Bear Farts                                                              GREEN  12.2

      Stan sits silently on a red leatherette stool beside Lex at The Sportsman Inn. There is a large shellacked swordfish mounted above the bar, head twisted to the side so that it looks like you're getting the once over twice. The rest of the décor is a bit more reserved. On the far wall, there are black and white photographs of old baseball teams. Stan guesses that the pictures are probably from the early thirties, a lot of deeply ethnic white guys, all looking self-conscious, as though they felt they were far too old to be playing this children's game.
      Stan supposes that these pictures may have been occupying their current positions on the wall for many, many years. When these photos were first placed in their frames, so meticulously centered against the deep green felt matting, he imagines that these men were much like rock stars. These athletes had been living legends to someone. They came from a time when their work, the balls they swatted into the sky, was taken seriously, and their followers deeply believed in their exploits. 'We Shall Not See Their Like Again', read the print underneath one group picture, the grinning men taking embarrassed delight in the relative novelty of the photo shoot.
      The room would be impossibly dark if not for the many gorgeous beer lights shining from the old oak walls. The room positively glows from the old advertisements. Having only seen The Sportsman’s rather inelegant exterior, Stan marvels at encountering such beauty inside, the lights reflecting off the glass of the photographs and posters, reflecting off of the crystal clear martini glasses hanging in rows from the overhead rack. The lights bathe everything except for Stan in a cheery hue.
      To Stan's left, the one-two glamour punch of Rolling Rock and Lowenbrau green neon illuminates a poster of the classic Washington Redskins Super Bowl team of the eighties. The large gentlemen once and forever known as the Hogs are dressed in immaculate white tuxedos, and are posed kneeling in the mud with a pen full of huge hairy pigs.
       A Joe Theisman jersey is pinned to the wall. It is not protected by glass or plastic. You can actually touch it, and Stan does. To steal this relic would be unthinkable.
      The crowning touch, set off all by itself in a fine wooden frame with a canopy light, was an autographed picture of Bernie, the owner of The Sportsman Inn, with Riggo himself. The legendary John Riggins had his arm around Bernie, who was already looking a little old and frayed when the picture was taken. Bernie was beaming.

      And right in front of Stan, at this very moment, Bernie was beaming. He looks like he has just stepped out of the photograph.
      Lex is prompt with the introduction. "Mister Bernstein. I would like you to meet a recent friend of mine. This is Stan Keaton. He is a music and arts critic of some repute. I am sure that you have read his work before, whether you realize it or not. And Mister Keaton, I would like you to meet Andy Bernstein, the proprietor of this fine establishment. As you can tell, he's very much an artist in his own right. Give him a taste of your private single malt, would you Bernie." Lex swishes his glass and takes a contented sip of the fine nectar.
      “Mister Keaton. Always a pleasure to meet a friend of Mister Thompson. Lexter is a valued patron of our little hideaway. Welcome to the Sportsman, Stan. Suni will make sure that you are well taken care of. Won’t you Suni?”
      Suni smiles. She has been a constant at the Sportsman since moving from Vietnam in 1973. Her GI husband is a faded memory. This is her home now.
      Bernie uses two cubes and a nice splash of the unlabeled Scotch to prepare Stan's drink, then comes back round the bar and puts a hairless, blue-veined hand on Lex’s shoulder.
      Bernie speaks in mock surprise. “To tell the truth, Stan, I wasn’t aware that Lex had any friends until now.”
      Everyone laughs heartily at this, although to Stan it is very much a forced laugh of social obligation. What an oddly hollow sound it is. Everything is so quiet in the Sportsman that the laugh seems to fill the room.
      Stan is starting to feel increasingly uncomfortable. There is too much civility in this room. There is too much calm.
      Bernie, beaming and shaking his head in an expression of good spirit, crosses from the bar to a table where he greets an elderly couple sitting underneath a gorgeous old Miller High Life neon sign depicting beer pouring into a bottomless champagne glass.
      Of course Bernie knows the couple.
      "Hey Tony, did you see what this Bush character is doing now? Did you read in the papers about this Bush Doctrine? BUSH DOCTRINE. He's calling it the Bush Doctrine. I kid you not. He's the president, and he's saying that he's got this agenda, but if you ask me, all he's doing is waving his dick in the wind. Pardon my French, Maria. Now listen to what he's going to be doing with this doctrine of his, this Bush doctrine. He's going to be deciding from now on who all the bad guys are, and who the good guys are, and he’s going to sort this all out for us. He's taking it upon himself to provide this little service for all of the mindless little people. Thank you very much, Mister President. Ahh. I don't know about you. It makes me crazy."
      "Hey, Maria, Tony, I've got a little serving of crab fritter, very fresh crab, I just had it cooked up for me, and I can't eat right now. I've got this disturbance. Help me out and take it off my hands, would you?"

      "Nice place, Lex. It's different." Stan shakes out a cigarette. He looks sullen and sounds downbeat. He is getting far too skinny for his frame.
      Lex had shown up at his front door half an hour ago, and Susan had been there to pack Stan into the car. It was a relatively painless procedure. Stan is so passive lately; Susan tells him to go, and he goes.
      Stan likes Lex well enough, but he has no idea how his life has gotten so entangled with his. Why has Lex entered his universe? 
      "You know what, Lex, I don’t know that I'm really comfortable here. This place is a little too sedate. Everyone in the room must be at least ninety."
      "Well I guess that makes us look like a couple of young bucks, doesn’t it? Relax, Stan. It's comfortable here. I've known Bernie for a long time. Since before he was old. Well, since before he was really old."
      Lex is playing with his cigarette pack, sliding it open and shut, while Stan  takes a look around the bar. They have nothing but good beers on tap at the Sportsman’s Inn. Sam Adams, both ale and a seasonal, Heineken, Anchor Steam, Amstel Light. No Bud, no Miller Light.
      Stan gets off of his stool to check out a few more of the old baseball pictures. There is something that deeply touches him about these aging photos. They make him feel nostalgia for a time he never knew.

      Lex is ready to talk - not that he has any clear idea of what he wants to say - but he doesn't want to be pushy about it. Lex likes Stan okay, he just has no idea how his life has gotten so en tangled with his.
      Melinda had set him up for tonight’s rendezvous, and he had quickly agreed without fully thinking things through. Why is she always able to talk me into things, he wonders.  Lex has a strong suspicion that Susan has manipulated Melinda into pressuring him to accept this mission.
       I am but a helpless pawn, he thinks.
       A soldier who knows not his cause, he thinks.
      What to do, what to do, how to avoid a confrontation…

      "Quiet in here" says Stan upon returning to the bar. “Very quiet.”
      “Bernie likes it that way,” Lex says softly. “He believes that too much sensory stimulation shuts down the contemplative process.”
      “Oh. So what are we supposed to be contemplating, sports?”
      There were four televisions switched on, each of them tuned to a different cable sports channel, but they were all muted with closed captioning enabled. There was no jukebox, and as far as Stan could tell, there were not even speakers for piping in canned music. People glanced at the silent screens and spoke in hushed voices.
      "You think we could get CNN on one of these sets?" asks Stan, brightening momentarily.
      "No, I don't think so. Bernie just shows sports. That's one of the things I like about this place, Stan. No news, no noise. Just people thinking, very clearly, about sports."
      "Yeah, well, whatever," says Stan. “It’s a little too Zen for me.”
      Stan pulls his tiny portable TV from his pocket and places it on the bar. "I just like to stay informed."
      "Oh, you are without a doubt well informed on the whole 'America at War' topic. You're beyond well informed. You are a full blown expert. Maybe you could stand to take a break from it. You know? Relax. Enjoy your life."
      "This TV doesn't get anything but the local stations," Stan says glumly. He's running through the channels without striking gold. "I'm shit out of luck. Have you noticed that the networks have stopped running much hard news? They've all gone back to their regular programming. Is that sick or what? Here we are right in the middle of a massive terror attack, and they don’t find that important enough to broadcast? There's anthrax everywhere, we don’t know where we’re going to be attacked next, and they’re showing fucking sitcoms. What is wrong with this picture?"
      "Settle down, Stan. Quit carrying the weight of the world. And think about what you’re saying. You’re being silly. Anthrax is not everywhere. I don't see any anthrax here at the Sportsman, do you?"
      Stan just looks down at his drink, feeling lost. He remembers this feeling. For a moment, he worries that he may cry. He can't think of a thing that is appropriate as a response. He feels a little embarrassed, and it's certainly not right that he should have to feel that way. Silly? That’s not a very kind thing for someone to call him. Why is everyone coming down on him for having a natural reaction to a national crisis? The world is depressing.

      ‘Something is wrong with the people around me’ Stan thinks. ‘There is nothing wrong with me’. But this pronouncement rings hollow to him. Why should I even try to rationalize, he wonders. He feels so defensive. His head is filled with blather and smoke.
      “Life’s not all fun and games” he tells Lex.
      “I know” Lex says sagely. “But it’s not all heartaches and tears either. We’re losing you, Stan. Just in the short time I’ve known you. A month ago you were upset and angry, but you were still amongst us. In your case, Stan, I’d have to say that if the terrorists have ended your
joie d’ vie, then they’ve already won. Pardon the cliche."

      It's Funhouse, Stan thinks, and in so thinking his head is filled with rabid guitars.  Funhouse drove me straight over the edge. Man was never meant to listen to that many continuous hours of Iggy. In Stan’s desk, in a side drawer, lie sixty-four pages of Funhouse prose, untouched since September 11. The Stooges had left his unfortunate mind battered and empty, ready to receive whatever treacle the world poured into it.
     This is not a particularly good theory, but Stan decides to stick with it for the moment. The thought does not make him feel the slightest bit better.
      Lex has no idea about the foolishness that is playing out in Stan’s head, but he can tell that Stan is distressed, and he doesn’t particularly feel like pushing the guy any further on this topic. Well, maybe a little bit further. Christ, in reality he has hardly pushed it at all. But what does he care? The guy is depressed, that’s all. Badly depressed.
      Lex decides that he likes his new friend very much. What does he care if Stan has been ranting and raving a little bit? Who can blame him? With all the trouble in the world…
      Well, he had promised Melinda he would try to talk to Stan about this war hysteria, and he had fulfilled his duty. A little. Kind of. But now Stan was sitting here with Lex, on his turf at his favorite place, and he looked like he was going to bolt out the door any moment. Lex wanted Stan to be having an old-fashioned good time. My place. It’s time to party. That should be the real purpose of this rendezvous.
      Suni is standing behind the bar, contentedly slicing lemons when Lex summons her. He has an idea, not a brilliant idea, mind you, but it could work. He will administer the secret elixir.
      “Suni, would you be so kind as to fix Mister Keaton and me a couple of nice sized Bear Farts?”
      “Okie Dokie Lexter. You plan on getting wacky tonight? Just promise not to tear the place up.”
      “What’s a Bear Fart?” asks Stan, his face showing a little genuine interest for the first time tonight. See? The magic is working already.
      “Oh, it’s a terrible drink Stan, a terrible drink. Wild Turkey and Bacardi 151 on crushed ice. It gets its name from the ghastly smell. They taste pretty bad, too. But,” Lex says, a twinkle in his eye, “They will get you fucked up.”

      Indeed they will. After consuming only two Bear Farts, they are already approaching that vaunted state. Stan decides that the Sportsman isn’t  such a bad place after all and shouts out “Four stars!”
     “One more round of farts” exclaims Lex in a voice that is the loudest thing heard tonight at the Sportsman Inn. Suni was right, Lex is getting wacky. But who wouldn't be at least moderately wacky after a generous pair of Bear Farts? People all around the room are checking out this boisterous twosome and shaking their heads in disapproval.
      Against her better judgment, Suni hands Stan and Lex their fresh Bear Farts. They both smell their drinks and pretend to puke, causing genuine distress at a couple of the tables.
      One, two, three, down the hatch.
      “Stan… Cheers!  What’s the word?”
      “Johannesburg!”  blurts Stan. Like he wouldn't know the word.
      “I said what’s the word?”
      “Johannesburg!”
      “Cast away the chains with which we’re bound, cause all that Whitey wanna do is hold us down.”
     “Listen to me now, for this I swear, they’ll never keep us locked up in despair.”
      “I said what’s the word?”
      “Johannesburg!”
      “Can you tell me that word?”
      “Johannesburg!”
      “What’s the word I heard…”
      “Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Please.” The interruption comes from Bernie. He is not beaming.
      “You are creating a ruckus, gentlemen. Please, no rapping is allowed at The Sportsman.”
      “Uh, we weren’t really rapping.” Stan is caught slightly off guard and resorts to semantics. “It’s more like we were doing a chant… you know, What’s the word?”
      “I assure you that I do not know what the word is, and I would…”
      “It’s Johannesburg, Bernie” says Lex, speaking with great authority. “That’s the word.”
      “Although,” Stan chimes in, “The Bird would have been a totally acceptable answer. Everybody knows that the bird is the word.”
      “I knew they were going to get wacky,” says Suni. She makes a wrinkle face and pokes out her tongue. “They are drinking Bear Farts.”
      Bernie shudders. “Gentlemen. Please. You are free to enjoy yourselves here. But keep in mind the fact that there are others present who do not share your effervescence.  Try to act like proper Sportsmen.”
      'Bear Farts' he mutters to himself as he walks away.

      Stan begins to laugh as he slings himself back onto his stool, and within moments his laughter is mixed with sobs, tears rolling down his cheeks and his shoulders shaking. His brain chemistry has been altered by Bear Farts. A wondrous sense of lightness seems to overtake him, but he realizes that this is not lightness at all, but the departure of the dread and anger which have permeated him for lo these many days.
      “Hello again,” says the reporter.
      Stan looks at the silent screens, and there are no crashing planes or burning buildings. There never were. There are only men and women playing games, reveling in the miracle of their own flexibility and skill.

      Six men enter The Sportsman Grill in protective orange jumpsuits just as Stan and Lex are downing the remains of their putrid drinks. They adjust their respirators as Bernie leads them into the kitchen. One of them sticks a yellow triangle on the front of the galley door.
      Stan watches the men as they file inside. He looks at Lex, and speaks slowly. “You know, Lex, Susan has an outfit that looks just like those.”
      “Whatcha think those guys are doing?” asks Lex.
      “I dunno. Probably looking for Anthrax.”
      “Or Bear Farts” says Lex.
      “Or Bear Farts” agrees Stan. “Good thing we destroyed the evidence.” Stan gets a far away look on his face. He has one more thing to say on the subject. “No. Wait a minute. About Susan’s outfit. I think it’s red.”
      “Speaking of Susan, why don’t we head on down to the pub? I’m pretty sure that Susan is there with Melinda.” Lex knows that he has made a successful breakthrough with Stan, and that it’s time for them to move on. Besides, the guys with the Geiger counters and oxygen pumps are making him a little uncomfortable.
      “Okay” says Stan. “I think I’m properly chilled. Am I fun now? Let’s just drive on down the road in a big boss line, and keep an eye out for the coppers when we pull onto Commerce Street.”
      There were never any coppers on Commerce Street.