The Short Stories of Edward R. Doughty

What Burns My Ass

"You know what really burns my ass?" asked Charlie. "No, Charlie, what really burns your ass?" responded Sam. "Trying to get some damn company on the phone --- and then you get this recorded shit 'press one if you're a faggot' --- 'press two if you want a blow-job' ---' press three if you have to pee' --- you know what I mean!"

"Yeah, I know what you mean --- I get that shit all the time!" Sam took another sip of his Miller Lite. Sam and Charlie went way back --- to first grade, to be exact. Now they were in their early thirties but still single. "Patty's Place" was their favorite hangout and that's where they found themselves tonight --- a slow Tuesday night. "Patty's" was pretty much a typical neighborhood bar. As you entered the place through the front door, the long bar was on your left and seven booths were on your right. The kitchen, storeroom, men's room and ladies' room were in the back. Sam and Charlie always liked to sit at the bar --- except when they had dates. On those occasions they would sit in a booth. The alternating bartenders were Mace and Gabe. Patty took care of the kitchen. Mace was on duty tonight.

"Hey, Mace --- how long you worked here now?" asked Charlie. "It's been fifteen years now, Charlie." Came the reply from the balding, bespectacled Mace. "Shit, you must've poured a million drinks in that time, Mace"

"Probably so, Charlie --- probably so."

"Hey, Mace --- what really burns your ass?"

"I hate those cars that have those huge boom boxes in them. One of them pulls up next to you at a light --- and you can't even hear your own car radio".

"You got that right, Mace --- those things burn my ass too!"

"How 'bout you, Sam --- "What really burns your ass?"

"Waiting in lines. I go to the Acme to pick up eight things. This old lady in front of me has twenty things in her basket --- and we're in the line for "ten or less" items. The checkout gal is talking to the old lady like she knows her --- and doesn't seem to give a shit how many friggin' items the old lady has! Then the old lady fumbles around in her purse and takes out a goddamn credit card. By now my ice cream is melting and I gotta take a piss!"

"I hear you --- I hear you!"

Just then two girls enter the bar and sit in the third booth. Neither Charlie nor Sam has seen these girls before. They're sure not local. One is a blonde with a very nice figure who appears to be stacked. The other is a brunette who is slimmer but appears to have great legs. Charlie always prided himself in being a "leg man". Patty goes over to the girls' table and takes their orders. Coincidently, both girls order Miller Lite, as well.

"Hey, Mace --- we could use two more over here, too.'

"Be right with you, Charlie."

Patty serves the girls their beers and Mace then serves another round to Sam and Charlie. The girls are conversing quietly and appear totally uninterested in Sam or Harry or anybody else in the place. Actually there are only three old guys at the far end of the bar and two couples having dinner in the back two booths.

"Let's meet those girls, says Charlie. "They don't look to interested in meeting anybody, Charlie". "Is that right? Well you don't know if you don't try!" With that Charlie slid off his bar stool and approached the girls' booth.

"Good evening, ladies, my name is Charlie and I happen to be the resident magician here. With your permission, I'd like to perform a feat of magic for you two ladies." The brunette looked Charlie right in the eye and said. "Well I must say --- I haven't heard that opening line before. Okay, let's see your trick." Charlie had left a burning cigarette in the ashtray on the bar. He returned to the bar and picked up the cigarette. He also pulled a white handkerchief out of his pocket. Going back to the girls' booth he told them, "Now please observe that I have a burning cigarette in one hand and a handkerchief in the other hand". "This is true", said the brunette.

"I will now put the cigarette out in the handkerchief!" With that Charlie sort of made a pocket in the handkerchief with his thump and then shoved the cigarette into it and balled it up. Then, with a flourish, Charlie held the handkerchief up with both hands and shook it so it smoothed out. The cigarette had vanished --- and there was not even a mark on the handkerchief!

Both girls seemed genuinely impressed. "So what happened to the cigarette?" asked the blonde. Charlie smiled and said, "Blackstone cannot reveal the secrets of his magic!" Sam, of course, knew where the goddamn cigarette was. It was crushed and extinguished inside the partial fake metal thumb on Charlie's left hand. That's where it always ended up. In a minute, Charlie would casually put that hand in his pocket and slide off the metal thumb with the cigarette inside it.

"That was pretty good, Charlie" said the brunette.

"In that case, would you mind if my friend and I joined you for a drink?" asked Charlie.

"I think that would be okay, Charlie", answered the brunette.

Charlie motioned for Sam to come over and the girls both moved closer to the wall. Charlie slid into the booth next to the brunette and Sam sat next to the blonde. Charlie introduced Sam to the girls and the girls introduced themselves. The brunette was Jan and the blonde was Sally.

As the four of the drank their beer, Charlie said, "We were just taking a survey of things that really annoy people. In plainer language --- what really burns your ass? For instance, Sam here hates standing in lines --- and I go off the wall trying to talk to a real person while I'm stuck on one of those automated phone things --- dial one for this, two for that and on and on." How about you, Jan?"

Jan thought for a moment as she lit a cigarette. "I guess I'd have to say going to the doctor's office. First you sit in the waiting room for one and a half hours --- then they take you to a little examining room and you wait in there for another half hour while you're half naked. Then the doctor comes in --- spends five minutes with you --- and you've just shot most of the damn afternoon!"

"I hear you, Jan, I hear you", responded Charlie. "How about you, Sally?"

Sally sipped her beer and seemed to be straining to come up with a response. Sam interjected, "C'mon, Sally, there must be something that 'burns your ass' as Charlie puts it".

"Well, I guess it really ticks me off when I get these solicitation calls on the phone at home. I don't need vinyl siding, carpet cleaning, the Wall Street Journal or a free three nights in the Pocono's. You know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I guess we all have to put up with those calls", said Sam.

For the next two hours the foursome had several more rounds of Miller Lite and a lot of really interesting conversation. Charlie and Jan mostly talked to each other after awhile, while Sam and Sally did the same. Charlie even put some coins in the old jukebox and the four of them danced in the small area between the bar and the booths. Jan was a great dancer and Charlie was getting quite interested in her. She seemed to return the interest. Early on, Charlie had informed the girls that the rounds were "on the guys" and the girls had thanked them for that. Later they even ordered food.

When the clock behind the old bar reached midnight, Jan announced that it was time for them to leave. Charlie tried to talk them into a nightcap --- but to no avail. Finally Charlie asked Jan, "Why don't you give me your phone number so I can call you sometime? Maybe some night I can take you to a great Italian restaurant that's nearby." Jan replied, "That sounds nice, Charlie, --- but to tell you the truth we're from Orange County, California and we have to fly back tomorrow."

"Damn!" said Charlie, "Wouldn't you know it?"

"But we sure thank you guys for the beers and food and for keeping us company", said Jan.

It was then time for goodbyes all around --- everyone shook hands --- and then the girls left. Sam and Charlie returned to their original their seats at the bar.

"Damn", said Charlie, "I was really starting to like that girl!"

"I know, Charlie, I could see that. I thought I'd like to see that Sally again, too".

Mace then approached the guys and inquired, "You guys want another round or what?"

Charlie responded, "No thanks, Mace, I think we'll just call it a night. Just give us the check and Sam and I will split it."

Thirty seconds later Mace returned with the check. The foursome had consumed a lot of beers and they had also polished off some cheeseburgers and fries. The bill was not small. Charlie and Sam reached into their back pockets for their wallets at the same time. Both wallets were gone.

"Holy shit! I think we've just been hustled by two pickpockets", Sam moaned. "Can you friggin' believe it?" They seemed so damn nice!"

"Tell me about it, Sam, tell me about it! Now let me ask you this, Sam --- do you know what really, really burns my ass?"

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