The final scene of the previous story appears in an effort to promote continuity — Hugo tries without success to guess who The Author is taking to eat dinner at the Wonder Bar — Hugo leaves just a moment before he can reveal the answers to The Author’s problems
“Dinner? At the Wonder Bar? Fer fuck’s sake,” he shouted, “that’s not a goal!”
“Who are you to say what is or isn’t a goal? For me?”
“It sure as hell isn’t one of the goals I told you to have.”
“Explain,” he said.
“Maybe another time,” I said, hoping that he wouldn’t decide to chase me through the house and put me in a headlock before vowing to bash my face in with a shovel if I didn’t explain to him what Dinner at the Wonder Bar meant.
Need to get a little more caught up than this? Click here and read the previous Hugo Sark story (or stories). Don’t let them pile up. These aren’t stand-alone tales like before. Augh! Stop rolling your eyes at me!
“Long story short: I told some chick I’d take her to eat at this super-fancy steakhouse if I could get an agent and sell the novel I’m writing.”
“You can’t just start telling this story from the middle of everything,” Hugo said. “I’m not even a writer and I know that!”
“I supplied enough context. I don’t feel like putting any superfluous exposition at the start of this one,” I said. “It’s already way too long.”
“This better not mess things up,” Hugo said.
“It won’t,” I said, then I traced an X over the center of my chest. “I promise.”
“Uh, the Wonder Bar? Like the working title of my book, Dinner at the Wonder Bar.”
“Don’t blame me! I told you not to start the story the way you did,” Hugo said, throwing his hands in front of him, palms toward me in mock surrender. “Is it the steakhouse on east 46th street where Big Paul got whacked?”
I rolled my eyes. “No?”
“Is it the place where they finally killed Crazy Joe Gallo?”
“No! It’s not in New York,” I said.
“Well, it can’t really be super-fancy if it’s not in Manhattan. And it can’t be super-cool if a mobster didn’t get assassinated there.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said. I shrugged. “Anyway, that’s the deal.”
“Don’t you ‘anyway’ me! I need some details.”
“No you don’t.”
“The hell you say! How else am I supposed to help you if I don’t have any details? Who’s the chick? Where’d you meet her?”
“It doesn’t matter who the chick is or where I met her. She’s someone I’ve known for a long time.”
“How long? Is it Boots Black?”
“Is it the Cheerleader?”
“Is it Lulu Canon?”
I shook my head.
“Is it Stack-Eye Roberts? Apple Flip? Is it that online chick that almost catfished you but then you found out she was old but obscenely rich and thought maybe that would have been okay?”
“No, no, and no!”
“Oh my God! It’s Bunny, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not Bunny!”
“Have you heard from that Bunny?”
“No,” I said. “Please drop it.”
“Is it Ruth?”
I felt my face turn tomato-red. “What the? How do you know about Ruth?”
“Bitch, please! I’m inside your head! I know everything, especially everything you don’t want me to know.”
“Then why are you asking me who I’ll be taking for dinner at the Wonder Bar?”
“Everything except that! GodDAMN it! Who is it?”
“Just someone I’ve known since I was a kid, okay?”
“Holy shit–is it your second grade teacher?”
“Too bad, that’d be a great story. A little weird, but it’d get people’s attention.”
“Let’s just drop it.”
“Now wait a second. First tell me why you think you have to do all this other crap–write a book and get an agent and sell the book–to take some woman you already know out to eat.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Yes you do, and you’re gonna tell me or I’m gonna bust your writing hand with a sledgehammer.”
“Well? Like I said before, it’s a goal,” I said. “Something to work toward, something to keep me going when things seem hopeless.”
“Wow. I guess it’s just too damned bad Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf didn’t know about your steakhouse trick to conquer their demons,” Hugo said.
“Let’s just drop it. I should’ve never told you, I should never tell you anything,” I said.
“That’s an awful thing to say to your best friend in the whole world,” Hugo said.
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“You should be.”
“It’s just…looking back, I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed and I wish I had never said anything about a book or an agent or dinner at the Wonder Bar to this person,” I said.
“Because, now, as long as I’m not taking her for dinner at the Wonder Bar, she’ll know I haven’t finished my book, found an agent, sold my book,” I said. “She’ll know. And so now I feel all this pressure, and when I feel all this pressure I can’t write, and if I can’t write…”
“It sounds like you’re afraid she’ll think you’re a failure?” Hugo asked.
“Yeah, I guess it probably does.”
“And it should, because you are,” Hugo said, rolling his eyes. “And don’t start crying, or I’ll really give you something to cry about.”
“I’m not going to cry,” I said. “Who cares if you think I’m a failure. I don’t want her to think I’m a failure.”
Hugo leaned back and pushed at the floor with his feet until the front legs of his chair were lifted off the ground. He crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. “You know, I’ve come to realize there are two kinds of people: smart ones and dumb ones.”
“I’ve come to realize I could never live a full life if you didn’t attack my dignity every time we see each other,” I said. “I guess this is the part where you tell me I’m one of the dumbest of the dumb ones you’ve ever known in your life?”
“You know what else I realized? I realized you’re gonna be the most bruised of the bruised ones if you don’t shut up and let me finish what I’m trying to say.”
“Fine. Go ahead,” I said.
“The thing with you is, it’s not about being a smarty or a dummy. Smarties are all the time doing smart things, and dummies are all the time doing dumb things. That’s how you can tell the difference, usually.”
I had to hand it to him. Of course I wasn’t going to hand it to him, yet, because he looked like he was about to throw a big “but” in there, some kind of “but” meant to enrage and insult me.
“But here’s the thing.”
See? Didn’t I tell you!
“I knew it!” I said.
“You probably did. Because you’re a smarty. Unfortunately, though, you’re a smarty who does dumb things. Constantly. You do dumb things so constantly that sometimes you seem more dumb than smart. I can’t tell if you’re a dumb smarty or a smart dummy. It’s very confusing. It confuses me,” Hugo said, and put his hands on top of his head. “Can you explain how you can be so smart and so dumb before my head explodes all over the walls?”
“No,” I said shaking my head. “No.”
“Look, I know you think I can’t sympathize with your desperation just because I finally tricked someone into marrying me before I was too old and senile to know how sad and alone I was.”
I hoped he was going to tell me how I could trick someone into marrying me one day, since it didn’t look like I was going to secure that part of my future through any ordinary means. Or maybe he had something else up his sleeve, something that might gratify me more immediately. It would be just like Hugo to introduce a kindness with insults and feigned frustration with my mental capabilities.
That was on one hand. On the other hand there was always the possibility that Hugo’s good intentions would prove misguided and I might end up more unhappy with the solution than I was with the problem–one of the problems being, in this case, not having gone on a date since my last relationship ended nearly six years before.
After weighing the two possibilities, I opted to take a leap of faith. (I also made a mental note to consider changing the name of the novel I was working on to Leap of Faith.)
Also? His list of possible women made me feel a little panicked that Hugo might be misreading my situation and most likely thought I had romantic designs on the person linked to the Wonder Bar who I refused to name. I wanted to correct him before he tried to talk me into a stupid and dangerous plan of action, but I didn’t feel like going to the trouble: it had been a long week.
Pushing all that worry aside was easy once I took a deep breath and said, as I exhaled, “You’re going to set me up on a blind date!”
“All right,” I said, nodding at the same time so he would definitely know that I understood what he was saying.
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would date you as you are at this juncture,” he said, looking me up and down, and motioning for me to turn in a circle, which (like a fool!) I did. “Definitely not. Your ass has never been so huge.”
The point had been driven home. It was inside the house. The porch light had been turned off. Why did he have to go on and on and on and on and on and on?
“Fine, okay, all right, I GET IT,” I said, a little crabbier and a little louder, maybe, than I had meant to. “Jesus.”
I sat down across the table from him, to hide my body from any further review and because he was wearing me out mentally and physically.
“As I was saying before you interrupted me–that’s another reason you’re never going to find a date, by the way–I know how sad and alone you are, and I can sympathize because I’ve known other people who have been sad and alone, pushing fifty, looking back at a half century of waste and void, waste and void, wondering when the change of life is ever gonna start—”
“Woo, I need to know when it’s gonna stop,” I said, fanning myself. “These hot flashes are killing me.”
Hugo slammed his hand on the table. “Horn-in on my speech-making one more time, Missy, and your face is gonna get a handful of hot in a flash–from my fists of fire!”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I did want to mention that what you call ‘speech-making’ is called a ‘monologue’ by us writers. That’s why back and forth speech between two or more characters is called ‘dialogue.'”
“You know I don’t care, right?” Hugo said. “And you know that every time you interrupt me when I’m trying to explain to you how you’re feeling, and why, and what to do about it, the Eternal Snitch puts a check mark by your name in his big book of bad karma, right?”
“Yes, I know that,” I said, looking at the table.
“Then will you please be quiet, please?” Hugo said. “Just nod, if you can do that, without saying anything else.”
“This is a tough time in your life, I understand that. I want to make it easier,” Hugo said. “You seem to want to make it hard as possible. I don’t understand that, but it’s what I see happening. I’m pretty sure I can help you, but you’ve got to open your mind and let me help you. Can you do that?”
“I can’t hear you,” Hugo said.
“You told me not to—”
“Shut up! I just wanted you to nod your answer, because the answer has to be Yes.”
“All right! That’s good. Now, the first thing–hey! What time is it?”
I showed him the screen on my phone so that I could tell him the time without speaking.
“Oh, I’m in trouble!” Hugo said, standing up quickly and jogging to the door. As he grabbed the doorknob, he said, “Mama’s gonna want me to wash her hair, put curlers in it, and comb it out before we go to lunch! Dang, why’d you keep me here so damned long when you knew I needed to go?”
“I’m sorry, I forgot,” I said.
“Gah! I’ll deal with you later,” he said, and took off.
“Have fun!” I yelled as he ran up the street.
He stopped running and turned around. “Don’t worry–I’ll be back! And you’d better make me a coconut cream pie while I’m gone or I’ll slap the fun right outta you!”
Hugo knew I had no skills as a baker, and he knew that when he returned there would not be a coconut cream pie waiting for him to eat, and he and I both knew he was not going to slap the fun right out of me, no matter how loudly he yelled it from the corner. He was only trying to get the attention of a couple walking on the opposite side of the street, the woman pushing a stroller-built-for-two and the man being pulled alongside the stroller by a Golden Retriever on a leash.
And besides all that, the last time he’d asked me for a coconut cream pie I’d gone to the store, bought one frozen, thawed it out, and then found out he’d only wanted it so he could smear it all over my face. Fool me once…