harm if he doesn't go away, but he doesn't care. He just wants to talk to you. So like an idiot, you invite him up for coffee, just to keep the neighbors from calling the cops and having his skinny butt thrown in jail. The next thing you know, he's in that same chair, and he's no longer the whiny little jerk he's been for the last few weeks. He's turned his life around and he's ready to prove it. And you can see the spark of something in his eyes. My mother always said that spark was the sign of a dreamer, which is a man to be avoided at all costs. A dreamer always sees rainbows and never plans for rain. Me? I always carry a mop, bucket and umbrella.

So you let him talk. You start to believe him, but you're still too afraid to let him in. After all, you kinda like the little guy. He never did stop being cute, and he's the most adorable thing when he wants you to like him. He's almost like a puppy. I never could say no to those, either.

But because you have sense, you don't let him stay. You need time alone, time to think. That whole spiel about needing space for the relationship to grow. I think it's all crap, but it has bought me enough time to try to think of a way to either get him to move on with his life or get him out of mine forever.

But I digress. I was talking about Janet.

Janet doesn't have a wrinkle on her face. She had three kids and breeder's hips but knows how to use those to her advantage. That's what they made tight pants for, right? And she also has the sense not to have big hair. She just brushes it out and lets it flow. She's always brushing it out of the way and men think its so sexy. I think it makes her look like a vapor head, but maybe I'm just jealous she has hair to work with. Me? I got the genius idea of getting a perm about five months ago. Fried my head down to the scalp. My hair is just now starting to grow out, and it kinda looks like a pixie. I think I look like one of Santa's little elves gone psycho. You can't have a brooder's face like mine and expect to carry off a haircut that cute. I was always one of those lanky girls that was never tall but was bigger than short. I was, and still am, all joints and spindle arms and legs. Right now, I look like a match stick. You got it. My hair is red as a tomato.

I puff on a cigarette. It's my third one of the hour and the big hand isn't even past the three on the Budweiser clock on the wall above the bar. The little hand is on the two. Two- fifteen. Things are gonna be shuttin' down pretty soon. The bar has pretty much cleared out now. By now most everyone has found someone to go home with. Janet says something to the guy she's been bumping and grinding with all night and comes over the table, the table that she was supposed to share with me and help me 'work through my feelings' (her words, not mine. I hate the therapy set). She's wearing this big apologetic smile on her face and asking forgiveness with her eyes. I just want to smack her really hard. It would make me feel a lot better.

"Sheila," she says meekly. "I've invited Steve home for a nightcap. It would be kinda, well, inconvenient if there was somebody in the backseat on the way home, if you know what I mean."

I'm surprised you even realize cars have front seats, I want to say. Instead, I just blow smoke out of my mouth in a steady stream and stare up at her with my green sniper's eyes. I'm letting her off the hook because that's the kind of friend I am, but oh boy, is she ever gonna have to work for it.

"Please, Sheila, you know how long it's been since a guy's wanted to come home with me. I've been lonely."

I tap out another cigarette and light it off the end of the one I have been smoking. "Yeah, sure, go ahead. I'll be perfectly fine here all by my lonesome."

"You really mean that?" she says, missing my sarcasm completely. Or maybe she's missing it on purpose. I think see guilt in her eyes but she's trying to talk herself out of it.

"Oh, sure," I say, going for the last dig. "I mean, what are friends for, right?"

She smiles, grateful, and I realize that she didn't get my sarcasm at all. That's the problem with less than intelligent people. Or most people in general. Everything that isn't spelled out in Crayola goes right over their heads. Sometimes I hate being smart.

"Thanks so much, Sheila. You are the best friend I could ever hope to have." She bends over and gives me a choking hug that pins my arms to my sides and leaves me gasping for air. I feel the blood vessels in my head start to contract because no blood is getting through to my brain. My eyeballs are about to pop. I have the distinct mental image of being a cat in the clutches of a very loving four year old who insists on holding kitty by the neck.

She mercifully lets me go and then she's gone in a swirl of red skirts, Steve on her arm. I resist the urge to hurl the half-empty bottle of beer sitting on the table at the both of them.

Now what the heck am I going to do? I'm stuck at this filthy pit of Bubba-hood with no way home, no one to call to come get me, and the dregs of Bubba-society are all around me. Why didn't Janet just tie me naked to some train tracks? Or how about pantsing me in front of the entire student body at our high school reunion that's coming up in a few weeks?

Of course, that greaseball with the black hair sitting at the bar doesn't look too bad. For a Bubba, I mean. He's totally going for that James Dean greaser look, and I have to admit that it works for him. Take that any way you want, it's both a compliment and an insult. I never liked James Dean movies, either.

But he has been watching me for quite some time now. I must look really pathetic here, all alone, talking to nobody for the entire freakin' night, half-empty beer bottles decorating the table and a fort of cigarettes built in the ashtray. And maybe I am pathetic. I'm almost thirty five and I've done squat with my life. I have a job instead of a career. I work days putting dashboards in cars at the Ford plant down the road. It makes me feel real good knowing that when people are in car wrecks and their bodies go slamming into the dashboard at eighty and ninety miles and hour that it's my craftsmanship that causes them to break their rib cage and spill their guts all over the windshield. I have no one at home to talk to, not even a pet, because my stupid neighbor backed over my dog last month. It wouldn't have been so bad, but he drives a big honkin' SUV that's loaded out the gazoo, and Sesame was a stinking wiener dog. A wiener dog! He never stood a chance. All Mr. Yuppie had to say was "Sorry about that, but next time you'll keep your dog on a leash." Next time tax time rolls around, I'll be sure to call Uncle Sam and let him know Mr. Yuppie has been dipping his fingers in the Monopoly money again. I'll be laughing my butt off when the IRS repossesses that big SUV and hauls his butt off to jail. Little chubby bald men seem to be rather popular in prison, according to my cousin Bobby. He'll be up for parole in two years. Heaven help the preachers back home when that happens. Bobby likes setting fire to white churches. But that's a whole other story.

James Dean seems to have finally worked his courage up. He slugs back one last drink and sidles off that bar stool and starts walking towards me, smiling what's supposed to be a lady- killer smile. You know his type. He's the kind that carves notches in his dashboard, one for every woman he's managed to land on the bench seat of whatever kind of big truck he drives. He thinks he's a royal stud, and probably has a wife and about fifteen kids at home. They always do. They have to go out night after night, to prove something to heaven knows who, because they're too disgusting and annoying to have any real friends. They have to prove they're still virile and hot, even if that means chumming the waters in the worst dive in town. They don't care that their wife is home, wringing her hands for the ten-thousandth time, telling herself that maybe he's just working late, telling herself that she still loves him because she doesn't want her kids growing up in a broken home like she did. What she don't realize is that James Dean Junior is already doing hard drugs at fourteen and has his own little marijuana patch growing outside the trailer. The daughter is sneakin' out of the trailer late at night to meet some twenty-five year old pervert, and she's only thirteen but sneaking birth control pills because she's all grown up and knows what she's doing. And the youngest, well he's out setting kittens and squirrels on fire and laughing while they run themselves to little burned cinders. Why? Because he's just plain screwed up and fifteen years down the road he's going to walk into a McDonald's where I'm gonna be working because I finally got tired of working for idiots and quit my job at the Ford plant in a fit of rage. He'll walk in and I'll say "Can I take your order please?". I'll be a little snippy because what forty-something working at McDonald's wouldn't be, and he'll shove a sawed-off shotgun in my face and blow me away with about ten other people before killing himself. On the six o'clock news, some twenty-two year anchor woman with a body made for Vegas and brains to match will report to the uncaring world what happened, and everything will inevitably get blamed on his parents. This story will be the big break in her career and the next thing you know she's be an anchor on Sixty Minutes and have enough money to buy Maui or something stupid like that, all because of what James Dean Senior hopes might happen tonight.

And James Dean has the nerve to even think I'd consider talking to him, let alone spend the night. He's the type that wouldn't even spring for a cheap motel room unless the woman pays better than half. Just let him say one thing to me. I'll smash this beer bottle right over his head. I wrap my hand around the Bud. I'll do it. I'll do it for all over-aged oppressed women everywhere. I'll do it for every fat girl that has been stood up for the prom. I'll do it for the common good of humanity. Stand back Gloria Steinem! Sheila Crumb is out to save this world from stupid people and jerks and all men!

James Dean keeps on coming and I smile nastily, because it is the only way I know how to smile. But it seems to intrigue him. He keeps on walking.

Somewhere out of nowhere, this little whirling dervish of a man flies past him, nearly knocking him over. James Dean regains his balance, getting ready to beat the brains out of whomever it was who was stupid enough to jump in the way of his conquest. And I flat freak out. It's Larry. Good old dumb clueless Larry, who just blew past the biggest redneck in this bar and didn't even see him. Good old Larry, who's gonna get carted out of here on a stretcher by paramedics. I wonder if I've brought enough money to pay for his CAT-scan. He's gonna need it.

Larry pulls out Janet's long empty-chair and sits down. "I've been looking for you all night, Peach." he says, half out of breath. His eyes are manic and he's grinning. He's got good news. I hate his type of good news.

James Dean puts his hand on Larry's shoulder and glowers down at him. Larry looks up, genuinely surprised to see him. He smiles and says, "Hey, buddy. Howya been?"

"I was coming over to talk to the little lady." he growls like an actor in a bad spaghetti western. "And you knocked me out of the way."

Little lady? I actually lift the bottle by the neck. I've punched out people for less.

Larry's eyes widen in surprise. "Really? Gee, I'm sorry about that. I didn't even see you, friend. I didn't know you two knew each other. I'm sorry. I guess I can come back some other time then. You two have fun. I'll call you later, Peach." Larry waves to me as he gets up, smiling the whole time at the Neanderthal before him, who is staring back as though he has just been posed with the infamous "If Train A leaves New York at sixty miles an hour" question. He stammers for a long time, then starts backing away with his hands up like Larry's just pulled a gun on him. He backs right on out the door, leaving Larry looking bumfuzzled and scratching his head.

"I thought he wanted to talk to you?" He stares out the door for a moment, his eyes narrowed like he's thinking about moon-shot trajectory. Then he shrugs and sits back down.

I'm furious that I didn't get to beat that Bubba's brains in. Dang it! Larry always seems to take the wind out of my sails. No matter what, he can always walk in and just make problems go away. He walks through miles of manure but never seems to get it on his shoes. It kills me that someone so naive can get by so easily. I've got this whole world all figured out, and I swear every day it's a struggle to just get through it.

"Dang it, Larry!" I snap. "Why did you go and do that?"

He leans back, his eyes widening in surprise. "If you're mad cause I chased that guy off I'll go out there and bring him back for you. I don't mind at all."

He moves like he's going to get up and go outside. I put my hand on his arm. "Just sit there." I say tiredly. "What do you want?"

"I came to bring you some really great news. I thought you might like to hear it, because you've been so down lately. Maybe it'll bring some sunshine in."

I want to hit him for being so freakin' cheerful. Instead, I say, "Sunshine causes skin cancer. That's why I avoid it."

He smiles and shrugs that off. He doesn't realize that most of the time I'm being serious. He thinks I'm a real laugh riot. "I came to tell you that I gave Dee Dee the divorce today. We've signed all the papers and everything is all nice and legal."

"You did what?" My voice shoots up several octaves and people from across the room turn to stare at me.

Larry doesn't even notice. He's beaming like he's found the cure for cancer. "I did. Since one o'clock this afternoon I've been a free man. I've been looking for you all day so we could go and celebrate, but everywhere I went that you usually go to, you weren't there. The only reason I found you was through the message that Janet left on your answering machine.

That was another thing, I had never asked Larry back for the key to my apartment. I always wanted to, and I always meant to, but for some reason I never could do it. It would have broken his poor little heart. I can't stand to see his puppy-brown eyes tear over the way they do. I guess that's why I never threw him out when he went on and on and on about Dee Dee. He sure knows how to play me for the sucker I am. But other things are more important right now.

"Why did you finally get a divorce? She's been wanting one for almost a year and you wouldn't give it to her. Why the sudden change of heart? Just last week you came crying to me that you couldn't stand to give her up." I want to throttle him. He ratchets emotionally like a metronome in high speed, never staying with one feeling long enough to get used to it. His unpredictability drives me insane.

"I have you to thank for it all." he says.

"Excuse me?"

"That's right. You showed me what a jerk I've been."

"Why did it take so long to sink in?" I say. "I've been calling you a jerk since the first night we met. How come it took six months for that to sink in?"

Larry doesn't pay any attention to my insults. He's riding high on a cloud and all he's seeing is the sun. "For the last two years of my life I've been hanging on to something that wasn't even there. Dee Dee didn't love me anymore. I knew that, I just wouldn't accept it. I thought I'd never find another girl I loved as much as Dee Dee."

Oh, crap. I know where this is headed in a hurry. "Larry-"

"Don't interrupt me, Peach, please." he says. "I know exactly what I want to say. You've been there for me since she threw me out of the house. My own sister wouldn't even put me up, and you took care of me, even though I was a complete and total stranger. There aren't that many nice people out there in this world anymore, and I feel really fortunate to finally meet one."

"I'm not nice, Larry." I say. "I'm not even tolerable. I'm mean and grouchy and I have no hair."

"Don't talk about yourself that way." he says. "You're not mean or grouchy. You just call things like you see them. And as for your hair, it suits you. It's close cut and to-the-point . It's direct, just like you are."

"Don't psychoanalyze my hair." I snap.

He doesn't hear that. He's looking at his hands now. "And you are nice to me."

I lean against the hard back of my chair and sigh. I've got to get rid of him now. I've spent all night trying to flush dependency out of my system, and here he comes in again and blows that all to pieces. I don't understand. I can't like Larry. He's too annoying. He's too cheerful. He's too freakin' sensitive. He's yang to my yin.

"I mean, you were the one that told me I needed to take control of my life," he's saying, still not looking at me. "So I did, I spent the last few days trying to decide what I wanted out of my life, who I wanted to spend it with. And I decided I want to spend it with you. We go together
better than any other two people I know."

"We're completely different, Larry."

"I know, that's what makes it work. You keep me grounded and I help you let go. Remember when we went to that fair two counties over about two months ago. You didn't want to go but I talked you into it. Didn't you say that was the most fun you'd had in years?"

"Yes," I say begrudgingly, "but that doesn't mean-"

"And remember when I was out of work and you told me to go apply for that management job at the lumberyard? I didn't think I could do it but you prodded me into it? I didn't think I had a chance, but now I have a great job, and it's steady work, too."

"But those are just a few instances!" I manage to break through his story.

"Well, what do you expect?" he says. "We've only know each other for six months. You can't make a lifetime out of that. We've got to give it time, Peach. We'll get that lifetime of memories. You just have to be patient." He squinted his eyes and tips his head back, looking at me like he's just figured something out. "That's what your biggest hold-up is, you know. You want everything right then. And when you have to wait on it, you give it up and go on to something else. Life ain't instantaneous. Look at me. I'm thirty five years old, and I just now got my first real job. I've gone through one marriage and one divorce and now I'm ready to throw my hat back into the ring again. My first marriage failed because me and Dee Dee both wanted too much too fast. We wouldn't give it the time it needed. But I'm ready to do that, Peach, if you're ready to do it with me."

I balk, trying to think of something to make him see that he's about to make the biggest mistake of his life. Instead, what comes out is: "Why do you call me Peach?"

Larry actually blushes and looks down at his hands. "Because you're sweet like a peach. Nobody's ever been nice to me before like you have."

I let my head rest on the table. This is so not the evening I have planned. I've tried every line of logic I know of with Larry, to make him see that we are not made for each other. Thus far he's managed to shoot down every single one of them. I don't know. Maybe he's right. Maybe two hopeless losers like us belong together. It isn't like I have anything else planned.

"Whaddya say, Peach? How about we go somewhere?"

"It's two thirty in the morning." I say, not looking up.

"So? We could just head out. There's this really great breakfast joint I know just over the state line. If we head out now, I'll bet we could make it there by the time the hash browns are good and done. Come on, be a little spontaneous. It looks good on you, despite what you think."

I look up at him. He's grinning again, that devil-may-care grin I've seen too many times. I know how this is going to go. He'll ask me one more time what do I think. I'll say no, posing every logical reason for us not to go; responsibility, the time of night, the fact that I'm almost out of gas. And every time he'll shoot me down and we'll end up on the road heading for out of state, jamming to the Eagles and talking about the meaning of life over stale popcorn.

"Last call, folks!" the bartender says. There's only a few people left now. Larry's still grinning at me, still waiting for my answer.

"Well, what do you think?"

What the heck. Maybe I do need to be a little more spontaneous. I stand up and put on my jacket. "Let's ride."

He's surprised. "Really?"

"Sure. Only you're paying, since this is your harebrained idea."

"Good deal." He drapes his arms around my shoulder and steers me out of the bar.

It's amazing. This feeling of doom that always settles on me whenever Larry is around is actually starting to feel pretty good. This is gonna be another dead-end relationship, I just know it. We're just too different. But as long as Larry wants to think otherwise, I'll go along with him. Like I said, it ain't like I have any other plans.