This guy keeps trying to tell me things, things that just shouldn’t be said in a public place to a complete stranger: who he banged last night, why he prefers blonds over brunettes, why the Cubs deserve the Series; things that just shouldn’t be talked about in a bar.
Not that I’m listening at all. Every once in a while, though, I look over and read his lips, getting the gist of what he’s saying before he gets to the silly parts. Do I know him? I don’t think so.
I’ve been coming to this bar four nights a week for three months straight, and this is the first time I’ve seen this Chump. Every time he utters a word in my direction, I look to Mickie to see if she acknowledges the mystery of this ‘fella like I do. She only shrugs, signals that she thinks he’s drunk a little too much, and continues to wash the few filthy glasses left behind the bar.
It’s not too crowded tonight, just a few old fellas in the corner playing Rummy, two or three college kids placing bets on the darts in the corner, and a nice looking couple over by the jukebox, holding each other, swaying to a tune that I will never hear. I like to sway sometimes, watching couples dance as the tunes carry their steps. I watch their mouths as they sing, and I wish I could speak words the way they should be spoken.
I look over at this Chump two seats to my right, a wannabe punk with two earrings in each ear, spiky hair, and a v-neck t-shirt. He calls me Matt, asking why I don’t think Sosa could kick McGwire’s ass. I shrug and look into my drink.
First of all, I could give two shits about baseball. I never liked the sport, and could care less why someone would want to pay attention longer than the bottom of the ninth of game seven in the World Series. Second, no one has ever called me Matt before. At one time, my mother called me Matt, but that was before I was a teenager. I prefer Matthew because it says something about me. I’m a sophisticated guy. I like my Scotch and my wine, my fine Italian meals, my women in tight pant suits – skirts are for whores and cheerleaders – and my sofas coated in leather. I think Matt makes me sound too casual, too childish. Too normal.
How does this guy know my name, anyways? I’ve never seen him before, and I’m sure Mickie isn’t blabbing behind my back to this ‘fella. I spin around on my stool, holding the 12-year-old Scotch close to my heart, and scan the patrons of Smitty’s. The old guys are so involved in their Rummy game they’d have a hard time hearing the building collapse, so I don’t think this guy would’ve gotten through to ask anything about me. The couple at the Juke is too much in love (good for them). The dart throwers appear to be getting restless, so they would probably punch Mr. V-neck in that little sharp space of bare skin under his chin.
Notice V-neck’s scrawny fingers and his pale skin. He doesn’t get out much, by the looks of things. He’s watching Sportscenter above the bar, but his lips are still moving. He’s talking again. Does he realize I can’t hear a damn thing? Would it matter? He’s probably too drunk to know the difference between a Red and a White Sock at this point. As I turn back to the bar, V-neck gets up and walks behind me, towards the bathroom.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, and turn to look straight in his face. Do you believe this guy? I read his lips slightly curled by alcohol. He thumbs towards the bar and continues on towards the bathroom. I swivel to look where he was pointing, trying to get a read on what he’s talking about—but there is no one there. Even Mickie is down at the other end, pouring deep shots for the loving couple, presumably on the house. She’s got a soft heart, my Mickie.
Alright, so now this Chump who’s been bugging me all night (or been trying to) is pointing to invisible people, telling me they’re crazy or something. I think of telling him I’m deaf, but how could I? I doubt he could sign for his own life, and my vocalizations will only massacre the English language. I consider writing him a note, but I try to refrain from writing my feelings as much as possible, only because I’m a very visual person, so I should be able to convey things by even the most primitive form of signing: simply point to my ears and shake my head.
As I swallow the rest of my Scotch, feeling the ice crunch back into the bottom of the glass, V-neck sits back down two seats away from me. I consider just up and leaving, but I came here to celebrate a promotion, and I’ll be damned if I let some punk ruin my night. As I wave my fingers to Mickie for another drink, I notice out of the corner of my eye that this Chump has starting blabbing on again. Right into his eyes, I look, and he’s talking about a girl he met last night, and the way her insides felt when he—
I clap my hands. He leans towards the bar to look at me, as if peering around a column. I take a chance and sign Shut up! I don’t care about any girl you met, just stop talking to me! V-neck looks at me for a moment, trying to decide if I am going to say anything or not, then shakes his head out of its thought process and leans back a little, resuming his talk with, Forget him, where was I?
Again, he is still looking directly at me. He’s even smiling a little bit, nodding his head and covering his mouth. He’s on to me, and he’s loving it. Now, by covering his mouth, he’s completely fucking with me. He moves his hand away to grab his drink, and I see a huge smile on his face, the remnants of a laugh. I feel my face heat red with anger, and feel the vibrations in my throat as I am trying to clear it. It feels rough, scratchy. I can taste the Scotch. I hope it sounds just as rough to him.
In grade school, kids would always laugh and talk about me when they thought I couldn’t see what they were saying. My ears. They’re huge. It seemed the bigger they got, the more pronounced the insults became. What do you expect when you have ears bigger than Dumbo, yet you can’t hear a thing?
This punk, this Chump with his overbearing cologne and preppy V-neck is just like those grade school bullies. I feel my knuckles crack as I rub my hands together, getting ready for this guy to call me a name. Just one insult. I read his lips as he says, Matt, listen, if anyone knows guys like this, it’s me. Just tell me when, and I’ll fuck him up. Hell, I fucked your mom pretty good last night! He laughs. Clear as day, this guys is leaning far back on his stool, clutching his belly.
He called me Matt. He insulted my mother. This guy just can’t stop digging a hole for himself. I stand up, grasping the edges of the stool between us. He looks with shock towards the floor, and quicker than quick, he stands, eye to eye, with yours truly. As I point to him and then lower my hand, trying to tell him to keep it down and stop, I read, Why did you push him, dude? What’s your problem?
I feel like yelling at this guy, but I don’t know how that could intimidate anyone. Think of a useless moan emanating from some guy across the bar, as he waves his hands wildly, his face becoming redder by the second. I’m crazy, buy me a beer, and send me home. This guy needs something else to tell him to stop fucking with me. Who exactly did I push? What is his problem?
I want to sign to Mickie to translate for me, but she is down at the end of the bar, watching the scene like it’s bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, and I’m Mark McGwire. Fuck Sammy Sosa.
I realize that everyone else in the joint has stopped, even the old men playing Rummy. I don’t need to turn and look at the Darts, I can feel their eyes floating over me and V-neck. They’re ready to see a fight. Mickie signs to me, slowly, He’s crazy. I raise my eyebrows, No shit.
I look back at V-neck, only to catch –still here we would tag team your ass. You’re lucky he left. Who the hell is this chump talking about?
I try to mouth these words, and I can feel some sounds escaping my mouth. I can feel this guy getting ready to poke fun, and I grab the stool a little tighter, ready to incorporate some moves of my own on this Chump.
Don’t even try to talk, shithead! Im gonna get Matt, and when I do—
It’s Matthew! I scream (though it probably came out some strange foghorn, incomprehensible to this ‘fella). I pick up the stool and smash V-neck in the head, sending him sideways over the bar. Before I know what’s what, I feel myself being huddled towards the door, presumably by the Darts. I try to glance at everyone’s faces, but all I see are blank stares. One of the old men has his cell phone out.
On the street, the Darts let go of me. One of them steps forward, a college guy in a red sweater and jeans, small silver glasses hanging on the edge of his nose. He signs to me, That guy in there–Crazy Eddie–is crazy. He has imaginary friends, talks to them all the time. He was looking at one of them tonight, not talking to you.
I stare in his eyes, and he looks away. Ashamed for Eddie, or maybe that he didn’t explain sooner. Who knows. This Dart looks familiar, like one of the students in the class I signed for, just a few wee hours ago before they made me a teacher.
I feel the sweat running down my back, mostly from the tension before the battle. More like a cheap shot on my behalf. Imaginary friend. Some people, you know? People need to wear a sign around their neck for something like that. Crazy Chump, do not talk to me.
I step off the curb, hoping to hail a cab. The last thing I remember, before waking up in this hospital bed and picking up this pad of paper, is a tap on my shoulder and a flicker of brass across a thick fist. I assume it was Crazy Eddie’s, but the tattoo on the fingers read M-A-T-T. I take in a lot of things, even at a quick glance. But if that is what I saw, then say hello to Crazy Matthew. I’m a Chump. Do Not Talk To Me.