After the Lecture on Donald Barthelme
I’d given the lecture on Barthelme and Watergate and the War in Vietnam and then I went drinking at the bar near campus. And I had a whiskey. I rewarded myself with a whiskey because the Lecture had gone well and the discussion afterward was good and bracing debate. Did any of these contemporaneous events matter to Barthelme’s writing? People were both in opposition and in favor, and a lot of fine points were made and at the end of the class I said, “we did not disgrace ourselves here today. I am proud of you. I am proud of you.”
At the bar I sat on the non-smoking side. There was a prosperous old-timer there. I knew he was a man who had the ear of the state senate. He was nursing a beer and watching the baseball from the night before being replayed.
“Fucking Yankees,” he said in my general direction. “Goddamn fucking Yankees, with their unscrupulous fucking machinations.” He turned around in his seat and looked me directly in the eye and said: “I’m for the American League but fuck the goddamn Yankees.”
Before long he asked me what I did.
“I lecture on fiction. Today I discussed Barthelme.”
He waved me off. “I don’t go in for anything except the farm report.” And I could see that from the state of his calloused hands and how years ago the wind ravaged his face and shaped his beard into a sharp sickle, destroying follicles here and there, that he was telling me the truth.
I wanted to impress him. I was drunk on whiskey and sour mix. “Barthelme was also a speech writer,” I said, “For Richard Nixon. He coined the term the ‘silent majority.’”
The man perked up. “Nixon has been poorly judged by history. He fought the communist swell, their fifth column. ‘The silent majority,’ how about that,” the man said and then he went to the men’s room. “I’m going to have a shit, or I hope to,” he announced.
I felt good about lying because I wanted friends badly in this life.
When he returned he said, I read about your Barthelme on the can with my iPhone 12-Pro. You lied to me son,” and then he stabbed me through the hand, fixing me to the bar and I cried in horrible pain while he drank. He felt a little sorry and poured whiskey down my throat. I struggled to release myself from the knife and the bar, to no avail. He laughed and laughed as I squirmed in anguish. And here I am crying and pining for love. The man feeds me whatever he has with him: carnitas, lengua and fresh habaneros. From my own garden, he tells me. But he doesn’t say much else, he is not terribly interested in conversation. He is worried I will trick him again, and his pride has been wounded.
And we’ve sat here for literal years. One day the courier came with a notice of my lawful termination from the university. The courier has returned frequently, with news of my father’s passing and the end of the revolt in that mountainous country near the equator. The man is probably on his fifth or sixth beer, nursing them slowly. He has graduated to a sour IPA and he puckers his lips.
Jesus Christ, we’ve been here for decades, if not eons, and we’re watching the Yankees and their bedeviled competition in the American League.
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