AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 11/27/2003 04:21:00 PM ----- BODY:
LOOKING FOR JOE A true story. Steve and I took that familiar route up North, off exit 6, and were prepared for a familiar evening of bad coffee and strange conversation. As it was, most of our friends were out at the Irish Times in Worcester, but, well, here we were. As soon as we entered the place (or, rather, squeezed our way in, since a large and quietly mooing crowd of mostly drunken people had already begun to fill the waiting area as the bars closed), we were unfortunately forced stand in line waiting for the hostess to seat us. This took what seemed like hours, as the three frat boys behind us (each rocking a truly impressive front-mullet of greased, spiked-up hair) made loud—and they thought, truly hilarious—comments about Dungeons and Dragons being the favorite pastime of most of the clientele they observed. Sometime between when we were seated, in that horrible booth at the far end that has to be shared with another party, and when they were seated, they apparently greeted the hostess with a still unknown but certainly unmentionable name, and shortly after sitting down were approached by another manager. “We’re going to have to ask you to leave,” she said. “What?” was their witty retort. She explained. They denied. She put her foot down. They argued. “Bickford’s is probably still open,” she said. “Have a nice night.” Checkmate. She walked away. “What the fuck?” they repeated. They returned to the waiting area to argue with the hostess. She motioned toward the woman sitting at the far end of the counter, apparently citing her as a witness. She was the regular who has stumbled in, bent over her cane, to hunches at the counter over an unbroken string of Parliament 100s each and every time I’ve been there. She seemed reliable enough to me. “Dude, she’s so fuckin’ old, she can’t hear anything, man!” The fearless leader of the Brylcreem trio hollered. At that point even they realized that the matter was moot. They cut their losses and left. Which was about when we noticed the other people at our strange two-party table. At the time, they were paying more attention to the booth behind them. One of them was trying to hit on a girl with a buzz cut. They were obviously very intoxicated. “I dunno,” the bigger one was saying to the girl about her hair. “I really don’t find that attractive. You ain’t gonna attract a man with that.” The girl looked back at him, truly and utterly dumbfounded. “Hey,” his partner in crime said, suddenly noticing us. “Try to be a little more quiet over there, wouldja?” We stared at him. A small platoon of drunken college kids were being herded into a booth behind us. “Yo,” said one of them. When no one responded, he said it again. “Yo yo! Heyyo! Yo! Yo, yo yo yoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyooooo!!!” He had everyone’s full attention. Except for the people at his table. “Yo,” he shouted to no one in particular. “My cousin, dood, he just fucked some guy up!” “Yo,” he finished. One of his tablemates was chatting away on her cell phone. Another was picking at her nails. Our waitress, Deb, brought over what looked like one of everything on the menu to the two guys next to us. “Ahmagad!” the skinnier one shouted. “What’m I gonna do wit all that, Deb!” “Eat it.” Deb snapped. She was not having a good night. As it was, I was stirring my burnt coffee with a knife. “Heyyo,” the “yo” kid began again, this time in Deb’s direction. “Can we uh, can we get some coffee over here?” “Sure, how many,” Deb sighed, sounding Biblically old. “Yar,” the one girl at the “yo” table was saying into the cell. “They’re out there talkin’ to the fuckin’ cops right now.” Lo and behold: outside, a Nashua police cruiser was parked by the curb. My mind was making wild connections. The frat guys? The guys next to us? Who? Then it hit me. The cousin. The “yo,” kid. By now a truly massive crowd was plugging the entranceway. Two policemen pushed through it. They approached the table behind us, giving all of us who were rubbernecking a cursory warning glance. “Which one of you is Joe?” The dark-haired cop said quietly. “I’m Joe,” the kid in the orange T-shirt with the ridiculous armbands said, standing up. “You get in a fight tonight, Joe?” The cop asked. “Naw, man, naw,” the so-called Joe said. “What about that blood on your arm, there,” the cop asked calmly, pointing. I just about broke my neck trying to get a better look. Even the guys next to us had shut up. The bigger one was stuffing fries in his mouth absently, as if watching it all on television. “Naw, man,” Armbands said. “Hey!” the “yo” kid said, standing up. “I’m Joe, too.” “When I’m ready to talk to you, I’ll talk to you,” the cop barked. This did not deter the “yo” kid. For the record, neither one of them was Joe. Joe was the cousin. The one the “yo” kid had been regaling us about. I felt bad for the cop. “So what happened,” the cop continued with Joe #1. It was a question, but did not contain an actual question mark. “Nothin’, man.” “There’s that douche bag now,” the girl said into the cellphone, twisting around to look out the window. A matching crowd of similar kids was milling around the cruiser. The cops left. “Eddie,” the bigger guy at our table said to the smaller guy. “You want my onion rings?” Eddie looked from the barnyard breakfast laid out in front of him and then back at his companion. “Uh, no.” “You guys want some onion rings?” the guy said to us. “No, we’re all set. That’s fine.” He turned to the table behind him. “Onion rings?” He was ignored. “You know what I could really use right now, ‘s a fuckin’ toothpick,” he added. The dark-haired cop came back. “You,” he said, pointing to the “yo” kid. Awesome. Now we were going to see some cuffs. He took the kid aside, away from his buddies. The cell phone lines were burning up now. Every girl at the table was chatting away on a different phone, like a command center at the Pentagon. Armbands grabbed a phone. “Sup, bitch,” he yelled to whatever unfortunate being was on the other end. “Yeah, yeah. We’re at Denny’s. No, DENNY’S. Yeah. Dude, could you like, give me a ride home, dude? I’m too fucked to drive. “What? No, man, we’re at DENNY’S. DENNY’S!!!! Yo, you need to come out here and fuckin punch this cop out, man.” The rest of the smoking section gasped when he said this. Well, except the cop, who was oblivious, and Armbands himself, who was beyond that. The crowd by the door continued, impossibly, to multiply. “Another day older, and another day deeper in debt,” Eddie sang tonelessly into his over-easies. “I hear ya, man,” his buddy answered him. “Mike,” Eddie addressed him urgently. “What, man?” Mike answered. “Nothin’.” Mike nodded as if he understood. “Eddie,” he said after a few moments. “Wha?” “You start with an onion ring, right?” “Yeah…” “And then that’s all you need.” “Yeah.” “Seriously--” from the other table--“You need to come over here and punch this cop, just give him a fuckin pop right in the face.” “So…” Steve said. I got the sense that he had been trying to get my attention the whole time. “How’s your cheese fries?” “GREAT!” I beamed. “And how is your Breakfast Dagwood?” “Fantastic. And it’s only made more delicious by the atmosphere.” Mike was latched on to the girl at the other table again. A male friend of hers elbowed him not-so-subtly. “Hey,” Mike said, “Don’t touch me again like that, man.You’ll only end up coming home with me.” The guy laughed. “Do I get lots of food at your house tomorrow, man?” “Sure, lotsa food. Turkey and everything.” “Hey,” Eddie said to us. “Happy Turkey Day!!” “I’M A LESBIAN!!” the girl with the shaved head suddenly announced. “What??!?!?!?” Mike whirled in his seat. “Who’s what, now?” “I’m a lesbian,” she repeated. “Oh, man, I LOVE that shit,” Mike slavered at her. “That is SMOKIN’ hot.” “Well, that backfired big time,” I commented in everyone’s general direction, nodding toward the girl at the other booth, who, if she had been harassed by Mike before, was now sporting him like some kind of terrible appendage. “My younger brother, he don’t know when to quit,” Eddie chuckled. Eddie, by the way, was a wiry, wizened, older man with a fu Manchu, a paint-splattered sweatshirt and a baseball cap. When he smiled (which he did often, in a slap-happy way) his eyes disappeared into crow’s feet. Mike was much younger, at least twice as big (which wasn’t too difficult, really) and looked to be of mixed race, or was at least much better tanned, not to mention chubbier of cheek, than Eddie. They did not appear to be brothers, at least not the type of brothers who had the same parents. “I don’t think you guys are brothers,” I said. “Whaddya mean?” “Well, you don’t look alike.” “Yeah,” Eddie looking at Mike, who was still engrossed in bantering with the next table, “He’s much younger.” I nodded as if I understood. “Me, I’m like this,” Eddie demonstrated, wrapping his thumb and forefinger around one spindly wrist until they touched. “But my brother is like, fuckin’, this big.” He held out his arms for emphasis. “I’m right here, guy,” Mike said, returning to the conversation. “Quit fuckin’ talkin’ about me when I’m right here, guy.” The cop was still talking to the “yo” kid. Deb came by. “Oh, you need silverware,” she said absently. “Y—“ was about as far as we got into “Yes, thank you,” before she left again. She returned with one silverware set. “You can have my spoon,” Steve said generously. “I’m keeping my fork, though.” The cop was still talking to the “yo” kid. I couldn’t hear what they were saying over the din, but it appeared the cop was asking the same thing over and over again and getting a newly frustrating answer each time. I surmised that their conversation probably concerned the whereabouts of the actual, elusive Joe, the one who had fucked the douche bag up in the parking lot. The crowd waiting for a table just behind them was now, I was sure, breaking some type of fire code, if not several all at once. “Oh, my god,” Armbands was shouting into a cellphone. “Dude, Joe fuckin fucked this kid up, man!” “Have a holly jolly Christmas,” Eddie sang off-key. “In case you didn’t hear.” “Edward.” Mike said sternly, using the full name for emphasis. “That’s not how it goes, guy.” “What, that’s right, have a holly jolly…” “No, guy. You missed like a whole fuckin…um…”he searched for the word. “Thing, there.Guy.” “Okay,” Eddie said amiably. “How does it go, then?” “Have a holly jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year…” Mike boomed in a raspy baritone. “Ohhh.” Eddie grinned soggily. “My brother,” he said to us, jerking his thumb at Mike. “I can’t take him anywhere.” We nodded as if we understood. I was starting to despair that there would be no arrests made, no possible police beatings with nightsticks. “So how you guys gettinhome?” Eddie asked. “Um…” “You’re walkin’, Ed,” Mike told him. “I was gonna get a ride home wit’ them,” Eddie chortled, pointing at us. “Ohhh, that’s okay,” I said hurriedly. Then, even more hurriedly, “ But you guys aren’t driving, though, right?” “Nah. We’re walkin’. Like always.” Mike said. “Well, he’s walkin’. Just follow the car, Eddie.” More people had begun milling around the cruiser outside. The cops were still questioning the “yo” kid. It had been at least an hour since the cops had first shown up. “There’s the fuckin’ girlfriend,” the one girl at the table said, looking out at a mousy blonde standing on the curb. “What the fuck,” Armbands editorialized. “C’mooonnnnn,” Eddie wheedled us. “You guys got a license, right?” “Yes, between us we have a license,” I answered carefully. “You both got licenses?” “Yyyyeahh….?” “Okay, you can drive one car, and you can drive the other, and we’ll both walk behind you, then,” Eddie said, as if that settled it. “Wh---“ “I only live like a half mile down the road,” Eddie pleaded. “Well than you can certainly walk home there easily,” I smiled. “Where you guys from?” Eddie asked, switching gears. Perhaps trying another tack. “Massachusetts,” I said. Mike jerked his thumb toward the window, making a “ptweet!” noise. “Screw,” he said. Then, breaking into a bright and heartbreakingly innocent smile, “Naw, I’m just kiddin wit’ ya.” There ensued a lively conversation about Massachusetts and New Hampshire’s regional differences and the tax law structures in each. “What do you guys do?” I asked, finally switching the subject. “Well, he’s a laborer,” Eddie said. “And I’m a carpenter.” Mike stared Eddie down, deadly serious. “I cannot believe you just said that right now, guy.” Eddie cackled. “I’m a carpenter too,” Mike said, making sure we understood. “Okay,” I tried to placate him. “If it helps, I don’t know the difference between those.” “It means I can build a house,” Eddie jerked out between whoops of laughter, “And he can watch.” Mike looked like he was seriously going to punch him. “That’s it, you’re definitely walkin’, guy.” Then they both cracked up. Maybe they really were brothers. “We never get a day off,” Eddie told us morosely. “We’re always workin’.” “Don’t you guys have a union?” I asked. They seemed to find this an unbearably funny joke. “Taxation without representation!!” Eddie suddenly yelled. “Dude.” Mike corrected him. “That’s like some reference from way back in like…um…like…1922.” “Yeah, seriously,” Eddie said. “Hey, you guys ever read that book, Johnny Tremain?” “Oh, yeah,” I said, remembering. “We all had to read that book, I think,” Eddie said, nodding. “He worked as a uh…um…a…um…” “Silversmith,” I said. “Silversmith, right, and he like, fuckin’ boiled his hand in the mold, and then all his fingers were stuck together, like. Man, I’ll never forget that.” There was more, but Eddie mumbled off into a soliloquy only he could hear. The snatches of it I caught concerned Paul Revere, taxation, and fuckin’ boilin’ ya fuckin’ hand off. The cops left without making an arrest. I was deeply disappointed. “Fuckin’ bitch is gonna press charges,” the “yo” kid said, returning to his table. “Can we get some more coffee here?” The one girl called to Deb. Deb definitely seemed as though nothing would make her happier. “That motherfucker, I’ll fuckin fuck him up!” Armbands hollered. “Seriously, kid. What the fuck!!” Just then a tall, dark figure dressed in a dramatic leather jacket approached their table. “Sup, bitch!” “Dude, fuckin bitch! Siddown!” “Nah, man, I can’t fuckin breathe in here,” the guy said, waving smoke away from his face. “Come on, siddown’r I’ll kick ya fuckin ass!” the “yo” kid yelled. “Oh,” said the newcomer, looking down at him, bemused. “You want a shot at the title?” “That’s him,” Eddie said, nodding toward the stranger, just as the cops were pushing their way back out the door. “That’s the guy.”