After five beers no one was very hungry. We all decided to pack up the food to clear space for more beer. Buzz took the lead and began to order pitchers. He gave the crew the rest of the day off and asked me if I’d be needing aspirins for the flight home.
It turned out that Willie and Chuck were brothers. George was indeed a farmer’s kid, and May was hot to trot. Bob was the serious man in the group, but with a number of beers inside him it wasn’t hard to get some riotous hunting and fishing stories out of him.
I noticed that the patrons at the other tables were doing all right by themselves; the volume in the Red Pony escalated to a roar. So this, I thought as best I could, was what people in the country did with themselves! Not bad. Not bad at all!
The three guys from lower management razzed me for being a city boy. I got a kick out of that reversal of paradigm but managed to defend myself and get a few laughs as a self-depreciating wise guy. I told them about some of the lousy things city people did and they told me stories, equally as lousy, about hayseeds.
It didn’t take long before May and Buzz climbed up onto their chairs and did a little country dance for me. Buzz was drunk and lost his balance. He pivoted off the back of the chair and fell to the ground with a roar of shocked laughter. When he stood up his toupee was covering half his face. I almost died. The rest of the crew blew out a single unified scream of laughter.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” howled Buzz, adjusting his rug back into place. “I’m maybe having just a bit too much fun here!”
With that he lost his footing on an overturned bottle and fell to the floor a second time. Everyone around the table squealed with delight as Buzz’s toupee shot straight up into the air and came down, flat, in the center of the table.
Chuck spit his beer.
May swayed violently and had to lean against George for support. Willie hacked out one long, rasping roar and crashed, doubled up, over the planked tabletop. The others couldn’t draw a collective breath.
May lifted the toupee from the center of the table and held it out with two fingers. Her mouth jabbed up and down, there was something she wanted to say but the words were buried under gasps and a few indelicate burps.
“This here… This - Burp!” May’s eyes went wide. She covered her lips with one finger and fell into tears all over again.
Someone, I thought, is going to get hurt.
Buzz stood up and comically groped around his half-bald head with outstretched fingers.
“Where the hell’d it git to?” he screeched.
George fell on the floor.
May, having finally presented the trophy as the catch of the day, turned to me, with the object still in her outstretched hand.
“Now, take look here Mister..,” she whimpered, rocking a dangerous angle above the table, “I think it’s bout time that someone’s told you that this here,” she belched loudly, “this right here’s pretty much exactly what you’re in need of!”
Through my drunkenness I was stung with shock. After hours and hours without the slightest hint or mention about the toupee enigma, May had come out with it.
George, having just managed to lift himself back into his chair, doubled over once again but this time instead of hitting the floor, rocked his way, chin to knees, out through the swinging doors of the Red Pony.
May lost complete control of her gyroscope, went limp and crashed against the table, knocking down half the remaining bottles and glasses. Pools of beer washed the floor.
Buzz lifted May and sat her in her chair. She still had the toupee clenched in her fingers. Buzz grabbed the rug into his fist and held it up in my direction.
“Now, I’m not being, uh… impolite here…” Buzz slurred, “but what Maybell here’s, uh – well; what she’s say’in is that we all noticed that you… ah, damn!”
Buzz grinned slyly, held back a laugh and throttled the toupee savagely. I leaned in over the table for the rest of it but Buzz couldn’t get it out.
Chuck scraped his chair up to the table.
“What Buzz and May here are trying to say is… well, we been in the meeting all damned day and I guess we notice that you might…”
“I might what?” I said, drunk and perplexed. May stood up again.
“What we’re trying to say is that we just can’t figure – just can’t figure out why in the world you’re walking around with that…” she stammered.
“Don’t say it May! Don’t say it!” shouted George, stumbling back into the bar. “I’m gonna drop dead right here, right now!” he shouted.
May let out a small shriek and stamped her foot to the interruption but continued;
“…Why are you walking around with that bald little head of yours when you could look nice and proper with one of these!?”
She grabbed the toupee out of Buzz’s hand and shook it between her fingers.The whole room fell silent. Patrons at the other tables took a moment to listen. They’d been watching after the bald guy: The only bald guy in the place - hell the whole town - without a rug on his head and they wanted to understand what it was all about.
Buzz leaned in on the table, woozy but attentive.
“What she’s saying,” He lifted a glass off the table and took a deep, sloppy swig, “…if you’ll pardon the impropriety, is this” Buzz snatched the toupee from May.
“You, my man, need this rug here more the hell than I do!”
The Red Pony exploded.
Bob, who had been quite reserved, stood up, walked around the table, pulled the toupee from his head and delicately laid it in my lap. He clamped a firm hand on my shoulder, turned, and slowly found his way back to his seat.
The room cheered. George began pounding on the table with his fist. May followed and then a wave of table pounding filled the room.
I wanted to die; I didn’t want to be murdered, but I wanted to die. There was no contest; if I didn’t put on the rug, they’d surely bury me behind the lot at the Red Pony. No one would hear from me again.
I lifted a pitcher off the table and drained the contents. Then I lifted the toupee and slowly brought it down on my head.
One person in the back of the room giggled. I looked at the faces around our table. Every eyebrow was a silent question mark. The laughs seized up and idled.
Oh God, they’re going to kill me now, I thought.
May looked at me cross-eyed, fell against me, and reaching up, turned the toupee around on my head.
George took one look at me, screwed up his face, screamed, and then threw up. The place went wild. Howling laughter tore through the place like a fast fire.
They wouldn’t let me remove the toupee. I spent the final two hours at the Red Pony with Bob’s toupee on my head, drinking beer out of pitchers. That’s when things got a bit hazy… We danced around the outside of the building - I remember that. For some reason I also remember riding an electric bull, but for the life of me I don’t remember one being in the Red Pony. I think Maybell might have kissed me too.
I can’t recall if Rudy picked me up at the Red Pony or back at The ArchDyne Group’s office. I was too drunk. I found out later that Bob was there to help Rudy get me back on the plane. I do remember a couple of visits to the airport bathroom and a brief encounter with airport security.
What I remember clearly is waking up in my seat on the plane as we prepared to land in New York. It took two attendants to bring me around. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what these people were doing in my bedroom. Then I felt my stomach leap.
When I tried to get up I realized where I was. That’s when I saw the large bottle of aspirins in my lap with a note attached. I had a hard time focusing, but the note read:
Figured you’d probably need these. We all chipped in.
Don’t worry about the fine, that trooper was my cousin,
I’ll take care of it for you.
It was a pleasure to meet you and we look forward to doing
business with your company. Any time you’re in our neck
of the woods, just give us a call and we’ll come pick you up.
May’s saying that you looked awful cute on that electric bull.
I’d have to agree.
Oh, by the way, Bob says this one’s on him. He’s got extras
My stomach leaped again as I pulled my attention away from the note and tried to draw the whole day in. Where the hell was that electric bull? Which trooper? I didn’t remember any trooper – And just what was Bob going to do?
Then I remembered: The damned toupee. I put my hand on my head. One of the attendants walked by as I lifted my arm and I caught her with my elbow.
“Sorry dear,” she said absently.
Then I felt it. It was still there. It was on my head. I’d flown half way across the country with that thing on my head; they’d left it there. I didn’t have to touch it to know that though - it was in the attendant’s eyes when she turned to see who gave her the bump - It was the same look that I had given to Rudy when I met him at the airport. It was the same look I had when I met Buzz and Bob and George and the rest of the gang:
It was the look of mild horror.