Mitigation Blues

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Two couples get together for drinks, and things don't go well.

Submitted: May 06, 2018

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Submitted: May 06, 2018




Friends called, Bernie and Betsey. B&B to people like us who’ve known them a long time, but it had been a while.  Like us, B&B are retired empty-nesters. It was Halloween, and we had nothing else on.

We went to a local sports bar that serves good food.  A few people were in costume—devils and demons, wannabe hookers, etc.  Otherwise, people were pretty much as usual. 

“What’s the latest?” I asked after we ordered drinks.  “Do any traveling this summer?”

“We did.”  Betsey shook her head.  “To Denver.  Poor Leonard.  That’s my brother’s brother-in-law.  He had this, I think it’s called…  Honey, what’s it called?”

 “A fistula.”

 “A fistula.  On his head.  It was much better when we visited.  I mean the brother-in-law looked much better than the before-surgery photos they showed us.  At least after the surgery, this fistula thing was no longer changing the shape of his head.  Except at a certain angle.  Otherwise, you could hardly tell.”

“Except for the sutures,” Bernie said.

“Well, yes, they hadn’t yet taken them out.  All that black thread does sort of draw your attention.  You had to make a conscious effort to look him in the eye.”

“I used the chin,” Bernie said.

 “His chin is prominent, that’s true, it helped.”

 The drinks arrived.  “To us,” my wife said.  “Survivors, and counting.”

“To us,” the rest of us chimed in.  We all quaffed and settled back.  “How about Brandon?” I asked.Brandon is the son.

“Oh, Brandon, God bless him,” his mother said as Brandon’s father drank deep.  “He’s in this kind of vicious cycle.  When you’ve been unemployed so long, you just pretty much give up.  Who can blame him?”

Brandon’s dad finished his beer and began signaling the waiter. 

“Isn’t that right, honey?”

“That’s right. He’s still in the basement.”

“Honey, I don’t think the wait staff likes it when you cuff at them like that.”

“They should watch their tables.”  Brandon’s dad was now nodding emphatically, pointing down at his glass.

“He used to be such a big help around the house,” Betsey said.  “I mean Brandon.  Emptying his ashtray, cleaning up the bathroom floor after a big night out.  But when you’ve been down that long, rejected that many times, even for minimum-wage work--”

Faster than anyone could hope, our waiter was back with another round.  Brandon’s dad drained off half of his new pint.  He sighed and put down the glass.  “I can’t criticize him,” he said.

“No, you can’t,” Brandon’s mom said. 

“Don’t start.”

“I’m not starting anything.  I’m saying you can’t be saying anything about Brandon not helping out.”

“I’m retired.”

“That’s an understatement.”

Perhaps it was here that I remembered why so much time had passed since our last get-together.

“How about Heather?”  Heather’s the daughter.  My wife raised her chardonnay.  “To Heather and her beautiful family.”

“Heather’s great,” Bernie said.  “The best daughter you could ever want.”

“And Buster’s really come a long way with the anger-management class,” Betsey added.  Buster is Heather’s husband.  “After ‘the incident,’ we all laid down the law and he got the message. He really did, it’s such a relief."

I was surprised to see how fast everyone was drinking.  We had heard some neighborhood gossip about Buster and “spousal abuse,” but Heather still seemed a good bet.  “Wasn’t she working on an MBA?” my wife asked.

“Oh, that’s long over.  She’s studying now for the CPA exam.”

“If I remember, Buster’s in recycling.”

Bernie shook his head.  “That was before the anger-management class.”

Done with my beer, I saw it was my turn to do the waving and eyebrow-raising. ”But he’s doing better?” I asked.

“He better be doing better,” Heather’s dad said.

“It’s not called anger management anymore,” Buster’s mother-in-law explained.  “It’s called anger mitigation.  I think they got that from the change from risk management to risk mitigation.”

Here he was, coming back, our capable young man in white shirt and black snap-on bowtie, balancing more drinks.  You could see he wouldn’t be waiting table for long, that he knew already his efforts would yield a nice gratuity. No basement for him.

But the night seemed to take a long time.  Any number of cousins, aunts, nephews, family friends, retainers and former colleagues of B&B’s had it seemed been forced to contend with demanding, sometimes gruesome life challenges.  My wife and I ate to our friends’ bifurcated monologue.  Nodding, chewing, signaling the waiter, frowning, shaking our heads.  Drug addiction and rehab; an industrial accident, plus a rear-end collision that ended in a rollover; food poisoning, stents that failed, someone whose forehead had doubled in size after being bitten by a cat.

“And ‘after the incident’”—this time Betsey used air quotes—“Heather and Buster had such high hopes for a fresh start in Smilesburg,” she said.  “They completely checked it out—schools, neighborhood, the shopping.  They closed on a house and moved in just before school started.”

“Bad news.”  Bernie shoved glasses aside to make room for his elbows.  “Lousy luck.”

“Their realtor misled them,” Betsey said.  “They were certain they’d bought in the Smilesburg school district.  But there’s this little, tiny wedge of Smilesburg that’s zoned for Crumley.  That sweet little girl has to go to a Crumley school.”

“Uh oh, Crumley--” 

This just came out, and I immediately regretted it.  I too made room on the table.  “You could argue, though--” hands folded, I was hoping for inspiration  “—you might say, once they caught the guy, that whole community would be permanently off-limits to child molesters.”

“Yes, they caught him,” Betsey said, “and you could argue that way.  Unless it was your six-year-old granddaughter in a Crumley school.”

A pause ensued.  There had been others, but this one was especially welcome.  “Anyway,” my wife said finally, “how’s Randy?’ 

How I love her. Holding fire all this time, waiting her chance, biding her time, my wife had at last jumped in with her ace-in-the-hole, a question about our friends’ family dog.  Randy is two-thirds the size of a bison.  Healthy, incredibly powerful and intimidating, with vice-like jaws and a sinister grin inside his strap-on muzzle, Randy, I felt sure, was going to turn the evening around.

“Much better,” Randy’s mom said.  “It was touch and go there, after the attack.”

“Pit bulls should be outlawed,” Bernie said.  “They’re overbred. Unpredictable.  How can you know what’s going on behind eyes like that?”

This is exactly what I always thought about Randy.  “He was actually attacked?”

“‘Actually?’” Randy’s mom folded her arms.  “I don’t know what ‘actually’ means.  He had his muzzle thing on, so he couldn’t defend himself.  The bill was fourteen hundred bucks.”

“Yes,” my wife said, nodding gravely in defeat.  “That’s actual.” 

After a moment she raised her head, and now her face grew wistful.  When I glanced to my right, I saw she was looking at one of the TVs.  A movie was playing. The sound had been turned off, and Jamie Lee Curtis was screaming silently. 

 I turned back, wanting another drink, but kept my mouth shut.

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