Okay Is Good Enough
By D.B. Cox
In the kitchen, the television is on: The Jerry Springer Show. Since being out of work, he rarely misses it. He watches it for the same reason most people do, to ogle and feel sorry for the never-ending line of fellow citizens even more pathetic and miserable than he is. One sweet hour to pity the other poor jerks in the world even more than he pities himself. Well, almost an hour, Jerry always has to do that meaningless “moral of the story” routine at the end of every show—-a waste of five minutes that could be given over to the audience to sling a few more stones.
He lights another cigarette and looks across the table at the picture on front of the empty cereal box. He’s never noticed the names on the hats before—-Snap, Crackle, and Pop—-always there, always smiling. For a second, he wishes he could become part of their cardboard world. Snap, Crackle, Pop and Duane, loved by all of America.
Duane continues to consider this as he picks up the box and leans back in his chair.
How long had these guys been with Kellogg’s? They were right there on the same blue and white box when he was a kid. Now, that’s job security. No wonder the little fuckers were always laughing it up. Kellogg’s, Battle Creek, Michigan; maybe he should have packed up and moved there a long time ago. If he had, maybe he’d still have a job.
He flips the empty box back on the table and closes his eyes. The well-known chant rattles the tiny speakers in the Sony: “Jeh-ry, Jeh-ry, Jeh-ry…” Duane cracks one eye just in time to see some redneck rip the wig from the head of a transvestite and toss it toward the crowd. Steve, the security guy, catches it on the fly and jams it on top of his totally bald head. “Steve, Steve, Steve…” Right this second, here in this kitchen, everything is okay.
Duane Walker and Allen Roberts had always been best friends. The two grew up in the same neighborhood, went through grade school together, and on to high school where they wore the same style clothes and dated and banged the same girls. When Duane dropped out of school to marry Carol, Allen was best man. Later when Allen married Linda, Duane returned the favor. They saw each other almost every weekend, one weekend at Duane’s house, the next at Allen’s.
That was until Allen got a promotion and a huge pay raise and moved to Green Hills, the most expensive part of town. Now, since he had the nicer house and yard, the parties and cookouts were always at Allen’s place. Allen Roberts was doing okay.
Sunday afternoon, Duane and Allen are riding out the Old Mill Road toward Leesville. Allen is driving. It’s warm, and the windows are down. The air is blowing through the pickup.
“Where are we headed?” Duane says.
“I thought we’d ride out to Jackie’s and drink a few beers.”
“Fine by me,” Duane says. Allen was acting strange. He had even sounded worried when he called and asked him to go along on this little ride.
“Had to get out of the house for a while,” Allen says. He looks over at Duane. “You know what I mean?”
“Hey, whenever you need a sidekick to drag along, I’m your man—-loyal to the edge of madness. I got nothing but time.” Duane says, and then turns away with a preoccupied expression.
“Been a few months since I’ve been out this way,” Allen says, as they pull into the parking lot of Jackie’s Place.
Since there are no other cars, Allen pulls right up to the front door. They step out of the truck and Duane follows Allen into the club.
“Well, I’ll be damned!”
It was Jackie.
“Hey boys, I’d almost given you both up for dead.”
Jackie comes around from behind the bar, a big smile on his face. He looks, as always, like a bartender out of central casting. A huge, short-sleeve Hawaiian shirt hangs outside his pants, completely failing to camouflage his impressive stomach.
“So how you boys been hanging?”
“Hanging like a bugle, Jackie. You wanna blow it?” Duane says.
“Where you been keeping yourselves? Duane, the last time I saw you, your old lady had just made her exit, stage left.”
Duane stands staring for a couple of seconds as if he were remembering something, then blinks his eyes, and smiles.
“So Jackie, since you’re not busy, how about bringing us a couple of Stroh’s over to the corner table.” Allen says. “In bottles.”
Sitting face to face at the small table, Duane notices how bad Allen looks. There are circles under his eyes, and he seems ill at ease.
“Allen, you look like shit. Is something bothering you?” Duane says.
“Yeah, I need to talk.” Allen pauses to take a swig of beer, then continues. “I’m going fucking crazy.”
“What the hell is it? Somebody dying?”
“Nothing like that, it’s Linda. I think she’s seeing another man.”
“Ah come on. You gotta be shittin’ me. Linda, no way.”
“I don’t know man. It’s just the way she’s been acting lately.”
“She just seems to be distant. We don’t spend any time together. She’s in one room, and I’m in another. She goes to bed without saying anything; I sit up and drink. You know what I’m saying?”
“Well, Allen, I hope to hell that’s not all you’ve got, because if it is, I’d have to say you’re full of shit. Besides, did it ever occur to you that maybe you’re just imagining this stuff?”
“It’s mostly the fucking phone calls that are driving me nuts.” Allen said, leaning all the way back in his chair.
“Whoa. Time out,” Duane said, “I’ll get us a couple more.”
Duane slides his legs out from under the table and walks over to the bar. Jackie is sitting on one of those revolving bar stools, the kind with a back, watching the evening news. The story is about a tsunami that has killed thousands of people in South Asia, leveling everything in its path.
“Now that’s the kind of thing makes you think your miserable little life, just might be o-fucking-kay after all.” Duane says.
“No shit!” Jackie says. He spins around on his stool, slides back the top on the cooler and pulls out two more beers. While looking back at the television, he twists the top off one, then the other, and places them on the counter.
“You’re a good man Jackie,” Duane says, as he grabs the two bottles and heads back toward the table.
For some reason, he’s feeling a lot better.
When Allen drops Duane back at his house, he climbs into his rust-eaten jeep and heads for the Quik-Mart to pick up a pack of cigarettes. As he’s driving, he goes over the whole story in his head, everything Allen had said about his dilemma. The poor guy was really shook up; phone calls to his home, voice mail and email at work, all relaying some plausible, incriminating information about his wife and her mysterious lover. When he had confronted Linda with the information, she had denied everything. Allen, already close to the edge, had blown up and called her a liar.
The next day, Linda had packed a suitcase and told Allen she was going to stay with her sister in Ohio for a while. Of course Allen was convinced that wherever she was going, it wasn’t Ohio, and it certainly wasn’t to her goddamn sister’s house.
It was looking like one more thing would blow the whole sinking ship right out of the water.
Duane pulls into the Quik-Mart parking lot, puts his jeep into park, switches off the engine, and walks into the store. He asks the clerk for a pack of Lucky Strikes and change for a dollar. Outside the door, he stops and looks down at the four quarters in his hand. Then he smiles, and looks toward the telephone booth that sits at the corner of the store, waiting in the shadows like a faithful, silent accomplice.
Duane’s feeling okay tonight, and okay is good enough.
D. B. Cox is a blues musician/poet who just moved back to South Carolina, after spending 28 years in and around Boston, MA. His writing has been published in Zygote In My Coffee, Remark, Underground Voices, Thunder Sandwich, Dublin Quarterly, Aesthetica, Bonfire, Gator Springs Gazette, Heat City Review, My Favorite Bullet, and Open Wide Magazine.
He has had three books published: Passing For Blue, published by Rank Stranger Press, and Lowdown and Ordinary Sorrows, published by Pudding House Publications.
Photo of television image courtesy of Image*After.
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