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."
"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?"
"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."
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."