7 - Feldman and Grumley
Jim didn't drive home. He went to see Feldman and Grumley.
Feldman and Grumley were slouched like dirty laundry on the ratty old furniture. The coffee table and the TV supported a few empty beer bottles and the last piece of a large deep-dish pizza topped with various forms of cooked pig flesh and double cheese.
Jim helped himself to a beer from the fridge and the last piece of pizza, his arrival having not been acknowledged since they were both zombied-in on some ultra-violent action movie playing on TV.
"This is the one where he says, 'I'll be back,'" Grumley postulated.
"He always says that," Feldman asserted.
"It's not even Schwarzenegger. It's Steven Segal," Jim corrected, settling the debate.
Jim envied them their sweat pants and crummy old tee shirts. He was still wearing his nice-night-out clothes; what only a few of years back he would have called his job interview clothes. He removed his shoes, unbuttoned his cuffs, and sat on the floor, legs stretched beneath the coffee table.
"Hey, Jim. When did you get here?" Feldman asked without averting his glance from the TV.
Jim was working on getting fully zombied-in too, but he was struck by a sudden weariness, which made sleep seem more desirable than explaining his evening.
"This is the one where he beats up a bunch of guys," Feldman averred.
"Yeah, I like that one. Oh no. We're out of pizza," Grumley observed. A look of horror washed over his face. "Are we out of beer, too?"
"Plenty of beer," Feldman said to ease his troubled brow.
"I'll order another pizza, on me," Jim offered. "All I had for dinner tonight was two thin slices of chicken, covered with chives and a lime green sauce, garnished with some radishes. Of course, it was really only supposed to be symbolic of a meal, I think."
"No dead fish."
"No dead cats, either. Let's stick to bovine and porcine toppings."
Grumley tossed the phone to Jim, who still remembered the number from when the three of them had pizza delivered for dinner every Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday and Monday were reserved for nachos extravaganzas at some sports bar during the prime time football games.
Jim rolled on to his stomach, resting his head on his arms, still sleepy.
"I'm thinking of quitting my job," he slurred into his forearm.
"Cool. You can crash on our couch," Feldman offered.
"I'd quit my job, if I had one," Grumley sympathized.
Jim placed the pizza order, slightly upset that he had to expend the effort to raise his head to speak clearly.
Feldman picked up the topic, "You're the one who has a good job. No, not a job--a career. A position in a growing organization; a vibrant, enthusiastic team working together in a positive atmosphere. An equal opportunity employer."
"You have a job. Two in fact," Jim responded.
"Yes you're right. And they're both so rewarding. I mean, selling auto parts, well, the personal fulfillment is boundless. And top that with the housepainting gigs in season--there's a lifelong dream come true."
Jim drifted, half asleep, into a hazy train of thought. Feldman had shown a good deal of promise at school as a computer programmer, but dropped out in his junior year. Jim was careful to avoid the topic, although he found it curious. A guy like Feldman, with all the smarts in the world, basically just pitching it all for a low rent cruise-control existence. The only clue he ever saw to the provenance of it all was the smoldering hostility that sporadically poked its head up through Feldman's easy-going good nature. Jim generally just passed it off as some childhood issues or some other psychobabble he had no desire to understand. On the other hand, he very often found himself longing for the loafer's life.
"I don't want my job. I don't want any job," Jim said dreamily, closing in on unconsciousness.
"It's a valid lifestyle choice," Grumley maintained.
Grumley had never shown skill at anything except assuring they would never see a security deposit returned.
"Tell him about the bar idea," Grumley said.
"Forget it," snapped Feldman.
"Come on. It's a good idea."
Sensing something out of the ordinary, Jim dragged himself out of his drifting state. Feldman gave Jim a look of sincerity that he had not seen since the earliest days of their acquaintance.
"What's the bar idea?" Jim asked cautiously.
"Well, it's just this idea I had for a bar," Feldman replied with equal caution.
"I gathered that." Jim sensed himself smiling but he stopped out of fear of appearing condescending.
"A high class biker bar."
"Yeah. Quiet, classy, expensive, but with a biker motif. Look," Feldman sat on the edge of his chair and went into his pitch, "you know how much a Harley costs? Too much. And you know who's buying them? Rich guys. Rich, middle-aged, semi-retired types. The thing is, it's the high status crowd, the ones who buy the Italian cars, five hundred dollar bottles of scotch, rare cabernet vintages by the case, gold plated cigar humidors, they're the ones buying Harleys and other expensive bikes. Well, that's the target market. A place for those guys to get together, a biker bar, but with ten dollar a pint microbrews, twenty dollar snifters of Highland single malt, two hundred dollar Bordeaux, and of course the finest selection of cigars."
That was the longest soliloquy he had ever heard Feldman utter. The longest without a punch line, at least.
"I don't mean to rain on your parade Feldman, but how many rich bikers can there be in, say, a hundred mile radius." Jim cursed himself for being so negative.
"They don't have to actually be bikers Jim--duh--they can be wannabes, they can be curious. How many of the burger and fries crowd at the Hard Rock Café are actually headbangers? Get it? The point is location. You find a spot where there are lots of rich; where the rich hang out--country clubs, estate-spas, resorts. Especially if you get travelers or business folk on a company expense account. It's the gimmick aspect too."
Jim, after a few moments thought, pictured Jake at a place like that. Not too far-fetched.
Feldman continued, "The décor is key. All the lighting will be from table lamps situated around real comfortable furniture. No wooden and metal dining chairs around card tables. Real honest to God upholstered furniture. Sofas, big comfortable chairs; a large round dark wooden bar; a massive fireplace; bluesy old Jazz; maybe pool tables."
"That sounds like a lot of work." More pessimism. Jim wondered if this undesired negativity was new to his personality or just newly obvious.
Feldman ignored it, "The trick is to keep prices up. That keeps the riff raff--you know, like us--out. Keep the price in reasonable range for the appropriate crowd you hook up with--country clubs, resorts, and maybe some businesses to arrange a discount for the type of clientele you want to encourage. Once you're established you start expansion. Either into restaurants, following the same sort of themes, instead of trendy food or ethnic food, you stick to stuff like steak and solid cuts of fish; plain food, but perfectly prepared; eventually franchising--but carefully. Finally, you go public--that's where the money is."
Jim was agape, not just his jaw, his entire self. Feldman had really devoted time and thought to this. Jim regretted his earlier skepticism until Feldman said, "What I need is seed capital. Something to show the bank I'm not a total loser." He looked straight at Jim. "We could all be partners."
Warning signals flooded his nervous system. Jim had been in on consulting for restaurants and knew what a lost cause they were. One of the proprietors of the latest trendy restaurant chain that had called Can-Am in for consulting had said, "Every fool who ever ate out thinks he can run a restaurant. Well I ain't every fool." The guy went broke in three months. Every fiber in his body told him he would never recover from going into business with these clowns. He would lose his money, his friends and, quite probably, his mental health. Not only that, he really didn't have the money. Feldman and Grumley thought of Jim as wealthy because of his nice car and clothes and condo, but it was all debt. Jim was really only wealthy enough to keep up on his debt payments.
Suddenly, Jim felt ballasted by the epic weight of the most valued friendship of his life. A moment ago he was barely conscious, now everything rode on his next words. Yet he found he truly, deeply wished that his friends could be happy, and he would have been delighted if Feldman could sort out whatever emotional demons had been eating him away. Imagining what it would be like for the three of them to experience such a mutual success brought on a wave of nostalgia for the carefree revelry of their past days, some of the happiest times of his life. Maybe it could save him, too. Maybe, he could find freedom from the oppression of the corporate world he had adopted and accidentally mastered. The carefree life recaptured in a high-class biker bar.
His serene sentimentality was broken when Grumley howled. A twenty-six year old man, Grumley had, for reasons undiscoverable by the cogent mind, stuck his finger in an electric fan. Rationality drove out Jim's warm nostalgia. He was saved from any direct answer by the arrival of the pizza and the start of a new movie critique.
"No, wait. That's not Steven Segal, that's Stallone."
"Oh, yeah. This is the one where he shoots a bunch of guys."
After a couple of pieces of pizza, Jim managed to slip back into something resembling sleep, but the unanswered question lent a bit of an edge to his dream state.