Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Masquerade at the Red Rooster Cafe

Harry knocked as much of the dried hog manure from his boots as possible; outside the restaurant this time. Being forced to sweep the entire floor, with Ma Jones taking an occasional swipe at his backside with a wooden spoon, wasn’t something a wise man wished to repeat. He still had trouble seeing the fuss; the Red Rooster Café had a dirty old wooden floor anyhow, but she did have a point. Between glancing blows Ma muttered something about raising pigs ain’t no excuse take on the manners of one. Her love for the rundown restaurant she owned could never be questioned.

He removed his Pioneer seed cap and hung it on the rack with a heavy sigh. There were three crusty, old caps already hanging and he knew what that meant. The ‘Nothin’ Runs Like a Deer’ belonged to Bill, Ernie wouldn’t be caught dead with anything that didn’t have a Caterpillar insignia on it, and Clyde, he never was right, least not after the lightning strike; a diehard Cubs fan.

According to such nonsensical ethics by which old men are bound, Harry’s late arrival meant he was on the hook for the tab. He ignored the snickers as he passed en route to the table in the corner. It seemed like as good a day as any to kiss a crisp twenty dollar bill goodbye.

Clyde looked the froggiest of bunch, and decided to leap.

“It’s 6:40 am. Hell, we was ready to call the coroner—just knew you was dead. Had most of your funeral planned, but we come to an impasse on the floral arrangement—didn’t know whether you’d prefer foxtail or cocklebur on yer casket. I told ‘em shoot the works, and throw in a lovely spray of ragweed—if it don’t cost too much!”

Harry grinned as he drew up the last empty chair at the table, “What if I was layin’ dead somewhere—smashed under a tractor, eyes all bugged out, just like last Sunday when Jeff Gordon eased passed Dale Jr. at the checkered flag?

“We was ‘bout to plan on orgnazin’ a search party—right after we finished breakfast. What’s it matter if we found ya, stomachs a growlin’ or with sausage-gravy drippin’ from our chins—dead’s dead, ain’t it?”

Harry couldn’t let the set up line pass, “Speakin’ of dead—how ‘bout them Cubbies, Clyde? I tell ya what, smart money’s on your dry streak with the ladies endin’, ‘for that sorry excuse of team wins a playoff game. Best I figure….both prospects is cursed; one by an old goat and the other, according to spinster Johnson, that’s hung like one!”

The table erupted in laughter just like every day, the only variable seemed to be who lay on the ground skewered, and which of his pals stood over him holding the spear. Among the four aged farmers there were plenty of insults to be passed around and in the effort of fairness, none of them escaped. This ritual had gone on as long as any of their foggy memories could recall. Although the physical gathering place had changed, the four cantankerous old men would not be displaced easily. Perhaps the respectable townsfolk had hoped to drive them away by removing the ‘liar’s bench’ from in front of the now defunct local feed store. The benches demise had been the end of era, of which they’d seen many, and was celebrated as such. For several days and for no apparent reason they gathered on the sidewalk, huddled together like lost puppies looking for a home. The seat was gone, but the stories lived on.

None would forget the morning Ernie danced and hopped about wildly and eventually shucked his overalls. He could find no team players offering assistance when he announced with a wince, a large splinter had burrowed its way in a very inappropriate region. Poor old Clyde; never went anywhere without that pouch of Redman tucked in his front pocket. One morning he found himself so preoccupied with telling a story he hadn’t factored in the brisk breeze. Between pauses he let loose with a long stream of brown juice that immediately took a liking to the front of his white shirt.

Time has a way of moving things along, even in tiny, little farming communities. There were reasons to leave the bench, but none more convincing than Trisha Steinmeyer’s backside. Ron Propiel didn’t have anything on Bill. He swore if somehow he could wedge a walnut between those cheeks it wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving more than a step or two. A half hour late he continued to fuss with the details of somehow attaching a device to her fishnet stockings that might catch the cracked nuts once they fell. We decided to save him from the embarrassment, by warning that if he was so bold as to ask Trisha’s permission, the cracked nuts might be his own.

Around these parts, at least among the men-folk, Trisha’s figure was the ninth wonder of the world. Her curves had spurred more inspiration, as well as lustful thoughts, than the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls ever would. Like the Canyon, an air of mystery surrounded her. She had given birth to two children, although some of the older women claim to hold proof she adopted. Surely there was stage in New York that would welcome something as fine; if not a Broadway stage, a pole in gentleman’s club. On the off chance it was the latter, they’d agreed in preparation to schedule a poker night.

Seeing the last straggler arrive, Trisha made her way to the corner table to take orders. Somewhere in that pretty head she had memorized the preferences years ago. The only challenge was to determine which of the delusional fools would try and help themselves to a handful of her skirt.

“Mornin’ fellas.”

She filled their cups and sat the cream and sugar nearest Ernie since he was the only one who didn’t drink his coffee black. The kind gesture did not go unnoticed, and Ernie was the first to flirt. The other three disguised snickers behind their coiled fists.

“Had a dream about ya last night, Trish.”

She continued setting the silverware beside each place, knowing that pretending she didn’t hear him wouldn’t deter him completely.

“You was in bad shape—oh yeah, in fact I figure I saved your life. Pulled ten inches bone out of ya, I did!”

She abruptly stopped pouring coffee and turned to face him. The three others secretly hoped she might be so disgusted that she slapped the taste from his suggestive mouth.

“Ernie, honey, you must have dreamed that twice; five plus five is ten. Spinster Johnson comes in here to eat too, and she’s been talkin’!”

It was one thing to get hacked on by the boys, but even Trish was whaling on him. Over the laughter, he could be heard pleading his case, loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear.

“She had bad lightin’ out there—and besides the water in that pool was ice cold!”

Harry felt badly for Ernie; a man couldn’t much change what he was endowed or not, so he proceeded to change the subject on his friend’s behalf.

“The market’s crashin’, price of seed and fertilizer’s doubled, hate to think of home heating cost this winter, and a damn flat tire on my truck cost me ten minutes. Now I gotta pay for a bunch of old coot’s breakfast! How’s life mistreatin’ the rest of ya?”

Harry directed his inquiry toward Bill, who had not been heard from this morning. Bill was crafty; in the company of such folks it paid to be silent, but finally he caved to the pressure of three sets of beady eyes fixed upon him.

“Well, I almost hate to tell this—but, Momma decided I needed some culturin’ so she sets to draggin’ me from in front of the tube; perfect timing as usual, just when I settled down with a beer to watch an episode of wrastlin’ that I haint never seen before. ‘Fore I knowed it we was in the car headed off somewhere in Iowa. Get this….for a wine and cheese tasting. If that kinda experience didn’t kill a man—four hours in the car listen’ to how they ain’t so romantic anymore, would. Turns out, musta had too much cheese and not enough wine. Got myself all bound up….went through three issues of Woman’s Day this mornin’ on the toilet, and still not a cloud in the sky!”

Ernie didn’t have to say anything. A man would have to think long and hard to find something more degrading than people funning about his business.

Clyde barely broached the most recent failings of the Cubs. Harry supposed Cub fans and the mascot representing them were much alike; all fiery and hungry in the spring, but when fall rolled around they were looking for a hole to climb into, content to spend the playoff months in hibernation. The disappointment of his team had become predictable, just as his rocky relationship with his wife. Seems they was on the outs again. Clyde spent the night on a familiar couch. Sometime during the night he had to relieve himself, as shrinking bladder can attest. On his way there he stumbled over the cat. Half asleep, and apparently dreaming of an encounter with Bigfoot, the battle was on. Ole Mitsy didn’t give an inch; to hear Clyde tell it, he ended up on the floor with that cat goin’ for his throat. A powerful mule punch finally sent the feline sailin’, but it was too late. Not only had Mitsy remove the first several layers of hide from his nose, Clyde spent the remainder of the night in soaked boxers.

Behind the masks they choose lie normal men. Despite Ernie’s rumored shortcomings he remains a lonely man. Clyde has become a peaceful old soul who accepts defeat easily, simply because it has become the norm. Besides constipation, Bill suffers from a variety of physical ailments, much like the runt of the litter, and during these rough financial times, Harry hovers dangerously close to losing the family farm.

The whole scene is enough to make dr. Phil bury his head in his hands and cry. (we’ll leave the ‘d’ in lower case, since Oprah’s the only one convinced he’s a real doctor). The Red Rooster Café serves as a type of Redneck therapy.

“Time we get out and ‘hit a lick at a snake, ain’t it’? See y’all back here tomorrow mornin’!”


hfurness said...

Great images and you capture a tone and cadence of speech. I had no trouble seeing these four friends and their lives - nice job...

Jo said...

Great story Dan, so much reminded me of my father-in-law. He would often tell me stories in the same manner you wrote here, and I'm surrounded by farmers here.

Wonderful ornery country folk full of themselves, but you can't help but love them. Bad to the bone and funny as shit! Loved your story! :)

Dan said...

Thanks Harry, I grew up with these kind of guys.

Hey Jo, I'm glad you enjoyed it. 'Bad to the bone/funny as shit'...not sure I'm worthy, but I'll wear that banner proudly. Sounds like an odd combination of George Thorogood and Eddie Murphy!

Where I grew up there was a Red Rooster Cafe & a 'liars bench' outside the feed store, but many more than four characters that frequented them.

kheywood said...

Dan, I think every town in the Midwest has one of those cafes - the one in the town I lived in in Southern Illinois was 'Tbe White Rose' and here it's 'The Buzz Cafe' - no matter the name, there's always that table in the back with the regulars....

and society thinks women are gossip-mongers!

Jo Janoski said...

I'd love to see you visit these characters again, a serial. These fellows are too good for just one bite.

whispersinthewind said...

Well, we don't have a cafe quite like the one in your brilliantly told story but it makes me wish we did! Great story!