Oct 11, 2011 by     Comments Off on Dislocated    Posted under: Brian Wrote This, Fiction
My girlfriend recently observed that nearly all my stories take place in bars. Maybe I have a fictional drinking problem. My argument would be that bars are where interesting things happen, where dreams start and finish. (Spot illustration by Adam.)

Around his sixth drink, Ben Soldavini got down to the business of life. I had known Ben for going on the last four of those drinks, and he’d bought me two, so we were as close as two afternoon drinkers in a dive bar, because that’s what we were.

“Mark,” he said, though that isn’t my name, “You gotta understand where I’m coming from.”

I knew exactly where Ben was coming from—the same place I was going, which is that hazy state of inebriation in which the pain of life is dulled enough that you can look at it, like a guy who wakes up in a hospital gown so high on Percocet that he can see two dozen stitches lightning-jagged across his stomach and say, Huh. Lookit that.

“Where’re you coming from, Ben?” After five drinks, the man didn’t need encouragement to open up—I’d asked to gauge my own sobriety. I’d meant to say where are as two distinct words.

“I am coming from a place of pain, brother,” he replied. Half an hour ago, I’d been dude, but now I was family. You might think blood brother is a potent phrase, but if you value intensity over longevity, take bourbon brother ever time. “And that’s what this life is about. How you bear your pain.”

Ben was not quite two decades older than me. I pegged him for middle forties, grayer and shaggier than he needed to be, with a stubble the color of that decommissioned battleship anchored out by Fisherman’s Wharf. He had a face that had seen too much sun, and reflexively I thought of how many times I’ve told Tereza, my suddenly ex-girlfriend, that SPF 15 just won’t cut it, not in the long term. But try to tell a European girl not to suntan. Try, in my case, to tell her anything.

“You take your pain and you put it in your work, Mark. You sweat it out.” I pictured Ben hammering shingles onto a new roof, tearing up a lawn for fresh sod, loading some overbooked yuppie’s entertainment center into a moving van. I’m not that imaginative—these are all jobs Ben had mentioned in the course of our deepening friendship.

I sipped my beer.

“I went to college,” Ben said. He stared into the remains of his whiskey sour for a moment and nodded. “I didn’t finish, you know, but most people who know me now are surprised to hear I went at all. Three years.”

“Why didn’t you finish?” I didn’t know whether this was the right question or whether he’d merely been setting me up to understand a more significant point.

“Ahh, that’s complicated.” He waved a hand, maybe at the question, maybe at the answer. Shoo, fly. “There was a girl, there was a pregnancy that didn’t work out, and there was this romantic idea I was having about real work, you know? About ennobling labor and, ahhh, the poetry of the working class.”

He looked sideways at me, eyes narrowed a bit. I got the sense he was taking in my untucked, fitted oxford shirt and pre-faded jeans and slightly gelled $50 haircut all at once, even though he couldn’t have, not at that angle. “You workin’ class, Mark?”

I shrugged. “I was until four days ago,” I said. “But it was of the white collar variety, I think. If you work in an office but get paid much less than you think you’re worth, is that still white collar?”

He exhaled through his nose. “Lemme see your fingernails.” I held them out, he examined. “You’re an all-right guy, but you’re not workin’ class.”

He drained his glass and raised a finger to the bartender, who by now was entirely familiar with the gesture. “Take it from me, there ain’t no romance in the workin’ class. Your blue collar is dirty with stupidity and anger and fear … it’s all about as noble as a twenty-dollar lap dance.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. When the bartender put another whiskey sour in front of Ben, I put a five on the bar. It was definitely my turn, and we were drinking cheap. I’d already cashed my meager severance check, and I felt flush despite the nagging anxiety at the perimeter, which was like the hangover I could already feel staking out its territory.

“So you got laid off, is that it?” he said. Not in a contemptuous way, but in the sense of making sure he’d absorbed the key points correctly. Like the summary slide at the end of a PowerPoint presentation. “Other than that, your life was going all right?”

“Yeah,” I said, leaving out the rest. Tereza had left the day after I got laid off. I hadn’t even told her yet. Our death-spiral had preceded my adjusted employment outlook and I didn’t want her pity.

“You bounce back from shit like that … jobs. Especially when you’re a kid.” Ben rolled the first sip of his new drink in his mouth, nodding as he swallowed. “I mean, I know the economy’s the shits, but still, if all it takes to fix you up is a new job ….”

“Sure,” I said into my near-empty glass. It felt weird not working on a Tuesday afternoon. My office—former office—was only a half-mile away, everyone counting the hours ’til 5:30. Today was supposed to be the gym and a first visit to craigslist. And I had forms to fill out for unemployment. I had bouncing back to do. I wasn’t going to be a guy on a barstool.

“You give any thought yet to why they fired you?” Ben asked.

“I got laid off,” I said. “Economic.”

“Yeah, but why you?” he pressed. “I mean, it don’t matter to me, but I want to know if it’s mattering to you. You think about how you could’ve done different to stay off the chopping block?”

This was the kind of conversation Tereza and I would’ve had, if I’d told her; faintly accusatory. Something wired too early into our relationship had left us unable to provide real comfort to each other. I shrugged. “There’s always things, but it was a shit job anyway. I’m not going to obsess.”

“Good, ’cause that’s what gets you. The five or ten percent difference that would change it all back,” he said. “You get to be my age and the mistakes and regrets pile up, you feel like you made a wrong turn a hundred miles back and it’s just too late to turn around, you know?”

I drained my glass.

Ben sighed. “That’s what I feared most when I was your age, or when I was dropping out of college and signing up for fucking Lamaze classes. But you know what I mean, right, the idea that you, at whatever age you are …?”


“You’re twenty-eight, and you think, shit, I got dreams and potential and all,” he said. “And you worry that you’ll wake up at forty-eight and be, like, where the fuck did it go, how’d all your dreams slip so far away.”

“I guess so,” I said, finishing my beer. It was kind of hard, this week, to think in terms of dreams. “Yeah.”

I avoided the bartender’s eyes and watched Ben. He was staring forward at the whiskey bottles lined up on the shelf in the permanent twilight. There were no windows in Jack’s Bay Hideaway, just exposed brick walls and dim light. He inhaled slowly, like he was filling himself up with something.

“You ever dislocate your shoulder, Mark?”

“No,” I said.

“Hurts like a bitch,” Ben said. “But in a real specific way. I mean, maybe pain is just pain, but your brain understands, so … You’re in this searing pain, there is nothing more wrong in the world than the absolute wrong of this fuckin’ nuclear explosion in the general deltoid region, you know?”

I nodded, superfluously, as Ben plowed on.

“But it’s not like getting your arm cut off, or havin’ a heart attack, at least not as I’d imagine it,” he said. “’Cause the thing with dislocating your shoulder, and I’ve done that twice, is you know that there’s just this little thing out of place. A matter of what, an inch or two? Ball-and-socket? You know that if you knew how, you could pop everything back where it belongs and it would all be fine. And it hurts like a bitch and it’s gonna keep on hurting, but it would just take this one little thing to make it all right, and you don’t know how to fix it.”

He drank slowly, and swallowed with the glass held in front of his mouth. Then he took another long swallow.

“That’s what’ll getcha, kid.” He set the empty glass on the bar. “But there’s no way to snap your life back into place.”

I thought about Tereza, and the last box of her stuff left in my apartment. I was thinking about her phone number, still in my phone, and the things I’d said last time we’d talked, and the things I hadn’t. I wondered where she was staying tonight.

He looked at my empty glass. “Ready for another?”

I looked down at my glass and then up at Ben and the expectant bartender, unsure of what to tell them.

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