Moodswing - A sign

Rewriting history doesn’t erase regret

God, I miss drinking during the day. I used to like to get it all over with early. You know, get drunk, pass out, wake up and be hung over before the Channel 3 news team starts staring down at you like high-school librarians. To this day, on those rare occasions when the sun shines brilliantly in the winter, I still feel that tug toward a restaurant patio, still hear that pitcher of margaritas cooing like a lover in my ear.

But my first real job after college sucked all the fun out of it for me. I worked for a publications company in La Jolla, Calif., in an office only two blocks from the beach and this awful but insanely popular Mexican restaurant called Jose’s. I used to talk my friend Tom from the graphics department into joining me there for tequila-soaked lunches. Then we’d wobble to the cove and throw Frisbees at each other until we remembered we had jobs.

I loved Tom, his presence made my pointless job infinitely more tolerable. He made me a big sign once, of a mime with his thumbs proudly tucked under his suspenders. It was dumb, made even more so by the caption “Never Mime,” but it harkened an inside joke of had-to-be-there hilarity surrounding an incident at the cove that involved a street performer, copious tequila and pornographic balloon animals.

Tom and I had a great time working together until our company’s owner came back from prison. I had yet to meet our boss, Richard, because I was hired in the middle of his 18-month term at a minimum-security prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a young man’s trust fund, for which Richard had been the (very bad) executor. I considered his incarceration a perk when I applied for the job, because the fact is that even today, with the wizardry of modern communication, it’s still hard to harass your employees all the way from the hoosegow.

Then one day I walked into the office, and everywhere there were signs — not overt signs, like the kind Tom was good at making, but subtle, maddening signs — that things were different. My co-workers were guarded, well-dressed and, worst of all, working. Tom hissed a warning before I could shriek out my usual obscene salutations. “Richard’s back,” he hissed. So I finally got to meet Richard, and immediately afterward he handed me an assignment that would take actual time to complete.

God! This sucks, I thought. That day I couldn’t get everyone to come to lunch with me, even after offering to pick up the tab on a round of shots. Only Tom took me up on it. In a spree of hooch-generated defiance, we spent the rest of the afternoon on a terrace overlooking the ocean at a restaurant we could only afford because of promotional coupons. It was at this time that Tom told me of how he lost his former job as a chauffeur in Atlantic City because he stopped the limo on the freeway to save a dog struck by a car, stuffing the injured animal into the front seat and ignoring the irate complaints of the paying passenger in back as he detoured to the animal hospital. “He was just laying there on the easement with his legs broken but sitting up, you know, watching the cars pass,” Tom recalled of the dog. “Every time a car went by it would ruffle the fur on his coat.”

As we belted more margaritas, he kept talking about the dog. Stupidly I thought he regretted losing his job as a driver. But I should have seen the signs. I should have seen Tom’s eyes — big, Spaniel eyes rounded in regret — and his hands, cupping and uncupping his margarita glass in painful reminiscence. “Hey,” I said nervously when I saw the tears start to well in his eyes. “Hey, Tom. So you lost your crappy job carting people around, so what?”

Then he told me the truth. He hadn’t saved the dog after all. As his limo passed the animal on the road, the wind ruffled the fur on its coat. He’d hated himself ever since, hated himself for not even slowing down as the dog looked up hopefully. Sometimes, though, Tom would rewrite history and see himself stopping the car and laying the injured animal in the front seat, oblivious to the bitching from the passenger in back. But Tom was incapable of maintaining this fake recollection, and after enough margaritas the truth would return. “I should have stopped,” he said softly, then his big eyes began to leak.

After we returned Tom was canned, but not me, so I quit out of sympathy. It was the least I could do for my kind friend, the guy who made me signs and supported my boozy ravings against the establishment. My Frisbee buddy with the sad eyes of a Spaniel who is forever haunted by the ruffled fur of a dying dog he did nothing to save. Yes, I quit right on the spot. Or I wish I did. Christ, I really wish I did. Instead, I just took it as a sign to stop drinking during the day.??