Alli got up and emptied the ashtray, which by now was overflowing with cigarette butts. Anytime they got together and tossed back a few they chain smoked like chimneys, while unwinding and gabbing away. Finally blowing out the cobwebs in the psyche, is how she put it.  She emptied the butts in the garbage and grabbed the pitcher, now almost empty, and refreshed it with Grey Goose and tonic and ice cubes, squeezing a bunch of limes in there for good measure. Stirring it up she listened to how heated the debate was getting  at the dining room table.

Doesn’t take much.

“Well you could say that Rob, but I don’t think everyone would or should agree with you, I mean really,” said Jenn, getting up and taking the pitcher from Alli’s hand. She poured refills in their glasses, with audible “clinks”, and sat back down. “I mean Rich has a totally different perspective from you, probably a more realistic one. He’s the one who put in all those years just to be told not to come back. And it was a total shock, believe you me. So now we have no health insurance, his pension’s in jeopardy and he has to fight to get his unemployment. No warning, no time to prepare. And working there since high school what the hell?  Working hard, keeping his head down, and doing what we all thought we were supposed to do. All just over!  Your situation’s  much different  Rob, so how could you relate?” she asked, hawk-eyeing him.

Jenn didn’t feel out of line at all here just speaking her mind. She’d known Alli since junior high, and although their paths went in much different directions they still were tight and comfortable with each other. Even though Alli had done much better for herself, at least in the ways the world measures such things, Jenn knew she could always be forthright and honest, and Alli was always more than eager to hear Jenn’s take on things.

Rich sat there quietly, as he usually did. Not a dumb man by any means, or even meek. Just a hard working man. He thought of himself as a squirrel, waking up every day after the nut. And when Rob started to get going with a buzz, with all his pretentious bull, Rich would fold up, especially when he had to be in his face and endure him. Like today. He just likes to hear himself talk, he thought. He lit another smoke and sat back patiently, which was the only way to get along with him anyway. Just let him go…kowtow.  Jenn would go on at  him later, as she always did after one of these drunken affairs, asking how come he didn’t stand up for himself more, why did he let Rob walk all over him.  Rich felt he did what he had to and that Rob was just a blowhard.

Can’t stand those types.

Rob started, “Well Rich is just gonna have to start over somehow. There’s lots of jobs out there, people just need to apply themselves to find them. They can’t expect the government to bail them out indefinitely. We’ve got enough problems. Things like that are what’s gotten our country in this mess in the first place,” Rob looked at Rich all slumped over, “and besides, Rich here,” indicating him, “has a track record in a job, not like some of these other lazy asses.”

Rich looked up at Rob, “ Yeh but Rob there really aren’t jobs out there, lots of folks are in the hole.  I mean I’m looking, and just cause your practice is afloat, I mean you have a job that allows you all this,” hands up looking around the room, “doesn’t mean you can understand or really know what it’s like for me, what regular people like me go through.”

Rich paused, and Rob replied, laughing, “Yeh but it could happen to anyone, I mean how long has it been already?  Two months, three? That’s a long time to sit around waiting for a check from the government. You shoulda had a job by now already.”

Alli picked up her glass and took a long swig. “Boys boys, come on now, this is supposed to be our fun time, you know, time to relax, not so serious.” She looked at Rob, “and I think Rich is right, you can’t relate, I mean your plastic surgery biz just keeps growing. So how could you relate to what the downtrodden are going through nowadays? Even your clients can’t. People are down on their luck out there Robert, and you never see it, you can’t. There’s rioting in the streets for chrissakes,” she said.

Rob sat back, looking through Alli, but smiling. “Rioting is a bit strong of a word don’t you think honey?  Alli, Alli, come on. It’s not like back in the 60s. It’s not real. Wall Street will always run the world, in this country and the rest. Money makes the world go ‘round. This is just a bubble, an impasse. The problem is all these do-gooders and socialists who wanna suck the country dry, who expect people like me to use MY money to pay for THEIR agenda. Well it’s time to pay the piper and I’ll be damned if I’m the one who’s gonna pay.”

Loud silence.

“You know, this country was built on self-reliance, not on all this welfare,” he finished, getting red-faced now, vein in his forehead pulsing.

Jenn piped up, “Alli’s right, let’s talk about something else,”  taking out the cards and shuffling the deck.

Rob was red-faced and sucking down more vodka. You could hear him steaming with self-righteousness, breathing heavier after the effort of his spew.

The sunlight started to stream directly through the sheer curtains and open window, making patterns on the table. A breeze blew, interrupting the tension some. Ally got up and pulled the window all the way open to get some fresh air in, and get some smoke out too. You could hear the Americana outside the window, kids playing in the street, a hose on somewhere, leaves being raked, cars going by.

Rich stood up and stretched. He walked down the hall to the bathroom, while the others sat in silence, Jenn shuffling cards the only noise, all just drinking and smoking.

Alli looked at Jenn, “Well how are things going for you, I mean really?  Down at the city? You’re not in any danger-”

“No, not for my job,” said Jenn. “I don’t think so anyway. But we need more help, there are more people than ever coming in for food stamps. Too much caseload that’s for sure.”

Rob was looking at her impatiently, flicking his ashes in the ashtray, rolling his eyes.

“We don’t have enough other workers to keep up, and there’s no chance of getting any new ones either, not now. It’s really just one of the saddest times since I’ve been there, that’s for sure. It’s turned into something where you can’t do the good that you want to do with people, we deal mostly with problems, you know the system…” trailing off. “Very sad for sure, different kinds of people coming in for help nowadays too,” she said.

Alli asked, “Well what about with Rich, how’s he holding up?”

“Oh he’s holding up best he can I guess, he fills his days. He’s quite defeated and mostly walks around moping. But… he tries,” she said smiling.

Rich came back and they looked up. “What?” he said with a little grin. He looked at each of them.  “What?”  He laughed under his breath, and walked over and peeked out the window. Turning around he said, “Yeh let’s just have a good time here, okay? A good time with friends.”

“You deal,” said Rob, looking at Rich.

“Nah that’s okay,” picking up his drink, “I think I’m going to take a walk out back, it’s such a nice day out, I wanna see some of it.” He stumbled a bit through the kitchen and out the back door.

The three looked at each other and Alli, shooting Rob a look said, “ Why don’t we move this party out there?”

When they walked out back, Rich was in the back of the yard, by the pavilion, just drinking his vodka, smoking and wandering slowly around, looking deep in thought, or off somewhere else. The day was indeed beautiful, with a deep blue sky and a bright autumn sun, a discernable briskness in the air. The three settled at the patio table, with a fresh tub of drink, a plate of nibbly things that Alli had prepared, and a clean ashtray. They sat and lit up and silently watched Rich back there, puffing.  Jenn said, “I think I’m gonna go check on him,” getting up with her drink.

“No Jenn, let Rob go,” said Alli, looking at Rob, eyebrows raised.

Rob sighed and got up, muttering. He refilled his booze and ambled down the steps through the yard. Rich was now sitting inside the pavilion, watching Rob coming toward him, in that merry and obnoxious way of his. He didn’t move, he just watched. Rob walked up into the pavilion. “What’s up buddy, what are you doing back here?”

Rich looked at him, glazed over. “Uh, what do you mean big man huh? What do you mean tough guy, huh?”

“Whoaaa…” said Rob, “have you had too much to drink there friend?” putting his hand on his shoulder.  Rich looked down, hanging his head between his knees. “Come on, let’s go back to the ladies Rich, let’s wrap things up here.”

Rob picked him up by the elbow to his feet. Rich looked up at him tearfully, but with an anger or vengefulness or maybe even a loathing, looking like he wanted to say something, but holding back, the something tangled up in his throat, the emotion just stuck there. He started out behind the big man, down the stepsback into the yard. Dragging himself along, he looked up toward the patio. The ladies looked small up there, a cloud of smoke above their heads. Rob stopped and turned around, putting his hand on Rich’s back. Rich flinched and stopped. Rob started to say something, and Rich cut in, “why don’t you just shut your mouth for once, huh? Why don’t you, don’t you ever just shut up!?” and stomped past him through the yard and up the steps.

Alli and Jenn just looked up at him questioningly. Rich sat down and Jenn poured him another drink. The ladies resumed their gabbing while Rob joined them. He started in with one of his stories, about some rich old bag needing her neck stretched or something.

The sun started down, and so did they apparently. The ladies engaged the big man, who was going on and on, just giggling at him and each other, enjoying each others’ company.  Rich just sat back, wondering. Wondering what was gonna give.


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