A Cluttered, Unquiet Place

by Tom Jacobs

(Apologies to Ernest Hemingway)

Old-men4It was very late and many people had left the establishment (although many more had arrived to drunkenly bowl and play foosball and Duck hunter). An old man sat in the slight shadows cast by the Skee Ball and Hoop Fever Basketball Arcade machine. In the day time the place was mostly quiet and empty (except for the Power Hour Happy Hour at noon, where you can play an entire hour of video games for $10), but at night the place was flooded with tourists and those who were already drunk and looking for a goofy night out. He was deaf and now at night it was actually quieter than his apartment, which looked out over 42nd Street, which was so bright and loud (he could feel the vibrations through his bed) that he felt as though he was actually sleeping on the sidewalk. Dave and Buster’s was the quietest bar in the neighborhood, and it was cluttered but clean, and incredibly well-lighted.

The two waiters knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, and that they would never convince him to buy the $8 Potato Skins or the $7 Loaded Queso, much less the $9 Mountain O’ Nachos. So they kept watch on him.

“Last night he, like, tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.

“OMG! Why?”

“Ask him, dude. How should I know? I guess he was in, like, despair.”

“Like, what about?”

“Uh, duh! Nothing.”

“How do you know it was nothing?”

“Because, like, he’s totally loaded. He has heaps of money.”

They stood next to each other at the bar at the back of the place and looked out at the main room, which was surprisingly empty for a Wednesday night, since that was the night of the $15.99 Eat and Play Combo. A security guard walked by holding an intoxicated man in a suit and tie by the back of the neck.

“The security guard will totally throw his ass out,” one waiter said.

“What does it matter if he gets what he’s after?”

“He had better go home, dude. The security guard is going to bust his ass. He just went by five minutes ago.”

The old man sitting in the shadows of the Skee Ball and Basketball games rapped on the table. No one noticed. He rapped again. Still no one noticed. Finally, he waved his hands at the waiters. The younger waiter went over to him.

“What do you want?”

The old man looked at her. “Another So Co Peach Cooler.”

“You’ll be, like, totally sloshed,” the waiter said. The old man looked at her. The waiter went away.

“He’ll stay all night,” she said to her colleague. “I’m so effing sleepy. I never get into bed before, like, five o’clock. He should have killed himself last week.”

The waiter poured a So Co Peach Cooler from the bottle and marched out to the old man’s table. She put down the drink.

“You should have killed yourself last week,” she sad to the deaf man. The old man motioned with his finger.

“Another,” he said. The waiter went back to the bar and poured another So Co Peach Cooler into the glass so that it slopped over and ran onto the table. “Thank you,” the old man said. “Whatevs.” The waiter took the bottle back to the bar and sat down with her colleague again.

“He’s drunk now,” she said.

“He’s drunk every night.”

“What did he want to kill himself for?”

“WTF. How should I know, dude.”

“Uh, apparently, he like totally tried to hang himself with a rope.”

“Nasty. Who cut him down?”

“I guess his niece or something.”

“Why did they do it, dude?”

“They feared for his soul or some shit.”

“How filthy rich is he?”

“Plenty filthy.”

“He so skeezy. He must be, like eighty.”

“Yea. He’s a really old dude.”

“I wish he would totally go home. He gives me the willies.” She texted someone as she spoke.

“He stays up because he likes it.”

“He’s like, lonely and shit. I’m not lonely. I’ve got Lonnie waiting at home for me. He said he bought a bottle of Cisco.”

“Well, Marla, did it ever occur to you that he used to have a Lonnie of his own? You’re such a bitch.”

“Yea, well, it wouldn’t do him much good now.”

“Who the fuck knows, man. Maybe he’d be better with a wife or something.”

“Well, I never want to be that old. Someone kill me when I’m, like forty. An old man is a nasty thing.”

“Yea but he’s clean. He get’s hammered without spilling his drinks and shit. He doesn’t even slur. Even now. Look at him.”

The old man sat in the corner, finishing his drink, consciously oblivious to the guys behind him high fiving each other after their Basketball game was finished.

The old man pointed to his glass again. “Another So Co Peach Cooler!”

The waiter who wanted him to leave came over and spoke in that syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. “You no drink no more. You’re wasted. You go home.”

“Another,” said the old man.

“No. You done done.” She wiped the edge of the table and checked her iphone.

The old man stood up, took two twenties from the wallet in his back pocket, and walked through the crowd of young people yelling and screaming at their arcade games. Not registering the commotion surrounding him, he walked through the crowd and out the door. The older waiter walked out behind him and lit a cigarette, noting how the old man walked unsteadily but with dignity.

When she returned to her place at the bar, she asked her friend, “What is your deal? Why do you hate that guy so much?”

“He’s, like, pathetic. He should be home and in bed.”

“What the fuck difference does it make?”

“More to me than to him. He can get hammered at home.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Yea. Maybe not.”

“Well, I am one of those who like to stay late,” the older waiter said. “I like being out late with all of those who do not want to go to bed. With all of those who need a light for the night.”

“Get the fuck out of here. It’s Dave and Buster’s. Who the fuck comes here for ‘a light for the night?’”

“Yea, well, where else is he going to go? The Blarney Stone. There’s nowhere else around here that isn’t a total cesspool. And he likes the So Co Peach Coolers. And I think he likes to be around people, even if he can’t hear anything.”

A drunken man approached and looked as if he were going to say something but then decided against it and stumbled back to the billiards table.

“Well, my shift is done, yo,” said the older waiter. “Good night.”

“Laters,” said the younger waiter.

The older waiter stepped outside onto 42nd Street and lit another cigarette and continued their conversation with himself. It was the commotion and the light, of course, but it is also necessary for the place to be clean and pleasant. Certainly Dave and Buster’s was that. With the exception of the puke in the bathrooms, the place is actually not that bad. There is the bowling and the games and the billiards and the food and the drink specials. What, though, did the old man fear? It was not a fear or dread. It was a nothing that she knew too well. It was all Pumpkin Spice Latte and Sizzling Smokehouse Chicken Stack, and Man was a Mashed Potato Chicken Bowl too. All was needed was a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in the Tendercrisp Chick’n Sandwich on a Hearth Style Bun and never felt it but she knew it was all Fish Nibblers and Chicken Rings and Angus Bacon and Chipotle BBQ Snack Wraps. Our Cheez Doodles who art in Twinkies, Pringles by thy name thy Unlimited Breadsticks come, thy will be Sampler Italiano in the Whopper as it is in the Big Mac. Give us this Garden Sensations Salad our daily Asiago Ranch Chicken Sub as we Italian B.M.T our Sweet Onion and Teriyaki and nada us not into nada but deliver us from Ulitmate Whoppers. Hail Quarter Pounder, full of Nuclear Buffalo Wings, a supersized French fry is with thee.

She smiled before the pale glow of the White Castle and went in and ordered a sack of cheese sliders.

“You want anything else?” the man at the counter asked.

“No, thank you,” said the waiter and went out. She disliked White Castles and McDonalds. Without thinking further, she would go home to her room. She would lie in bed and watch “Breaking Bad” on Netflix and eat her White Castle sliders and finally, with daylight, she would go to sleep. After all, she said to herself, it’s probably only insomnia. Many must have it.