Continue...Cutback Blues by Joseph Farley
“Strawbridge and Clothier, Clover, Woolworths,” Tyler yelled from behind he bar.
“K-Mart, Sears, J.C. Penny, CompUSA,” Matt added
Each had added a name of a defunct retailer or two.
“Are those last bunch really gone?” asked Henry. “Aren’t they still lingering around in a half dead state.”
“Maybe,” said Matt. “Zombie stores.”
“My first job was in retail,” Leonard said dreamily. He finished his beer and ordered another. “Paid okay for sixteen.”
The room was quiet for a few minutes, except for shoes scraping the floor, cues hitting a white ball, white ball hitting solids and stripes, balls cracking into each other, bouncing off of green felt covered bumpers, and occasionally rolling and falling into a noisy pocket.
“What are the Feds paying now for rescuing pensions?” Henry wondered. “Forty cents on the dollar?”
“Don’t know,” said Leonard while chalking a cue stick. He put a lot of chalk on, turning his fingertips blue. It wouldn’t help.
“When'd your folks die?” Matt asked.
“It will be seven years in October,” Leonard said. “They left this world two months apart after nearly fifty years of marriage.”
Henry shook his head. “It's just a shame,” he said.
“Nah, another blessing. Dad’s pension collapsed a year after they died. I think if he’d lived it would've been about a half or less than what he was getting. Wouldn’t have made it. Me and my sister had nothing we could share.”
“Lucky,” Matt mumbled. “All lucky.”
“I guess it was a golden age,” Henry said.
“A golden age?”
“The lives of our grandparents, parents and ours. We just didn’t realize it. I know I was raised with the belief that things would always get better. Better jobs, better benefits, better medical care, better homes, better education, better future.”
“Just luck,” Matt growled. “You had all the luck. All the advantages.”
“Yeah, maybe. We just didn’t know it. If I had known, man, if I had it to do over again...”
“What would you do different Henry?”
“Me?” Henry laughed. “Probably nothing. I was preoccupied with other things.”
Leonard laughed, “Like getting laid and shooting pool.”
“Some of that. Other things as well. You know, just life. What would you have done, Len, if you knew it was going to all go away or dry up as it has, shriveled?”
“I don’t know. Maybe work more hours when I was young, two or three jobs. Spend less. Go out less. Save. Buy some land and a small house in the mountains, far off, near a state park or game lands. Pay cash. Live cheap. Simple. Free. Independent.”
“Lonely,” said Matt. “What girl would date you? What woman would live with you? No fun.”
“I don’t know,”Leonard said. “I like hunting and fishing. And a woman? Depends on the woman. Someone patient quiet, her mind on other things. There are women like that. There are some that like to hunt, fish, or at least walk in the woods and garden. That would help. Fresh vegetables. Maybe a couple chickens, you know, for eggs.”
“A bucolic vision of rural poverty,” Henry chuckled. “God bless you. You would have made a great hillbilly. Your vegetable patch, shotgun and still.”
“I don’t think it would have been as bad as you think. But, I guess it’s too late for that kind of life.”
“Not for Matty boy. He can save for an acre and a shed.”
“Oh. Come on,” said Leonard. “He can do better. A mobile home.”
“Slightly used,” added Henry.
“You hear that Matt? The future’s not so bleak. You can pull it off. Let us know when you get the still working.”
Henry and Lenny grinned.
“Just a suggestion.”
“Keep it to yourself.”
They shot pool, drank, talked about sports, women, nothing serious. Eventuality it was time for Tyler and old man Heintz to clean up. The friends had to go home. Each promised to get together again soon at the bar or elsewhere. But it was hard to make promises when you’re not sure of the day to day.
Leonard started his car. It was over twenty years old. It was getting harder and harder to keep it running. Soon he’d have to trade it in for another clunker. He thought about his job and life in general.
“There has to be something better than all this,” he thought. He remembered the conversation about a mobile home in the mountains. Was it really too late? Could he get by with his gun and fishing line? A garden? Living simple and out of the way? Probably not. Not on his own. There would be taxes. Legal requirements. Medical needs. Would his woman want that anyway? No. Probably not.
“Doesn’t matter,” he thought. It would be too hard for a couple or an individual unless they were trained survivalists, and that could get a little nuts. A cult maybe. A commune. A group could pull it off.
Leonard sighed. He had never been good at being part of a group, not since the high school football team when he befriended the bench. The road was leading him home. It was what it was. They would get by, him and his Ellen. They were alive. Life would not be television or the movies. It never really was. Life would be just – life. That was all it could be. He might as well get used to it.