Monday, May 17, 2010

"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it."

So Sunday afternoon me, Slinger and CrazyLiz are at a bar for the Blackhawk's game.

More accurately, Slinger is there for hockey, I am there for chili and beer, and CrazyLiz is there for moral support.

In walks a gentlemen with heavy wool pants, a shmancy-frocky-lookin' men's dress shirt, fucking riding boots and these bad ass double-leather goldenrod suspenders. He looks amazing. I mean, he's not amazing-looking, but you know. Double-leather suspenders.

"How's the battlefield today, Terry?" calls a patron.

"Union won," Terry grunts as he seats himself at the bar.

"Bastards always do."

"Only on Sundays." Terry and the guy to his left keep on talking slightly hushed, but happily, and then the bartender delivers my potato skins so I temporarily forget about yellow suspenders because there's bacon in front of me.

"So where can I get a pair of suspenders like that?" Slinger asks him after we all exchange little zingers during a commercial break or something.

"You gotta fight for the Union." Terry doesn't look up and gulps his pint.

"And how do you get to do that?"

"Well, I got myself kidnapped as a Rebel and was forced to fight for the North."

"I woulda just been a double agent," Slinger giggles.

"They thought I was, sir," Terry continued. "After I was caught and taken across enemy lines, all I could hear was the click click click of cocked pistols and rifles aiming for me. It took 'em awhile to figure it out, that I wasn't a spy that allowed myself caught, and then they just...made me fight for the Yankees."

"How'd the Rebels feel about that?" I asked him.

"Well, they couldn't do much about it could they? Those Yanks are lucky I had a Union uniform as well." He chuckles to himself.

I glance at him. "So you have to bring your own uniforms?"

He still hasn't looked my direction, but he gives his beer a secret smile. "Well, when you've been doin' it as long as me you sort of invest in your own goods. Uniforms, pistols, horses."

"How long's it been?"

"Let's see, 'bout, ahhh," he licks his lips and squints while he counts in his head, "Bout fourteen, fifteen years."

"Hot damn."

"Yep, fifteen years. I've been in more battles than the soldiers in The War itself." He laughs. He finds himself brilliant. It's kind of mesmerizing. "Course, I'm dodging blunt objects and dry fire, with no worry for real bullets!" He roars again, having reckoned the secrets of survival.

"So you always get to wear them snazzy suspenders?" I tend to regress with my language, depending on the audience.

"Just today. That's what the yellow's for," he thumbs the yellow straps. "designates Union Cavalry. Actually it's mounted infantry when I fight for the South and then they're white, but--" he raises a finger "--Union's cavalry because they have the pistols as well as sabres, and Union's yellow."

"So you're on horseback?"

"Yes ma'am."

"That is awesome."

"I do enjoy it."

"So you got a horse for that?"

"Well, me and three of my buddies, we got him over at a Chicago police auction. We got lucky. 21-years old, doesn't shy at the gunfire." He takes a sip, and then corrects himself with a grin, "Well, fake gunfire."

"What's his name?"

Terry finally meets my eyes. "Sunshine."

I smile. "Nice." I slide my beer over to the rail. Neighbor's is the kind of establishment run on the etiquette of regulars. "So do you have a preference? As to sides?"

He smiles again. "Everyone wants to fight for the Rebels."

"Seriously? Come on. No one wants to represent the free states?"

"Now, we really just call them Yankees. Keeps things...well, we just call them Yankees."

"Damn Yankees."

"Damn Yankees."

I reach for the fresh beer in front of me and thank the bartender, whose name I don't know.

Terry starts up again. "Yeah, but I always fight for the Confederacy. You know, General Lee said he'd never fight against the Union unless it was in defense of Virginia herself." (All I want to do, by the way, is muscle into the conversation with stupid shit like, Robert E. Lee named his horse Traveller and Grant's horse was Jeff Davis and Traveller's original name was Jeff Davis but they were totally different horses and Jefferson Davis's horse was Blackjack but I'm not an asshole. Sometimes.) "It's more...almost important, representing the underdog. Not necessarily historically, almost emotion related. You try harder, even though we all know it's a reenactment...but it's always as if this time...this time we might win."

"But the Union always wins."

"On Sundays. Saturdays go to the Confederates."

I laugh. "So it's a weekend gig? How many battles you fight a year?"

"About, uh, twelve or so."

"How far do you have to travel for that?"

"Most're around here. But the Nationals last year were in Shiloh. That's in Tennessee."

"So not that far."

"Not that far."

I nod. "Is there anyone in your life liable to protest these getaways?"

"Not me. But I've been in it for so long...this is my family. My daughter, she's involved as well. She's got a whalebone hoopskirt. But I asked one of my buddies, I asked him--because he goes near forty these a year--he's a field officer for the Confederali --So how's it that Michelle let's you out on all these battles? and he says, Well, it's because I have no vices. I don't use tobacco, I don't drink alcohol, and I don't chase women and I don't play cards, so she let's me have this one thing."

"There you go."

"Ah, but then he says, he says ahhh, he says, But what goes after hours at cantonment she'll never know. And swear to god, that battle's over and there he is, smoking a cigar with a lady on his lap, dealing cards to a table of Yankees and swigging Jack right from the bottle."

"What a fucker," I smirk and take a sip of beer.

"Ma'am," he grins after a minute, all slick, "It occurs to me that you'd look mighty fine in a hoop skirt, if you'd be a willing participant."

I scoff and look down at my pajamas. Damn covered in grass stains and mulch smears from doing yard work with my dad. You know how every time you visit your parents they trick you into manual labor? I'm pretty sure I smell.

"That's very kind of you," I tilt my beer in thanks, "but if I can't be cavalry, I don't wanna play."

"You got a horse?"

"Nah, but there's gotta be one for me wandering around out there somewhere."

...

15 comments:

Chamuca said...

Fucking awesome.

Also, I regress my language depending on audience, too. Mainly because I don't want to appear pretentious. Or because people don't like it when the can't understand their waitress using big words like "entree".

Unfortunately, my hick-ass hometown lingo sometimes comes far too naturally to me. Especially when I've been drinking.

daisyfae said...

down south, it's still called 'the war of northern aggression' by some... i like that he switches sides. not a euphemism. oh, and that he and his friends bought a horse.

Chris said...

Did he offer to show you his musket? I bet you would make a good cavalry re-enactor.

My father always had some job or another for me when I went to see him. I think it's the only way he knew to actively spend time with me.

Sack Posset said...

When I was young, a Roundhead lived in our valley. He was always a Roundhead, but there were no Cavaliers. He killed himself in the end.

Kono said...

I think this man needs a copy of the Drive-By Truckers album Southern Rock Opera.

Jacob said...

Holy crap. I always assumed my county was just overly familiar with a certain alternative president when they chose a name for it. Turns out that it was just named after a horse. That makes it better.

The photographer who comes to our school is one of those guys. Long white hair, big droopy gray mustache and that's when he's working the day job. I thought I wanted to do that too when I was a kid.

And it's weird, I actually fully admit that despite the fact it wasn't the only issue, slavery was the biggest issue (money and land are the only real reasons people start wars and slavery was all about money), so I don't share that strange romance with the Confederacy that is so common in the rural South where I live, even by people who aren't racist hicks. Despite that, I do think of Northerners as others. I've dropped the damn, but they're still Yankees. I'd actually be a little uncomfortable if I went overseas and the locals called me a Yankee. "Yanqui go home!" they'd say. I'd not realize they were shouting at me and I'd turn around looking for someone who uses excessive amounts of the e glide on their long i's. When I realized they were talking at me, I'd feel insulted, not because they wanted me to go home, but because they called me something I'm not. I assume it's the same way a Quebecois feels when he's lumped in with the English Canadians or when a stupid redneck says "They're all the same" when the Guatemalan kid tells him he's not a fucking Mexican.

Jacob said...

And it's entirely true that the only legitimate contributions to the arts were spawned in the south, even if they were better commercialized up north. Every American strain of music traces its roots to jazz, blues, and bluegrass-type redneck music. Despite the fact we tend to be poorly educated, we're disproportionately represented in the American literary halls of fame.

And we have the only truly American cuisine that doesn't suck, well, besides ethnic cuisines. All the good stuff up North came in with immigrants.

I'm not even sure why I'm going off on this rant. Maybe it's because those guys always want to fight for the confederacy because they fought outside of their weight class. They were out-manned, way out-supplied, but they were actually winning to start with entirely from the fact that when you go out into the backwoods around here, a lot of those fuckers are actually kind of crazy. The Confederacy was Rocky Balboa, if Rocky were fighting for his right to make a living off of a racist institution that put money in his pocket off the backs of those who were forced to work for him and if he were eventually defeated in the ring by the much larger and more powerful boxer who then took Adriane from him and forced Rocky to sign up with his manager.

Meagan said...

Do THIS is what happens when you actually talk to random strangers. I can never bring myself to conversation beyond "cool tattoo."

hereinfranklin said...

If you like re-enactors, c'mon down. Franklin's lousy with them. Mostly they smell like campfires.

Ellie said...

One of my customers does that, but he's more into the medieval genre. He 'met his wife on the battlefield'. It's hard for me to take him seriously now that he has befriended me on FB where I get to see the fotos of him in hand-crafted battle gear from the 12th C.

Red said...

I was once in a production of _Our American Cousin_, which is the play President Lincoln was watching when he was shot. This was my only brush with Civil War reenactors. They seem to me like one of those groups that's so out there that even if you're a little off, you look normal next to them. So I ended up going to a thing in a hoopskirt one Saturday (let the record show that I got paid for this). During my downtime, I sought out the boys in blue to flirt with. No Confederates for _this_ girl! I'm a damn Yankee and proud of it.

renalfailure said...

I'm a proud fast-talking Yankee bastard too. "Oh yeah, Rebels, you were talking all that good shit at Fort Sumter, then you forgot you didn't have an industrial base to back your ass up! Now we're burning the fuck out of Atlanta, bitches! SKEET SKEET SKEET!"

Also, Rassles, I want to see a Blackhawks/Flyers Stanley Cup Final, then we can make some sort of bet on our home teams.

JMH said...

There's nothing like Sunday afternoon in a bar to get the creative juices flowing. Strange characters appear after church and/or battle.

Of course, then there's the Monday after. Oh god, the Monday After, when everything's run dry.

mynamesnotbarbara said...

Jacob,
Pretty sure all the "good stuff" in the south came from Canadian immigrants and Africans who were immigrants by force. And yep, I'm a yankee.

Blues said...

The language thing - well, you gotta get to the level of who you're speaking with.

This sentence: 'I scoff and look down at my pajamas'. Just make me laugh my ass off and want to move back to the states, you don't know how bad.