Jack Coultre sat at the counter of his go-to bar, Hidalgo’s, a small spot tucked discreetly into an alley in the well-to-do North district, right off Ninth Ave. It was well-kept, quiet. Clean. Jack had been a regular at that spot for a couple years, ever since starting his job along nearby Forbes Ave. That particular night, Elena was tending the bar. The old man, Carter, was wiping down tables and serving customers with his characteristic serious-but-jovial and not-too-uptight demeanor.
“What’s it going to be tonight, sweetie?” Elena asked, tousling her wispy dirty blonde hair with a dreamy look in her eyes that was her hallmark.
Jack smiled gently, tired. “Got anything new and interesting for me? Something sweet and tropical maybe, but doesn’t matter that much.”
Elena smiled. “Always amazes me, a straight whiskey shooter like you doesn’t think twice about ordering girly drinks.” Then she thought for a moment. “Oh, I know. I got just the thing. Something I’ve been playing around with. Sweet spot tonight, huh?”
“Manager being a numbnut again?”
Jack shook with some mirth, smiling. “He’s always a numbnut. I gotta stop running my fucking mouth, the dumb twat doesn’t really have a clue but thinks he’s empathetic and knows what’s going on.”
“Plus, I bet those senior asshats calling the shots are no good,” Elena commented as she began to prep his drink, familiar with the tirade she’d heard from hundreds of other guys.
“They’re never any good. Think they’re hot stuff. Buncha fuckin’ guppies. Probably couldn’t last a day outside their cushy jobs.”
“Hon, most types couldn’t last a day outside their little chipmunk cages, not like you. White-collar, or not. You look at those tough-and-tumble guys, most of them are just angry pricks who grew up in one town, drive the same route to work every day, eat the same food at the same time, like clockwork. They eye all the pretty women, but go home and fuck the same girl the same boring-ass way. They don’t have an ounce of color.”
Jack sighed. “I shouldn’t be griping. You’re right, most people are the same washed-out shit. That’s what adult life and a steady job do to you. Get washed and dried enough cycles, you’re just a terry cloth waiting to be tossed, fraying at the edges. Suppose that’s what kids are for, to bring some of that color back.”
Elena smiled as she skillfully measured some combination of liquor and liquers. “Funny to hear you talking about kids. You gettin’ washed out or something? Finally getting fed up with this stability you’ve landed yourself in?”
“Sure getting close,” Jack conceded with a distant look in his eyes. “But at least I never drive the same route or eat the same foods. I’d shoot myself before I ended up like that.”
Elena paused a moment with a mischievous smile. “But you still drink at the same bar and sleep with the same woman.”
Jack raised his hands with a smirk. “Guilty as charged.”
Elena winked as she shook the mixer. “You should come by more often. Remind me how not everyone’s a moronic, self-deluded sack of shit.”
“Not counting the old man,” Jack corrected.
“Right,” Elena concurred. “He’s too quiet though.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah, and I’m a little too talkative, even without any drinks.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Better than being all bottled up.”
Jack sighed. There was a minute of silence as Elena poured his drink and garnished with a peel of lime. It came out to be this pinkish, delectable looking thing.
“Voila,” she said as she laid it before Jack.
He raised the glass. “Here’s to you.”
Elena raised an invisible glass. “Here’s to friendship.”
Jack took a sip and immediately smiled. Hints of guava and grenadine, a touch of juniper from gin, just the right amount of dry and tart all swirled together into something fantastic. “You’ve really outdone yourself this time, Elena.”
She winked, sticking her tongue out at him playfully. “You’re my inspiration.”
Jack had no choice but to chuckle. “Some inspiration.”
Elena grinned, then walked away to tend to some other customers on the opposite end of the bar.
Jack sipped his drink quietly. A few minutes passed before the door opened, gently ringing the bell, and a jacketed Russel walked briskly up to the bar and took a seat next to Jack.
“Howdy, pardner,” Jack directed towards Russel, taking another sip of his drink.
“Evening, Rudy,” Russel replied.
Russel shrugged. “Just tired of calling you Jack.”
Jack laughed. “The hell?”
Russel smiled his usual askew smile. “Eh, forget it. Just beginning to think it’s about time for a change.”
“You and me both, buddy.”
Russel took a deep breath, held it, and then exhaled loudly. “Agh!” he exclaimed at nothing at all.
“That bad of a day, huh?”
“Worse. Some girl at work had a fucking meltdown today. Came in trying to report some kid in engineering, saying he sexually harassed her.”
“Well, did he?”
“Hell no. The kid was innocent as fuck. Not a bad bone in his body. I knew him personally too. Awkward, but in that wholesome way. Reminds me of myself, maybe twenty years ago.”
“Well if he didn’t harass her, what did he do?”
Russel began to laugh. Then he laughed some more. Finally, he broke down into a full-out, hearty guffaw. “Good god. He sent her a love letter. Innocent letter too, saying he’s had feelings for her for a while, just wants to get to know her, maybe be friends, no pressure.”
“What? You’re shitting me. That’s harassment?”
“Ah, shit, I feel bad for the kid,” Russel conceded. “Falling for a lousy, scummy, stupid, stinking piece of ass like that.”
Jack laughed. “Calm down buddy.” He gestured towards Elena. “Sounds like you need a drink.”
“More than just a drink,” Russel said. “I had to let the kid go.”
“No fucking way,” Jack’s face contorted. “For something that harmless?”
“Zero tolerance.” Russel shrugged. “Meanwhile, pretty sure that bitch is shagging at least a few of the studs in marketing.”
“Ah, fuck,” Jack scratched the back of his head. “What’s the world coming to, eh?”
Elena walked up. “Hey there, long-timer. What’s the damage today?”
Russel just lifted up four digits.
“Four!” Elena exclaimed. “Good god. This better not be like Valentine’s day. Any preferences, hot stuff?”
Russel thought about it for a minute. “All tequila. Different tequilas. Gold and clear, doesn’t matter.”
Elena clicked her tongue and did a double-shooter gesture towards Russel. “You got it, boss.” Then she immediately laid out the shot glasses into a wooden shooter and began pouring. It took her all of half a minute, then she pushed it towards Russel, who instantly took one. Waited maybe ten seconds, then took another. Thought it over, and took his third.
“Damn, buddy,” Jack commented, whistling.
Elena shook her head. “You better not get trashed again, Russ.”
Russel laughed, glancing suggestively at Jack, then punching him playfully in the shoulder.
Jack rolled his eyes, and punched him back, a little harder. “I’m gonna toss you out into the alley and let you find your way home. Just sayin’, buddy.”
Russel took the final shot, then violently shook his head. “Some pal you are.” They both knew that Jack would never do that.
“So keep going,” Jack encouraged.
“Nothing to go on about,” Russel commented, starting to feel the liquor. “I let him go… end of story.”
Tch. Jack clicked his tongue. “How do people do this kind of shit, affecting someone else’s livelihood so ruthlessly?”
“It’s the women,” Russel commented. “Most guys wouldn’t pull this shit, except maybe psychos and those bastards in management who think they own the damn world. Most guys are relatively decent. Women, on the other hand… just about every woman has zero qualms about abusing the shit out of the system to get their way. It’s in their blood… manipulative bitches.”
Jack patted Russel’s back. “I hear ya bud, but not all women are bad.”
Russel rolled his eyes. “Not for you, but then, you’re smart, you never got married. Hell Jack… don’t be so fair to them, not around me. I don’t think I can ever be unbiased, not after Annie.” He was referring to his divorced wife who had taken full-custody of their two children. That, and the house in the glades, and half Russel’s paycheck. Now he could barely afford some shitty getup in the West side, especially with his drinking habit.
Jack sighed, and Russel stared absently down at the counter.
“Look Russ, I know you don’t want to hear it. But I think it’s probably the most important thing you can hear. At least until you find it in your heart to forgive her, and move on.”
Russel toyed with one of the shot glasses. “Forgive her, huh… Only God forgives.”
“It ain’t healthy, carrying around this much hatred for anyone, much less the entire opposing gender.”
Russel nodded. “I know you’re right, Jack. I know it. I tell myself the same thing. But FUCK!” He yelled a little too loud, and both Elena and Carter turned their heads towards them. Jack gave them the thumbs up and they returned to what they were doing.
They were silent for some minutes. Jack raised his glass for another. Elena came back and started mixing his next drink.
“You good, Russ?” She asked in a pseudo-concerned voice, knowing that this was well in the realm of normal for him.
Russel raised his hand, his head nodding a little. He opened his mouth as if to say something, and then receded back into himself without a peep.
Elena glanced at Jack, who discreetly shook his head.
Once she’d mixed Jack his next drink and he’d begun sipping on it, Russel broke out of his silent spell and started up again.
“You know, technology these days,” Russel began. “It’s so fucked up. Social media and the goddamn syndicated news networks. They’re fucking everyone up. Media conglomerates trying to rig elections. The constant stream of noise, that deluge of data that overloads people’s brains… they tap in for these dopamine shots from likes or retweets or whatever the fuck. But it’s a lie. They’re just living in some fantasy land where they drum up their own hopeless closed-mindedness, forming these… mob-like tribes.”
Jack nodded. “No kidding.”
“Most of them don’t think. Most people can’t fucking think for themselves. They don’t have an ounce of critical thinking ability. They can’t make real conclusions for themselves. They’re more like asses, they learn from their mistakes the same was an ass knows how to not get whipped. But they can’t question things and come up with their own conclusions with their own god given faculties. That’s why you see all these fucking self-help books, these ass-clowns and pundits getting up on their pulpits yelling out recipes and lists and lifestyles and prescriptions for how other people can live a better life. Most everyone out there wants some convenient, pre-digested formula for success. For fuck’s sake. Don’t people get it? If you can’t figure it out on your own, you’re never going to figure it out. Think for yourself, and all that self-help bullshit becomes common-fucking-sense.”
Jack chuckled. “Preach, brother.”
“That bitch I was telling you about? I checked her twitter. God, what a fucking whore. What a fucking… goddamn… when did society become so fucked up?” Russel suddenly grew quiet.
Jack grimaced, pondered it over a moment, and finally said, “Pretty sure it was always fucked up.”
“Oh yeah?” Russel egged.
“Well, yeah. Going all the way back to prehistory. You look at the chimps for a snapshot of 20,000 years ago. Violent little twats. Don’t think twice about raping or eating each other. Mankind’s not so different. Even in recorded history, mankind has mostly endured violence and primality. That story’s echoed, over and over again, everywhere you look. Societies where rape, ritual sacrifice, and slavery were the norm. Where lords and kings exploited their subjects.”
“You almost make modern society sound good.”
Jack shrugged. “Modernity’s not ideal. Probably never will be. But things are definitely better now than they ever were, certainly than they were at any known point in the past. You and me… we’re just used to taking everything for granted. Virtue of living in the best of times.”
Russel chuckled, then laughed. “Best of times… I believe you, but best of times my ass. I think I preferred it when women knew their place, running the goddamn household instead of running around out of their fucking minds. You see women these days, fucking aggressive monsters acting empowered and trying to emasculate men. It’s no wonder toxic masculinity is a thing… it’s because most women are internally deranged as fuck, and feminism just gives those bitches grenade launchers and tanks when they should be left with kitchen knives or sock-em-bop-em gloves.”
Jack broke out into raucous laughter. “Good god, Russel. Sock-em-bop-em gloves?” He kept laughing, and Russel joined him.
When they’d had their laugh, Jack took a moment to stare into the bottom of his empty glass, and flashed his eyebrows. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe all these aggressive females running around acting like they own the place are going to fuck society up, and we don’t even know it. But then again… maybe all this progressivism and equality is a good thing, it’s just that we’re in an era of such change, it’s bound to get ugly. Just look at the civil rights movement, white people were resistive to it because desegregation shook things up so much. There was a fuck ton of violence. But things got better.”
“Better?” Russel retorted. “You call niggers on welfare acting like it’s their goddamn right to take money, tax money I give, and then act all self-righteous, give me attitude and lip just for being white… you call that ‘better’?”
Jack shrugged. “There’s always going to be abusers and users. Horrible human beings. Because fuck, humans are pretty horrible, disgusting creatures in general who live in perpetual delusion and do anything they can to prop up the lies they love to live in. Just like these women you’re talking about. But consider it, our first black president: what a stand-up guy. The guy after that? What a racist, misogynistic, white pig. What a fucking sock puppet and piece of work.”
Russel chuckled. “Yeah, I’ll give you that.” He laughed. “Sock puppet. He does kinda look like that, don’t he?”
Jack smiled softly. “My point is. Maybe all this progressivism will fuck everything up. But we don’t know that. The only real thing we can do is be better people ourselves. Try and move the world in the right direction. God willing, everything really will get better. Or, maybe we’ll all go extinct in armageddon. Either outcome is fine by me.”
Russel laughed. “Yeah, it’d be great if this pain-in-the-ass existence just came to,” he slammed his fist violently his open palm, “an end. I wouldn’t even feel bad about dying like that. Not like I’d miss anything about being alive. I’m just scared to death of death because I’m hardwired to be scared of dying. Living is easier than getting up the guts to blow my brains out, or slit my wrists, or shoot up til my heart stops.”
Jack sighed. He hated hearing his friend talk like this, but he’d been this way for awhile. “You really should try and look the other way… forget women.”
“What, and become gay?” Russel laughed. Jack didn’t. When he was done laughing by himself, Russel nodded, melancholy. “Yeah. I know. Just, days like today are tough. All I see, all I feel, is how bad everything is. How wretched this earth, and the people in it.”
“Well, if you really want wretched, think about thousands of years back, as humanity evolved past the hunter-gatherer stage of civilization. As agrarian cultures and villages began sprouting, so did bands of bandits and raiders. Nomadic tribes that existed by roving the countryside and pillaging villages, killing all the men, raping women, taking the children to sell as slaves, leaving nothing and no one: just taking as they pleased. A life of constant murder, violence, and death.”
“Sounds kinda nice, if you ask me,” Russel said seriously. “Taking whatever you want. Leaving no one to come after you. Maybe that primality is a better state for humanity to be in. Shorter life expectancy. No time to be tormented by philosophical quandaries and misery. No time to think, really.”
Jack shrugged. “I get what you’re saying. I’m not sure I agree, but then, I’m not sure I disagree either. I can’t tell what’s worse, living in fear of having your head lopped off, or living in internal torment, afraid of damnation and going to work the next day.”
“I’d say they’re about equal, but what do I know,” Russel grimaced. “Okay, okay. Maybe going to work is just a tad better.”
“Just a tad,” Jack echoed.
“But keep going. So how come there are no nomadic rapers and pillagers today? Where did all the Huns go?”
“Hmm…” Jack pondered, glad Russel was taking an interest in the topic. “Pretty sure the rise of nation-states, kingdoms and fiefdoms and the like, shut down these bandits. Although, admittedly, I think it was those same bandits who established said nation-states.”
Russel chuckled, nodding. “Makes sense. The robbers got smarter. Rather than running around, they settled down.”
“Good way of putting it,” Jack conceded. “I never thought of it that way. Those initial nation-states were little more than glorified daylight robbers. They gave the farmers and villages security. Established laws and order, even if their laws were still mostly unfair and violent. Essentially, they made violence predictable. Then they took from the farmers and villagers as much as they could, in taxes or what have you, leaving the working class with just enough to survive. At that point, I couldn’t tell you how history went… maybe that was the origins of the nobility, and these rulers banded together to form kingdoms against larger armies and territories of people, leading to royalty as it’s known. I’m just speculating here, I don’t have a modicum of fact to back anything I’m saying,” Jack disclaimed as he ventured far beyond the scope of his own knowledge.
Russel waved his hand, unbothered. “Sounds good enough to be fact for me, even if it’s all hypothetical. But here’s the million-dollar question: you think life today is that much better than it was back then?”
Jack smiled, and flashed his eyebrows. “Sure enough. I actually think it is, only because of the level of mobility and freedom people have to pursue their own dreams. I mean, heck, I get it. In the end we’re all imprisoned by the system, by government, economics, society, people. There’s no escaping that. But at least we’ve got some leeway, ya know? If you’ve got the balls, you can go from nothin’ to top of the world. Bang a different chick every day, or two or three. Do drugs that make you king of the cosmos. Party like a boss.”
Russel shook his head, rolling his eyes. “Or just live a shitty, regular family life, doing a normal 9-to-5 with dirtbags you don’t care about.”
Jack nodded, and Russel continued. “Honestly though, I couldn’t tell you which lifestyle I’d want. My life’s boring as fuck, sure, but at least… I got some semblance of my soul, my integrity. I know who I am, and I’m not just the husk of some hedonistic fuck doing fuckall for a good time.”
Jack grinned. “Yeah, I think I like this boring-ass life too.” He slapped Russel’s back. “You’ll find someone. Or something. Maybe a hobby, a car. Things are going to get better. Women are going to get better. They’re going to look back on the feminism of today and think, ‘how could we have been so barbaric?’ They’re going to wisen up.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Well, I’ll bitch-slap the fuck out of ’em ’til they do,” Jack grinned, making slapping motions in air. “Yah bitch, yah.” He laughed, and Russel shook his head with a smile.
They went silent for a while, both of them staring into their empty glasses.
“Aight. So maybe modern life isn’t so bad. What decade would you say was the best in recent history? Because I kinda think we might’ve peaked, as a society.”
Jack pursed his mouth, furrowed his brow, and pulled air in through his teeth. “Whoo. Tough question.” He stared off for a bit. “I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’m sure all the decades since the war have been great in their own way. But I was only really around in the 90s. If we’re talking about peaking here, then I’d say the dot-com bust was the beginning of the end. So… 80s and 90s. And if we’re talking drugs, then definitely the 60s. Life just hasn’t been the same since they took away LSD.”
Russel cracked up. “LSD. You haven’t tripped a day in your life, you goon.”
Jack chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Sure, yeah, let’s go with that.”
Russel suddenly squinted his eyes. “Makes me think about the Native Americans. They were like the prehistoric hippies, trippin on ayahuasca and peyote and shit. Opening their eyes to the universe. Trying to live in harmony with the land. Living in peace and communion with the animals and trees. Goddamn, what I wouldn’t give to be able to experience that.”
Jack smiled. “I got a thing for the Native Americans too. Talking about it, maybe that was the peak of human society.”
“Then the fucking brits and spaniards and prick french got here, fucked everthing up righteous. Goddamn westerners.”
Jack nodded. “Fucking westerners.” A pensive expression formed on his face. “You know, we’re westerners.”
Russel waved his hand. “Yeah, yeah, we don’t count. We’re just their descendants. They were the dirty slimy cunts that killed off or enslaved two whole continents.”
Humored, Jack shook with mirth. “Pretty sure if there were any Native Americans around now they’d, you know, live on welfare and give you lip for fucking their people over.”
Russel laughed. “I’ll be sure to avoid the reservation, then.”
Elena finally made her way back around. “How’re we doing, boys?”
Russel drummed on the countertop. “I think I’ll go for whatever Jack’s been having.”
Jack raised his glass. “One for me too, hon. Oh, and pour yourself one too. On me.”
Elena winked, and got to mixing.