Monday, September 1, 2008

The List

I must have been quite a sight when I hobbled into the Bar and Grille the other night all scrunched over from an aching back. “Well, now, Bob,” said Pat McGinty from his perch at the end of the bar, “Aren’t you a sight, all bent over like that.”

I gave a thumbs-up to Manny behind the bar and he began to fix my drink.

“So what’s the problem with you? Got an achy back or some such?” asked Pat.

“Oh, yeah,” I said, “Damned back. I’ve been in pain all day and it’s killing me.”

“You take anything for it?” he asked.

I told him I had some pills at home and I planned to take one as soon as I got there and maybe that would do the trick. I said I thought maybe an ice pack would help.

Manny put my drink down on the bar and I took a sip as Pat frowned and shook his head. “These pills,” he said, “pretty strong, are they?”

Well they are pretty strong. I got them from a doctor in Mexico last time I was there and had a similar backache. This doctor specialized in treating everything from acne to broken bones with a laser. He offered me the option of three laser treatments at forty dollars American each or a bottle of pills at thirty for the lot. I had opted for the pills and not just because I’m so cheap. Pills I can understand, but a machine that shines invisible light to perform a miraculous cure was a bit beyond my skeptical nature.

“Pretty strong stuff,” I said, “They’ve done the job before.”

Pat shook his head again and advised me to have a bite to eat before taking a strong pill like that. “I’ve taken many a pill,” he said, “what with all the aches and pains I get on the job. And just about every one they say you got to have it with a meal. So I think you ought to have a little supper before you swallow one of those things.”

He was right, of course, and I remembered those were the Mexican doctor’s instructions, too. “I’ll do that, Dr. Pat,” I said, “Maybe I’ll drop by your wife’s cafĂ© on my way home and get a sandwich to go.”

Pat thought a sandwich would be well advised, but in his opinion the right thing to eat would be the chicken tetrazzini that his wife had on special that day. “That’s a better meal for supper than a sandwich,” he said, “Not that her sandwiches aren’t good, but for supper I’d sure recommend the chicken.” He took a swallow of his beer and went on, “It’s only eight or nine bucks, so for a couple dollars more than a sandwich you get a regular meal. And it comes with French bread.”

“Well, Pat,” I said, taking out my scratch pad, “I’ll make a note of that, ‘chicken tetrazzini.’”

“Then take your pill, not before,” said Pat, draining his beer.

For his free medical advice I bought Pat another beer and told Manny I’d go again myself, not wanting the Irishman to have to drink alone. “Then I’ll put on an ice pack after the pill,” I said, “That sometimes gives me a little relief.”

We clicked our glasses and sipped our drinks. “You know,” I said, “sometimes a soak in the hot tub works, too.”

“Well,” said Pat, “I’d do the hot tub before the ice pack. Then I’d go to bed and by morning, why, you’ll probably feel just fine.”

I sure hoped so. With the wife gone for a few days I had a lot of chores to do around the house, plus my regular work. When I thought about all that, I remembered I had to feed the dog when I got home and we were a little low on kibble. “Geez,” I said, “I have to go by the market and pick up some dog food on the way home.”

“Seems like you have quite a full night ahead of you, Bob,” said Pat.

Now I am well known around my house for the lists I make of things to do. In fact it is a matter of some amusement for my wife. Every Saturday morning I jot down a list of chores for the weekend, just so I remember what has to be done. When I head to the market or the hardware store I make a list of everything I need to buy. If it isn’t on the list, it doesn’t get done or it doesn’t get bought. There’s a better chance it will if it’s on the list. Not a one hundred percent chance, mind you, but better than even.

“You’ve got that right, Pat,” I said. “Maybe I ought to write this stuff down.”

“In order,” said Pat.

“In order to what?” I asked.

“I mean, you ought to write it down in the order you need to do it. Otherwise you could take your pill before you eat or put the ice pack on before you get in the hot tub.”

He sure had a point. My list for the night was already started with the words “chicken tetrazzini” so I picked up there and added the next item: “dog food.” Then I wrote on separate lines, “eat supper, pill, hot tub, ice.”

“Now, Bob,” said Pat as he looked at my list, “you’re not going to forget to go to bed if it isn’t on your list, are you?”

I laughed as though Pat were pulling my leg, and I wrote “bed” at the bottom of the list.

“Good,” he said. “And I believe I’m ready for another beer and it’s my turn to buy so drink up.”

Manny brought us two more and asked, “What is it you two are working on over here?”

Pat explained that I had a big night ahead of me with a lot of things to do and I was making a list just so I would not forget anything.

“Good idea,” said Manny. “I see it says ‘chicken tetrazzini’ here at number one. So what is it about chicken tetrazzini?”

Well, Manny had a good point; the noun was missing a verb. “I’m going to pick some up at that Chat ‘N Chew on the way home,” I explained.

“Oh. Gotcha.” said Manny. “I just didn’t know. Kind of unclear, if you ask me. But, hey, it’s your list.”

So I squeezed in the words “pick up” before “chicken tetrazzini.”

Pat was impressed by Manny’s contribution to the effort and looked hard at the list for other possible improvements. “Dog food,” he said. “So what about the dog food? You gonna buy it, or you gonna give it to the dog?”

“Now, Pat,” I said, “That seems pretty clear; I got no dog food so I am gonna have to buy it, now aren’t I.”

“Well,” he said, “Long as you know what it means. It ain’t my list, it’s yours.” He took a long draw on his beer. “But if it was me, I’d say, ‘buy dog food.’ Just to be for sure.”

So I wrote “buy” ahead of dog food. “Is ‘eat supper’ clear enough for you fellows?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s pretty straightforward,” said Pat.

“Some of your best writing,” said Manny, “but what is this ‘pill’ thing?”

I told Manny about my bad back and how I was going to take a pill and he offered his sympathy and his opinion that, if I planned to take a pill I ought to write down ‘take’ or there might be some confusion as to whether this was something else I was supposed to buy or an instruction to myself to swallow some medicine.

“Take” went in ahead of pill.

“If you need ice, “ said Manny, “you can take that off your list here because I can give you a bag here from behind the bar.”

I told him I had plenty of ice at home and knew the recipe to make some if I should run short. “I’m going to put an ice pack on my back,” I said. “That’s what ‘ice’ is for.”

“Could a’ had me fooled,” said Manny. “But, you know, it’s your list. It’s just that…”

“Okay, Manny. You are the editor of this piece here, you and Pat, so if you say I ought to write down ‘put ice pack on back,’ then that’s what I will do.” I made the correction as suggested, but it was kind of difficult to write the words small enough to fit in, yet large enough to be legible.

Pat took some offense to my tone. “Well, Bob, we’re not tryin’ to be littie-airy critics, here, we just want to be sure you can make sense of this here list of yours when you get yourself home after a few pops here at the Bar and Grille. Just tryin’ to be helpful, you know.”

“My bad,” I said, “No offense taken and just to prove it, this one’s on me and Manny you have yourself one of those Patron’s you like.”

None of us said much for the next few minutes as Pat and I sucked on our drinks and Manny shot down his jigger of Patron and went to the other end of the bar to greet a new customer. When he came back, Manny noticed Pat’s wrinkled brow and asked what he was thinking.

“Well, you know boys,” he said, “I think we’ve got Bob here a fine list now with not too many ambiguities that could lead to major disaster.”

I was relieved, but he went on, “Not too many,” he said. “Except for this item of ‘hot tub.’”

Manny and I both leaned over the list to see what Pat was talking about.

“You see,” said Pat, “here we got another of those noun things without it’s got a verb. Is that what you call it, Bob, a ‘verb’?”

Now that Pat had pointed it out, the oversight was terribly obvious. There sat the phrase “hot tub” without the company of a single other word or phrase expressing action, existence, or occurrence. Unlike the other items on the list that had been carefully revised for clarity, ‘hot tub’ was completely without predicate.

“This will not do,” said Manny. “What is it that you’re trying to say here about the hot tub? You need to think about that, Bob, it seems to me.”

“Well, I’m going to sit in it, you crazy bastards. What do you think I’m going to do with it?”

“If that’s what you mean, Bob,” said Pat, “then why don’t you say so? You need to articulate these things. As it stands, the phrase is vague. It’s a veritable swamp of vagueness.”

I suggested that two words do not a swamp make, but Manny offered the opinion, “only as an amateur at these kinds of things, but an avid reader,” that “hot tub” by itself lacked energy and could use some “goosing-up.”

By this time I needed to go to the men’s room, so I handed my pen to Pat and said he and Manny should just have at it while I relieved myself and I’d see what they came up with.

When I came back into the bar they had moved to a table and had called some of the other expert regulars in to offer opinions on diction, syntax, and subject-predicate agreement. Dolores was fussing with her hair and defending her opinion that the passive voice was not in all cases impermissible, while Reverend Mike argued the virtues of parallel construction.

Before I reached the table I realized that my back felt much better; I was no longer hunched over and felt only a minor discomfort – not the intense pain I’d experienced all day. I put a twenty and a ten on the bar, drained my drink, crunched an ice cube, and walked happily out the door.

I never got to read the final draft of my to do list, but I’ve heard that Manny has it pinned to the wall behind the bar, and I’ll have to drop by there in the next day or two to see how the thing came out.

But first I really do have to pick up some kibble for the dog.