Thursday, April 06, 2006

At long last....

I have finally succeeded in moving, more or less totally, into a house off-post. That involved packing all of my earthly possessions (of which there are precious few) into vehicles and transporting them around country roads and into this strangely-positioned ranch-style house in a village called Vine Grove, Kentucky.

After finishing the layout for this week's Turret last night, I spent the rest of the evening in the manly pursuit of cabinetry.

By "cabinetry," of course, I mean the process of assembling particle-board furniture from Wal-Mart using nothing more than a rusty wrench that may have repaired J. Edgar Hoover's toilet and a Leatherman that featured both Phillips and flat head screwdrivers.

That done, I needed to set up my computer and configure things to work with my roommate's (Numb-nuts, you may remember him) wireless Internet network. This is much harder than the commercials will lead you to believe. Suffice it to say that it is unwise to plan on using the 'net on the same day you purchase a wireless network adapter -- although now, mine is happily blinking its green light from underneath the black desk drawer I assembled myself.

About a mile and a half down the road from our house is an establishment called "Otter Creek." Depending on the hour, it's a diner, tavern, pool hall, or hillbilly congregation point. After finally figuring out how to get this Internet business working, I made my way up the road to have a victory beer.

Inside, one of the bartenders was flicking his finger at an empty Marlboro Red box, trying to launch it through a pair of uprights formed by a patron's index fingers and thumbs. I ordered a Miller Lite (the classiest beer on tap) and went over to watch.

Jason, the bartender, explained after a shanked field goal that he and the patron, a middle-aged drunk named Mark, were playing a version of football he'd devised. Both players took turns, each getting four tries to flick the empty cigarette box from one side of the bar to the other, the object being to have the box poke over the edge of the counter without falling off.

Mark won, and they asked me if I wanted to give it a shot. I said yes.

I won the toss. I moved behind the bar and kicked off by flicking my finger at the back of the Marlboro box. It skittered across the counter, stopping a little past the half way point. Mark pulled on his beer and lit a new smoke.

A couple more tries had me near the edge, but a misjudged flick sent the box into Mark's lap. He hacked a laugh and started his own drive.

"Who's your team?" I asked.

"Well," he croaked, "I lived in Tampa for about twenty years, so I pull for them mostly." A deep drag on his Red and another pull of Budweiser. His fourth flick left the edge of the box just poking over the side of the counter. He launched an extra point kick between my thumbs to take the lead, 7-0.

Jason had moved down the bar toward a clutch of other patrons -- he slid bottles of Budweiser and Coors to a hefty girl sitting on her own near the cash register and an older couple talking in raspy tones near the opposite end. I'd made my own extra point kick when he hollered out, "What's the score?"

Mark and I were tied 7-7. We wound up trading goals for the next ten minutes, and on my third touchdown, he stubbed out his third smoke in the black plastic ashtray off to the side.

"You seem to have this down to a science," he said.

I flicked my third extra point kick in to tie the game at 21.

A vastly over-tanned and middle aged bartender named Trish made her way cheerfully up the aisle behind us with a broom.

"'Nother beer, Norm?" she asked.

"Nah, not right now," Mark said. "I'd rather have a glass of milk."

He turned to me and told me that the Otter Creek staff routinely called him "Norm," after the character in Cheers.

Meanwhile, Trish called out to Jason, who was chatting up the hefty girl at the cash register.

"One glass of milk," she said.

"Do we serve that here?" he barked back, grabbing Mark another bottle of Bud.

Mark won the game of football in double overtime after I snapped a perfectly good forward lay over the edge. Jason demanded a rematch.

I finished what was left in my mug and shoved my cigarettes in my pocket. I was in an inexplicably good mood.

Mark was croaking out something about wanting to move back to Florida, and Jason tapped Mark's bottle with the bottom of his own, making Mark's brew foam over. He tried to chug it, but the foam came up quickly and ran out around his mouth, over his chin, and onto the floor Trish had just swept up. Jason hooted at him and downed his own.

I started to leave as Mark was hustling Trish for a ride home -- a familiar joke at Otter Creek, it seemed, since he lived across the street.

"I've got to go," I said to Mark, shaking his hand. "Good to meet you."

"Yeah, take care," he said, pounding his fist against his chest to fight the pressure the beer froth was exerting on his stomach. "We'll have to have a rematch sometime."

I nodded and said goodbye to Jason. "Thanks," I said. "See you around."

"Yeah, come on back around sometime."