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Thursday, January 27, 2005

 
Buddies

Forenotes:

The following short story is about people I never met and in the kind of life I have led, I would be unlikely to become intimate with people like these -- not because I am some kind of effete snob but simply because I don't get to meet too many real people except as a therapist. The details of their lives appeared to me as I wrote and they seemed to fit the characters. Any resemblance to people living or dead is certainly intentional but if you see yourself in the characters, don't try to sue me because I have taken deniability to a high art form.

For those of you readers with delicate sensibilities, the people in this story use language that you may find offensive. Don't say I didn't warn you. My own son read it years ago as a teenager and enjoyed meeting people unlike himself. It didn't wreak havoc upon his morality. Then again, perhaps it did . . . kid not only grew up to become a touring rock star but he brought his daughter into the business too. You should hear what she is exposed to in the clubs. It hasn't hurt her either.

The story comes from a one-act play that consists mostly of complex monologues but the story condenses all the action to a single speech that takes the protagonist through emotional hurdles and to a denouement that is both unexpected and taps into a reality that is from an earlier time which is now being relived as part of the political reality of the current US presidential election. It was the Kerry/Bush diatribe over Vietnam than made me think about this dusty portrait that I haven't looked at in a number of years.

Buddies
a short story by
Milton Trachtenburg
rewritten as an excerpt from the one-act play, "Attachments"
Published in EWG Magazine
as "Buddies"
Works by Milton Trachtenburg
Copyright 1988, 1998

Hey, you think it's ok t' talk to somebody even if they're not there? Well, Mike's my best buddy in the whole fuckin' world, an' even though he ain't around, I still like to talk to him sometimes. Makes the time go by, y'know? Yeah, an even if I do sit around an' talk to my old pal, it ain't like I'm the President of the United States, or somebody who people would worry if he was talkin' to himself. I'm just me, Lenny. An' it's ok for me. Sometimes, I just gotta talk to Mike, cause who the hell else is gonna listen to a nobody like me?

Yo, Mike! Sometimes, I think it's all one big fuckin' joke, y'know? Y' spend your whole life schemin' and dreamin', an' then, just when y' think that y' got it made in the shade, along comes the fuckin' joker and turns it right around in your face, y' know?

I didn't ask for much, did I? A lousy job, a place t' live, enough dough t' have just a few of the good things, y' know? What the fuck did I ever ask for? A color tv, a little patch of grass, to go out to a restaurant on Saturday night? Worked like a fuckin' dog - I really did.

Oh, man, I'm not sayin' I was always right. I made plenty of mistakes. Maybe I should'a stayed in school some more. Maybe I shouldn'ta got married so young. But, what's done is done, right? Maybe it's all just one big fuckin' crock-a-shit an' it don't matter what you do, you're just gonna fall in and drown.

I remember when we was kids, Mikey. Hey wasn't that some good times we had, huh, man? You had your old man's Pon-ti-ac Le-Mans. Man, that was some fast, low-slung, motherfucker, wasn't it? We'd go out and fuck around. Always thinkin' we'd pick up some hot chicks. Remember? Most of the time, all we'd pick up is callouses on our asses sittin' in the fuckin' car all night. But we'd talk about all the great damn things we was gonna do. Yeah, Lennie an' Mike was gonna beat the whole fuckin' world!

Hey, Michael, my man, you done ok for yourself, didn't you? Y' got a nice wife, nice car. House in the fuckin' burbs. Yeah old buddy, at least one of us made it to the top.

What's funny, is that I was the one everybody said was gonna make it big 'cause I was the one with the mouth. Yeah, remember, when we'd go out to pick up girls, I'd always have to be the one to ask? Sure, sure, I got turned down most of the time, but d' ya remember that one time down on Post Street, that gorgeous little blond -- ok, bleach blond, but blond on top anyway. After just a little of the famous Lenny persuasion she gets in the car and settles down right between us, remember? An' you're sittin' there with a shit-eatin' grin on your face, and me, I'm doin' my best Cary Grant imitation.

"Hi, there, baby," I say, "Now how can the two best lookin', smartest dressed, an' laid back dudes in town be of service to you?" She looks from me to you, and from you to me. Then she starts to giggle an' then she starts to laugh an' then you start to laugh an' then I start to laugh.

Yeah, some laugh, wasn't it? Twenny years and three kids later, we don't laugh so much any more, do we? She gets fat an' I get bald. Well, Mike, I guess it beats the other way round, huh?

Y' know, it's a damn shame we didn't stick close. We really was asshole buddies when we was kids. We didn't have no secrets from each other then. I remember the time you got your first piece-of-ass and you told me how you'd blown your wad all over yourself, you was so scared. An' I told you how the first time I was with a girl nothin' happened at all. Fuckin' nothin'! Damn, there wasn't anything we couldn't talk about. I miss those times, Mike, I really miss them.

Where'd all the dreams go, Mike? Where'd they go? That night, maybe if we'd turned up Post Street instead of down, everything would've been different. Maybe I'd'a never met Frannie. Maybe I'd'a gone to 'Nam instead of you. My luck, I would'da got my fuckin' ass blowed off. Damn, I fell for Frannie like a ton o' bricks, didn't I? I remember just what you said; "Watch out for a girl who's gigglin' all the time. Nothin' in this world is that fuckin' funny!" Man, did I listen to you? No way, Mike. Didn't I think I knew every fuckin' thing then? Yeah, I had all the answers, didn't I?

"No!" I say. "You got it all wrong. She's laughin' so much because she's asshole over elbows in love with me." So in love with me? Man, that died awful quick. After she said "I do," she didn't do much of nothin'.

I guess you wonder why I stuck with her all this time. Hell, what else did I have? I never thought that I was no prize package, but I'd never admit that to her. Hell, except for you, I'd never admit that to fuckin' nobody, and before now, I'd never even admit it to you. It's too late for you to use it against me, huh? I'm just kiddin' you Mike. I know you'd never do that. We been fuckin' closer than blood brothers.

Mike, there's somethin' else I never told you. I was always jealous of you. You always had that quiet way about you. Me, I always had to be shootin' off my mouth, always provin' somethin' to somebody. You'd just stand there, quiet, with that look on your face. You know the one. Like, I know somethin' you don't know, and I'm gonna' get you with it!

Life's funny. Both of us figure to just bum around after we graduated. I wanted to go to California. You wanted to go work on a ship. Kinda funny how things worked out. I ain't never been west of Pittsburgh in my life and three months after we fuckin' graduate, you're in Nam, and I'm married to Frannie, with her already havin' Lennie, Jr. in the oven.

We was never quite the same, none of us. You came back from Nam, I was different, you was different. I was workin' in the factory already, same as now, except now, I'm a big fuckin' deal foreman, right? You was really different, Mike. I hardly knew you. You looked older and even more laid back, know what I mean? I guess the war changed you in a lotta ways. Maybe it changed me, too. Maybe because you went and I didn't, that made the difference. What do you think?

That was some grand entrance you made when you came home from Nam, remember? Me 'n' Frannie and the kids sittin' down, havin' supper. The place a real fuckin' mess, and in walks the big hero with his fuckin' medals and his marine dress blues. God damn, what a sight! Y' know? I never cried my whole fuckin' life before, but I felt like cryin' then. I really did. I was so fuckin' happy to see you, man.

So, what did I do? I was real cool, wasn't I? I say, "Somethin' I can do for you, soldier?'" An you just looked at me for the longest time. I wanted to just jump up and hug you, but men didn't do that kinda stuff back then.

An' then Frannie starts with her chatterin'. "Oh, Michael, you look so handsome in your uniform. Welcome home. Can I fix you somethin' to eat? Oh, that's silly, I already fixed supper. I made meatloaf. It's my mom's recipe. Here, I'll make a place for you." Man, I thought she'd talk all night and not say fuckin' nothin'.

Then, you looked at me an' I look at you, an' for just one little minute, everything was the same as before. Then you start laughin', an' I start laughin', an' Frannie starts laughin' an' for the first time in three years, I'm feelin' good, really good! After supper, I asked you if you wanted to go hang out, and you said, "It don't make sense anymore." I say, "Just for old times sake?" An' you said, "Len, things are different, I'm different, the world's different." "No," I say, "things are the same as before. You need time to get used to bein' home."

It really was never the same after that. You'd come over the house sometimes. We really didn't have as much to say. I'd ask you about the war an' you'd just look away or change the subject. Sometimes, I'd get this feelin' that you had somethin' you wanted to say, but there was no words invented which would say it, y' know what I mean?

You said you was gonna use your G.I. Bill money an' go to college. Holy shit, man, college! You know, I never expected that from you. You never really seemed to give a damn about school. You always seemed to be the kinda guy who could make a buck and didn't want to fill your head with all that college bullshit. Maybe there are some things nobody can really tell about people.

Frannie, she got all excited when you said you was goin'. I got real pissed off and said, "If you want a fuckin' college boy that fuckin' bad, maybe you oughtta go hang out on Post Street an' get yourself one!" She got that lost puppy look. I can't talk to her when she looks like that. Man, sometimes I can't talk to nobody.

I'm sorry, Mike. I don't mean to make it sound so bad. I guess you got to count your blessings, huh? I got the kids, an' they're ok. Shit, most of the time, Frannie is ok, too. It's just she can be such a pain in the ass. Hey, who'm I kiddin'? I ain't no prize package, either . . . .

Soon after, you go off to school in New York, an' promise you would visit an' told us to visit you, but, it never happens. You call once in a while, but we don't have much to say. I don't understand all that college shit, and you are really turned off by the old town.

Hey, buddy, I kept up with all the good things you done. I heard about you goin' to law school - LAW SCHOOL, Jeesus!

My fuckin' life goes by, but I guess we did ok. Then I read about you in the papers, workin' with all them big shots. An' I tell everybody, "I knew him when. I knew him fuckin' when!"

Then that Sunday, I see it in the paper - what you done. I don't understand, Mike. Why? Wasn't it enough? You had it all. At least everything we always said we wanted. God, Mike, why? Why? I say to Frannie, "You hear about Mike, you hear what he went and done to himself?" She just looks at me with that little lost puppy look she gets and says nothin', just like you done that time I ask you about the war. What is it? What the fuck did I miss? Help me, Mike! Help me.

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