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2004-12-07 - 3:17 p.m.

This is how it happens. Someone sees, then tells, and someone acts on that. I came, I saw, I told the story. Word gets around. The blond kid, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed. Heís the nice guy tonight. You tip, but donít take, and suddenly youíre nice, or at least thatís the story. And word gets around.

My old boss is working the pool table, while my new boss works the door. Brothers in arms aiding and abetting when it comes to moonlighting. Youíd think they be the oneís red faced, so comfortable here as to be playing shots with languid boredom in the back, but theyíre the ones snickering when eyes meet.

I choose a table in the back, nicely dipped in shadow, on the edges of the manic neon lights that nip at my heels but donít give details. My friends, the ones who decreed the trip, who knew the location, even knew a shortcut, theyíre at the bar, gathering up bloated beers, thirty-six ounces of stout stout. You are what you drunk.

The wonder of theater, they say, is being there, being involved, and having the air, the smells waft from the actors along with perfunctorily proffered spittle, but Iíd rather the distance, not be involved. Itís safer. So long as Iím far from the performance space, thereís a good chance I wonít have to perform.

This is not an opinion shared by the rest of the tribe, who shove a forty of Rolling Rock into my hands, and lift me from my seat against the wall, happily watching the shadows dance. They want me squat under the light flickering off the disco ball, right on the lip of the action.

Every few minutes we ante in. A dollar, at least, on every turn, without fail, the bare minimum, but upon drawing a pocket pair, you might see five or ten wiggle out from leather, depending Ė the light, the mood, the presentation. Iíd rather keep out, but youíre at the table, you play. Itís rude if you donít.

The dealer makes her rounds over the edges, playing out each hand as it comes to her, making way to predictable results at each station: each one leaping to the benefits of their wager, and the dealer seemingly in equal state. When the fives and tens are found the pay out is longer, more intricate, more personable.

I play on the ante, just the ante. On each round, she comes by to pay out, and I beg off. ďNo, thank you.Ē ďThatís okay.Ē ďThatís for you.Ē ďYouíre welcome.Ē Or for the more persistent, ďIím sure the gentleman to the left would love the added attention, please feel free, but myself, Iím fine.Ē

ďIím fine.Ē

And so, word spreads. The story is set, and ready to be retold. A person sees, and makes a judgment, makes it then, a story. So rare are the events you perceive worth while to be retold unless embellished with a little editing, emotion plugged where there were just subtle signs of it before. Too close to call.

But someone will call, and they did, and the word spread. The blond kid, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed. Heís the nice guy tonight. Heís the nice guy. Happy to sit back. Not unappreciative, just not gorging himself. Heís safe. Heís the nice guy tonight. Tip, but donít take, and youíre nice. Thatís the story.

The second round of beers is called for before we finish the first. The dregs at the bottom are warm, and taste of rot; a warm bile at the base of the stout stomach. Even at the low low price, we wonít disgard them; just chase them with something cooler, something a little more palatable.

The lights come up on another round. The stage is set, the lights running wild, and the sound cued properly for the curtain to come up at the key moment. In time with Tympani they lift and reveal her smileÖlast. The smile comes just after. The teeth flash after what even the most angelic are after.

The stage is hers, and she takes to it, with flips and curls, and bends while the patrons ante up, weighing the performance in green. I ante. Across the way, a small man with a large grin throws down a ten, his ďall-inĒ for the evening. The rest of the table leans back, knowing weíve been outbid.

But she looks at me. Word gets around. A finger teases me forward, and everyone around knows Iím out of turn. My hands go up, pointing to my friends, stepping back, but her finger keeps curling, and the look in her eye keeps souring, despite the lascivious grin dancing over her cheeks.

ďItís my first night, and the man in the corner, heís been grabbing everybody. Could you just pretend to slip me a twenty or something, so they think thereís a reason for me to come over here?Ē Everything below her necks writhes and wiggles, one hand on my shoulder, another playing over my chest, but her cheeks now guarded have dropped with concern.

Sheís a history major, minoring in dance. She tried working as a waitress but the tips were lousy. She hasnít told her friends. We had the same instructor for freshman comp. I canít help giggling, one hand in my pocket, the other resting on my beer. Iíd think to take a swig, but her face is so close to mine. No one else will see.

I slip her a five in the shadows, so they all think itís a twenty with my number on it. Even my friends, seated only two feet away throw up their hands at what apparently was my seduction of a stripper. While most of the crowd is lifted by the possibility realized, a few look beaten, and my friends make them better aware of it.

Iím the hero. Thatís the story. Thatís what happened. What you saw. Iím the nice guy. Iím the man. Iím the man who would never think to write his number. Probably shouldn't. I'm the man who did try to smile on the path, but ended up looking at his shoes. Iím the nice guy. Iím the hero. Thatís the story.

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