Ball and Chain

He’s a jolly old man in a bright red shirt, with a bright red face. Jolly as he is snarky. He heckles me while I pour his beer. “Are you sure you’re old enough to be doing that?”

Is that some sort of Asian joke? Some sort of spoof on our skin? Ageless? Cause we all look the same to you? I’m damn near thirty and sick of having my age questioned. He chuckles on and on, his red cheeks get brighter and brighter.

“Two fifty,” I say as I drop the beer in front of him.

He hands me a credit card smeared with black grime. “Keep it open,” he says.

Great. I’m overjoyed that he will be sticking around for a while. I try to will him towards the lottery machines, send him telepathetic cravings for a cigarette, anything to get him away from the bar. Yeah, like lady luck ever lifts her skirts for me. Of course he sits at the bar. Of course he comments on everything I do. Of course he drives me crazy.

But where I hear annoying asshole full of bullshit criticisms, this guy actually thinks the words that he pukes up are flattering.

I try to avoid him by finding little things to do not behind the bar. I rewash dishes. Sweep the rainy smoking pit. Empty the drowned butts. Mop the warped dance floor. But he keeps calling for me anyway. First, he asks for nuts.

“We don’t have any.”

He points at the stash of junk food in the corner, between the register and the wall. “What are you blind girl? There’s nuts right there!” He laughs from his belly, as if it was the funniest joke he had ever told.

I cross my arms over my chest and answer in my most condescending drone: “That’s Charlie’s personal stash. It isn’t not for sale.”

He nods when he looks at me, says, “Everything is for sale.” Smiles. Winks.

My jaw is tight and my stare hard. I have to push a growl back down my throat, back into the pit of my stomach.

“How about those chips?” He points up at the bags of Lays and Doritos and Funyuns. “Can I buy those?” He changes the subject like he never said anything offensive to begin with. Like everything is gravy baby. He isn’t a dirty old perv. No way.

I sell him a bag of Cool Ranch, pour him another piss colored beer and head for the women’s wash room. It feels like it needs an extra cleaning today. And he has to leave me alone in there. No men allowed.

Except, less than halfway through scrubbing the sink, there is a knock on the other side of the door. I stand still. Hold my breath. Pretend I didn’t hear it.

Knock knock. Pause. Knock knock knock. “Hey,” he calls. “Hey, can you change the channel? I don’t like to watch sports on TV.”

I sigh loud and it echoes off the broken tiles on the walls. Finally, I break my silence. “Charlie says the TVs have to be on sports. I’m only allowed to change it to a different sport.”

So he wants a different sport. But he doesn’t know what sport or even what channel it could possibly be on. And he can’t use the remote himself, his own fingers ache with too much arthritis. I flip through tennis and football and golf and even poker, but he can’t make up his mind. “Do it again,” he says.

Tennis. Football. Golf. Poker.

“Do it again!”

“Do you want me to pick for you?”

“No I just need to see them again.”

I say it again; louder, diction as clear as a piece of glacier breaking off into the ocean.

“I just need…”

“Pick now or I wil pick for you.”

“I jus…”

GEEZUS! I start to count. Like an exasterbated mother does with a mishaving toddler.

“I…”

“Two…”

“Golf!”

I flip the channel and set the remote on the bar. But he is wise to me. As I go to make my escape he stops me with his jovial laugh. “What do you need? A ball and chain?”

The growl pushes back up against my esophagus. I struggle to push it down, to keep it quiet.

When I don’t respond to his joke, the jolly old snark mumbles something about how it would keep me in one place. So he could talk to me. Admire me.

My lunch starts to join the growl. I swallow hard. Forcefull. Sushi isn’t as tasty coming up as it is going down. And rice never feels good after it has had plenty of time to absorb stomach acid.

“See,” he explains, “I like to think of myself as a bright spot in people’s day. Someone could be having terrible day, but I cheer them right up.”

So you’re completely unaware of the fact that you’re a total jerk? You have no clue that everything that comes out of your mouth lies somewhere between assinine and straight up mean?

“I’m a glass all the way full kind of guy,” he waxes. “Even if the glass is empty, it’s full! Know why?”

I shake my head, eyes glazed over with annoyance.

“Cause it’s full of air silly!”

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3 thoughts on “Ball and Chain

  1. You did an excellent portrayal of someone I would gladly (and repeatedly) punch in the face while wearing spiked brass knuckles. What sucks is, although this is fictional, people like that jerk are all too real.

    • Oh man where can I get a pair of these spiked brass knuckles?! Yeah, like most of these stories, the characters are people I’ve encountered working in the service industry so unfortunately this jerk is very very real

      • Man, I was gonna ask you if this was drawn from personal experience and, in my head, I was like, “Damn, I hope not!!”. Wishful thinking, eh? And I wish I knew where to get some brass knuckles too. Just gotta make do with my bare ones…

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