Roaring noon. Shaded tables. Umbrellas that flutter lightly in the breeze. Harley riders clopping in, girls in summer dresses, flip-flops slapping the bottoms of their lovely bronze feet. Hard men in orange vests, construction workers, heavy in their chairs. Garroted white-collar men with neatly clipped hair (accountants from Deere? Poor bastards!), Rastafarians, derelicts, drunks, and—behold!—folks from both Chemistry and Physics. I had no idea they were human!
We’re not crossing Brooklyn Ferry, it is true, but we’ve left all the numerous goings on of life for the Tuesday Burger Basket (and $2 pint) at Bent River brewery in Moline. My twenty-five-year-old Schwinn, its milk crate band-clamped to the back rack, leans against the brick wall of the restaurant next door. We’re practically wearing the palpable warm sunshine out back here. The afternoon stretches out. No lectures to give. No committee meetings to feign interest in. No freshman themes to mark.
Is life no more than this? Let’s hope so!
O Walt Whitman, you lonely old grubber, you! Where are you now, old greybeard? What would you give for a table here now, a chance to hear the summer laughter and the afternoon gossip, to partake of a little low-level early-day inebriety and maybe some first-class Midwestern American loafing by the Mighty Mississippi later on with that scrupulously coiffed fellow over in the corner naughtily leafing through GQ?
You’d give lilacs in the dooryard. I know you would.
Tuesdays, O Tuesdays! Where are you, Binx? Tom More, where are you? What I wouldn’t give for a month of Tuesdays! Burgers and fries and sun dresses and pale ale and summer reading on the brain and the buzz of human life, men and women and weirdoes too and train whistles and pelicans aloft and Old Man River just over yonder!
Tuesday, whom I love! Tuesday, who has agreed to come round again. O Tuesday, my Tuesday!
What’s that? Yes, my dear! You may bring me an ale and a burger basket, and the same for both of my buddies here too. We will eat and drink to life! To life! We’ll loaf and invite our souls. And you, my dear, do whatever you can to increase your tips. I tell you, the house approves.
And I ask you: who would not, as I have this very day, “peddle his ass all over town” (for that is one of the stale jokes already afloat) for a lunch such as this? We’ll talk even more smack ere the hour is done and still manage to be serious. “Did you see the last New Yorker?” “What was it our former governor said yesterday?” “I see the River Bandits are tearing it up—unlike your White Sox.” “Good God! Why are you reading that?” “No, I didn’t see it. I don’t go to movies—except perhaps at gunpoint.”
Ah! Look here. Brilliant simplicity: pickles and onions and lettuce on a little slab of ground beef between two pieces of bread. Who could doubt but this is part of some Divine Plan the telos of which are my taste buds, salivary glands, and gullet.
“I’ll bet you that guy there is a Republican …”
“Be careful. His bowtie is really a camera …”
“We’re enjoying fine weather, don’t you think? I, personally, would describe it as jiggly …”
“Did I ever tell you guys the one about Rastus Johnson?”
“Wear that in a place like this and you could be pregnant by rush-hour …”
“Do you suppose there are burgers and pale ale in heaven, or just bread and wine, on and on forever?”
“You’re getting what published? Where? I thought that was peer reviewed …”
“Seems there was a priest and a rabbi …”
“That’s what she said …”
“Hey, I forget. Did Dingbat get tenure?”
“Can’t remake the Middle East? Why of course you can!”
“That building right there? Lofts. Get more people back down here.”
“That’s what your wife said.”
“How then would going as a companion to Europe, to entertain some young gentleman with your conversation?” (For some reason we’re now quoting favorite lines from “Bartleby, The Scrivener.”)
Then from The Moviegoer (“Were you and Kate intimate?” “Not very”).
Then from Tin Men (“I’m not exactly having a religious experience here”).
World Cup. The American League Central. The Tea Partiers and other cretinous Yahoos. Colleagues we’d like to bludgeon with a shovel, provided it’s dirty enough—and dull enough to ensure a slow painful death.
We dip our fries into the Jalapeno ketchup, eat, cry, and douse the fire with golden ribbons of water and grain turned to good account. Down go the burgers (soon I’ll be bringing my own tomatoes and a pocket knife to cut them with), aloft go our spirits—on the wings of the spirits—and out comes the waitress once again with—could it be?—another round. How did she know? God bless the girl!
(Let not your hearts be troubled: we’ll observe the rule of Not Too Much. But two is Not Too Much, and one won’t fill the time God has given us.)
Who says this is all an accident? Who says man has no soul? What but an immortal soul could so adore a Tuesday in the sun amid the sweet droning buzz of local life, a little music in the air, the smell of hops, a baseball game later on across the river, the crack of the bat, the kids in the stands with their gloves and their hopes, fireworks over the Great River, and your own Sweet Precious in her own summer dress, a thin sandal dangling lightly from an elegant ankle that swings in the softening light. Accident indeed!
It winds down a little. The patrons come and go, shuffle in and out. They all have stories. We eye each other. Always the eyeing, the wondering. “What do you suppose that guy does to get to five o’clock each day?” “How’d you like to come home to that?” “There’s a face made for radio.” “Those three bores always talk about books when they’re here.”
It’s not malice. It’s a summer mood we’re in. A burger and fries and a beer in the sun at noon. And to think there are people who don’t do this! They’re “working out” or “texting” or clutching a bag of soggy McNuggets in a parked Ford while listening to The Empire’s Jaw on the radio.
But, ah, to know where you are! To prefer where you are to where you might be! Those who would rather be anywhere than where they are—leave them to their ambition and their misery and there terminal peripatesis. Let them suck down Manhattans in Manhattan, tequila sunrises at the Sunset Grill. We’re in little Moline. It’s God’s favorite day of the week, and this is Our Lord’s favorite place for his three favorite guys, and I, the Bar Jester, am one of them. From out of the blue, the clear blue serene, we can almost hear Him say: “these are my bedeviled dunderheads, in whom I am nevertheless well-enough pleased. So leave them alone.”
A pelican descends.
We part ways, for we do have wives to answer to—and what smart girls they are! But I peddle to Baker Street tobacconist, where I’m sure a cigar awaits me. And lo! I do indeed find a cigar there. Off to the river’s edge!
What’s this? A book of matches in my pocket? It is! Jesus loves me, this I know! And look! In my milk crate is a volume of immortal poems! According to the cover, Oscar Williams has selected them, apparently just for me, for my name is written on the inside cover of the book.
O, my soul! Look at that river, the Mighty Majestic Storied Mississippi going by, the sun pouring down like honey. And look, you sun and river, look at me, here, on a Tuesday, not getting into any trouble at all.