44, part five
Twenty-eight. Wilson. The First World War. We ended up in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the Quarry House. None of us could remember how that happened, but it did, and so we made the best of it. Energy was flagging all around, and David and James had opted for Vodka and Red Bull while I played around with the wildly exciting beer menu. There was no link to Wilson’s era at the Quarry House, but the subterranean bar may have represented a warm place of safety for our tortured, withered souls. We were also moving into the Prohibition, and the Quarry House did have a vague speakeasy feel.
Counting by the empty glasses in front of me, we hadn’t spoken in some time. I remember only long stretches of hateful silence as each of us stared into pools of alcohol. A waitress brought me a coke and grinned when I stared at her in horror.
“Twenty-nine.” James hissed.
The waitress squinted, “What?”
“President.” James slurred.
“Harding.” I said.
“What?” The waitress took a step back, ready to call for help.
“Twenty-ninth president,” I told her, “Was Harding.”
James sighed. “What the fuck did he do…motherfucker.”
“What are you boys up to?” the waitress asked.
I tried to smile, “We’re assigning a theme drink or bar to each president.”
“So you’ve been to twenty-nine bars so far?”
“We cheated here and there,” David said, asking for a refill.
“How long you all been at this?”
“Since 2pm!” David said proudly.
The waitress checked her watch. “That’s a fair spell.”
“What’s he known for?” James asked.
“Teapot Dome,” I told him.
“What the fuck is that?”
“The Harding Administration allowed buddy-buds to bid on oil-rich land without competition. One in buttfuck somewhere and the other in California. So these two magnates took over these ultra-rich oil fields that originally belonged to the government and should have been auctioned off fairly with competitors and all that shit. Amusingly, all this was to the tune of a few hundred thousand dollars. But I guess that had more weight in the 20’s. The more you read about Teapot Dome, the more it’s like Austin Powers. And I will have this oil field… For one…thousand…dollars!!!”
David’s drink arrived. I hadn’t even noticed the coming and going of the waitress. “I always got the impression that you were rich if you had a quarter back then.” David said. “What a fucking waste. How did those primitives afford computers and shit?”
“A computer consisted of walnut shells and gnomes.”
“Damn. Now I want a walnut shell gnome computer. I’m a victim of advertising.” James said.
“Have we decided where to drink?” David asked.
I handed him the beer menu. “I’m not going outside, it’s cold. Get something that makes you think of Harding’s underpants.”
“Three Millers!” James screamed.