If you like this story, please check out my completed book, “Butts in the Seat”; one reviewer said it was “amusing, entertaining, and provides therapeutic value.”
On what started out as a typical Wednesday night, Jim and Leigh are sitting at the bar chatting with Joanna and Matt, drinking their favorite cocktails, and munching on polenta sticks.
“Ben’s here,” Jim says, a nanosecond after they all hear his booming laugh from the other end of the bar.
Leigh stands on the bar rail, which makes her appear to be seven feet tall, and waves in Ben’s general direction. He acknowledges this with a wave of his own, which the four of them know means I’ll be there in a few minutes.
Ben is an electrician. He has business cards made by one of those companies that will print you 4000 cards for $10 (and then bug you to death for add-ons). The cards say I CHECK YOUR SHORTS. Ben usually pulls one out when he meets new people, and says he will buy them a drink if they can guess his occupation. Most people guess TSA agent, or quality inspector for a clothing manufacturer, or professional pervert. Over the years, only a couple of people have guessed correctly, Jim being one.
Jim and Ben have an odd relationship. Jim behaves consistently around Ben, which means he’s loud, jovial, and intellectually curious. Ben is alternately amused and annoyed by Jim; he starts any given evening in neutral and chooses a direction after both he and Jim have had two or three drinks.
Tonight, Jim is annoying Ben. It started innocently enough. Ben suffers from sleep apnea
and Jim asks him how he’s been feeling.
“Ok, not great,” Ben says.
“Are you using your CPAP machine every night?” Jim, as a pharma sales rep, feels tuned-in to a broad range of health issues.
“You know, I just read an article about sleep apnea being related to depression.”
“Uh-oh,” Joanna says to her husband Matt. She has seen conversations between Jim and Ben go south very quickly and she senses they are on the precipice of trouble.
“Oh?” Ben says this evenly, too evenly. Jim, on his 3rd Maker’s Mark Manhattan, does not pick up on the cue.
“Yes. It said sleep apnea causes sleep deprivation. If we don’t sleep well, it affects our mood and we are less happy. And there’s a link to depression and other psychiatric illnesses.”
Joanna sees that Ben is smoldering. She says to Leigh, “Jim’s pissing Ben off. He’s your husband. Stop him.”
Leigh, who occasionally decries the lack of drama in her life, says, “Nah, let’s let it play out.”
It plays out like this:
“Sounds like you think I’m crazy.” Ben’s tone is still even, but it has a menacing undercurrent.
Jim finally recognizes that he has gone down a bad path. He say, “Oh not at all. Don’t listen to me. I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“That’s usually the case. But still you talk.”
As is the case with many jovial people, Jim’s joviality can disappear as quickly as a twenty dollar bill in a slot machine.
“Fuck you Ben,” he says. “I was just trying to help. Thought you’d find it interesting. You don’t need to be an asshole.”
“I’m crazy and an asshole?”
“If the shoe fits.”
Joanna says to Matt, “Do something. Say something. This is ruining my nice night. I didn’t even taste that last polenta stick.”
Matt knows that no one stays mad at him for long, so he sacrifices himself.
“Jim, you’re a big bag of hot air. You think you’re some sort of medical genius just because you have samples of drugs in your car. You don’t know any more that a ten year old with a browser. Ben, you’re just looking for a fight for no fucking reason. Maybe you haven’t gotten laid lately. Maybe you have a hair up your ass. But you should take one of Jim’s pills, one that will make you calm the fuck down.”
It works. Jim says to Ben, “Do you believe this guy?”
“Unbelievable. What a jerk. Buy you a drink?”
“Sure thing, thanks.”
Ben and Jim settle into a shoulder-to-shoulder companionable silence. Joanna kisses Matt on the cheek. Leigh is slightly disappointed that the drama is over. Matt knows in a half-hour or so he’ll be forgiven and the evening can continue without further rancor.