Short Stories: ‘Paddy, Get Back’ by Garret Schuelke

He patted Dad on the back and laughed. “Henry Spicer, it’s good to see you!”
“Oh boy, Pann, I didn’t expect to see you around tonight.” Dad shook his hand. “How are your brothers?”
Pann gave his order to the bartender. “Things are looking up. I retired from the business.”
“Pann, this is my oldest son, Floyd,” Dad leaned back so there would be an opening between us. “He just got back from California.”
The bartender gave Pann his beer. Pann pushed the money across the counter, snatched the beer with one hand, and took my hand with the other.
“Welcome back, son,” he said. “We need young men like you to stick around.”
“Thanks, though I think being in my thirties doesn’t put me in that category anymore,” I said.
He put his hand to his ear. I yelled what I just said. He laughed, shook his head, and said goodbye, heading off to the other side of the bar.
“And that is?” I asked Dad.
“He’s one of your Mom’s old boyfriends. They were high school sweethearts.”
Mom punched Dad’s shoulder. “Yeah, well THAT’S one of your Fathers old girlfriends over there! I’ll be right back.”
Mom left for the smoking tent. The woman she was talking about was supposedly the town prostitute. A biker had his arm around her waist.
I shook my head. “The only hooker in Alpena,” I finished my beer, “what a mess. Who’s that guy you were talking to again?”
“Oh, that’s Pann. Old time drunk, has always been around these bars.”
“A friend?”
“Not really. Just look him over for a sec.”
Pann clinked his bottle with another patron. The patron patted Pann on the shoulder, then went over to the pool tables. Pann shook his bottle, finished what was left, and put it down on the bar. He turned it around, examining the label.
“That right there is what you get for being a tough guy.” Dad said.
“You fought him?”
“No, but I did slap him around a bit. He and a few other old timers tried pushing me and Manner around back when we sailed. We showed them who they were fucking with.”
“But he seems so nice though!”
“He knows better now. That’s why he kisses my ass.”
I looked over at Pann again. He was shaking hands with Brendan, the guy I’ve been waiting for.
“There’s Brendan,” I said.
“Oh, is he still down in Lansing?”
I caught Brendan’s attention. “Yeah, according to his Facebook. I haven’t spoken to him in person in years.”
Brendan and I shook hands. “Motherfucker, why didn’t you respond to my messages?” I asked
“Hey, I’ve been having to contend with family matters”— someone bumped into Brendan—“getting Tony and Percy in on tonight—”
“Dude, you could have just told me all this, and I would have let you be.”
“Quit your whining and accept my explanation, please.”
“Now I feel guilty about ditching my folks,” I pointed my thumb towards Dad.
Dad waved us away. “Your Ma and I will be fine. Call us if you need a ride home.”
“Thanks much, Mr. Spicer.” Brendan said, shaking his hand. “It already cost me too much gas just coming to pick up your wonderful son.”
“Let’s go. Later, Dad.”
Pann waved to us as we went outside. Brendan lit a smoke and unlocked his car.
“You came all the way here for me?” I said. “Where we drinking at? The Lake Lounge?”
“No, we decided it would be best to party it up the Wet Plank.”
“YES!” I yelled, “I owe you a beer slightly better than the usual Wisconsin swill.”

Percy and Tony had a pitcher nearly drained. The only other persons in the joint were two guys sitting next to each other at the counter and the bartender.

“Allow me to get the next pitcher, guys” I said.

“Get us more Bud,” Percy said.

I nodded. I told the bartender this, but pointed to the tap with the Pabst logo and winked. He nodded back and filled the pitcher. I joined them at the table and filled their glasses.

“I see what you did there, fucker,” Tony said, crossing his arms.

I passed the pitcher to Brendan. “We’re at the Wet Plank, friends. Let’s live dangerously.”

“I don’t know if I want to be your friend anymore.” Tony poured his drink.

“I’ll always be your friend, Floyd,” Percy said.

Tony took a sip. “Never mind. We’re cool.”

We discussed what we were doing in our lives. Brendan was a hotel manager, Percy worked in a warehouse owned by a casino, and Tony was a manager of the gas station he has been working at since we graduated high school.

I dominated the conversations with my seafaring and traveling stories—shitty fishing boats, the Merchant Marine, train hopping, hitchhiking, and squatting.

“You ever try Alaska?” Tony asked.

“I’m still not sure if Alaska’s a good idea,” I said. “I try to find work in places where I can actually have a life, and not be bored to tears.”

“Then you fucked up coming back here,” Brendan said.

“I have a friend in Port Huron that’s a big player in the Seafarers International Union who sailed with my dad back in the eighties. He’s an organizer now, and said he would help me get on one of the cement boats here on the Lakes. I’m waiting for him to call me back.” I poured another drink, finishing the pitcher. “Then I’ll search for a place in Chicago to become my home base.”

“How are your folks handling this?” Percy asked.

I sighed. “It took half a decade for Dad to accept my way of life. Mom still bitches. I tune it out, but if it gets to be too much, Dad will step in and she’ll shut the fuck up.”

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned my head and was met with a bright yellow shirt that said PROUD TO BE NON-UNION.

“Hi there!” the man said. “I overheard you saying you’re a member of the SIU.”

I set my glass down. “I am, and I already know why you’re about to run your mouth.”

“Hey now, I think it would be a good thing for you to just hear me out.”

“Not interested. Fuck off, retard.”

The man shook his head. “Men like you are the reason I question why I even try to extend the olive branch.” He looked at the guys and smiled. “How about you guys?”

“I belong to a union too,” Percy said.

“I was in a union once,” Brendan said, “I still support them one hundred percent.”

“Ditto,” Tony said.

“Do you gentlemen think it’s appropriate to have money taken from your paycheck without your consent for an organization you were forced to become a member of?”

“Fuck your questions,” I said, getting up. “Let me tell you a quick story: my Mom has been an aide at Alpena Public Schools since I was at Ella White. Along with every other aide and teacher, she got fucked over by the Snyder regime. I attended demonstrations in Lansing against Right to Work, Emergency Managers, and other bullshit Snyder implemented, because it was the right thing to do,” I poked him in the chest, “and because I love my Mom.”

The man snorted.

“You know what we did to scabs like you at these protests?” I asked.

“Refresh my memory.”

“Well then, to summarize: you guys had a tent, were dressed up like Scrooge McDuck, and ran your mouths. We finally had enough of your shit, and we tore down your fucking tent and pounded you until the pigs showed up.”

“Yeah?” the man said.

I grinned. “It was a beautiful thing, seeing a steelworker, rocking his USW jacket, beating the shit out of you wannabe yuppies. You thought you were so tough, throwing pennies at us, telling us that was how much our labor was worth—”

“All right, that’s enough.” The scab turned to the bartender and pointed at me. “He just threatened me. Please boot him out of here.”

“He threatened you? I heard him telling you a story.” The bartender smiled. “I agree with him, by the way.”

The scab put his hands in the air. “Unbelievable!”

I pushed the scab, sending him tripping to the counter. “Get the fuck out of here!”

He steadied himself, then ran to the door. I threw my glass at him. He hopped to the side, the glass shattering near the bottom of the door. He opened it and ran out. Percy ran past me, his own glass in hand. He stepped out, winded up, and whipped it down the street.

I heard a voice say, “God, why is everyone trying to hurt my brain today?” I looked down to see the other man at the counter, arms covering his head.

“Shit, I nearly hit you, didn’t I?” I asked.

He sat up, pushed his hair back, and nodded.

“Oh man, I’m sorry.” I sat down next to him. “Let me buy you a drink.”

“I haven’t finished this one yet.”

I picked up the Budweiser bottle and shook it. “Come on, dude. Swallow this remaining drop and come join us.”

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