The Athenaeum
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The Athenaeum

The Editor Calls Me to Lunch 2018

One Part Bore-a-Thon

It was a mistake not to plug in the answering machine the first minute I opened the office. We still have a landline with an heavy black phone attached to it. When it rings there is no information. Anyone could be on the other end; my father, my bookie, those guys I borrowed money from, or the devil himself. This time it was Hughes.

“Meet me at the top of the driveway in fifteen minutes,” Hughes said on the phone. “We’ll go to lunch.”

“Why the top of the driveway?” I asked.

“Because my new car may not be able to handle the mud,” he said.

I put on my hat and coat. It is still cold outside. There are spots of snow in the shady places. The ground is bare. No flowers have sprung. The trees are still as stark as they were in December. I walked the quarter mile up the Mill’s “driveway” to the Post Road. There were a lot of Foster’s Lager beer cans on the road. I figured it must be the work of the Swede.

In the past, I’ve described Hughes physically as a giant of a man with a pumpkin head, a tweed jacket, and hard shoes. I have also said his hair is wild and unkempt and that he wears thick tortoise shell glasses. All that is incredibly accurate. There is no way to improve on that description. I mean, there might be, but with the Medium numbers being what they are, why try?

I was facing north, the direction I thought he would come from, when suddenly I heard a voice say, “Gutbloom, get your hands out of your pants and get in,” very clearly. He was right along side me!

“I was just scratching,” I said.

“I don’t care what you were doing, just don’t touch anything when you get in.”

I got in the car. It was new. Not the old Volvo station wagon I expected. As soon as I put on my seatbelt, the car started moving… silently.

“So that’s how you snuck up on me like that. It’s electric.”

“I didn’t sneak up on you,” said Hughes, “I just punched ‘reprobate’ in as the destination and the car found you!” He laughed. When he said this he pointed to the console of dashboard. He was holding a manuscript, a red pen, and smoking a cigarette. HE WASN’T LOOKING AT THE ROAD AT ALL.

I made a move to grab the wheel of the car but he slapped my hand away with his cigarette hand.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “The car drives itself.”

“Until it gets stopped by hitting a woman on a bicycle,” I said, “I thought they put a moratorium on these things.”

“Not up here,” he said, “Not up here in Mushamaguntic. Up here it’s the fucking wild, wild West. That’s why I don’t mind picking you up.”

“Where are we going to get lunch?” I asked.

“I’ll take you to my Yacht Club,” said Hughes.

I would have been excited if it were July or August, but who eats at a Yacht Club in April? I knew there was something fishy about the venue.

When we got to the club the car parked itself. We walked across a windy parking lot still littered with the winter’s sand. The yacht club is a two story building built on a platform over the water. The harbor, still empty and with only half of the moorings set, was choppy and dark. There were two boats tied up to the club, but both were working boats. The launch wasn’t even out yet.

We went upstairs to the dining room. It was empty except for two guys drinking coffee at the bar. The wind was leaking through the porch windows. Hughes pointed to a round table in a sheltered corner that could have sat six.

“We’ll sit here,” he said, “It will be warmer.”

“Why did you want to eat here?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “I have to spend at least $400 a month on food or I get charged for it anyway. Usually in April I eat lunch and feed the crew when I’m setting up the boat and making repairs, but this spring has been so cold that I haven’t been here yet. I’m putting the boat in next week, so I thought… Gutbloom! Now I can put this on my expense account. Win, win, don’t you think?”

He didn’t wait for a reply. I was eager to ask about the finances of the 2018 season on Medium, so I took this opportunity to jump right in.

“Are the Russians going to underwrite the season for us again?”

“Oh, unfortunately not.” He said, “Their provokatsiya and dezinformatsiya budgets are not what the used to be. Besides, they found Mr. Mildew Omnimedia to be what they called an ‘inferior conduit of fake news.’”

“We did everything they asked of us,” I said.

“True,” said Huges, “The trouble is, nobody, not even feebleminded people in the Midwest, believed any of it.”

A man who looked like the cook came out to our table and stared at us.

“I’ll have two whiskey sours and a grilled cheese sandwich.” Said Hughes.

“We’re out of grilled cheese sandwiches,” the man said.

“What have you got?” Hughes asked, while I wondered how you could be out of grilled cheese sandwiches.

“We have tuna,” the man said.

“Then we’ll both have the tuna,” said Hughes, “What do you want to drink, Gutbloom, a beer?” Before I had a chance to reply, Hughes turned back to the man and said, “Three whiskey sours, a beer, and two tuna sandwiches. Do you have any chowder today?”

“Just tomato soup,” said the man.

“Then we’ll also have two bowls of soup,” said Hughes.

As soon as the man walked away, Hughes asked me why I didn’t describe him.

“Why didn’t you tell your readers what the watron looked like?” He asked, “If that was a female you would have give a full physical description with the sub-text being, ‘try to figure out the size of her tits without me mentioning her tits.”

“Well,” I said, “He’s so plain looking he’s hard to describe.”

“Balding, with the straightline mouth of a midwestern preacher. Sunken eyes that betray either a lifelong war with sleep, the interior world of a felon, or an addiction to amphetamines.”

“You should leave the descriptions to me,” I said. “I would have mentioned that there was obviously chowder and grilled cheese crumbs on that dirty apron of his, but he lied convincingly when he pushed the tuna and tomato soup.”

“That’s because of you, Gutbloom,” said Hughes, “If I was here alone I could have had the chowder.”

“Let’s cut to the quick,” said Hughes. “Don’t drag this fucking post out. These things never sell anyway. Don’t you want to know how we are going to pay for the 2018 season?”

Hughes held up his phone on which he had written, “Yes, I do.”

“Yes, I do,” I said.

“Well, don’t worry about money. We got a grant. Medium is hot right now, especially because Facebook looks like it is headed for the shitter. Everyone is trying to figure out where the next harmonic convergence of online stupid is going to occur. The smart money is on Medium, so, even though Medium doesn’t care about ‘community’, I’ve been able to garner some very generous grants for ‘community building’ on the Medium platform.”

Mel, the cook, had brought out our food. The tomato soup was in cold bowls. The tunafish sandwiches were on paper plates. They lacked lettuce and had too much mayonnaise.

I wanted to wait until after I had eaten to ask the next question, but since the soup was cold and the sandwich looked so unappetizing, I decided to ask before I ate.

“What organization is giving us the grant?”

“Interesting you should ask that,” Hughes said, throwing back half of his first whiskey sour, “It’s a consortium of community building organizations. I’m not sure who they all are, but I think the Mercers, the Kochs, the Trumpettes, Don King, and Saudi Arabia all all part of it.”

You may not believe this, but the tunafish sandwich was really quite good. That Mel, who has a wife with, you know… big tits, is really an excellent cook.

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Gutbloom

Gutbloom

Tribune of Medium. Mayor Emeritus of LiveJournal. Third Pharaoh of the Elusive Order of St. John the Dwarf. I am to Medium what bratwurst is to food.