The new soda machine has extra large buttons. Lodi thinks it looks like the interface a trained chimp would use to fly a rocket ship. “Big buttons. Hit the red one, rocket goes up. Hit the blue one, rocket comes down. Hit the green one, hatch opens up, and space chimp gets a banana. Gets a parade around New York. Gets to meet the president. Gets to retire. Simple.”
“Because we’re like trained monkeys is why you say that, right? The people who work here, we’re all like trained monkeys. You’re making the point that, you know, management thinks we’re all trained monkeys and anyone could do our jobs,” says a man, a coworker whom Lodi has been introduced to once or twice and sees every single day, but whose name she, frankly, has completely forgotten. He is smiling and he is nodding slowly at her. “That’s funny. That’s pretty funny.”
She thinks probably he is coming on to her or is going to come on to her if their conversation continues, so she decides not to get into the whole chimp-not-monkey conversation someone should have gotten into with him in grade school or earlier. Lodi waits for Diana to meet her at the soda machine before she goes on. Diana is walking slowly, reading something in a magazine, her head down. She is tall and thin, and her hair reaches down her back almost to her waist in a style Lodi likes to refer to as “Christian-splinter-group-chic.” They are in the break room, which is overwhelmingly beige and too small for the number of people who work at the bank. The male coworker has left, slunk off, perhaps headed to the bathroom. Someone is asleep on an old brown leather couch in the corner, his nose lightly whistling, but otherwise, the tables are empty. The comfortable chairs are empty. The room is mostly empty. Just Lodi, and Diana, who is microwaving something — soup maybe — the whistler, and the man whose name Lodi has forgotten. He is wearing khaki pants and running shoes, a look Lodi despises. By the transitive process, Lodi despises the man. He has glasses, but otherwise his face is indistinct and practically invisible.
“Also, on the old soda machines, you had just the logo of the soda,” she says. She and Diana are finding a seat at the table, and Diana is flipping through the magazine. There is a woman with a huge number of children on the cover of the magazine. She looks pleased with herself. “Or before that, machines just had little placards with the name of the product, but now it’s a picture of the can, and a familiar color scheme. Dark blue is regular cola, light blue is diet.”
“Because it’s less like a real cola?” says Diana, looking up from her magazine. “Some of the blue has been leeched out of it, and now it’s light blue.”
“From words to pictures. It’s like they think we’re devolving,” says Diana. “Our brains are getting simpler.”
“I for one have enough to think about in my day,” says Lodi, “and appreciate that they are allowing me to make my snack choices based on pictograms.”
Diana and Lodi laugh, and return to their stations at the bank. Diana works in the Credit Department. Lodi is a teller.
Lodi took the job a year ago, and has refused to apply for a transfer to positions with more responsibility whenever they have come up. She will leave the bank and return to Chicago—where she lived for three years with her now ex-fiancé Nico, and waited tables in the Greek restaurant his parents owned—any month now, she thinks. Any month now.
An hour passes uneventfully, and Diana sends Lodi a text message, asking if they are going out tonight. Lodi responds: “Of course.” It is Tuesday. Lodi and Diana go out after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays for drinks. Friends—well, coworkers whose tone in conversation and interest in the lives of the girls approximates something that some might call friendship—are puzzled by this schedule.
“Why not on Fridays and Saturdays? Why go out on a work night.”
“Why waste a perfectly good Saturday or Sunday recovering from a hangover?” says Lodi.
“Work is already as uncomfortable as it can be,” says Diana. “Being hungover can’t possibly make it any worse.”
This tends to make so much sense to their coworkers that the coworkers think maybe they will tag along. Lodi and Diana very quietly discourage this, and eventually, said coworkers tell them they have something else they need to do that night. Something they forgot about. “But next time?” they say. “Definitely. Definitely.” And it never comes up again.
Lodi and Diana text message one another for the dwindling hours of work. Lacking opportunities to showcase their abilities as customer service representatives, they focus their attention on the vibrating and buzzing device of plastic and aluminum in the palms of their hands. Lodi has a tiny pair of earphones, and surreptitiously slips them in under her long brown hair, the cord trailing in through the sleeves of the long white and pintucked blue shirt which she wears on Tuesdays. She can get away with listening to music on her phone if she stays ever so slightly on guard, as her coworkers and employers are ever so genuinely disinterested in the day to day operations of the business at levels below or parallel to their own.
“Hi, sir. My name’s Laura. How can I help you,” Lodi says. Lodi hears herself say Laura, because in fact she is Laura, but as the name spins in her mind, she changes it back to Lodi. She knows what the old man wants. He has a jar of change in his hands.
“Hello, dear,” says the old man, who has a fringe of white hair over his ears, and patches of dry skin under his eyes. “Can you change this into folding money for me?”
“Of course,” she says, reaching over the counter for the jar. She walks the jar in back to the coin counter, uncorks it, and turns the contents into the metal funnel. When a manager approaches her, she yanks hard on the phone in her hand, and pulls the earphones from her ears and in through the collar of her shirt. Her ear is sore from repeated yanks at her earphones. She crinkles her nose a little. She wonders how long it will take to get used to this—to maybe grow some sort of callus.
“Almost time to go home, eh Laura?” he says.
“Sure is,” says Lodi.
“Sure is,” he says. And he stands in front of her for a moment, his mouth slightly open, his eyes unfocused, his fingers scratching a manila folder.
“Only Tuesday, though,” Lodi says.
“Yes. Tuesday. That’s right!” says the manager. He laughs.
“That can only mean one thing,” says Lodi. The manager’s eyebrows go up a little, and he leans in to Lodi. “Tomorrow is Wednesday,” she says.
“Well, I guess I can’t argue with that,” he says.
Lodi’s coins have been counted, and she checks the total, and writes it on a slip of white paper with a short pencil. There is a box of short pencils on the machine. There are boxes of short pencils everywhere in the bank.
It’s eleven dollars and thirty-eight cents. Lodi walks back to the counter and counts out the money for the old man.
“Thanks, dear,” he says.
“You’re very welcome,” she says.
“Are you new here?” says the old man. “I come here every other week or so, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.”
“No, I’ve been here,” she says. “I’ve waited on you, I think.”
“Oh,” says the old man. “I’m sorry. Well, I’ll remember you next time.”
“Thanks,” she says. “I’m sure you will. And I’ll remember you, too.”
“I will, though,” says the old man. “I noticed as you walked away that you have a really nice butt. A little thicker. That’s how I like them.”
Lodi’s phone vibrates, and she looks at it to see a message from Diana. “$13?” it says.
For some reason, they go to the bar called Bleachers again. Not Doc’s or Schooners or The Main Street Tap. It seems like the only age-appropriate bar in town, even if the crowd only serves to annoy Lodi in that everyone there seems to be someone she knows from high school.
In Chicago, her ex- Nicky is probably out, probably with a Greek girl, like his mother always wanted him to date instead of Lodi. Nicky’s new girl has family in town, and he is polite to a fault to the girl’s mother and to her father, flirty—but not overbearing and creepy—with her teenage sister. She maybe has a baby by another man—a little boy. One or two years of age, possibly. Nicky is patient with the child, but has gotten to the point where he feels comfortable punishing him if he talks back to his mother, or disobeys her.
Diana goes to the bathroom. “Off to drain the lizard,” she says. Lodi, eyes soft and red, laughs and turns in to her elbows, hunkers down, and watches the light flash and strobe on the ice in her glass.
The bartender went to high school with Lodi. “Go Gladstone Braves,” she says every time he wipes up the condensation and spills on the bar in front of her. He smiles a friendly smile every time. He was a JV running back. He says he’s now going to Bay de Noc Community College and getting an associate’s degree in something, but Lodi doesn’t hear what. He remembers Lodi’s family and asks after them: How’s your mother? How’s your father? How’s your brother? Still in Iraq?
Everyone is fine, and everyone’s in touch. “Mike called from Qatar,” she says. “They gave him a pass, and sent him to this big building that looks like a warehouse outside. Inside it looks like a Vegas nightclub. They only allow him three drinks a night and never any liquor. He’s drinking wine now because it’s stronger. ”
“Have one for him, then?” says the bartender
“Yes,” Lodi says. Diana has returned and is sitting next to her again. “I’d like the strongest shot you’ve got.”
“The strongest shot you’ve got,” echoes Diana.
“The strongest shot you’ve got,” says Lodi. And then both of them are saying it together, and their four fists are pounding on the bar. “The strongest shot you’ve got. The strongest shot you’ve got.”
The bartender pulls a bottle from the top shelf and fills two shot glasses. “On the house,” he says. “One hundred proof. I’m not supposed to serve it without a mixer, but just this once. For your brother. On the house.”
“Go Braves,” Lodi says.
Lodi tells Diana that in Chicago they are wearing sack dresses, and they are wearing thin, braided leather headbands. They are wearing hot pink, and they are wearing the brims of their baseball caps flat and turned up again. They are wearing paper denim, and they have jeans that flatten their asses out entirely. And they are staying out all night and they are doing cocaine again.
“What a magical time it must be,” says Diana.
“If you only knew,” says Lodi.
Diana reaches into her purse and pulls out cigarettes. She shakes two free, and they wait for the man behind the bar to notice. They wait for him to offer to light their cigarettes for them. When this does not happen quite quickly enough, Diana says: “Richard, do you see what the two lovely young ladies at the bar are holding?”
The bartender says: “I do. I do see what the two lovely young ladies at the bar are holding.” He comes over with a pack of matches, bends one out of the booklet without breaking it off, flicks it against the coarse band with his thumb, and holds the pack out. Diana and Lodi lean in and light their cigarettes at the same time. When they lean back, the bartender holds the pack up, and snaps his fingers next to it, one finger flicking the cardboard extinguishing the flame in the jerk. He drops it next to them on the counter, and moves down to talk with a man about his age, a man drinking beer and wearing a Packers jacket.
“That was,” says Diana.
“Quite impressive,” says Lodi.
“Quite impressive,” says Diana.
“And masculine,” says Lodi. “Let’s not forget masculine.”
“Extremely masculine,” says Diana.
“I might be a little moist,” says Lodi.
“In her private area,” says Diana.
“My super-private girl area,” says Lodi
Diana turns her chair to Lodi, and turns Lodi’s chair to her. She grabs Lodi by the shoulders and looks at her. Lodi looks back. “But, mostly, let’s,” she says, “not forget masculine, shall we?”
Lodi says, “No, no. Never. We’ll never forget that.” She turns back to the bar, and, with the back of her hand, knocks her drink over. The shot spills, runs the length of the empty bar to the end, and trickles over the side.
“Let’s not,” says Lodi, picking up the pack of matches. “Let’s not ever.” Lodi strikes a match. She uses it to light all the remaining matches.
Lodi holds the pack over the pooling alcohol.
Lodi’s brother is on his second tour. People seem to be shooting at him less and less these days. This is not really as comforting as he thought it might be when he was praying that people would shoot at him less. He has learned to say hello, and he has learned to say thank you, and he has learned to say stop in Arabic. He spends a lot of time in armored vehicles that could do with more armoring. He has gotten over his motion sickness. When he is at work, his feet hurt.
He talks to Lodi whenever he can, which is not often. He talks to his parents, too, but he seems to prefer talking to Lodi. “Lodi,” he says, “I miss you.”
“You’re the only one who calls me that,” she says. “Why do you call me that?”
There are a couple dozen other questions she has but she refuses to ask them.
“Do you miss Nico?” he says.
“Not in the least,” she says. “Not even a little.”
He tells her that he was out on patrol one day and saw a little boy who had collected shell casings. The little boy held them in his palms and was looking at them. Lodi’s brother knelt in front of the boy and looked, too.
He made a gesture, like, may I? and the little boy made a gesture of agreement. He took the shell casings from the boy and set them up against the wall in a triangle, like a bowling alley, and he looked around for a small, round rock. When he found one, he walked a few paces from the wall and dug a line in the dirt with his boot. Then he did a little underhand toss that rolled the rock at the shell casings. A few fell over but not all of them. He walked back and set up the casings again, walked back to the line, and motioned for the boy to come over to him. Then he taught the boy to bowl. “I guess he was eight or nine. Hell, I don’t know, though. Maybe 12. I can never tell.”
Lodi drops the flaming pack into the spill, and watches a blue flame appear, and cross the bar, and titter and stumble and wither and wave. Diana has turned away to look out the window. Her back is aflutter with light.
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