Friday, February 18, 2005

Searching for Independence

The first tale of Bugs that I want to share (well, the first tale since I decided to focus on stories of Bugs) is of one hot summer day and one cool summer night in July 2000. By this time, I was fully integrated into the inner circles of the Bugs’ regulars and it was the one day of the year when the establishment shut its doors. It was July 4th, Independence Day. The story is a break-up story, but it’s not mine. It is something I witnessed during my days as a regular.

Michelle, the headstrong, sassy woman leading the pack had been dating this older man, Dave, for a couple of months prior to this day. Her relationship with him took the same path all of her relationships did. She claimed him, controlled him, played him, and then dropped him just as quickly as she picked him up. It sounds horrible, yet it is true.

Dave, although nice, was not a strong man. The crew knew him from leagues and Michelle had known him for years. She got it into her head one day that she’d like to date him. The next day she was living in his apartment. Please do not take Michelle’s gung-ho ferocity as a negative. There are qualities about her that I do admire, even if her approach is not one I would take. She thought she knew what she wanted and she went for it. And she took prisoners. Dave was one of them.

The demise of their relationship had been coming and the night before the annual Bugs’ closing took the cake. Michelle’s complaint about Dave was that he didn’t talk. The man was shy and never expressed himself around the regulars. He also never expressed himself around Michelle when they were alone together. I witnessed repeated attempts of hers to get him to open up, to get him to say anything.

On that night, Michelle had had enough of him. He was calling her at work and then just sitting on the other end of the line, saying nothing. Sure, he let her know it was him. He would say, “Hi, this is Dave.” And then it was silence. He spoke so little that people would have to keep asking, “Are you still there?”

Now, Michelle was strong, confident, and men didn’t have much of a chance against her. She loved to pick arguments and I will admit, I would watch her fight with others just to pick up pointers. In my entire time at Bugs, I never saw her lose a single argument. I also made sure to never end up on her bad side. Her temper would flare and her mood was sure to be known by every single patron in the place. You may be thinking, “Why would a man want to date her?” The answer is simple. She fits the physical attributes that men seem to fall over. I’m not saying all men, but she had her share of boys drooling in the back of the pool hall and her share of the regular men falling at her feet to just get a glance their way. She is tall, thin, and fit. Dave enjoyed her physical features and never gave much thought to how to react to her intellect.

The night before the Bugs’ crew decided to celebrate the national holiday, Dave called Michelle again. She told him that she didn’t want to talk while she was working. He forced her into making a promise to talk out their problems after her shift ended. She was going to call him at the end of the night.

When closing time arrived, we ushered all the kids out of the joint. Bob, Mr. Clean, and I stayed around, waiting for Michelle. We all witnessed the argument over the phone line.

Before picking up the phone, Michelle set herself up behind the counter to be comfortable. She was completely prepped for what she wanted to say. It was easier for her to handle this part, she was experienced in fighting with lovers and her emotional attachments to the relationship were minimal. She had her fun and it was time to ditch the guy. The chair was pulled up and she made sure she had a full can of soda and a full pack of cigarettes waiting to be smoked. Taking a Marlboro light from the pack, she lit it, took two drags, and then picked up the phone to dial.

Dave answered and Michelle gave it all she had. The argument replayed over and over, she told him that he didn’t talk and it drove her nuts and it was over. He told her, “I can change. I can talk.” She would ask him to talk and then she’d wait for a full minute of silence. He couldn’t do it then and she knew he couldn’t do it in the future. Even if he could have done it, she wouldn’t have changed her mind. He told her that he loved her. She laughed at the thought. Michelle was cold and calculating, but she was right too.

While Michelle was having her argument with Dave on the phone, Bob, Mr. Clean, and I were joking around the counter. Bob kept making faces at her, trying to get her to crack a smile. She wanted to go out with us for some food and was getting more and more annoyed with Dave’s pleas for a stay of execution. I remember that Bob picked up a barstool and put it on his head, running back and forth, pretending to ram the vending machines and jukebox.

The conversation finally ended and Michelle hung up the phone, figuring that was the end of Dave. His short-term membership in the Bugs’ club was revoked. Little did we all know how insane with lust he would become.

The plans for the next day were set. The crew would be going to the Zoo and then swimming at Uncle Ga-ga’s apartment building. After swimming, the crew would go see fireworks and then a small party would be happening at Michelle’s. Dave was not included in the plans.

Once we left the pool hall, Michelle turned off her cellular phone. In the morning, she awoke to pounding of fists on her front door. The phone line was ringing and her brother answered it. The neighbors were concerned about the crazy man who had been pounding on Michelle’s door for the last two hours. Michelle and her brother sat at the top of her stairs, out of view, waiting for Dave to leave. Dave started walking around their house, peering in the back windows, screaming that he “knew [she] was in there!” She grabbed her cell phone and turned it on. There were twenty messages of Dave saying, “I wish you would answer. I love you.” Then there would be silence until the line finally cut him off.

Her brother finally confronted Dave and demanded that he leave, or they would call the police. Dave hopped into his little blue car and took off. Michelle got ready for the day and headed to our assigned meeting place, the pool hall. Bob had borrowed his father’s Suburban for the day and we each left our vehicles in the parking lot of Bugs. It was off to the zoo!

Dave kept calling. Michelle would not answer the phone and she finally turned it back off. He kept leaving the same message over and over. By the end of the day, the message count was 72. One in twelve messages would have more than, “Answer the phone. I love you.” The one in twelve with more words scared us all. He would say, “You bitch! I love you! Answer your f***ing phone! You’re cheating on me!” (She wasn't.)

After awhile, we started laughing at him. It was rather amusing to see this mild-mannered man lose it. He was destroying his social circle with his actions. His calls to Michelle were also not the way to win back her heart.

We walked around the zoo, laughing with each other and checking out the animals. Cracks were made that Dave should be the one in the cage and we headed back to our neck of the woods for swimming at Uncle Ga-ga’s. The crew had a good time and we were thrilled that Dave did not find us. The fact that Bugs was closed for the day made it hard to pinpoint our location. It was not like he didn’t try to find us all there though.

After the dip in the pool, where the competition for the palest person in our clique was awarded to yours truly, we headed back to Bugs to split up and get our vehicles. I was going to miss the fireworks display (I had a four-hour shift at NABABNA to cover), but I would be meeting up with the rest of the crew later at Michelle’s. When we got to Bugs, we found a “note” left under the windshield wipers of Michelle’s truck.

This is where my knowledge of banking really could have made Dave’s life miserable. He had torn out a deposit slip from his register to leave the note for Michelle. All he wrote was, “You bitch! You need to call me! I love you.” His account number was on the paper, along with his address, name, and all the pertinent information needed to create checks. We did not teach him a lesson in information security that day (or any day after), but I lost all respect for his intellect when he left his confidential information sitting outside for any passerby to grab.

I went to work and the crew went to see the fireworks. After work, I tried to meet them at the Taste of Minnesota. It was only a few blocks from my work, but traffic made it impossible. I left downtown St. Paul and headed towards Michelle’s. The crew was stuck in traffic so I ended up at her house much earlier than the rest of them. She told me to just park on the street and wait. This was not a problem for me, I had some tunes in the car and I had a book. I waited.

While I was sitting in my car in front of her house, her brother came home. He noticed a light blue car, similar in style to that of Dave’s car, and I noticed the double take. I unrolled the window and said hello, just to let him know that the stalker was not making another unwanted appearance. The crew showed up shortly after that.

We headed inside and continued laughing at Dave. His calls had stopped, finally. Michelle took joy in playing the messages to everyone there and we each felt a bit of shame in our amusement. I do not know about anyone else, but I know that I also had a sense of pity for Dave. He overreacted yes, but he was also a pawn in Michelle’s games. He allowed himself to be a pawn. And a pawn rarely defeats a queen.

Dave must have come to his senses during those hours of Michelle not answering her phone. He never made another appearance at Bugs and he stopped calling. Once in awhile, Michelle will hear through the grapevine about him at a different pool hall, but his days as a regular were over.

I still wonder about our entertainment that day. The exhibits at the zoo, the animals behind bars, paled in comparison to the show we got from Dave. We all also learned to never get on Michelle’s bad side.