Mercer leaned back in his chair with a look of disbelief on his face yet saying nothing. Chris shifted his weight from one foot to another with his head bowed and his eyes transfixed on the edge of Mercer’s massive desk in a blank stare. The look on Mercer’s face slowly transformed to a sarcastic smile as he slowly brought his chair upright and stood up with both hands planted on the desk.
“Do you have some kind of a career death wish, Chris? I mean SERIOUSLY, dude! Maybe you
should just go back to the farm. I don’t THINK you can get any cows pregnant. Although
I wouldn’t put it past you to try!” Taking a deep breath and turning away from Chris to face the wall of windows looking out across the city, Mercer slowly said, “If it weren’t for this deal you just made…” But he didn’t finish the sentence.
Suddenly, Mercer turned quickly from the bank of windows and said, “Where are we with
DuBois? When do you meet with them next?”
“Uh…t-t-two days…um, I mean, two days from now.” Chris answered.
“Ok, where is Creative on this?” Mercer was all business now.
“What do you mean?” Chris asked.
“I mean do they have the file? Have you spoken to Andy yet? As head of the creative department, he is your next step.” Mercer asked rapidly.
“Well, no. I just got back from lunch and the envelope…”
“Go talk to Andy, present what you have, and then get out of here and don’t come back until
your meeting with DuBois. I will take care of…Dee Dee…” Mercer continued in rapid fire.
“Delores…” Chris corrected.
“What?” Mercer asked severely.
“Delores…her name is Delores.” Chris answered.
“Does it really matter, Chris?” Mercer asked, his voice a fountain of sarcasm.
“I guess not…” Chris said.
“Chris, you look like you could use a friend.” The bartender said as he poured Chris his
second shot of bourbon.
“Yeah…Not a good day.” Chris said dejectedly. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Shoot!” The bartender responded.
“Have you ever felt like you are letting everybody down?” Chris asked.
The bartender began to laugh. “Only every day.” He said. “I’ve been in the city for… what…10 years? Yeah, think that’s right. My life just sucks, dude. I left home with a quarter million dollars in my pocket, came to New York for a ‘sure thing’!” He chuckled, “Aren’t they all? Well, it didn’t work out… Neither did the marriage I had with the sweetest little thing I brought with me from home. She packed her bags not 5 months from when we moved in, and took our little baby back to Wisconsin with her.”
At the mention of Wisconsin, Chris lifted his head to look at the bartender’s face, but he had turned his back to Chris in order to get another customer a drink. Shaking his head, Chris chugged his shot of bourbon, and said, “Gimme another three of those, wouldja?” and then turned his eyes down to stare into the empty glass.
“No problem…” the bartender said and, with his back to Chris, took down three shot glasses and filled them quickly to the very rim, and resumed his story while he poured. “So, anyway…here I am, all alone…my job hanging by a thread, and so I do the most natural thing I can think of…I get drunk. But not your ordinary kinda drunk. Nope, I mean your black-out-and-wake-up-freezing-in-the-back-of-a-cab-in-Denver-when-you-started-drinking-in-New-York-and-don’t-have-a-clue-how-you-got-there drunk. It was crazy. I miss a meeting at work, so they cut me loose, and I am scuttling between bars in New York ever since.”
“Dude, that sucks.” Chris said, into his empty glass.
“Yeah… It does suck, Chris.” The bartender said as he turned to place the three shots of bourbon in front of Chris. “And you what, Chris?” The bartender asked.
“What?”Chris responded, head still down.
“I would love to go back to the farm and work for my dad. I don’t want wanna be a son… I’m not worthy of being his son… I just want a bed in the shed. I want some of my mom’s biscuits and gravy, with bacon, freshly squeezed orange juice and the aroma of my dad’s coffee filling the kitchen. I don’t wanna be here anymore… I wanna be home, even if it isn’t exactly home anymore. If my dad would just give me a job… I wouldn’t even mind muckin’ the barn! Gotta be better than the shit
I’m shovellin’ here… So, yeah, I know how you feel, Chris. I know EXACTLY how you feel, !”
As the bartender spoke, Chris chugged each shot in quick succession. Finally, after the story ended, the bartender removed the glasses and turned his back to stack them on the other side of his work area. Chris slowly raised his head, and stared at his own reflection in the mirror on the wall just beside the figure of the bartender. Shifting his gaze for a moment, to the reflected face of the bartender, whose head was turned down as he concentrated on his work, Chris made a mental note of how familiar he looked.
“He kinda looks like an older version of me!” Chris thought to himself. After a pause, Chris asked, “Where in Wisconsin did you say you were from?”
“Actually Chris,” he said and then paused as he wiped his hands on a bar towel. Turning, he said, “…I just call it home, and I’m afraid that I have been gone so long that I don’t know how to get back.”
When the bartender turned, Chris’s mouth dropped open as he stared into the same eyes he had just studied so intently in the mirror: his own. However, they were older, and, if it were possible, even sadder.
“Go home, Chris.” The bartender instructed, “Go home. You’ve had enough.”
Immediately, Chris jerked awake. Struggling to sit upright on the couch upon which he had fallen asleep as soon as he had returned to his apartment from work, he heard the muffled ringing of his phone. Reaching for his coat, he fumbled through the pockets until he found it. The call was from Mercer.
“Shit!” He said softly and then slowly pressed “Talk”.
“Hello?” Chris mumbled.
“Chris, if you receive any communication from Delores, do NOT under ANY circumstances respond. I have taken care of your mess and she no longer works here…” there was a pause, and then, “You have one day to get your shit together, Chris. Once you come back to meet with DuBois, I want you to know where you are going and be fully committed to it… One day, Chris.”