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OPINION | BILL RAUSCH: Jail break

Life on the outside is hard by BILL RAUSCH SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | May 8, 2021 at 8:30 a.m.

After being in social isolation "jail" for over a year, Joanne and I were finally going to bust out. We got our second covid vaccine shot on board three weeks ago. So Joanne (a retired nurse) and Dr. Fauci (who should be a retired doctor sitting at home in his recliner like me, watching endless episodes of "Judge Judy") both declared that we were good to go.

But somehow ... something just didn't feel right to me.

Now that our antibodies gave us darn near bullet-proof resistance to the virus, Joanne called our friends, Roger and Janey. After not seeing them for a year, she was uber-anxious to ask Janey if they would at long last like to get together and go out.

After Joanne's perfunctory "How's your knee?" and Janey's obligatory "Did you see Ginny's pansies this spring? Weren't they just hideous?" Joanne finally got around to asking. When I saw Joanne's fist-pump, I knew that we were in. We were finally bustin' out. The girls agreed that we'd meet up at Tilley's Friday night for a few beers and some good old-fashioned lively, if not downright raucous, catchin' up.

The next afternoon I suddenly realized that I had less than three days to get myself all psyched up for our first-time-in-a-year event. After 13 months of kickin' back in my La-Z-Boy, mindlessly binge-watching "Seinfeld," "Judge Judy" and "America's Got Talent," I had become, well, even more mindless than I normally am.

During those silent spells as I fast-forwarded our DVR through all the idiot commercials in order to get back to the idiot programs, I got a little anxious as I thought about Friday night. I envisioned us sitting in "our" booth up at Tilley's. Me ... mere inches across the table from Roger. Staring at the fizzy bubbles in my Miller Lite. What the hell would I say? What would I have to talk about? Would I have anything of substance to contribute to the conversation?

"Uuuhhhh ... You see that episode of "Seinfeld" where he and Kramer were ..."

Or ... "I vacuumed the living room last week. Even found a quarter under a couch cushion."

Maybe ... "The city switched our trash pickup to Tuesdays. You guys too?"

My anxiety overwhelmed me as I thought about Friday night. Sitting there ... trying to think of something to say to Roger. Had I really become this inept with my social skills?

I put down the remote, climbed out of my La-Z-Boy and went to the junk drawer in the kitchen. I dug around all the junk (I even discovered another quarter) until I found an old Holiday Inn notepad and Holiday Inn ballpoint pen from a trip we took to Birmingham in '06.

I sat down at the kitchen table and jotted down what I thought would be some meaningful conversation starters. My plan was to sneak a peek at my notes crumpled up in my sweaty palm Friday night. During what I was sure would be a series of way-over-pregnant pauses, I'd toss out some little gem that would make me look like a genius.

Joanne would be so proud of me.

Friday night, Joanne and I arrived first. I slid over against the wall in our favorite booth by the window. We always enjoy watching the cars go by on the street. Never know ... might even get to see a fender-bender. Joanne always ... always ... has to sit on the outside. Wants to be sure her friends notice her new whatever-she's-wearing.

She fidgeted around and nervously ripped little pieces off her napkin. Looked up every 30 seconds at the neon Budweiser clock over Tilley's bar. Told me to comb my hair. Sit up straight. Then brushed something off my shoulder (real or imagined ... didn't matter). She was just about to spit on her fingers and slick down my cowlick when Katie, our favorite waitress, came over to take our order. Joanne told her to back off ... we'd wait till Roger and Janey got here. Thank you.

They finally walked in. Twelve and a half minutes late, Joanne whispered to me through her clenched teeth. Good ol' Katie somehow spotted them as they came through the door (Janey's red-sequined blouse didn't hurt) and brought four Miller Lites right away.

I just sat there leaning against the wall. Staring at Roger. Then ... at my little beer bubbles. Roger just sat there and stared back. Then ... at his little beer bubbles.

Okay, it was time for Plan B. I reached into my pants pocket. Oh, crap! I was so nervous when we left the house, I completely forgot my Holiday Inn notepad. Sweat beads popped up all over my forehead. I opened my mouth and tried to say something. Anything.

But nothing. I had nothing.

Aaahhh ... Turns out I didn't need to be so nervous. After being on lockdown for 13 months, I completely forgot. How could I possibly not remember? Good ol' Joanne, sitting right there on the outside of our booth across from Janey's blinding red sequins. She jumped right back into our pre-covid get-togethers at Tilley's ... and did all the talking.

The four of us have gone out several times since that first night at Tilley's. But now, whenever we go, Roger and I get our own booth.


Bill Rausch is a freelance humor writer from Little Rock. Email him at williamrausch25@yahoo.com. You can hear more stories like this on his podcast, "Bill Rausch Read My Shorts," broadcast on Spotify and Podbean.

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