“How the hell did I end up here? ” slurred the drunken man in the expensive suit.
At first, nobody at the bar section of the Old Teak Lounge and Steakhouse said a thing. They were all too busy checking their phones in order to avoid making eye contact.
Eventually, someone near the window yelled “Pretty sure you came in a cab!”
And that got an easy laugh.
“No no nooooooo!” said the drunken man, gesturing broadly and unsteadily to everyone, which made him stagger. “Not here…. ffffffphysically. Not this… LOCATION! I mean, how did I end up here… in LIFE. ”
“Oh god. ” said someone.
“It’s way too soon to be that drunk, dude. ” said another.
“Yeah, we’re all still at the ‘happy drunk that loves everyone’ stage. ” said a third wit. “We don’t get to ‘existential crisis’ until 2 am!”
“Yeah, didn’t you check the schedule?” said the first person.
Each of these witticisms was greeted with not quite sympathetic laughter.
But one very tall and dark-skinned man wasn’t laughing. He was too busy studying this drunken fool. His instincts told him that this man was not your typical drunken jackass, but a lion in winter who had finally gotten drunk enough to be vulnerable, and his emotions were not going to let a little thing like dignity or gravitasse get in the way of an escape opportunity like THIS.
And that kind of person was of great interest to him.
The drunken man in the Armani suit’s brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of what was being said to him, but gave up immediately, and went instead with the sentiment.
“Oh, go ahead… ” said the man, “make fun of me. Sling mud. Trash my name in the press. Spread lies about me. I don’t care. I deserve it. I deserve it all. Because I am the kind of guy who everybody hates. ”
When nothing more seemed to be forthcoming, people began to guess.
“You’re a real estate developer?” said one.
“No, he’s a dentist!” shouted another.
“He’s got to be a lawyer. ” said a third decisively.
“Yeah, like a divorce lawyer or a corporate lawyer. ”
“Or a family court lawyer. ” Then, in response to people’s stares. “What? Fuckers took my kids. They can rot in hell for all I care. ”
“I know!” said someone clearly savouring their own wit. “he’s a POLITICIAN!”
And everyone laughed. But that laugh was cut short when the drunken man pointed a trembling finger at the speaker with great vehemance and surprising accuracy, and said “BINGO! Give that lady a cigar. I am, indeed, a member of that beknighted profession. ”
The man fumbled with his wallet, took an ID card out of it, and flashed it around. “I am, in fact, the proud representive of that little slice of heaven known as the Frozen Creek riding, situated, like Satan’s anus, between two big hills. ”
“And like the Devil’s asshole, I am full of shit. All the time. Can’t help myself. I lie to everybody now. Donors, voters, protestors, barristers, public servants, private investigators, and oh, let’s not forget my own goddamned family. ”
“Just today, I lied to my father. My own father, who’s in God’s waiting room just waiting to see which of his cancers gets him. I looked him in the eye and told him that I was working hard to make sure the hospital he’s in isn’t closed. ”
“And he believed me. They always believe me. I am… THE king… of false sincerity. I could tell people it was going to rain Szechuan ribs tomorrow, and they might think I am crazy, but there would be no dount in their minds that I meant every word. ”
“And the truth is, folks, I haven’t done a goddamned thing about that hospital. In fact, I had completely forgotten about it till he brought it up. Anjd when he did bring it up, you know what I felt? Irritation. Like he was nitpicking me. I found the phrase ‘I can’t remember every little thing’ welling up inside me. And wasn’t I the one who was doing him a favour by taking time out of my busy schedule and drag my ass down to his shitty little hospital to see him in the first place? And this is how he repays me. ”
The drunk puased to let all of that sink in.
“And you know that kind of person thinks like that, folks? A scumbag. A real piece of shit scumbag failure of a human who doesn’t deserve to see the light of day, let alone the adulation of the press and the god damned WORSHIP of his constituents. I’m a liar and a scumbag and a worthless piece of human garbage. I should be drug out into the street and shot.; ”
Dead silence fell like a guillotine’s blade. Nobody knew what to say. A few people started to clap, assuming that this was the end of the show, but immediately stopped.
The drunken man’s eyes were mostly shut and he was weaving a little on his legs. Two alert and well paid waiters were waiting to catch the big man if he fell.
But he soon roared back to life.
“IT WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS!” he screamed in a voice laden with pain and regret. “I was going to be different. I was going to be the little guy from Frozen Lake who was going to Ottawa to kick ass and take names, and I was all out of names. I knew how badly my district had been screwed over by the Federal Government, and I was determined to get some compensation for the people, MY people, the people I grew up with and loved like they were one big extended family. ”
“They’re good people who only want to live their lives and raise their kids in peace, and they sent me to Ottawa with that message for the Big Machine that had ruined their lives. And I was ready for the fight. ”
“But something happened…. some time between then and now, I stopped being the shining pride of Frozen Lake and turned into the wretched and unforgivable piece of toxic garbage you see before you. ”
“And that’s why what want the most in the world right now is for someone to sit me down, buy me a beer, and tell me where the hell I went wrong. ”
And that’s where it would have ended, with a broken man and an awkward silence, if the tall dark man had not, at that point, put his arm around the drunken man’s shoulders and in a rich clear educated African accident, said, “Come with me, Mister Big Time Politician Man. Come with me to my table. I would very much like to buy you a beer. ”
A few minutes of carefully guiding the big man to a chair and then helping him throught the complex load-balancing equation of sitting down later, the big man was sitting silently, in that in between place where the truly drunk go which is neither awake nor asleep nor passed out, but a state of blank nonthought that happens when the brain is so overwhelmed by alcohol and the emotions it’s unleashed that the conscious mind has to shut down for routine maintenance and displays a “Waiting…” screen.
The beer in front of him went unnoticed. A small curlicue of drool dangled precipitously from his upper lip. His breathing was shallow but even, and did not worry the dark skinned man, who had, in a previous life, been a registered nurse, and who was now paying very close attention to his patient and awaiting the inevitable reboot.
Men of the big man’s strength and vitality rarely stayed down long, in the dark skinned man’s experience. That was a mixed blessing at best.
Before long, the big man snapped out of his trance, snapping his head back and emitting a loud startled grunt.
The dark skiinned man waiting patiently as the big man foundered in the shallows of the sea of sleep, eyes darting around as he sought solid ground.
“What…. what… who… ” panted the big man, and when his eyes finally snapped into focus, he looked at the dark skinned man, who smiled at him. So he smiled back.
“Hello Mister Big Shot Politician Man. Welcome back to the real world, eh? I am Professor Bokomoso Govender, but you can just call me Boko, okay? And your name is? ” said Boko.
“You mean, you don’t know who I am? ” said the big man suspiciously.
“No sir, I do not. I am a stranger to these cold and beautiful lands. I know nothing of your politicians or culture. ”
“Then let’s keep it that way, okay? Just call me…. Luke. It’s my favorite book of the bible. ” said Luke.
“Fine by me, my friend. Luke it is. Tell me, how are you feeling? ” said Boko.
Luke contemplated the question for a few moments as he did a quick self-diagnostic. “A lot better than I should, to be quite honest. ”
“Big man healthy as an ox, eh? ” said Boko.
“Yeah, I guess so. ” said Luke. “Have I thrown up yet?”
“Not to my knowledge, friend. ” said Boko.
“Then I’ve got THAT to look forward to. ”
Silence resumed. It made the restaurant hubbub seemed a hundred miles away.
“Listen, uh…. ” said Luke.
“Boko. ” Boko supplied promptly.
“Right… Boko.. ” said Luke. “About the um… other end of our… bargain…”
“Bargain? What bargain, friend?” said Boko.
“You know. ” said Luke. Then, more quietly, “Buy me a beer and… ?”
“Ah! ” said Boko. “Thank you for reminding me! I had forgotten all about it. Yes, I believe I can help you in that regard as well. ”
Boko straitened up, cleared his throat, and assumed his professorial mien. “You wanted to know how you got from there to here, yes? Let me assure you, then, that you are not to make this terrible transition. It would be more noteworthy if you had not! It is what I call the Capital City Effect. For the unwise, it means the spiritual desolation of being deeply unhappy in Paradise. But for the wise, it teaches them an important lesson about how things got the way they are and what keeps them that way. ”
“Now Luke, tell me… the district you represent, is it a wealthy district? ” said Boko.
“God no. Its full of dirt poor farmers and people too poor to afford dirt. ” said Luke.
“Ah, it is much like that where I come from as well.” said Boko. ” Only hotter. Then am I to take it that before your election to office, you had never been to a five star restaurant, or stayed at a five star hotel?”
“Where I come from, our idea of fine dining is any place where you don’t have to eat off a tray. ” said Luke. “And before I came here, I had heard of hotels, but I could never wrap my head around the idea of so many people without relatives to stay with.:”
“And the similarities with my home continue! ” said Boko. “Where I come from, fancy food is anything you did not have to knock out of a tree with a rock. Then I take it that before you were elected, you had never been inside a limosine, worn expensive clothing, or associated with high status persons?”
“Tommy Hunter came through town once. That was a pretty big deal.” said Luke. “As for fancy clothes and limos, I’d never thought about them at all before I came here. But you have to do all that stuff just to fit in around here. ”
“Ah, my friend Luke, you must have read ahead, because that is the very crux of the Capital City effect! They take you out of your life and put you in a world unlike any you have ever known. A place where everyone treats you like you are a very important person. Where you are invited to the homes of wealthy, powerful people and treated as an equal, and where you are given privileges and advantages far in excess of the wildest dreams of the people back home. In short, everything is done to make you feel like you are better than the people back home now, and no longer empathize with them. Instead, you now identity with the top one percent, and can be relied upon to act in their interests, not the interests of those losers back home!”
“The rich and powerful get everything they want handed to them by their politician friends, and all without a single bribe or a drop of coercion!”.
Luke was now looking at him like, in a land of strangers who do not speak your language, he had finally met someone he can understand.
“Boko my friend, that makes so much sense it’s scary. I will be expected back at the office soon, but I would very much like to continue our conversation. Can I prevail upon your patience a little bit more and ask you to accompany me?”
“For you, my friend… I will make this sacrifice. ” said Boko.
Luke laughed, paid the bill, and they were on their way to the limo when Luke said,”By the way, Boko, you have not told me what subject you teach. ”
“Let me put it like this, my friend. ” said Boko, “My most popular course, “is called ‘The Anatomy of Political Corruption.’ ”
With that, the two new friends went, laughing, into the night.