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Day 130: Where Men Can Be Men, or, Everyone’s a Winner at Trivia

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 2

# of agents queried: 1

writing progress made: We’ll see… but I wrote this blog post, didn’t I?

Every Wednesday at 6:30 pm I walk into Tommy Doyle’s, a seedy pub in downtown Hyannis. The gray-bearded man who calls himself George Bush is already seated at the bar with a beer, and the man who I call Baby Keanu (because he looks like a chubby version of the actor) is usually eating some sort of appetizer and typing on his lap top with greasy fingers. I set up my speakers in the usual corner while the strong-jawed Irish bartender with a Celtic cross hanging between her breasts calls me hon and asks me how my week’s been.

At 6:59 on the nose, every week, Uncle Sam, the autistic man who wears a red and white striped Cat in the Hat hat bustles in and orders a tonic water. He comes over to me, tapping at his watch. “I know,” I tell him. “I’m going to get started soon.”

“Uncle Sam, team of one,” he always announces. I hand him his pad of paper and a golf pencil. He plays every week, and he always loses.

Then I go over to George Bush and give him his pad of paper and pencil. He plays every week, too, also as a team of one. He always wins.

Every week I try to scrounge up some more teams for trivia from the meager assortment of barflies and crazies. Every week I make the same jokes into the microphone. Every week Uncle Sam stands at my trivia table for the entire game, and in between questions he tells me about the week’s news items. It’s all starting to feel a little too routine, and, like with every job I’ve ever had, I can feel myself starting to get bored.

“Eva, have you heard of the fiscal cliff?” Uncle Sam asks me this Wednesday evening as I look through my list of songs, trying to pick out some new ones to play. Every week I start with a Beck song – I thought it could be my “thing,” – but I don’t think anyone notices.

“Sure,” I say, half ignoring him.

“I mean, I’m not happy that President Obama won, but I’m not going to be a sorehead about it,” he says. “I know you’re happy. But, you need to know that we only have thirty-three days until the fiscal cliff. That’s what Fox News says.”

“Hmm.” I nod.

The bar manager comes over to put a garland around the fake Christmas tree stationed behind me. Tommy Doyle’s goes all out with holiday decorations. “Not many people here for trivia,” he says. “Did you facebook about it?”

“No, I forgot. I’ll do it next time.”

This is the same conversation we have every week. I’ve tried to explain that I don’t really know anyone here on the Cape. Me announcing about trivia on my facebook page is not going to bring in any customers.

“Shit.” The bar manager drops his garland on the sticky floor and bends over to pick it up. “This stuff is a pain in my ass.” Everything is always a pain in his ass. No wonder I never see him sit down. He hurries away to tend to an electric Menorah.

As soon as he is gone, Uncle Sam struts back over. Whenever he isn’t talking to me, he takes lumbering laps around a bar table near the Big Buck arcade game. Generally he does this with his head nodding off to one side and his tongue lolling out of his mouth. It’s creepy, but I’ve gotten used to it, and so has everyone else.

“Now, Eva, did you hear about this week’s deaths?” Uncle Sam asks, patting at his large, round belly. It looks as hard as a drum, and he often likes to treat it like it is one. “Larry Hagman, star of the hit TV show Dallas, died of cancer on Friday. Did you ever watch the show, Dallas?”

“No, I never did.” I begin to wonder how much longer I can keep doing this trivia thing. It’s always the same these days. Same people. Same conversations. Everybody being weird in the same predictable ways.

Take Uncle Sam. He’s pretty good at trivia. He knows a lot about politics and history and music from the 70’s and 80’s. He often stands a decent chance at winning except that he always botches the final question. For the final question you can wager anywhere from zero to fifteen points, but if you get the question wrong, your wager is subtracted from your score. Every single time, Uncle Sam wagers all fifteen points, gets the question wrong, and loses.

“I hope I win tonight,” he says, barring his teeth in a smile that looks like someone had to teach him how to do it.

“Well, be careful with your wager,” I tell him. “Don’t wager too much on the final question.” This is what I tell him every time, but he never listens.

Red and blue flashing lights streak past on Main Street, and suddenly everyone is rushing over to the window to see what’s going on. That’s how bored everyone is. A cop car going by, probably to pull over someone who ran a red light, is enough to get even the drunkest drunkard out of his seat. But there must have been nothing to see. After a brief moment they all settle back down into their beers.

I meander over to George Bush to chat. He’s a sweetheart of an old man, and yeah, he does try to coerce a hug out of me every week, but he’s mostly harmless. He’s wearing a Santa hat and tells me that he wears it every year. “From the day after Thanksgiving until New Years,” he says. At least he doesn’t ask me to sit on his lap.

Baby Keanu sits next to him.  “What’s your name again, hon?” he asks.  He is several years younger than me and really does not need to be calling me hon.  I tell him my name is Eva.

“Beva?” he asks.

“No, Eva.”

“Beva?  With a B?”

“No.  Eva, with an E.”

A few more round of this and he finally gets it right.  He tells me he wants to play trivia and his team name is going to be Isle of Man.

“What’s that from?” I ask. “Did you make it up, or is it from something?”

He tells me it’s from a Cormac McCarthy short story called “Children of Man.” “It’s about an island, you know,” he says, “where men can be men.”

I don’t think that’s even remotely right, but he acts very sure of it. As usual, Baby Keanu is being weird and confident.

Suddenly two middle-aged women walk into the bar. They give George Bush a hug, and I ask if they want to play trivia.

“We do,” they say. “We’re on his team.” They point to George Bush, and he grins widely. So, George Bush has some teammates. This is new.

For some reason it seems appropriate to put a picture of Wortzel, the British scarecrow, here.

I get started with trivia. As usual, we have a depressingly low turn-out. Besides Uncle Sam, George Bush, and Baby Keanu, we have one other team – Jessica and Cammie, two cute girls in teetering heels who leave after halftime to hang out with some sketchy guys in the back.

So it’s just me and the regulars.

“Which country occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain?” I ask, halfway into the game. I play Franz Ferdinand as a hint, but no one ever gets my hints.

Baby Keanu ambles up to me. His downy cheeks are flushed, and he seems to have put on an extra layer of blubber for the winter. His clothes are tight. “How specific do you want me to be?” he asks.

“Just write down the name of the country,” I say.

“Yeah, but…” He laughs as if I’m the crazy one here. “How specific of an answer are you looking for?”

“Well… I need the name of the country. You know, a country. That’s all.”

As usual, Baby Keanu makes no sense. He stumbles back to his bar seat to ponder his answer.

As we go into the final round, the scores are as follows:  Uncle Sam: 31, Isle of Man: 35, George Bush: 63. Of course, Uncle Sam will wager all of his points, bringing his score down every lower, but at least this week he’ll get a prize. I give away gift certificates for first, second, and third place, so tonight everyone’s is a winner.

I announce the scores and read the final question. It’s super hard, and no one gets it right. George Bush’s team smartly wagers zero and stays at 63 points. Isle of Man stupidly wagers 6 and drops down to 29 points. Uncle Sam, as always, waits until the very last second to turn in his answer. I’ve already got his total written down – after losing 15 points he’ll have a total of 16 – but as he stuffs the little sheet of paper into my hand, my eyes widen. For his wager he’s written a big, fat, zero. He wagered zero!

I didn’t think it was possible. It’s a small thing, sure, but in another sense, it’s huge.

I announce the winners into the microphone then go around to congratulate my crazy, little teams.

“Well, I won first place last time,” I overhear Baby Keanu telling the bartender.

“Oh, did you?” I can’t help saying. He has never won first place – I guarantee.

“Or maybe it was second. First or second,” he says, shrugging modestly. It’s possible that he truly believes this.

George Bush sidles over and sneak-attacks me with a sideways hug.

“Congratulations,” I say, handing him his thirty dollar gift certificate. “You’re getting quite a collection of these.”

I walk over to Uncle Sam to give him his gift certificate. “You won! Congratulations.”

“Second place,” he says. “But it’s not bad. I went to the men’s restroom, and after I did my business, I called my sister and told her I won second place at trivia. She was proud.”

“Well, yeah.” I smile. “You should be proud. You did a great job.”

“Well, Eva, see you next week.” Uncle Sam pulls his felt hat down over his ears and lumbers off towards the door.

Sure, maybe it’s become routine, but there will always be surprises in store for me at Tommy Doyle’s trivia night.  Let yourself be amazed by little miracles.

ASSIGNMENT:

What’s one thing that made today different than yesterday?

Which country occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain?  (Be specific.)

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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