Art wore a black hat, which really worked for him since he had so many scars where they’d cut the cancer from his face—he looked like a rough customer, evil even. But he was a nice guy and never got in fights as far as I knew. And even though he had a potbelly he was strong as shit. I’d seen him pick up heavy loads at work. He’d be on one end when it took two guys to carry the other end.
Art kept ordering glasses of vodka on the rocks. He drank them in about two minutes apiece. When he finished with a glass he’d slam it on the bar and yell “parched.” His voice carried over all the noise and the barkeep would get him another within a few minutes. I drank mugs of draft beer but way slower than Art drank the shots.
Art grabbed my collar and pulled me back from the bar. I had no idea what was happening until another guy, even taller than Art, stood up next to Art where I’d been . I looked up at him. He had a couple of shots and began talking to Art. I gathered they knew each other but not well. When the new guy went to the john Art told me people called him Big Jim.
Big Jim and Art talked about women, drinking, and their jobs. It sounded as though Jim had just been laid off. Then it got personal. Art told us he was thirty-six—that he’d had a hard life and that he had a German background. Jim said he was thirty-three, that he was German, too, and also had had a hard life. He said he had a bad heart.
I told them I was twenty-two. Big Jim looked down at me for the first time. “You’re twenty-two and you’re living like this?”
“What do you mean?”