By Bill Mosley
The interior of the barroom looked pitch dark as Damian Brooks walked in from the street and its blazing summer sun. He heard glasses clink and voices in animated conversation. When a voice called out, “Hey Damian, over here!” he recognized the raspy baritone of Lou Borenstein.
As Brooks walked past the bar and toward the voice, the darkened faces of Borenstein and another man at the same table became more distinct, and he recognized Borenstein’s companion as Carlton Vandergraft. Only a few other distant tables were occupied at this late afternoon hour.
“Man, it’s steaming out there,” Brooks panted. “I hope you guys are drinking something cool.”
“Pitcher of margaritas,” said Vandergraft in his high-pitched nasal. He pushed a glass toward Brooks with his plump hand. “Drink up.”
“Can’t wait,” said Brooks, his eyes now adjusted to the dim light.
He filled his glass and lifted it up. “To us, the Oldboys!” he toasted. “May the future belong to us!” Borenstein said, holding up his glass. “And forever after,” Vandergraft added as the three clinked glasses. Brooks looked around at the dimly lit bar. “Not like the old club, is
it?” he sniffed. “Smartly dressed waiters fetching us our drinks. Carpeted floors. Drapes. Paintings on the walls. And here …” he trailed off as he looked around with a sneer. “This is what we’ve been reduced to. A common watering hole.”
“At least the margaritas are cold,” Borenstein chimed in.
“So whatcha been up to, Damian?” Vandergraft asked
“The usual,” Brooks answered.
“Still writing your epic memoir?” Borenstein asked with a sarcastic undertone. “Got a publisher yet?”
“I did a bit of writing this morning,” Brooks said firmly. “I might give it to Bannon Books. They’ve been publishing stuff attacking this commie government we live under. My story might be just what they’ve been looking for. Bannon is a little fascistic for my tastes, but they’re on our side.” He paused to take a sip of his margarita. “At least we still have freedom of the press, not that it’s going to last long under this regime.”
“Ah yes, your tragic tale of a corporate vice president who was making — what — half a million?” Borenstein cut in.
“About that,” Brooks continued, a bit defensively. “Helping build Sanbro Corp. into one of the most profitable microchip manufacturing firms in the world. Then thrown out on my ear when the employees took over …”
“I thought they offered you a job,” Vandergraft cut in.
“Hah!” snorted Brooks, taking a sip of margarita. “They pretended to. Said I could stay for $100,000. They knew I’d walk. Who can live off that?”
“I used to drink that much cash every year,” Borenstein said with a grin.
“And so you’re living off your universal basic income?” Vandergraft asked Brooks.
“Yeah, just barely,” Brooks said in a complaining tone. “But the UBI is honest money. I call it the government compensating us for destroying capitalism. At least I’m not helping those hard-hat gorillas who took over the company get rich.” He paused. “Or at least as rich as you can get in the People’s Republic of AOC.”
“AOC: Angry Old …” Vandergraft started, then glanced up and paused. “Propriety forbids me to speak the Chaucerian word.”
“Or maybe it’s because Maria can hear you,” Borenstein said. And indeed, Maria, the bartender, stood well within earshot, only a few feet away, wiping glasses behind the bar.
“Go ahead, say what you want,” Maria cut in, looking up from her work. “I’ve heard it all.”
“Besides,” said Borenstein, “AOC’s not that old. What, forty-something?”
“She may be the president of these upstart ‘workers’ she loves so much,” Vandergraft groused, the quotation marks around “workers” visible in his voice.
“But she’s not mine.”
“All three of us are trying to make it on the UBI, and we know it isn’t enough to live on,” Brooks said. “People all over the country are starving on it, right? That’s going in my book.”
“You don’t look like you’re starving,” Borenstein grinned, looking at Brooks’s round belly.
“Yeah, I eat, but I have to cook at home like a peasant,” Brooks griped. “No more dinners at Delmonico’s. At least at first, my wife did the cooking before … you know.”
“Before she left you?” said Borenstein, completing the thought. “Once you were no longer the corporate hotshot she married? When you had to sell your mansion and move to an apartment?”
“How about you?” Brooks shot back. “Your marriage didn’t exactly hold up to scrutiny.”
“We broke up before the — whattaya call it …” Borenstein said haltingly.
“AOC’s election?” Brooks cut in. “The ‘People’s Revolution?’”
“I was spending all day and all evening working at the bank,” Borenstein said, looking wistfully into the distance. “Didn’t have much time for a home life. So she left. Just as well.” After a pause, he added, “Now that investment banking’s a dead field, I have time to do whatever I want.” He paused and held up his glass. “Which is mostly getting drunk.”
“Me, I’m a confirmed bachelor,” said Vangergraft. “Always was. Playing the field, that’s my thing.”
“Not as much of a field now that they taxed away your trust fund, right, Mr. V?” said Borenstein, his characteristic sarcasm having returned. “No more lavishing your daddy’s inheritance on your girlfriends, huh?”
“Now, boys, we don’t need to be picking at each other,” Brooks said. “We need to be plotting the real revolution — when we, champions of genuine democracy, meaning the free market, march back into power. Am I right?”
“Yeah, just the three of us marching out and overthrowing AOC and the socialist Congress,” Borenstein moaned. “We need more bodies here. Which reminds me, where’s O’Reilly?”
“Larry? He’s working,” said Vandergraft. “He has a job.”
“Really? An actual working job?” Brooks said. “Doing what?”
“Landscaping,” Vandergraft answered. “Digging dirt at the new community center. Putting in a garden or something.”
“Huh!” said Brooks in surprise. “From an advertising exec to a ditch digger. Does he need the money that badly? He still gets his UBI, right?”
“He says he likes the work,” Vandergraft said. “It’s a little more money, but he claims it’s good exercise. Gives him something to do.”
“I’d never have believed it,” Brooks said. “And a community center. Larry, working for the oppressive state? What a traitor.”
“Hey, he’s still one of us,” Vandergraft said. “When the chips are down, he’ll be fighting for our freemarket rights like we are.”
“Mike Grady — you remember him, right?” Borenstein said.
“You mean the guy who works for Abin Capital?” Vandergraft asked.
“Used to work for it,” Borenstein corrected. “Corporate takeover firms are no more. Anyhow, he’s installing solar panels.”
“You’re kidding,” Brooks huffed.
“Nope. Good money in it, too. The government is installing, what, 20 million this year alone. They’re beating the streets looking for workers. The pay is really good — I mean, not like Mike used to be getting, but not bad for this economy.”
“Another traitor,” Brooks grumbled. “Real Americans burn gasoline. Or better yet, coal.”
“Not if AOC has her way,” Vandergraft lamented. “In a few years, they’ll be as extinct as the dinosaurs who made them.”
The conversation stalled for several seconds until Brooks broke the silence. “When AOC was running for president on her socialist platform, we were counting on the working man to see through her lies,” he said. “But they went for it, hook, line, and sinker. They got taken in by her promises of health care for all, full employment for those who wanted to work, a guaranteed universal income, all paid for by stealing the hard-earned wealth of folks like us.”
“How deluded,” Vandergraft tut-tutted into his drink.
“That’s not the problem,” Borenstein piped in. “The problem is that she delivered. That her program worked, at least as far as the voters could see.” After a pause, he added, “Especially her ‘employee-owned companies’ program.”
“Yeah, that’s when the country went communist all the way,” Brooks said with a growl. “Loaning money at minimal interest to employees to buy out their companies? What a joke. Those jackasses couldn’t run a two-car funeral. Look around — the economy’s crashing everywhere.”
“Really?” Vandergraft piped in. “An article in the Times just said the economy’s picking up …”
“Fake news!” Brooks fairly shouted. “You know as well as me that
the Times has become an AOC house organ since it was taken over by its workers, like most of the big papers. Yeah, full employment has propped up the economy, but the bottom will fall out when the dopes realize they can quit and live off their UBIs. Then who will make stuff? Who’ll run the stores, websites, and warehouses? Then the government will run out of money paying welfare to everybody. That’s when we’ll be back in business.”
“So why are so many still on the job?” Vandergraft asked. “Just wondering.”
A fourth, feminine voice suddenly joined the conversation. “I’ll tell you why.” It was Maria, looking up from glass cleaning. “In the old days, when the workers owned nothing, they worked for the bosses. Getting paid barely enough to live on. As the saying goes, they were ‘alienated from the product of their labor.’” The three men stared at her uncomprehendingly. “Karl Marx. You should read him sometime.”
“Who knew we were drinking in a commie bar?” Borenstein grumbled, his tone more bemused than angry.
“Now, people are working for themselves,” Maria continued. “They have control over the job, and the harder and smarter they work, the more money they make.”
“Bah!” Brooks spat.
“How about you, Maria?” Vandergraft asked. “Why do you keep working at the bar? You could take your UBI and live a life of leisure.”
“You guys were grumbling that no one can live off UBI,” Maria answered. “Although I could, and you could too if you weren’t so addicted to your luxuries.”
“Like margarita happy hours?” Borenstein said. “You’d better watch it, Maria. We’re your meal ticket.”
“Anyhow, I took one of the government loans and bought the place from the investor who owned it,” she said. “It’s all mine now. I like the work, especially since I run it and enjoy the profits. And I enjoy chatting with the customers. Even you guys.”
“They don’t tax your profits away?” Vandergraft asked.
“I pay my share of taxes, but I have plenty left over,” she replied. “That plus the UBI lets me live pretty well, I must say. Not fancy, but I have what I need.”
“I say we ditch this commie bar and go someplace respectable,” Brooks snarled.
“Yeah, but Maria makes the best margaritas in town,” Borenstein said. “Speaking of which, you guys ready for another pitcher?”
The three looked at their empty glasses and the equally empty pitcher. “What say, boys?” Vandergraft said. “Another round?”
Looking mollified, Brooks handed the pitcher to Maria. “This time, don’t stint on the tequila,” he said.
As Maria prepared the margaritas, Vandergraft said, “Well, fellas, these little gatherings certainly pick up my spirits. Socialism’s days are numbered, that’s for sure. We’re the vanguard of the counterrevolution!”
“Vanguard? Now even we’re sounding like Marxists,” Borenstein quipped.
“Gotta fight fire with fire,” Brooks said as Maria set down the fresh pitcher. Each filled their glass to the brim.
“To us, the Oldboys!” Brooks toasted.
“May the future belong to us!” Borenstein said, holding up his glass.
“And forever after,” Vandergraft added as the three clinked glasses.