Just Bill and the Mister

November 17, 2009

MITIGATION BLUES, PART TWO

Filed under: Uncategorized — bknister @ 11:04 am
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 Friends called, good ones we’ve known a long time.  But it had been a while.  Like us, they’re retired, empty nesters.  They’re educated and funny, and we always look forward to seeing them.

 We went to a local sports bar that serves good food.  “What’s the latest?” I asked after we ordered drinks.  “Do any traveling this summer?

 “We did.”  The wife shook her head.  “Poor Leonard.  That’s my brother’s brother-in-law.  He had this, I think it’s called…  Honey, what’s it called?”

 “A fistula.”

 “A fistula.  On his head.  It was much improved when we visited.  I mean the brother-in-law looked much better than the before-photos they showed us.  At least after the surgery, this fistula thing was no longer changing the shape of his head.  Except at a certain angle.  Otherwise, you could hardly tell.”

 “Except for the sutures.”

 “Well, yes, they hadn’t yet taken them out.  All that black thread does sort of draw your attention.  You had to make a conscious effort to look him in the eye.”

 “I used the chin.”

 “It’s prominent, that’s true, it helped.”

The drinks arrived.  “To us,” my wife said.  “Survivors, and counting.”

We all quaffed and settled back.  “How about Brandon?” I asked.   Brandon is the son.

“Oh, Brandon, God bless him,” his mother said as Brandon’s father drank deep.  “He’s in this kind of vicious cycle.  When you’ve been unemployed that long, you just pretty much give up.  Who can blame him?”

Brandon’s dad finished up and began signaling the waiter. 

“Isn’t that right, honey?”

“That’s right.”

“Honey I don’t think they like being cuffed at like that.”

“Then they should watch their tables.”  Brandon’s dad was now nodding emphatically, pointing down at his glass.

“He used to be such a help around the house,” the wife said.  “Brandon.  Emptying his ashtray, cleaning up the bathroom floor after a big night out.  But when you’ve been down that long, rejected that many times, even for minimum wage work–”

Faster than anyone could have hoped, our waiter was back with another round.  Brandon’s dad drained off half of his new pint.  He sighed and put down his glass.  “I can’t criticize him,” he said.

“No, you can’t,” Brandon’s mom said. 

“Don’t start.”

“I’m not starting anything.  I’m saying you can’t be saying anything about Brandon not helping out.”

“I’m retired.”

“That’s an understatement.”

Perhaps it was here that I now remembered why so much time had passed since our last get-together.

“How about Heather?”  My wife raised her chardonnay.  “To Heather and her beautiful family.”

“Heather’s great,” her dad said.  “The best daughter you could ever want.”

“And Buster’s really come a long way with the anger-management class,” Heather’s mom added.  Buster is Heather’s husband.  “After the incident, we all laid down the law and he got the message.  He really did, it’s such a relief.”

I was surprised to see how fast everyone was drinking, well along with this second round.  But Heather still seemed a good bet.  “Wasn’t she working on an MBA?”

“Oh, that’s long over, she’s studying now for the CPA exam.”

“And if I remember, Buster’s in recycling?”

Buster’s father-in-law shook his head.  “That was before the anger-management class.”

Done with my beer, I saw it was my turn to do the waving and eyebrow-raising.  “But he’s feeling better?” I asked.

“He better feel better,” Heather’s dad said.

“It’s not called anger management anymore,” Buster’s mother-in-law explained.  “It’s called anger mitigation.  I think they got that from the change from risk management to risk mitigation.”

Here he was, coming back, our capable young man in white shirt and black snap-on bowtie, balancing more drinks.  You could see he wouldn’t be waiting table long, that he knew his efforts would yield a huge gratuity when and if the evening came to an end.

But it took a long time.  Any number of other cousins, aunts, nephews, family friends, retainers and former colleagues had it seemed been forced to contend with demanding life challenges.  Without the great good luck to have the best waiter in Christendom, there’s no telling what mitigation or intervention might have been needed. 

We ate to our friends’ bifurcated monologue.  We shoved in whatever we’d ordered, nodding, chewing, signaling the waiter, frowning, shaking our heads.  Drug addiction and rehab, an industrial accident, a rear-end collision that ended in a rollover, food poisoning, stents that failed, someone whose forehead had doubled in size after being bitten by a cat.

“And after the incident, Heather and Buster had such high hopes for a fresh start in Smilesberg,” Heather’s mom said.  “They completely checked it out–the neighborhood, the shopping.  They closed and moved in just before school started.”

“Bad news.”  The husband shoved glasses aside to make room for his elbows.  “Lousy luck.”

“Their realtor misled them,” his wife said.  “They were certain they’d bought in the Smilesberg school district.  But there’s this little, tiny wedge of Smilesberg that’s zoned for Crumley.  That sweet little girl has to go to a Crumley school.”

“Uh oh, Crumley.”  This just came out, and I immediately regretted it.  I made room on the table.  “You could argue, though–” Hands folded, I was hoping for inspiration  “–that once they caught the guy, that whole community would be off limits to child molesters.”

“Oh, they caught him,” the wife said, “and you could argue that way.  Unless it was your six-year-old granddaughter in a Crumley school.”

A pause ensued.  There had been others, but this one was especially welcome.  “Anyway,” my wife said finally, “how’s Randy?’ 

How I love her. Holding fire for so long, waiting her chance and biding her time, my wife had at last jumped in with her ace in the hole, a question about our friends’ family dog.  Randy is the size of a small bison.  Healthy and powerful, with vice-like jaws and a sinister, perpetual spittle-flecked grin inside his muzzle, Randy was going to turn things around.

“Much better,” Randy’s mom said.  “It was touch and go there, after the attack.”

“Pit bulls should be outlawed,” her husband added.  “They’re overbred, unpredicatable.  How can you know what’s going on behind eyes like that?”

This is exactly what I’ve always thought about Randy.  “He was actually attacked?”

“‘Actually?’” Randy’s mom folded her arms.  “I don’t know what ‘actually’ means.  He had his face thing on so he couldn’t defend himself.  The bill was fourteen hundred bucks.”

“Yes,” my wife said, nodding gravely in defeat.  After a moment she raised her head, and now her face grew wistful.  When I glanced up, I saw she was looking at a Tigers game on one of the TVs.  “That’s actual.”

 Her quiver was now empty, Randy her last arrow.  I wanted another drink, but kept my hands folded.

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