It’s Fat Tuesday and I have to work tonight. Tuesday night is usually a slow night. I wonder if it will be crowded. It’s winter and people don’t really need the excuse to go out and drink. It’s busier now than it was when I started at the end of the summer, when the daylight was still long and the guys with trucks were pulling long shifts hauling grain, or corn or beets further east. Now those guys are around nights, and as we’ve gone through January and now into February it seems like they’re drinking more liquor, or Jaeger. Some of the older guys still drink schnapps. Some guys seem like they’re in more of a haze when they leave. Sometimes I even have to refuse guys. I say, “You driving?” And if they say yes then I say, “
I knew a couple of guys in college who went down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. It was always the middle of basketball season so I couldn’t go. They talked it up at first and everyone was pretty jealous. We were all thinking about the bright lights, the crowds, pretty girls running around everywhere. Nobody minded much if you were underage and you were walking around Bourbon Street carrying a drink around the French Quarter. It was all chaos. They talked about girls walking around and if you gave them beads they would lift up their shirts and show you their tits. The group of guys I was with, that they were telling this to, were all swooning, thinking of that. Typical stupid college guy stuff. But it did sound kind of wild. I thought, Well, if I quit the team next year, like I’m thinking about, maybe I’ll go. I asked Kate once if she’d want to go and she said, “Well, it might be fun to go some day.” But then when I told her some of the stuff the guys had said she was frankly kind of disgusted, I think. We didn’t talk about it again. It didn’t matter. When I did quit the team my dad was so angry he stopped sending money. And then there was the accident and I didn’t feel like going out and whooping it up somewhere.
I’ve been kind of a loser at parties ever since then. I think I used to be a fun guy, a guy who always got invited to stuff, but then that happened and I have a few beers and I just don’t feel like getting crazy. I suddenly feel down, and like a total idiot, if you want to know. Kate says she doesn’t mind, but I feel bad for being such a bummer.
I guess that’s why I don’t mind working today. Everybody’s going to be getting happy but then round about 10, 11, midnight, they’re going to realize that whatever they were excited about that they thought was going to happen isn’t going to happen and they’ll go to bed alone, most of them. They’ll be thinking about someone they’re missing and wishing the night was different. All those guys who went down to New Orleans to party with the pretty girls are going to be staggering around alone, their beads gone, the girls gone, just wandering around and falling asleep in the alley or in their car. The guys I knew who went, they said they passed out in a graveyard. And then you have to wake up the next day. When you wake up and you’re hung over, you can come over to the cafe and I’ll whip you up some eggs for breakfast.
Leah wants to know why it’s called Fat Tuesday. I make up an answer, “It’s the last day to get fat before Lent.” She doesn’t believe me. She doesn’t believe anything I tell her these days. I can see this is how it’s going to go, now that she’s a teenager. I say, “Ask your father. Don’t they make waffles? He always said we had to make waffles, or pancakes, I can’t remember, for Fat Tuesday.” He was always going to make them “this year,” and then he never did. Sort of how things went with him — lots of charming ideas that would get you excited and make you look forward to the day and then he’d forget and be gone from the house and come late and wonder why anybody was disappointed with him. I say, “Ask your father, it’s a Christian holiday. He’s supposed to fill you in on that.” And I immediately regret that because then it means she’ll call him and then she’ll want to go over there for the night to have waffles or whatever they do and she’ll want to spend the night and it’s not his night to have her over. But I’ll have her all excited about it and then it will be a case of mean mom who won’t let her see her father and celebrate Fat Tuesday. And when he realizes that I don’t want to go over there to spend the night, he’ll get more interested in it and push me to let her do it, even though he has no right, that he still hasn’t paid me a cent of the child support he agreed to pay so we wouldn’t go to a trial hearing and he hasn’t lived up to a whole other list of things that were in the agreement. He’s got no right to get pushy about it, but when he sees me resisting, that’s when he gets more interested having her over. It’s his own daughter, his own blood, but he seems like he only gets really interested in living up to our agreement, to what’s supposed to be happening, when he’s pissing me off.
Either it will be that, she’ll go over there, or he’ll agree to have her and then just never show up, like he did last weekend. And I’ll get to sit with her while she keeps going over to look out the front window and tries to pretend that she doesn’t want to cry and while she sort of wants me to hold her because she hurts but if I say anything or if I even reach out for her, she’ll stomp off down the hall and slam the door and yell things like “Don’t talk to me!” or “I hate this house!” As if it had anything to do with me or my house. But it will be my fault, just because I said, “Go ask your father.”
But I don’t think he’ll ditch her again. I don’t know what was going on with him but this time I didn’t make excuses for him. My therapist said I shouldn’t and I didn’t. I think she gave him real hell when he called her Sunday night to say he was sorry. I can always tell when he’s sorry because he’s extra nasty when we have to talk on the phone.
So she’ll probably go over there and then I’ll be sitting here, alone, which isn’t a big deal — that’s like so many weekends, when she’s with him. But it’s Mardi Gras and so you think you should be doing something, being with people. I hate holidays here now. They just remind me how far away I am from everyone and everything. Literally everything. It’s a nice place in its way but I really am out in the middle of nowhere.
I could kick myself that I agreed to fill in tonight for the woman who covers city council. I should have asked her why she needed the night off. And wouldn’t you know it that the woman in advertising who’s been mostly ignoring me or at least acting uninterested suddenly says, “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” She’s going out with some friends and wondered if I might want to come. Knowing this place, by the time I’ve filed my story for the night, everyone will be home in bed and everything will be closed. And tomorrow she’ll go back to being indifferent. I guess if you’re just out of college it’s not OK to be home alone on Mardi Gras.
It will probably be a bust anyway. It will start to snow — I think they said it might snow — and if I did try to meet up with her late, I’ll be driving around town, looking at the cars in a bar parking lot, looking for her car, trying to figure out if I’ve found the right place, and they’ll have decided to go somewhere different and I’ll never find them, just driving around, looking for her car.