"I read the news today, oh boy. The U.S. Army had not won the war. Crowds of people unaware. I could not make them care. I could not make them care."
“According to some sources the most beautiful university grounds in the United States belonged to BIT. The Bayou Institute of Technology was located in picturesque downtown Burton Rouge, the last bastion of the old south. Many people thought of the campus when they thought of BIT. Others knew the university only for its beloved football team, the BIT Moccasins. Those people who knew the college for its landscape and athleticism represented the mainstream, but a select number of students, alumni, locals and screw-ups thought of something quite different when they thought of BIT. They thought about Times Street.”
Meyer Reid stopped reading the stack of paper and put it down. He stared incredulously across the table at his friend, the author of the piece. Meyer took a deep breath and attempted to put his feelings into words. Finally he groaned, “Jeffrey, what is this shit?”
“That’s my novel, Meyer,” Jeffrey Simmons explained simply, as if those few words captured the essence of everything that lay on the table before Mr. Reid.
“That’s not what I mean, Jeff. I mean what the hell are you talking about? There’s no such thing as Burton Rouge or BIT or Times Street. Were you talking about Chimes Street? Were you trying to hide Baton Rouge behind a veil of bullshit?”
“You understood. I was worried it would be too cryptic,” Jeff sighed with relief.
“Are you listening to me? This is not good. This is not a good idea.”
“What do you mean, Meyer? You’ve only read the first paragraph.”
“That’s because I’m not a masochist, Jeff.”
“Wow. I never expected you to get personal, Meyer. You’ve got a lot of pent up hostility, don’t you? I mean, where else could this be coming from? I can see I made a mistake bringing you my work. Let me just collect my things and I’ll go,” Jeff said as he reached across the table for the stack of paper.
Meyer stopped him before he could pick it up. “You can’t leave. You said you would buy me lunch.”
“Oh, I see how it’s going to be. First you tear my heart out and then you go after my wallet,” Jeffrey complained, his consternation increasing by the second. He didn’t handle criticism well.
“Stop it, Jeff. How long have we known each other?” Meyer asked sweetly.
“I don’t know. Give me back my novel.”
“Look at me, Jeff. How long have we known each other?”
“Have I ever done anything to hurt you? Have I ever betrayed you? Have I ever done a single thing to make you think that I am anything less than a fantastic friend?”
“No,” Jeffrey Simmons admitted reluctantly. Meyer Reid was his best friend, and he would never have denied that. When it came to discussions of his writing, however, Jeff became childlike at times.
“That’s right. I never have. And I’m telling you that you shouldn’t make up names for real places, especially when everyone will know the names are fictional. All you’ve done is needlessly complicate the storyline.”
“That’s just your opinion, Meyer,” Jeff spat out hotly.
“Think about it, man. That’s all I’m asking. Bayou Institute of Technology?” Meyer started laughing. “BIT? How many times did you spell bit in this new novel, Jeff?”
Before Jeff could answer Meyer lost all control. He kept trying to stop laughing, but the mirth would burst forth with renewed vigor. Mr. Reid attempted to end the fit by covering his mouth, but the giggles just spilled out around the edges. The hilarity proved to be infectious, and before long Jeff was laughing right along with him. People at other tables turned to stare at the two as if they were a pair of unruly children, which is essentially what they were, with a couple of decades tacked on for good measure.
Meyer picked up the stack of paper and began reading again, “Burton Rouge provided a home to the leaders of the Confederate Army in the last days of the Civil War, but the shattering of the Confederacy somehow cursed Burton Rouge to the role of a college town for all time.”
“Okay, man, that’s enough. I get it. It stinks.”
“No, wait, there’s more. It looks like a couple hundred pages more. How much time did you spend on this, Jeff?"
“I wrote it last week.”
Meyer stopped smiling and looked at his friend with appreciation. He asked, “You wrote this whole thing in a week?”
“Well, nine days to be more precise.”
“That’s amazing. Now, first of all, I didn’t mean to imply that all of your writing stinks. I’m sure the plot, style and characterization all contain redemptive qualities that make this novel something worth saving. I just became slightly nauseous when I read your opening paragraph. It was so obvious to me that you came up with tacky, imaginary names for all of the places in your life. I mean, do you think there’s something wrong with Baton Rouge? Are you ashamed of LSU? Are you scared people will identify you with Chimes Street?”
“The answer to all of those questions would be an emphatic no, Meyer. I changed the names of all the places to remove any factual limitations that might be associated with said locations. In Burton Rouge the university is downtown, because it was easier for me to place it there. Nobody knows that’s not true, because there is no Burton Rouge. If I had said LSU was in downtown Baton Rouge, then everybody who’s ever been to Baton Rouge would know it wasn’t true.”
“But that’s why it’s called fiction, Jeff.”
“That was exactly what I was thinking when I got mad a minute ago. What difference does it make if I rename everything? It is merely fiction, after all.”
“You may have a point there, buddy boy,” Meyer said with a grin.
“I don’t think any jury, anywhere would convict me if I killed you right now,” Jeff laughed lightheartedly.
“I can’t believe you didn’t realize I was messing with you. Nobody cares what you call this toilet we grew up in. A toilet by any other name still smells like shit. Have you ever noticed how bad this city smells? Does Burton Rouge smell bad?”
“No, Burton Rouge smells like roses and fucking potpourri,” Jeff said with a slight edge to his voice.
“Easy now, big fella. Watch the language. Besides, I thought you were all calmed down.”
“Oh, I am calm, and my irritation has little to do with the subject matter at hand. It’s Josephine. She dumped me again,” Jeff explained.
“Did twenty-eight days go by that fast?” Meyer quipped with a snicker.
“That’s very funny. You are such a funny guy. Did I mention that you are very much on your game today?” Meyer just smiled until Jeff continued, “No, the lunar cycle isn’t until next week. She told me that she needed somebody with more direction in his life. She told me my writing is never going to go anywhere, and she’s tired of worrying about the future.”
“I warned you about dating Josephine. You could never match up to Napoleon,” Meyer paused as he noticed the murderous look return to Jeff’s face, but then he plunged onward. “Forget about her, man. She was bad for you. Besides, you haven’t even gotten rid of her yet. She knows you’ll always have sex with her, so you can expect to see her again when she wants to get some.”
“What if she’s getting some from someone else?”
“That won’t matter, and she probably, no definitely is. If you have to think about it, they are. If that’s the case, then you’ll be her guilty little pleasure. She’ll still show up to have sex with you again, only she’ll be doing it because of how wrong and dirty it is. Chicks love that shit, Jeff.”
“You think so? So I can expect to have sex with her at least one more time. Well, that makes me feel better at least.”
“I’m not telling you to turn down the sex when the time comes, but you might consider finding something else to live for. Have you thought about looking for another girlfriend?”
“Look who’s talking. You and Miranda have been breaking up and getting back together for like five years. So, Meyer, are you two together or separated this week?”
“Like you said, the lunar cycle doesn’t come until next week, so I think we’re still together right now.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you are shallow, chauvinistic, insensitive and male?”
“My God! Are you a gay psychic? That’s exactly what Miranda said to me the last time she dumped me. How did you know that, Jeff?”
“It’s a gift from god. Sometimes it’s a blessing, but at other times it’s a terrible curse. People are frightened of what they do not understand, and that’s what I have to live with. Just be glad that it’s not you who can read minds and see into the future. It’s no bed of roses, my friend.”
“Two points for the Jeffster. I knew you had it in you. So what’s this book about?”
“Two assholes who spend all of their time talking about stupid shit in a coffee shop on Chimes Street, uh, I mean Times Street.”
“I knew you would eventually confuse yourself. I warned you about changing place names.”
“That you did, Meyer Reid, or should I call you Mire Reed?”
“I suppose I deserve this abuse, but I still have to wonder if what I did to you was as horrible as what you are doing to me.”
“I haven’t really started in on you yet. So, Meyer, how’s the painting coming?”
“You unbelievable prick. I trusted you. I considered you my friend.”
“Dead in the water?”
“Pulled from the water, but as yet not resuscitated,” Meyer confessed.
“Worse. I thought I might have a sale on one of my larger paintings, but the buyer turned out to be a fag. He pretended to scope out my painting, but he was actually checking out my other goods.”
“Ah, the perils of the art world. Did you do it with him?” Jeff asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Do you have something else to do right now, because you’re obviously trying to get rid of me, forever. My response is: Do what with him? Anyway, the fag didn’t buy the painting, just like the last seven or eight fags --
"You sure throw that word around a lot. You know gay people don't like that." Meyer didn't miss a beat.
"-- who didn’t buy any of my paintings. I kind of decided to quit producing more paintings until I can clear some of the overstock so attractively donning the walls of my studio even as we speak.”
“What does that mean? Are you out of canvases or are you out of paint?”
Meyer sighed before admitting, “Both. And I’m out of money. My tips at the restaurant sucked this week. I must be getting too old to be a waiter.”
“You’re twenty-nine years old, man. You’re in the prime of your life,” said Jeff with the most serious of expressions on his face. “It’s the perfect age to be a waiter. All of the best male waiters are twenty-nine. Seriously, Meyer, why don’t you get out of the restaurant business and get a real job?”
“Did Miranda give you cue cards? Is this some sort of sick joke? You sound exactly like her.”
“Then our girlfriends –“
“Ex-girlfriend in your case.”
“—Sound exactly like each other.”
“Maybe they’re one person with two bodies. Two women separated at birth, but joined at the mind by a freak nuclear waste accident, destined to go through life destroying the egos of men they have sex with,” Meyer rattled off in his best impression of a movie preview announcer.
“There’s a more frightening edge to that line of reasoning,” Jeff pointed out uneasily. “Our girlfriends say the same things to us not because they are the same person, but because we are. In fact, you are just a figment of my tormented, schizophrenic mind. I bet in a couple of days I’m going to wake up wondering where the hell you went. And there will be a dozen guys sleeping in my living room, all telling me about the rules of fight club.”
“There could be a third, more simple explanation. Our girlfriends are right. They keep dumping us because we are barely worth a fuck, in the literal sense, and we need to get our shit together.” Meyer sighed after he stated the fact.
“Speak for yourself. I don’t feel I need to get anything together. Sure, I’m working in a dead end job that doesn’t pay very well, but that isn’t my fault. It’s not like this city is bursting with high paying lifelong careers. I’m doing what I have to do to get by, until such time as I don’t have to worry about doing that anymore. If that’s not up to her standards, or your standards, then that’s your problem.
“The novel I wrote last week may not be the best novel ever written, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wrote it. I plan to write another one, and if that one isn’t good enough then another one after that. And I’m not going to stop until I make it work, or until I’m dead. Really, either way is fine with me. There are worse things than being dead,” Jeff finished and drew in a deep breath.
“What’s worse than being dead, Jeff?”
“You know, I think you’re right about that. I don’t think either one of us was in a good mood to start with, and this isn’t helping. Let’s put up our coffee cups and take a walk,” Meyer suggested.
“I’ll pay for your coffee. You can say what you want about my job at the bookstore, but at least I always have a little spending money,” Jeff put in, still slightly defensive.
“You know we think alike when it comes to the financial situation of struggling artists, so you can’t think I was putting down on where you work. Besides, that job treats you like royalty compared to my job at the restaurant,” Meyer offered in a conciliatory tone.
The two guys carried their coffee cups up to the front counter of the café and gave them to the girl behind the counter. It wasn’t something customers had to do, or were even encouraged to do, but it was a nice gesture. It decreased the work volume of the café employees, thereby making the lives of the workers slightly less miserable. Only working class people did such things at the café. Nobody else ever considered it.