A couple of months earlier, Sean and Randy had begged their mother to drive them to a rock concert. She couldn’t find a reason not to. Pleading and promising prevailed and she gave in. That Friday night Edna found herself at loose ends with three hours to burn. She had dropped off the boys at the Loon Lake Moose Lodge Hall at 8:30. Benny and the Banshees were the headline group for the show. The poster on the door said it was to be the first concert in their most recent Last and Final Tour before breaking up. They probably wouldn’t get on until midnight but for the boys, they were worth the wait. For Edna, twelve dollars a head for three hours of ear drum torturous teenage supervision was a bargain. And Sean and Randy didn’t want to miss it.
In order to save gas and driving time, Edna decided drop in to Birdy’s Sports Bar and Pub in Clayton. Always in need of leisure time and social interaction for purely selfish reasons, the idea of having a beer sounded appealing. Under the heading of rest and relaxation after a hard day’s night, it had often proved to be beneficial. She had stopped in there before.
Edna trying to enter the bar unnoticed was greeted at the door by the bartender.
“It’s been awhile, Edna. What brings you in tonight?”
“I had to drop off my boys up in Loon Lake.”
“Are they going skinny dipping in the dark?”
“Funny funnee. No. They’re going to spend the evening listening and bashing to their favorite grunge bunch, Benny Flanigan’s band. Those goofy half Irish noisemakers are playing the Loon Lake Moose crowd. Cheap teenage baby-sitting.”
“Got it. OK, then. What will ya have, Edna?”, Joe knew what she ordered, but Edna hadn’t stopped in since last month.
“Make it a tall cold schooner but hold the shot this time. I still need to pick up my kids and drive home.”
Sitting in a side booth with no audience for his nightly rant, Riago Lestioni butted in with, “I’ll buy that beer. Don’t rush off. The night’s young”.
His nightly visits to the bar provided relaxation and a bully pulpit for his political views. Sacco and Vanzetti were popular subjects for his rants.
As Joe brought the schooner, Edna joined Riago in the booth. The cold beer worked and some of the ER shit of the day slipped away. Making a feeble attempt at small talk to acknowledge the beer Riago bought, she began,
“You guys have no idea what I’ve had to deal with today. Drunks, skunks, pussy willows in one guy’s ears, baby puke, dementia and diarrhea for starters. I thought the shift would never end.”
“That sounds like something out of an old Dutch painting.
“Well, it sure wasn’t a pretty picture to be in. Anything else would have been a helluva a lot easier to deal with. Anyhow, it’s over for now.
“And we’re glad you made it here.”
After a big swallow of beer and a couple of deep breaths, Edna’s small talk continued.
“So. . . what do you do for entertainment in this town?”
Clayton, population 443 was founded in 1889 and named for nearby clay deposits. Catering to the workers at the plant, Birdy’s Sport’s Bar opened in the building that had formerly housed the Salvation Army. Lestioni’s family were Italian immigrants that had emigrated from Banya de Lucca in northern Italy and settled in Vermont before moving to Clayton. When the old man died, Riago and his older brother Federico dropped out of school to help support the family.
“I work at the plant with my hands, but I’m really an artist.”
“Yeah. Architects used to make a rough sketch of an ornament for a building. I shaped the clay, then it was baked in the kiln. The details were mine.”
“Could you make a living at that?”
“I could until the damn government and politics got involved.”
“What do you mean?”
“Building codes changed and designs had to be more practical than ornamental. The work dried up. Guys started drifting away.”
“I did some drifting myself and then I came back.”
“Yeah, I feel your pain. Nursing is like that, too. You finally get a routine down and some damn hospital bean-counter comes in and changes everything.”
“Right! A bed pan is a bedpan and a mop is a mop.”
Taking a quick gulp of his beer, Riago continued, “Anyway when my work dried up I left town for an extended “walkabout” as the aborigines call it.”
Riago’s “walkabout” took him to Minneapolis, Salina, Kansas and San Diego, California where he shipped out for points South. Finding himself in dire straits in Guatemala, he sailed as a deck hand on a tramp tanker to Tahiti. He suffered from an advanced case of “small guy syndrome” but enjoyed the danger of risk, whether on land or sea.
With the beer lubricating the story and having a captive audience Riago went on,
“It was mostly risky business and I always carried a weapon in case I needed an equalizer. After a couple years I came back, got a job in the brickyard and started painting for my peace of mind”
Finally figuring out who she was dealing with Edna faintly remembered she had heard his paintings were armed with attitude and had made quite a public stir. No surprise.
Riago’s peace of mind provoked Edna’s response.
“Fascinating, that sounds like a piece of “His”tory. Not much of a “Her” story.”
“I met a number of hers, but none of them stuck for any length of time.”
“I can’t imagine why. You don’t sound like the strong silent type. Do you still carry a weapon in case you feel threatened?”
As he reached under the table, Edna slid sideways in the booth and Riago pulled a Ruger 22 pistol out of his ankle holster.
“OK! OK!! Put it back. I don’t need to see that shit.”
Joe, approaching the booth with another round, muttered, “I’ve warned you about that crap, Dago! This isn’t Sicily. Do I need to call the law?”