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Monday, Aug. 01, 2005
“Avoid every appearance of evil.”

That’s a close paraphrase of a Bible verse, and it couldn’t be a tougher one to actually adhere to. Matter of fact, in my humble opinion, it’s nigh unto impossible. About the only way to make sure you’re 100% in compliance with this one is to go off and live alone on a deserted island, where you make no appearances at all.

Let’s say you’re in the grocery store, having promised your spouse the night before that you’ve sworn off beer forever after that nasty tumble you took outside of the Watering Hole after closing. But for reasons unknown, you find yourself in the beer aisle (yes, they sell beer in groceries here) looking for a good deal on a pack of Slim-Jims or something. Now that’s an appearance of evil. You’re in the vicinity. The longnecks are right there, in fact you have to reach over them to get at the meaty goodness of a Jalapeno & Cheese strand of processed beef loin. What’s to say you won’t slip and snatch up a twelve pack instead?

Naw, this didn’t happen to me. Honest, it didn’t. I never stay until closing, and swearing off beer wouldn’t help matters anyway.

On the other hand, suppose an acquaintance of some years is discovered in an affair with a co-worker. One of those real interesting ones, the kind that has been going on for a couple of years. Man and wife and 2 good kids, suburban home with pool and money coming in from employing both on and off grid sources. Then the klutz tosses a hand grenade in the mix by A): Getting his off-screen honey pregnant and B): Getting spotted with her out of town by the wife’s best friend. And this is the sort of thing that results in, justifiably so, the klutz getting the boot and his bank accounts getting snatched.

Now if klutz wants to get together with you for a pow-wow, try to get a sympathetic ear (and maybe a short term loan), is this an appearance of evil? Associating with a problem that might get you involved beyond the pale? One of those “ . . . and after all that bastard did, old Outfoxed slipped him a loan and I even saw them shake hands. Jeez, talk about two peas . . .”

This didn’t happen to me either. Might have, but I kept a big distance. Acres of distance.

Or this one. “I know Outfoxed, he’s clever but I know what he’s up to. The company made money but my husband’s getting screwed. Oh, I know Outfoxed well. He paid the husband more money every year, and just yesterday gave him a huge chunk of change, and just signed a release of liability and took on all the debts but I know. Somehow he’s going to wind up with more than we are. You know. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and there’s some really evil fire going on, you can bet on that. What? No I can’t prove it! I just know! He’s hid his tracks too well. But it‘s the appearances, I tell you! The appearances! He’s a thieving asshole! And let me tell you something else, but you got to keep this to yourself . . .”

Sigh. That one’s spot on. Darn near a direct quote. Amazing, amazing stuff.

And.

“Hey Dad, can you run me over to Timmy’s house? He’s moving some stuff.” It’s a three mile ride, it’s standard procedure. I run him over. I hadn’t planned the trip. But the Hole is a block away, and beckoning . . . that evil place that Judy happened to be tending today.

“Hey dear, thought I’d call. Stopped at the Hole for a bit. Wanna say hi to Judy?”

“Oh. Is she working there today?”

“Uh huh. Why?”

“If I didn’t know better I’d say you two were having an affair. Every time she works a shift you’re barreling on over there.”

“We’ve had this conversation, you and I. You know I can’t afford some chick half my age. I can barely afford a chick my own age. Besides, I go barreling over here no matter who’s working. I’m predictable like that. How’s the housework coming, by the way?”

“Stunningly. Tell Judy I’ll spank her ass later. Are you coming home?”

“Wait - spanking? Can I watch, at least?”

“Not hardly. ‘Bye.”

Naturally, Judy was told of the Ally side of the conversation and it was a hip-slapper, a good laugh in the way that bar talk goes. Which is all it is. Bar talk has a life all its own, if you can steer the outright gossip out of it you wind up with entertaining stories, a fair amount of comedy and some giggles at the absurdity of life outside the brass rail and oak top. Your car might be broken down, the rain pouring down in sheets, the taxman at your door but to sit and contemplate life through the brown amber lens of a product from St. Louis is to realize the futility of getting bent out of shape by it all.

Judy and I, given the opportunity to meet outside of the Hole, would likely never exchange more than a formal hello. It’s the same with most of her bartending colleagues. If you’re a twenty-something female, big into rave music and obscure movies and vegetarianism, you and I will likely have nothing to talk about. Makes little difference if you’re cute or not, it so happens that she is. There just isn’t enough common ground there. Not enough time spent by her in the early seventies wondering if your relative would come home from Asia after getting shot at by small brown men. Not any enough time spent by me in some dance club, getting bounced about randomly by tall white youths with many piercing embellishments. Tattoos vs. shotgun shooting. Digitized vs. acoustic. Small imports vs. big Fords. Esteban vs. Floyd the barber. That sort of difference.

And yet . . .

Judy is a rarity. Educated. She is able to listen to insightful ramblings. She deduces words of greater than two syllables. She often refuses tips larger than the norm if she feels they are given for reasons other than honorable (if you are familiar with the typical neighborhood bar, this will make sense, and it‘s not as if it has happened to me). She has shown something very rare in her generation - at least to my eyes. Dignity. A touch of honor. In other words, she’s someone whose company I enjoy in the context of what it is. I’m not calling her up after hours and she isn’t either. Ally enjoys her company in the way that wary women appreciate the presence of younger chicks who happen to be within arms reach of a husband. Ally calls it a “Catfight brewing in her mind“, I call it nonsense.

Maybe by the mere explanation of Judy it raises alarms. It shouldn’t. There isn’t a more platonic relationship in existence. I tend to adopt these girls, listen to their troubles. They rarely need to listen to mine because I won’t volunteer them. They know that I will keep quiet about the cheating boyfriend or the bar regular who hit on them. I don’t know for certain that they’ll be as discrete about business troubles or whatever. I tend to let the chips fall where they may, but I’m not gonna embellish them beyond reason. Judy is the exception to the rule. But I still don’t babble on about freak show material to her. Just don’t. Respect has a face, and I don’t spit in it.

But you know appearances. Evil things, they are.

“I saw Outfoxed in here the other day. Boy, him and that Judy sure had a long conversation going on. Wonder if Ally suspects anything?” That sort of thing has been going on forever, and my response was a healthy shrug. Judy and I even had a coming out party a few months ago, in which we “confessed”, loudly, to the nervous chagrin of a dozen regulars and Ally about our torrid affair. Our backroom liaisons, our tempest of unbridled lust (I used that one out loud and while Judy like to threw her hip out laughing, most of the regulars were fumbling for their phrase books and stage whispering “Whaaaa . . .?”

In other words, I’m not sure that anyone actually got it. That my laughing in the face of absurdity was really the thing for the audience at hand. Believing in, or wanting to believe the worst of someone is always more comfortable than the obvious, the explained, and the factual.

It pains me that my wife is subject to this. I have a habit of listening to people, both in and out of Watering Holes and lending the sympathetic ear to a point, of enjoying conversation and not being overly judgmental. People tend to like this. They probably like it even more when I don’t race pell-mell to the nearest venue and repeat verbatim what I’ve just heard.

But I will gift you with the wisdom of age.

Seeing the practice of “None of my business” does not guarantee that you will be on the A-list for trade-in-kind. Not at all. Matter of fact, it might just put you on a higher footing for the hoof in mouth club.

I don’t know why people can’t shut up. I’m not an angel, never have aspired to be. I put myself in scenarios where evil is assumed, where the connotations of doing wrong are available, and naively assume that the people around me have lost that stigma of the seventh grade buried in us all, and will interpret things as grown-ups and not as if there were still braces on teeth and pimples on chin. That the end of the day will bring “Aw, it’s nice that Judy has a good friend like Outfoxed, Ally and him get along so well, it’s good to see that there are people left in the world like them. You know, adults. Like Mom and Dad.”

Like gray haired and paunchy folk, unafraid of the appearances. Unafraid of the evil.

It ebbs and flows, my friends. Welcome to middle age. It isn’t a thing like Middle-Earth, and it doesn’t read as smoothly.

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