Never back ’em in a corner without a bargaining chip

“Here.  Here’s somebody new to write about.  Listen to what he has to say and analyse his life.  I need the spotlight off of me for a while. I’m gonna go see your wife, Karen, over there.”

“Okay, Guin.  Hi, I’m Lee.”

“I’m Kirby.”

“Yeah.  So we know each other already.”

“Or we think we do.  Nice outfit you got there.  I’m not much for wearing pinned-on jewelery myself, though.”

“It’s not jewelery.  It’s supposed to be part of the outfit…”

“Is that what they call ‘steampunk’?”

“Yeah.  Karen made it for me.  It’s supposed to look like I’m geared up.  See, this key winds.”

“Uh-huh.  Still looks like jewelery to me.”

“It does, doesn’t it?”

“Me, I don’t even wear a wedding band.  I don’t like rings or nothing like that.  Guin, see, she likes her ring but she says it keeps falling off and she’s afraid she’s going to lose it.  Looks like you’re wearing two rings.  Why’s that?”

“This one on my right hand is my real wedding band but my wedding finger knuckle is all swollen up, pre-arthritic, I think, so I bought this cheap fifty-dollar tungsten steel ring at Walmart.”

“Hey, works for me.  I think I got arthritis, too.”

“No kidding?  How old are you?”

“Thirty.”

“That’s awfully young.”

“Well, all the basketball I’m playing and all the other sports I played when I was younger, just about every joint in my lower body is torn up or was broken.”

“I heard you busted your ankle.”

“Yeah, I twisted it pretty bad three weeks ago.  It’s healing some, though.”

“Guin says you want her to choreograph a a rumba so you can do a dance showcase in November with her, as soon as the ankle heals.”

“She keeps saying that.  I don’t know.  My ankle may take a long time to heal.”

They nodded the guy nod together, which said, “I know what you mean.  We only go so far to accommodate our women and then we adopt a fallback position.  Theirs is ‘Sorry, honey, I have a headache,’ or ‘I’m too tired.’  Ours is ‘I’m the man of the house and when I say I don’t want to’ it means ‘I know you’re going to give me that look which means I’ll have to say I want to’ so we, instead, have our own set of chronic problems — backaches from too much heavy lifting around the house, ankle/knee sprains from sports outings with the guy,s or having to work strange/long hours.  We’re guys.  It’s what we do best.”

“Guin says you’re a member of the Club.”

“She did?”

“Yeah.”

“Looks like she keeps saying a lot of things.”

“You said it, not me.  But are you a member?”

“Naw.  But I’ll tell you something funny.  I went back to my hometown a couple of months ago and the barber whose been cutting my hair since I was six — that’s 45 years now — he told me that with my father gone, it’s my turn to join the Club and pick up where Dad left off.”

“Uh-huh.  Sounds like my family.  So, you gonna join?”

“I might.”

“There’s a local chapter that has my application.  All I’ve got to do is finish the interview process and pay my dues.”

“‘Pay your dues.’  Yeah, I know what you mean.”

They stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the crowd around them, satisfied their silence had no meaning or subtextual reference.

Lee looked up at Kirby’s head.  “You got a lot more gray hair than I remember.”

“It’s from my days at the Rocket Center.  That place’ll make anybody turn gray.  But I’m leaving it just the way it is.”

“I normally do, too.  I dyed my hair tonight for the show.”

“Uh-huh.  You gotta do what you gotta do.  So Guin says you’re connected.”

“She says what she’s gotta say.”

“Uh-huh.  I understand.”

“However, if there’s anything you need…”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Your dues have already been paid.”

“I see.”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re family.”

“‘Family?’  Like in…”

“Anything.  Anything at all.  If you want to join the Club, join the Club.  But your membership’s good, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Yeah?”

“We got your back covered.”

“Is that so?”

“Hey, why do you think we arranged the dance showcase with Guin?”

“You tell her this?”

“Nope.  And I’m not telling you ‘this,’ either.”

“Hey, I’m cool.”

“We know.  Oh, hi, Guin.  I was just talking with your man here about his joining the Club.  Sounds like maybe both of us are gonna join.”

“That’s good.  I wasn’t sure if you were already a member since you’d talked about it before.”

“No, it was never a requirement in my book.  But now that my father’s gone, I figure I owe it to the family to keep my legacy intact.”

“I thought so.”  She linked an arm through Kirby’s.  “Lee’s got friends.  He’s like my family back home.”

“Yeah, I get the drift.  Lee, good to see you, man.  Let’s do this Club thing.”

“All right, Kirby.  Talk to you soon.”  They shook hands.

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