there were six of them. sally and jennifer and adam worked at the a—— corporation, and nora and sean and karla worked at the b———— corporation.
they were all pretty ordinary-looking. jennifer and sean were somewhat overweight, and nora occasionally showed traces of a skin condition.
they all lived with their parents except sean, who lived with a roommate he was afraid of.
because none of them wanted to go home after work, they met every night at bernie’s, a pub in the financial district. bernie’s had tv screens that showed sports but it was not exactly a sports bar and it was not really much of a dating bar either.
it was the closest thing to an old-fashioned bar that you could find in the downtown of a big city in the twenty-first century.
none of the six were interested in politics or world affairs. or in sports, not even adam and sean. sometimes they talked about their jobs, but mostly they talked about tv shows or movies or pop culture. they were also pretty good at talking about nothing at all.
since all six stayed until closing time almost every night they usually got pretty wasted.
there were other regulars at the bar that they came to recognize. but almost never spoke to.
sometimes they speculated about these strangers.
especially the ones who always sat alone.
they did not know the names of most of these people so they made names up for them.
there was one guy they called “uncle bud”. sally had given him the name. she said it just popped into her head.
“uncle bud” at first glance looked middle-aged - he had a receding hairline and thick glasses - but on passing close to him on trips to the bar or the restroom the friends came to realize he was about the same age as themselves.
unlike most of the solitary drinkers, bud did not usually face the tv screens, but tended to stare into space. sometimes he had a book, although the light was not the greatest for reading.
the gang’s speculations on him were the usual - he was a serial killer, a child pornographer, an avenger of unsolved crimes, etc. - but none of them ever thought to engage him in conversation.
then one night sean did not show up. nora and karla informed the others that he had been suddenly sent out of town by the company for some kind of training.
it would not have bothered sean, but adam was just a little bit uncomfortable - nothing serious - being the only male with the four females.
adam, along with jennifer, was also one of the two members of the group who occasionally spoke with other patrons of the establishment.
as fate would have it, they were seated at a table close to the bar, which meant they were seated near the small tables which were usually frequented by the solitary drinkers.
uncle bud was seated at one of them. he had no book with him, and was just staring into space through his thick glasses.
adam turned to face him. “hey, bud,” he called to uncle bud, in a tone neither threatening nor overly friendly.
bud immediately looked up. he stared at adam.
“how did you know my name?” he finally asked.
“you mean it is bud?” jennifer asked.
“yes, it is.”
“i’m psychic,” adam told him. “and i know all.” he laughed to show he was just kidding.
bud continued to stare at him.
“seriously,” adam continued, “i was just using it you know, like - hey pal, or hey buddy - “
“or hey big spender,” jennifer added. the friends all laughed.
“or my friend - “ adam added, “or my man.”
bud nodded to show he accepted the explanation.
“why don’t you join us?” adam asked. he pointed to sean’s empty seat.
somewhat to their surprise, bud immediately took adam up on his offer. sally and jennifer were not averse to this break from their routine. nora and karla were not so enthusiastic,
but it was three against two and the group dynamic prevailed.
sean did not return from his training for over a week, and bud became a semi-regular at the gatherings, though not admitted as a full-fledged member of the “unimportants”.
bud was not much of a conversationalist. but he laughed, not too awkwardly, at everybody’s jokes.
he turned out to be a passionate soccer fan, but when he realized no one else was interested, he dropped the subject.
what bud liked to do was show pictures. his wallet seemed to hold an inexhaustible supply of them.
they were mostly pictures of his apparently large extended family, along with some of scenic views from his vacations. a number of the pictures were of small children running around on a beach. these set off alarms in karla, who suspected all men she did not know personally of being rapists and child molesters.
in response to karla’s questions, bud explained that they were his sister’s children, but as they lived in hawaii he had never actually met them. this only partly mollified her.
bud started to tell jokes. terrible jokes, from a vanished world, that he had found in a couple of encyclopedias of humor at the library.
sean returned. he at first found bud amusing, so his presence continued to be tolerated.
bud never stayed for last call, so the others often found him a source of fun after he left.
a couple of weeks later bud informed the group that he wrote poetry.
“i don’t know anything about poetry!” nora and karla exclaimed in as perfect unison as if they had rehearsed it.
the others also protested a little more politely, but bud read them a couple of his poems anyway.
after he left, karla was all for “getting rid” of bud somehow. “this has gone far enough!”
sean and adam and jennifer stuck up half-heartedly for bud. “he’s not a bad guy,” adam insisted. “and you have to admit he’s good for some laughs.”
“we’ll see how it goes,” jennifer assured karla and nora.
for the next week or so, bud sometimes talked about his poems, but only insisted on reciting a couple of very short ones.
then, on a friday night, when bernie’s was a little bit busier and louder than usual, bud showed up with an old-fashioned heavy looking briefcase - almost a suitcase.
he sat down and put the briefcase on his lap and took out two heavy slabs of paper.
“these are copies of my novel,” he announced. he had mentioned the novel once or twice.
the unimportants all looked at each other.
“um - what’s it about, bud?” sean asked.
bud considered a moment. “that’s hard to say. it’s about a lot of things. it’s about everything, i guess.” he put the empty briefcase on the floor beside him. “i’m sorry but i only have two copies. you will have to pass them around.”
adam looked at jennifer and jennifer looked at sean and sean looked at nora…