JOE MARKET

I was having a rough start to the new year. My beloved Oregon Ducks football team had lost in triple overtime and my stock portfolio was down more than 20 percent. I was feeling pretty low. Outside the rain continued to pour. Inside our dog Sam stared at me with eyes that pleaded for comfort food.

“Listen, boy,” I said to Sam. The dog perked his ears and opened his mouth in eager anticipation. “We’re going on a diet,” I continued.

Sam’s mouth closed in disappointment, and he lay back down with a sigh.

I needed to get out of the house. The walls felt just a little too close, so I headed down to Susie's Bar for a beer and a little camaraderie.

By the time I made it to the bar I was soaked, but inside the warmth and dim lighting instantly made me feel better. The bar was quiet, except for a TV set in the corner showing a football game being played somewhere in snow, the players looking miserable in their wet uniforms.

Only one guy sat at the bar. He was dressed in a worn pinstriped gray suit. His crumpled tie sat wadded next to his drink.

I took a seat next to him.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.

“IPA,” I said and then added, “and bring him another, on me.” I thrust my thumb in the direction of my compatriot.

The guy looked up. His face was ashen gray. He nodded his head once in a sign of appreciation and then went back to staring down into his empty glass.

After the bartender brought the drinks I raised a toast.

“Here’s to a successful 2016,” I said.

The man raised his glass, grunted something unintelligible and then drained its contents.

“My name’s Tim,” I said, and reached out my hand.

The man shook it limply. As he turned toward me I noticed that what had seemed like a white dress shirt from a distance was actually stained with what appeared to be dried sweat, making it look tie-dyed in shades of yellow and brown.

“Name’s Joe, Joe Market,” he said. His voice sounded as if he were exhausted.

“Well, Mr. Market, nice to meet you,” I said.

I raised a finger to the bartender and pointed to the guy. She nodded in understanding.

Market turned to me. “You know what?” he said, although his tone was more like a statement than a question.

His eyes were sunken, dark and puffy. His breath, smelling of coffee, stale cigarettes and gin, made me think about slipping to another barstool.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” he said, seemingly answering his own question.

I turned my head and looked into my own glass. I nodded my head slowly.

“I mean, everyone thinks I run the show,” he said. “But I don’t and I’m not even sure anyone is in charge — I mean things just sort of jump from one extreme to another. Totally random, for the most part.”

“I know what you mean,” I said as if I agreed, but I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant.

The bartender brought over his drink and set it down. I was thinking that maybe I had made a mistake buying this guy more alcohol. Market raised his glass.

“Thanks for the drink, comrade,” he said. “I can use it. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks.”

“You and me both,” I said under my breath.

We toasted again, and again he finished his drink off in one gulp.

“Damn oil had to mess up everything,” Market said. “And those …” he stopped short, shaking his head.

Market’s voice had now taken on a high, whiny tone. I was afraid he might start to cry.

“No one knows how much pressure I’m under,” he continued. “I mean sometimes people pump me up and then complain when I get a little overinflated. And who wouldn’t get a little overexhuberant when everything just seems like it will never go down? But then it’s like, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ and everything crashes down around me.”

“Hey, hey,” I said, giving him a pat on his back. “It’s going to be fine. I mean, you seem pretty healthy and young enough to recover from any setback.”

“You really think so?” he asked, reaching down to tuck in his shirttail.

“Of course I do,” I said. “Look at you -- strong and flexible. With a little rest and a bit more balance, you’ll do fine.”

Market turned to me. “I think you’re right. Next round’s on me,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, “but I’ve had enough, and I think you might want to think about skipping the drink and just heading back home and getting some rest. You’ve got a big couple of months ahead of you.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “You’re probably right,” he said.

“Want me to call you an Uber?” I asked.

Market shook his head.

“Nope, I’m old school. Going to call a cab.” He held up his phone as if in proof.

Market and I parted ways, but as I left I looked back to see that he was still at the bar, a fresh drink in front of him.

“This is going to be a rough go for Mr. Market,” I thought.

The rain had stopped, and as I walked home I smelled the wet earth and noticed the streetlights reflecting off the still-wet asphalt. It was quiet, and through the windows I could see people reading or watching various screens that flickered in eerie bluish glows. The rain started falling again and I considered opening my umbrella. Instead I just walked on, suddenly feeling fortunate to feel the rain soak through my shirt, making what I thought of as an actual raincoat that stuck to my still-warm skin.

--

Originally published in the Weekly Calistogan, January 2016.