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“Do you know what proves that people really suck?” Jim asks bartender Stephen on this Wednesday evening in January.
Stephen, whose parents are missionaries, has a different world-view than does Jim. “Your question assumes that I think people suck,” he says. “I don’t. I think people are either good or striving to be good.”
Jim waves this off. “Whatever. I’ll just get to my point. How come we never hear of cases of Munchausen’s? It’s always Munchhausen by proxy.”
Stephen thinks about this for a few seconds. “Maybe that’s because Munchausen by proxy is a crime, while plain old Munchausen’s isn’t.”
Jim sighs. “I need to talk to someone who’s much more negative than you.”
“Ed’s here,” Stephen says. “Way down the other the end.”
Jim heads off to visit with Ed; he leaves his wife Leigh talking to the beauteous Barb. He doubts they’ll even notice; they have been engrossed in a private conversation for the last fifteen minutes. Best he can tell it’s about some guy at Barb’s work who has been making her feel uncomfortable. I need to find out more about that, Jim thinks as he makes his way toward Ed.
We haven’t met Ed yet. He hasn’t been in Stenny’s much over the last several months, to no one’s chagrin. Unlike Mary Tyler Moore’s most famous character, who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile, Ed is a nattering nabob of negativity.
“Hey, Ed,” Jim says. “Haven’t seen you for a while.”
“Oh hey Jim,” Ed responds. “Yeah, haven’t been in much.”
“Any particular reason?”
Ed’s expression is why the word “dour” was invented. “Nothing is really going right for me recently.”
I’m the one who came down here, Jim thinks. I have to ask a follow-up question. Goddammit.
“Well, for one, Valance went back to Idaho.”
Jim knows that Valance is how Ed refers to his sometimes-girlfriend Valerie.
“Is that such a bad thing? I remember you saying you weren’t really get along.”
“We weren’t, but the sex was good.”
Jim inwardly shudders, remembering some of the things Ed has shared about his sex life, with Valerie and others. There’s one image he hasn’t been able to get out of his mind for three years: it involved a woman Ed called Sheetrock, a glass cocktail table, and a magnifying glass.
“You always knew she might move home, right?” Jim says.
“Yeah, I guess. But that’s not all that’s wrong.”
Figured that, Jim thinks. “Go on,” he says resignedly.
“Work’s been busy.” Ed is a contractor; he does small and mid-sized residential jobs.
“How is that bad?” Jim asks.
“I’m only one person. I’m exhausted.”
Ed also complains when work is slow, saying something like, “I’m only one person. I have no one to help pay the bills.” Ed is long-divorced, with three grown kids.
“Why don’t you bring on some help?” This is not the first time Jim has asked this; in fact, Ed has been asked this by any number of people approximately four million times.
“I did once, remember? It didn’t work out. He was lazy as shit. And the work he did was horrible. Cost me time and money to fix his mistakes.”
“You’re talking about your son, right? Jeffrey?”
“Yes, of course. He’s the only one I’ve ever brought on. You know that.”
“It’s just that you referred to him in a way that made it seem like he was just some Joe Blow off the street,” Jim says.
“I didn’t say that,” Ed says.
“I know you didn’t say it, it was just how you alluded to him.” Jim knows that Ed’s thinking lacks nuance, and that this is a rat-hole of a conversation, so he says “Never mind.”
They sit in silence for a few minutes; Jim is sipping his Tito’s on rocks, and Ed is looking at the designer cocktail of his own invention that Stephen has placed in front of him.
“What do you call that thing again?” Jim asks.
“Oh, right. Remind me what’s in it.”
“Equal parts bourbon and Southern Comfort, dash of bitters, club soda, cranberry juice, vanilla extract, crushed ice.”
“Why are you just looking at it?” Jim asks.
“Color looks slightly off.”
“Take a sip and see how it tastes,” Jim says.
Ed does. “It’s good, but a bit off. Maybe too much cranberry juice.”
“Cranberry juice is good for your urinary tract,” Jim says.
“There’s nothing wrong with my urinary tract.”
“Maybe that’s because of the cranberry juice.” Ed looks like he’s having trouble processing this, so Jim changes the subject.
“Do you know what proves that people really suck?” he asks, as he did of Stephen 10 minutes earlier.
“Oh, lots of things,” Ed answers, not recognizing it as a lead-in to something Jim wants to say.
“Yes, right, but I was thinking of one thing in particular. How come we never hear of cases of Munchausen’s? It’s always Munchausen by proxy.”
“I don’t know what either of those things are,” Ed says.
For a fleeting second, Jim contemplates explaining, but ends up saying, for the second time in this conversation, “Never mind.” But Ed has already turned away to greet the black widow Salome, who has just arrived and seated herself next to him.
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.”