Short Story: Happy Harry

Part I. Bowels, Ranches, Money and Manipulation

The first thing, every morning, was to make like a bandit to bathroom. It was such a close call so often due to the strictest repression of his bowels that Harry had become accustom to doing it as a way to punish himself for all the misdeeds in the bars and discotheques in the prior night of revelry. Most of the other guys were amazed at his control. That natural urge they submitted to in going early and often to the crowded restrooms, even saying Harry had real brass balls or some other manly way of suggesting he wasn’t weak. That first trip in the morning lasted forty-five minutes to one hour, at minimum. After years of practice, the ability to hold great amounts of water and waste was just a natural ritual accompanied with other morning routines.
Reading classic books, tech magazines, women’s lib articles (to educate one’s self in women’s thoughts), playing old rock and roll or classical music and watching The Learning Channel or The History Channel, was all done to alleviate the inclination Harry had that his routine was not normal; but just a quirk that everyone else engages in too, and not just a mere personal and private tick that on further review would be considered strange. The time was not wasted. Learning much on those frequent mornings after, more than he ever did in college courses or seminars related to work, Harry worked through many problems that would have gone unnoticed or unresolved if not for this penitent ritual. The answers came clearly – through the words of street-wise sages found in the read pages and also in the best remaining educational shows on TV – if only in these marathon sessions honed up in his bathroom, every morning, after drinking with friends.

He’d been single for the past 7 years. Ever since his divorce at age 26, his need to party and go out on Friday and Saturday nights was just a way to pass the time, when not working. He rarely ever thought of Lauren, the ex, since she’d moved out to the West Coast seeking fame and stardom with a grunge drummer for a then-popular Midwest alternative-hip-hop-rock band called Onyx Five Eleven. He wasn’t jealous or bitter, or even aware of the rotten outcome of that affair. (She worked now as general manager of a Starbucks in Palo Alto, California, writing songs and art rock poems for her third struggling neo-pop grunge band in 4 years.) But his objectives since that time were simple: make money, spend money, drink and let life take care of itself through its natural course and progression.

It was Saturday and Harry climbed into the Lexus LS07, his first $50,000 vehicle. After 6 years working his way up the corporate ladder from tech support guy to systems analyst to database administrator, he’d made the final move up to an executive level position three months ago, meaning his work now was to oversee and guide all the techies, develop and expand the department budget and design and plan for the future needs of the company. His freedom came in the weekends – but that wasn’t much different from before – and so this Saturday morning, as usual, he went for a drive to the countryside away from the bustle of city while listening to old rock and roll classics pumped out by 99.5 WEVR, The Everclear.

A mixture of pines, willows, dogwoods and evergreens followed the winding road dotted with country-styled mailboxes and real estate signs that popped up every now and again from behind a tall patch of shrubbery. Just a hint of autumn stirred in the late August air, and a reoccurring memory drifted on him of times as a child out in Idaho working and playing on his Uncle Harris’s farm.

While growing up, he spent summer breaks helping out with the chores and listening to his uncle spin yarns of his days working with the circus, rodeo and other misadventures he had survived. Every summer, the bulls got bigger (and more ornery), the bearded lady more wooly (and less feminine), the barkers louder and meaner (when not around the locals) and the drinking more troublesome to making a cent of profit. Yet, there was always a funnier side and Harry could never forget his uncle’s wit and smile.

Every Saturday, for the last five years, Harry took these drives out to the country to look at the stylish ranch houses, oversized pull barns, show horses and white fences miles and miles long with a dream to buy one of these country places. The wetting of his appetite for the good life – the slow life –as a respite from all those annoying moments spent trying to answer questions of the least important type: the ones that make the monolithic companies of the world more money off of some poor nobody’s back, everyday, without fail.

The real answers of the world came in the watching, the feeding and the maintaining of horses, cows, pigs, chickens, drakes and geese that meandered around in their usual ways on these farms, with the farmers readying for harvest and livestock auctions. And the natural scent of the countryside: hay, wild flowers and animals interwoven with the slight sounds of a just lone wind stirring with an unimportance and innocence. That was what life was suppose to be like for everyone. Yet so few had it, or knew it could exist.

It would be several years, if ever, before he could actually afford any one of these big countryside retreats, as he took to calling them. Farmers and small ranchers knew what they had, and giving that up wasn’t in the cards for just any price or anybody looking for a piece of quiet heaven but nothing else. So Harry stopped by the fences and driveways of a select few properties, ones with the real estate signs, usually, just to find his level of desire never met his pocket book.

But the trips never were in complete vain. At least he talked with a few earthy people and saw they had a real reason to be happy and content. Their bills did not scare or intimidate them; recent spring and summer storms just reminded them of prior ferocious ones; losing family members meant what was remaining was to be treasure that much more, memories and realities alike. Harry could only smile, and nod, and wish the same.

By afternoon, Harry lined up the usual agenda for the evening via the cell phone: going to Rock Bottom with Phil, Jordan, Eric, David and Rod. After swilling down a few tasty wheat beers and pilsners at the Bottom, then it was back to the usual set of bars they hit to pick up “easy” women. If filling them with B.S., Bahama Mamas and neon Jell-o shots were the prerequisite, then their dancing inanely “white people style” would be the core course of banality in the slight hopes of getting a slightly drunk, semi-interesting partner for the remainder of the night. Each of the current group had picked up at least one woman by doing this formulaic pastime in the past year. Nothing of much regard came out of these nights except to recount the times over and over again as the sure fire reason why to continue the pursuit. Phil and David had girlfriends now, but it did not discourage them from this overrated and underachieving sex chase. Harry was contented enough to deny it did not matter to him either, even if the reality was that it had been five years since any woman had staggered into his home with expectations of intercourse or even after-booze cuddling.

As seven o’clock arrived, Harry started preparations for the long night. He showered for at least fifteen minutes, spent ten minutes on styling his brown curly hair, shaved meticulously around his goatee, brushed and flossed tediously for ten minutes, all the while listening to a MP3 compilation of favorite songs reminiscent of the 1980’s and 90’s. By 8 PM, he was finally ready to pick up Jordan since he lived closest by, and it was his turn to avoid drinking and driving, though that was more fiction than anything else on most nights.

As Harry pulls up the small blacktop driveway at 8:15 PM, Jordan shuts the door of his new starter home – a harbor blue, white-trimmed, mini-ranch. At 29, Jordan’s stylish, sandy blonde, wavy hair and typical Midwest, aw-shucks, corn-feed personality on a 6’4” frame, is in underlying contrast to his deep-seeded ambitions to make it big any way he knows how. He keeps playing mind games with an on-again, off-again girlfriend Sally Masterson solely because her dad is heavily successful in the real estate business. “It could be love,” was something Jordan mentioned more than once while sipping down Gin & Tonics, but really it was just his lust for money and uncomplicated companionship along with the alcohol talking like it always has a logical opinion worth giving.

“Another night to get bombed in the hopes Ms. Right Now becomes a Mrs. Scheckler with a prenuptial,” Jordan says jovially, climbing into the front seat, turning up the volume on the radio playing a current Linkin Park hit.

“Well, it’s a worthy dream, I suppose…NOT!” Harry responds cynically in jest while backing down the driveway onto Farris Drive.

“Like anything else, it’s just a means to an end.” Jordan reaches into his dark tan leather jacket, pulling out a Marlboro cigarette and a Zippo.

“So we all just go on looking for a piece, knowing the piece is just that… a piece.” Harry maneuvers into the right turn lane heading toward Eric’s pricey loft on the East side, a 15-minute drive into the subdivision-laden part of the city.

“Yep, that’s it. Till we grow old and fat and bald, but then we’re rich, and don’t need to worry about the pursuit so much. Then it comes to us. Of course, then, the young have time on their side in the hunt.” Jordan takes his first puffs from the Marlboro.

“I guess that’s it.” Harry contemplates the whole idea for about a second and then wonders if Jordan will ever love anyone without a string as long as a trans-Pacific airline flight, if that could be called love, 21st century style. The music pumps louder, to get the juices flowing for another night out.

Part II. Female Bashing, The Discotheque and Game Afoot

Upon arrival at Rock Bottom, the crowd is eager and loud, and well suited for a night of concentration on the fine art of getting drunk in the hopes of getting laid. The humid late August air has just a faint breeze that blows sporadically, if comforting, onto the back patio section where the 20’s styled guest gather in clumps of four to ten persons. Harry and the gang sit along the back end of the patio against a giant advertisement for beer, and the women that supposedly come from drinking that great beer. Phil has taken over the conversation, mainly talking about his athletic, gorgeous, peppy girlfriend, Monica.

“You know, I’ve never had the experience of a real sexy woman really digging me,” Phil continues between sips, “until now.”

Eric nearly chokes on his pilsner, “you’re all ready pussy whipped?”

“Naw, just that I have never had a woman actually ‘like’ what I like. Monica does that in spades,” Phil replies.

“So she says, until you are married or engaged for that matter.” Jordan adds.

“Like isn’t love, anyways. Act one is to go with the flow and pretend; act two gradually try to change the man; act three either you change or lose your life, home and her, of course.” Eric says as he gulps down the last of beer #1 and gets up to get another one of many, while the others nod in agreement except for Harry and Phil.

“What do you think, Harry?” Phil looks at the only one among them that has been there.

“What I think doesn’t matter, what you think and decide for yourself is important.”

After a second, David and Jordan in near unison respond while toasting, “Cop out response.”

“No, just a possible truth. Maybe Monica isn’t pretending; some woman could like ice hockey, bass fishing, NASCAR and heavy metal concerts.” A subtle sarcasm is barely hidden in the improbable summary of Phil’s favorite pastimes outside of his grind at work, while David and Jordan smile and then laugh slightly while a Bob Marley tune kicks on, ‘No woman, no cry’.

“Are you kidding? These sensitive woman like Yanni concerts, figure skating, Emeril’s cooking show and Tae Bo,” David goes on, “even if they accept your typical macho man stuff, it is always just until the honeymoon is over. 6 weeks or 6 months, it will eventually boil down to their needs over your manly hobbies.”

“Your suppose to find common ground,” Harry takes the unpopular side of the female bashing contest.

“ And when does that become just giving in because you have no balls to fight?” Jordan asks.

“Having balls to fight means fighting fair over the important stuff: money, time, sex and communication.” Harry defensively responds, remembering how his own marriage sunk down the toilet over these very issues.

Across the room, down the wooden ramp, comes a group of sexy, yuppie types: two blondes, two brunettes and a redhead giggling about something. Most of the guys in the bar notice, at least the sounds of giggling women and clicking heels has a way of making men stop drinking for a second, if only to ascertain the odds are stacked against anyone landing one of these GATs (Girls About Town).

“Sorry to interrupt the stimulating conversation, but those are top shelf women. Maybe you guys can stuff the female bashing for a night, while we make a futile attempt to get laid.” Rod, the quiet one, is the one man that stays the same drunk or sober and always knows good women when they sashay into a bar.

“I’m game for those new GATs,” Eric upon returning to the table with 4 wheat beers, a Gin and Tonic and Dr. Pepper for Harry.

“That’s what I like about this place, even when you’re running women down, there is always a gaggle of them that make you stop just long enough to wonder why they are so fucking entrancing.” Jordan surmises as much to himself as to the group.

“Well, now what?” David asks.

The ensuing hour sees a wait-and-see game go on, of sexy looks and beer run forays into each other’s territories, looking for a match-up, a hook-up, to go on to the next place: Demolition’s, the live-wire techno dance and grind fest located just a stumble and a PI from the private college campus. As with all nights out, an agreement comes with the first conversation between the factions. The redhead, Sherry, takes a liking to David, the chauvinist cum laude from Arizona, and the two groups merge into one big group, each guy and each girl still is not exactly sure of who they will pair up with. But the night is still as young, as they want it to be.

Part III. Liquor Buying, Babies Crying and a Restroom Trip

Demolition’s is an old armory and dynamite storage facility that was converted to a dance club amongst the other shops based in the 100,000 square foot area. The disco balls, strobe lights, mirrored ceilings, pounding music, neon lights and 75 foot-long bars on 3 sides of 3-tiered dance floor with two spiral staircases at either end is surrounded by an old wooden balcony area where staff officers of the old NIS came in every morning to duty, prepared their reports on old typewriters while drills and the unloading of demolition products was the norm in the armory proper.

This night, 35 years since the last key was punched, everyone bops on the dance floor to the newest techno sensation: Boom Kids in Harlem. A group of 5 formerly-ghetto, now Hollywood-inspired teenagers that rap, beat, play keyboards and guitars and sing like a young Prince (before the symbol and religious conversion) crossed with a slicker New Edition and a riskier Moby. Their current hit, ‘Give it up’, just reached #1 and everyone is talking about it.

The liquor splashes around freely on the dance floor, where a black-shirted, overly muscular bouncer leans gently on a squeegee between uses, which isn’t often enough. The stumbling parade of patrons up and down the stainless steel slick spiral staircases, with the frequent couples lip-locked on a stair step or two or three, makes it a trip only done to get the beer or shots or the water for those interested in hydration while dancing their asses off. Each night, someone falls down these staircases; but rarely does it result in serious injury, unlike the booms that took place frequently after loading up the trucks for field exercises just 35 years ago.

“So I told that prick to F-off, and he never, ever said another damn word,” Jordan aggrandizes about his confrontation with a co-worker to Missy, a 25-year old blonde boutique owner with a M.A. in Philosophy from Berkley. Harry rolls his eyes in disbelief over this story. Missy acts with a laugh in interest, but this nothing new, for her, or Jordan. They like each other enough to buy some Hot Damn and 151 Jell-o shot chasers. The group has now settled in on the match-ups.

In a separate room, the games area, the 8-ball tables and Cricket games drag on until a needy girlfriend (or boyfriend) gets tired of the waiting around for a more hopeful trip to the next bar. It’s there David switches pursuits with Eric; he finds the other blonde, Sam, a pre-med major graduating in the spring, a better conversationalist, given his gift of gab about anything: especially women in the professional workplace. They settle in on a game of 8-ball and Bud Lights.

Eric takes to the redhead, Sherry, because he’s never dated one, and she giggles like Betty Boop. Though, they are quite natural together. Sherry likes rock climbing and hang gliding and Eric drives in demolition races on some weekends. They have an “in” with each other: danger. They take to throwing darts ineptly at the cricket board, while the line of tight-jean country boys and girls watch people, argue about sports, throw darts and sip down their liquor of choice, usually Budweiser or MGD.

Phil and Rod coaxed the two brunettes, sisters Ann and Frances, out to the dance floor. There they spend the next two hours settled into the bump, grind, sweat and holler mode. Not much else goes on: Phil has his woman; Rod doesn’t romance them, just dances them to exhaustion.

Harry takes to making the rounds, going from one group to the next. Each time, looking for progress, filling in the gaps in conversations, or maybe just passing by unnoticed to see that all is going well between the couples: that was his usual night.

Some called it the odd-man-out syndrome, but nothing really was all that important to Harry. He thought of these guys as the kids he didn’t have. All seemed to cry for a new bicycle (if it were in the 70’s), or new VR game (today), or some other frivolity needed to make the their lives better. He just saw them that way. They had the energy to devote to playing games, and seeing who, or how many, women they could be with via the bar crawl. That was not under his purview to grant, but having a happy night out was at least in the realm of possibility.

Often, Harry would stumble into past women the guys had been in close company with in the prior weekends. Harry usually talked to them; hearing the usual complaints or comments about the gang: he never called, or he’s a flake, or he’s too needy, or he lied about how much he makes, or he’s such and such toward my girlfriend, so I dumped him, and so on it went. But Harry often got more out of the conversations via the bitching than the object of affection or defilement ever did in the relationship. At least he thought he did sometimes.

As the liquor flows more and more into the system, the necessity to care about time and feelings and tact grows less. Decisions, such as leaving to go home, are left up to the drunkest person because it avoids the fight to get them to listen. The next problem comes around 1:30AM when someone finds out they aren’t the liquor stud or he-man they thought they were. The confusion usually starts with someone getting lost, or better known as, throwing up in the bathroom or on the way to the bathroom, most likely. Harry just plays the concern parent.

“Are you ok, bud?” Harry asks Jordan after he just dry heaved for the third time, right after the attempt to do 4 shots of Jack Daniels in 2 minutes, after doing ten various shots over a period of two hours. The sound is grating to everyone in the bathroom, but you hear no pity.
“Yeah BABY! Give ‘em hell, brother!” a staggering frat guy with a Phi Delta Theta shirt jeers on Jordan while on his way back to the dance floor after urinating all over the toilet, missing it mostly.

“Harry…Harry!” Jordan gets worried, “Yeah bud… I’m here. You’re ok man.” Harry responds out of routine. The door swings open and another stumbling guy makes his way over to the other toilet kicking a beer bottle in way to the far corner with a clink.

“I’m never doing that again,” Jordan between gaps for air and remaining drools and spits into the busted toilet caked with piss, vomit, ash, beer and other unknown substances.

“Sure…Sure thing.” Harry knows better, but that’s just the price of fun on a Saturday night.

Harry ventures back to the bar to pick up the rest of the crew after the long night. Rod took Ann home after dancing to an old love song, ‘Somebody’ by Depeche Mode; obviously, they now have an “in” with each other. Jordan has forgotten about Missy, which is all the better for the both of them, since he’s nearly passed out twice after his bathroom trip. Missy is huddled with Frances, Eric, Sherry, Phil, David and Sam, of course concerned about Jordan, but not all that concerned. They each give Harry a look – the look of either overwhelming gratitude or shaming reproach, depending on the mood of the intoxicated or sober among them – which he is used to by now, in all the times out at the bar.

“Sorry Missy, I guess Jordan got a little carried away,” Harry offers to a cross-armed Missy that looks more like a mother waiting for the next excuse than just another woman that Jordan wanted to sleep with. Yet, it matters little to her.

“I guess so. Course that’s typical of a man.” She gets the approval of the remaining women and half-hearted shoulder shrugs from Eric and Phil. David interjects some life into things, “Well he’s a big boy. Jordan’s man enough to handle it anyways.”

Meanwhile, Jordan lolls and lurches in the booth near the doorway of the Billiards room, probably wishing the room would stop spinning long enough for him to get to the front exit. The last call for alcohol has come and gone, the steady boom of the music is now replaced by a slow, unhurried and softer sound of angst-ridden 80’s and 90’s love songs, which the remaining drunkards lean on each other while on the sticky dance floor and remember how they were just a decade or so ago in someone else’s arms.

Then, at least, they could attribute their feelings to youth and naiveté; now, it was due to inability to do much of anything to correct the errors made in those judgments past, and now, the present. Which they repeated again, and regretted again, in the Sunday mornings after in more than a few ways indescribable to a sane and normal person. But that is the road they take every time without fail.

The bar is brighter than usual; the once-hidden defects of the armory now beam through clearly; and the smell of spilt liquor and vomit emanates strongly from all corners of Demolition’s. It’s closing time and the clean-up crew of the bar workers is in full swing while they half-chase out the remaining people, including Harry’s gang. As the door shuts, the crowd spills out and searches around for missing friends, with some success.

“So Harry, you didn’t go all night to the bathroom, except for helping Jordan,” Eric ponders out loud on a now colder, crisper August night.

“Yep. Just like always.” Harry happily responds, with the neon lights shutting off inside Demolition’s and the sounds of wailing sirens on cop cars coming from off in the distance, growing fainter and fainter still, as they stand waiting to just go home. Just another happy night spent out.

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