Somehow he knew the directions to every bar in town; it was a long and strange conversation.
The three of them, lost, out of place, and ready to confess. Confess a string of hideous collections of everyday stupidities. Each confession sillier than the one before, on and on for five hours. None of this would have been interesting at all if they had shown an in flight movie, but since September 11th, movies were cancelled, this fact setting me off into a twisted turning cognitive process of determining how movies could be threatening to the public welfare. Instead the in-flight entertainment today was to be from the seat immediately behind me. The scenario was the three strangers suddenly become the three amigos, the three musketeers, the three stooges, three across, tic-tac-toe.
One of them, the lieutenant, was drinking his way across America- literally, a drink per state, from Pittsburgh to L.A., and with each drink another confession; the marriage counseling, the divorce, the tough love thing with his son, the “I’m not on this planet to please you, I’m on this planet to please myself” speech, the second marriage, the marriage counseling, the mentally ill sister, and another drink please. He was the one who knew the bar scene and as any good host would, educated his companions as to the locations and other sundry bar trivia.
The other two, social workers, the one seated in the middle confessing her degree was from a pass/fail school, thankfully, she added because she wasn’t a good student. She, ready to tell the secrets of her clients, autonomously of course and confessing numerous times that she had left her four year old at home to meet her brother and father for a reunion. Her brother, between jobs and in AA, was fragile and needed her. On she went, explaining that she hadn’t stayed current in her field, but felt inspired by meeting the last amigo, who was not only a MSW, but a MBA as well. This “blew her mind”, how could two fields so vastly different collide in this brilliant, selfless, wonderful man to become a “professional”. You could hear an under current of panting and sexual fantasy oozing through each word and from the pores of places we usually keep hidden away for special occasions.
And he, the last one, he with the captivated audience, explaining adnasum his confession- the why of how he had come to possess such expertise. You could almost see the halo of self-importance glow about him. His community work around end-of-life issues, the confession that death knows no age, and the importance of continuing education. The reluctant confession that although he isn’t actively a therapist, by credential he could still do this. This last confession dragged out of him by the middle one, exalting him to a Godlike status, putting the words in his mouth like a spouse of a hundred years.
All of this comfortable telling of self began to breakdown somewhere over the Midwest when the lieutenant foolishly excused himself to the lavatory. It began then, with him gone the other two left sitting there with the growing urge to batten down the pecking order into a more concrete form. To make themselves more grand relative to mister “general lieutenant confession”. They got him on details, a count; a drink tally to be exact. This being the amount of drinks consumed, his Achilles heel unsheved, made naked, vulnerable, hanging out there for the deflation, the death, and the humiliation.
“Yeah, if he is drinking this much he certainly has a problem..” “Oh, I wasn’t counting, but blah, blah, blah… the words melting into a court room, a judge and a jury and him crucified.
All these mumblings were another confession by the two, now jointly, a team splintered off from the original three now a tag team with a mission, with a secret code for an insidious upcoming attack. This new confession was twofold, one a statement of their admission of powerlessness over the situation and two, accidentally a statement of character, particularly slimy character.
Joining themselves together in typical odd men out fashion- make a mental note: never leave the company of a threesome unless one member of the group goes with you- within a matter of seconds the new team had a mission statement, a plan of attack, and mister General was labeled with the writing on the wall. He was done, over and finished, out on the street solo again. Being completely unaware of transactions occurring behind his back, it was his misfortune to pick up where he thought they had left off. His drunken freshness was met with a distinctive and collective “we know what is wrong with you” attitude. It started with a rapid changing of the subject, a stark message, no more of your confessions will be tolerated, you are well over your quota. Like an experiment in behaviorism, after a number of attempts and shocks, mister General Rat caught on and fell to a silence, a sad quiet loss of speaking, a solitary agony all his own- labeled, roped, tied and taped- you is done for Jack!
Celebrating the victory, the tag team high fived by developing a plan for watching the weekend football game on a big screen. The middle one that left the four year old behind asking the other one, dual degree self-important professional, when he was flying back home, -the day, the time, the flight, a string of precision questions that could only be asked by a guilty mother. Each question answered in the therapeutic tone of an accountant and with a touch of doubt, as though he had a lifetime of not knowing how to dress for the weather.
All in a day’s work; keeping everyone in their place is not an easy job.
Excerpt from the upcoming Seven Magnificent Mercies