Half Past Weird
The big man entered the bar and looked around. He wore a torn denim shirt and khaki pants and sported a tattoo on his right arm that displayed the Marine Corps emblem above the words “Semper Fi”. He had just come from work, a fact made obvious by the yellow plastic “hard hat” he still wore and the sweat spots under his massive arms. As his eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, he continued to scan the room. The room was unadorned except for neon-lighted beer signs. There were stools along the bar and a row of booths along two walls. Finally, he saw the other man seated in a booth and apparently reading.
The man in the booth was similarly attired save the hard hat. A little smaller than the other, he too had a tattoo on his right bicep which was a skull with open eyes and an evil grin.
“What ya doin’, Ike?” Fat Homer asked.
“Isaac… Isaac. For years I’ve asked you to call me Isaac.” He paused and closed the book he had been reading. “Reading. Just reading. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Readin’? Readin’ what?” Homer asked.
“Just reading. You probably wouldn’t like it.” He cocked his head to one side and looked at Fat Homer who was seating himself across the booth. “Is that all right with you?”
“Yeah, I guess… no, not really. Not from you.” Homer slowly shook his head, a sad almost worried look crossed his countenance.
“Me? Why not me? What’s so hard to understand? Don’t you ever read?”
“Sure. Not much, though. Sometimes the sports page or the funnies.”
“The funnies?” Isaac asked. “The funnies?” He repeated. “Is that it?” Fat Homer ignored the question.
“Look. Ya come in here and order three… four drinks… maybe, and you never read. You joke, talk about women like the rest of us, talk trash… you know. But read… never before. You?”
“Yeah, me! Yeah, reading! So what! Why don’t you just leave me alone? Sam! Sam! Hey, bartender! Sam, another drink here. Same thing.”
“Look. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean nothing. We all do certain things and I ain’t never seen ya read before. That’s all.”
“Well, there’s a first time for everything.”
“What is it? What’s it about?” asked Homer.
“I said you wouldn’t like it.”
“Try me. What is it?”
“Okay. Okay. It’s Macbeth. It’s by Shakespeare. About a guy whose wife makes him commit a murder.”
“Why?” Homer asked.
“Why what?” Isaac’s voice was low and deliberate but barely restrained.
“Why’d she make him murder?”
“So he be could be king,” Isaac answered through gritted teeth, his impatience simmering just below the surface.
“King?… Oh.” Homer wrinkled his brow. Then quietly and almost to himself, he added. “About half-past weird.”
No words passed between them for several minutes. Homer drank his beer and looked around. Isaac sipped from his and reopened his book.
“Here’s what I mean…” Homer finally broke the silence. “See that guy in the booth over there?”
In the corner, in a darkened booth illuminated by a single yellow light covered by a tin shade, sat a man with his head down. He appeared to be writing, though every now and then he would stop and stare straight ahead. He was unshaven with light brown hair in desperate need of a trim… and a comb. His denim shirt looked as if he had slept in it.
Glancing at the booth, Isaac said, “Yeah, Tim or Tom. I don’t know his name. What about him?”
“He comes in here two, three times a week. Don’t talk to nobody. He orders a beer and nurses it all the time he’s here. He jus’ sits there and writes in that little notebook. He’s here every Saturday. That’s when he orders shot after shot of whiskey. Four or five.”
“You sure know a lot about a guy that doesn’t talk. What’s your point?”
“My point is… You can always count on what he’s gonna do. The same thing every time ‘cept Saturday and then it’s the same every Saturday. He sits under that yellow light, don’t talk, sips his beer, and jus’ writes. Who does that?” Homer hunched his shoulders and raised his hands chest high, palms up.
“I don’t know. You tell me. Who does that?”
“He does. And when he comes back Thursday or Friday, he’ll do the same thing. And he will be back on Saturday, throwing backs whiskey shots. He don’t seem to write on Saturday.”
“No?… Why is that important?”
“’Cause we know what he’s gonna do. It’s in… What do call it?… It’s in character. With you… Reading?… And Shakespeare? That ain’t in character. Gimme a break! When do you do that?”
“When I feel like it… that’s when!” Isaac raised his voice so, Homer was sure, everyone in the place could hear. The man in the booth just sat there… writing.
“Hey! Hey! Settle down! I don’t mean nothin’. It jus’ don’t seem like you. That’s all.”
Again a prolonged silence ensued and sucked away any trace of camaraderie between the two. Finally, Fat Homer broke the silence.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. You read. Some guys go bowling, some hunt or fish. You? You read! That’s all right with me.”
“Well, thank you,” Isaac said, smiling slightly.
“Hey I got an idea,” Fat Homer said. “Let’s ask Sam about the guy in the booth.”
“Sam, come ‘er a minute, would ya?” Homer hooked his finger in a “come here” gesture.
“What’s up guys?” Sam was a big man with a big smile. He came over, continuing to run a clean towel around the inside of a beer mug.
“What’s the story on the guy in the booth over there?”
“You mean Tom? We call him Saint Thomas the Shy.”
“Saint Thomas? Why?” Homer asked.
“Well, he comes in a couple times a week, has a beer and just writes. I asked him what he was writing. Guess what he said… He’s writing his sermon. Turns out he’s the preacher from that small church you see over across the street from the car wash. You know, the one that meets in that old mom-and-pop grocery that closed. The one where the congregation seems to have slept on the streets.”
“They did,” said Homer. “They’re winos and dope heads… homeless.”
“Writing a sermon… and… and drinking a beer?” Asked Isaac.
“Yup, that’s it. Writing a sermon. Go figure.”
“But then Saturday… he comes back, drinks whiskey. Whiskey! A preacher! And he doesn’t write at all. What’s going on?” Homer raised his hands, palms up again.
“That’s the shy part. Or timid. Or just plain scared. I dunno. On Saturdays, he just drinks the whiskey to get his courage up so he can preach later that night.”
“Oh, for the love of God!” Homer sighed.
“Yeah, I guess so.”