Happy Hour At the Jackal’s Bar
In every capital city there are hundreds of pubs and bars. Most are the larger chains that decant absurdly named drinks into equally absurdly dressed tourists who buy t-shirts to commemorate the experience and then throw up. Other bars cater to the lunch and dinner trade with the servers dressed in uniforms that violate gravity and labor laws. Then there are the utility bars that are the neighborhood watering holes where hardened drinkers pass afternoons quietly killing themselves only to wake up to the daily disappointment that they have failed to die.
Beyond the theme bars and the hole in the wall dives of despair, there are the bars that, by accident or design, cater to the professions; the fireman’s bar, the policeman’s bar, the hospital bar, the lawyers’ bar. In places like these the professional can drink, talk shop or, more often than not, say nothing about shop and relax without having to worry about disgracing themselves before members of the general public. Then there are those bars that are transformed for the season. The lounges where state senators and representative go to drink and eat at the special interests’ expense and casually demand those things which are well outside the bounds of legally defined gifts but well within the norm for state politicians to demand. Even the lobbyist needs a place, away from the prying eyes of the public, to sit among their own and enjoy a meditative cocktail.
Mark Andelshutz owns such a bar. Originally he had bought it as a watering hole for employees of the newspaper he used to be editor of. As a cub reporter he had drank and dined at this bar when the town supported three newspapers and an army of out of town correspondents, all of whom would go to the bar which was officially named “Murphy’s” but answered to the “The Press Room.” Mark, whose original plan had been to retire to South Carolina with his wife Katherine and run a small town newspaper, was forced to rethink that plan when Katherine was diagnosed with liver cancer. After she died, and facing an early retirement after the paper changed hands, he took most of his remaining money and bought Murphy’s. He officially changed the name to “The Press Room.” Within two years the paper he had spent his entire career with and it’s cross street rival, the source of his main trade, had folded. Visiting correspondents were fewer than in years past and were of a generation that grew up drinking at chain theme bars. Fortunately for Mark, The Press Room was perfectly situated to become one of those Seasonal Bars; and, during the legislature’s session he does a very brisk trade with lobbyists dropping by for an after dinner drink.
It was late Friday, the legislature was coming to the end of its regular session, and I had heard just about as much as I needed to. After spending an hour on the phone calling key clients and sending off emails to others, I packed in my day’s work and went down to the Press Room.
“Hiya Doc,” Mark greeted me as I slid into one of the three available stools at the bar. “What can I get you?”
“Sipping rum on the rocks,” I said and cast a look about the place.
“That bad?” Mark asked getting a tumbler and ice.
“Not bad for me Mark, just for my clients,” I smiled. It had been a grisly afternoon.
“I see. You want the Barbancourt, Pompero …” Mark began rattling off the list of his premium rums.
“Kraken,” I cut him off.
“Kraken it is,” Mark smiled and got down the bottle.
Looking about I could see that the place was full. Five servers were running back and forth to the kitchen and Mark had two other bartenders working the back bar. Of the 1,900 or so lobbyist that were in town for the regular sixty day session, at least 300 were in The Press Room.
“I am glad you ordered the Kraken,” Mark said, setting the drink before me. “Only you and Daryl Mickelson drink it and the session is just about over.”
“Will try to finish up that stock for you tonight,” I smiled saluting him and took a drink.
“Much obliged,” Mark said and sidled off to the other end of the bar to wait on another patron who had been hailing him for a beer.
At that point something very unusual for The Press Room occurred. The doors opened and a lobbyist stepped in trailed by three reporters.
“Mr. Mickelson, can we expect a rate rollback?” One reporter shouted.
“Mr. Mickelson, how does the insurance industry feel about the legislation passed today?” another shouted.
“Mr. Mickelson, won’t this new legislation cut off necessary healthcare?” the third asked.
Daryl wheeled about and presented a well-polished smile. The former house president turned lobbyist was about to have an impromptu press conference.
“We are, understandably disappointed by the half measures passed today. While we do believe that they may help contain some of the sky rocketing expenses, we remain convinced that a fundamental restructuring of the State’s regulation of insurance providers is necessary and we will continue to support this administration’s goals to further deregulate insurance in this state,” He said. “Beyond this, I have no further comment at this time.”
The three reporters, having taken down his statement in notes and on recordings, looked about the bar, realized they had strayed into the enemy’s camp and decided to leave. Daryl, having seen them off, turned to his peers and colleagues and was greeted with a general applause. The applause was not for that bit of public theater, but was for the fact that he had achieved what was the legislative coup of the session. Daryl waved in the vague but intimate way that all politicians do and then slid onto the barstool next to me.
“Mark,” he called out, “a double of the Kraken, neat.”
“Coming up,” Mark called back.
“Doc! How goes it?” he said affably.
“Fine,” I smiled, “Though I must admit I had a hard time not blowing rum out my nose laughing when you gave your statement to the press.”
“Pathetic group aren’t they?” he winked. “My daddy would never have been able to get away with that kind of statement in his day.”
I nodded. He was right. We had lost a generation of better reporters and better liars. I raised my glass to him. “To your Daddy and the reporters he outfoxed.”
“To my Daddy,” he agreed, “one of the best politicians this state has ever seen!”
We downed the Kraken and Daryl ordered the next round.
“Don’t expect your clients are too happy, Cusper,” Daryl observed while we waited for Mark.
“No. Not really happy. But as a consultant, my job is only to let them know which way the legislation is going and what it means,” I shrugged.
“Yes, but people love to give the messenger a damn good beating,” Daryl grinned. And, he was right.
“Well, I can’t help but think your clients must be more than happy with you despite your ‘wait and see’ comment,” I said.
“Hell Cusper, after they clean themselves up, get on a plane to Jamaica, and get naked with a copy of this signed legislation they are going consider me a walking, talking aphrodisiac,” Daryl said slyly and took another drink of the Kraken.
The image of naked and aroused insurance company officers was one I wanted to drive from my skull as quickly as possible, so I joined him in downing my drink.
“Cusper,” Daryl said in a conciliatory tone, “you and I know that the government can, with a stroke of the pen, destroy a man’s livelihood.”
“True, in this case five hundred regional clinic facilities,” I said, keeping the recrimination out of my voice.
“Five hundred and fifty three,” he said, “and those cost centers were playing pure hell with my client’s operational expenses.”
“Not anymore,” I smiled. “Besides that, you also got a lot of cost containment language in that law that is going to deter necessary care.”
“Overutilization,” Daryl corrected and waved down Mark.
“I’ve got this one,” I said, and covered the round.
“Look down there,” Daryl nodded to the far end of the bar where a less jubilant air surrounded a handful of drinkers.
“Who are they?” I asked.
As a consultant I don’t make it my business to know all the lobbyists, just the ones who push issues that my clients are interested in.
“Not so much who, but what,” Daryl observed. “They are part of the losers this session. See that lady at the far corner of the bar?”
I looked over as saw a young woman in her early thirties in a blue dress suit having a staring match with the olive in her martini, “Yes.”
“She was pushing that piece of legislation that would privatize twelve of the county prisons. The house was all in for it. Thing looked like a walk through,” Daryl said.
“What happened?” I asked, believing I had read something about it, but not really followed.
“Went down in flames in the senate,” he said, making a motion like a plane crashing.
“Really?” I asked. The house and senate had been in lockstep since the session began.
“Hell yes. The senate president was so pissed he stripped two senior senators of their chairmanships for leading the opposition to the bill,” Daryl shook his head.
“And the governor?” I asked.
“Called ‘em up and cussed ‘em out,” Daryl explained. “Every senator that opposed him on that one got a personal telling off. Only reason he didn’t come down in person to do it was because he was at dinner with the wife and kids.”
“You are telling me that the governor of this great state picked up the phone during dinner and yelled at senators?” I asked in disbelief.
“I am telling you he swore at ‘em,” Daryl said.
“In front of his kids,” I said, shocked.
“He wants them to know what it takes to get things done,” Daryl said.
“Did your Daddy ever do anything like that?”
“No, never!” Daryl said appalled. “I didn’t hear my daddy say so much as a cross word until I was thirteen and that was when he was playing cards with his poker buddy.”
I shook my head. The declining standards continue.
“Now that one over there,” Daryl said, nodding toward an older man who was on his fourth beer.
“The one with the walrus mustache,” I asked not looking down the bar.
“Yes, that’s the one. He was supposed to get rid of the mediation boards set up by some of the cities and counties for dealing with labor law violations.”
This I had heard about. Several communities had instituted mediation to make it easier and more cost effective to resolve wage theft claims.
“Well, he has a number of big players as clients. They don’t like this mediation stuff. Want ‘em to have to go to court,” Daryl observed.
“Where they will have a harder time getting a hearing, getting damages, or even affording competent legal counsel,” I said, not hiding my cynicism.
“Yep. More needless costs that are driving up unemployment and down productivity,” Daryl said.
“Given the current administration, that one sounds like it would be a winner,” I replied.
“Yes, except for one thing,” Daryl countered.
“Let me guess, too many senators and house members have their hands in the mediation pie,” I said.
“Exactly! You sure you didn’t research that one Cusper?” Daryl asked.
“No, I just tried to think the most cynical thing I could then doubled it,” I said.
“You sure you don’t want to come over to the registered lobbyist side? You’ve got a good mind for it,” he observed.
“No, but thanks. I’m more a historian than a history maker,” I said then sipped my rum.
“I like that, historian and history maker,” Daryl mused.
“Just reverse it and you can feel free to use it,” I said generously.
“Thanks,” Daryl Mickelson said, then made a note on a napkin then slid it in his jacket pocket. “Oh jeez,” he muttered.
“What?” I asked, staring at Daryl’s face on which a pained but passable smile was now fixed.
“Timothy Wyndot,” he said to me through pressed lips.
“Never heard of him,” I said, not turning to look.
“Heya, Tim,” Daryl called down to the far end of the bar.
“He is one of the other big firms in town,” Daryl said to me, referring to the fact that his was the biggest. “We ended up on opposite sides of a wage issue.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “You were trying to lower it?”
“No, he was,” Daryl sighed.
I had to look to see who could possibly be a bigger bastard than Daryl Mickelson. The man was tall, clean shaven, with thinning black hair, and appeared to be in his mid-fifties. Then I realized I was looking at former state senator and past senate president, Timothy Wyndot. The man inclined his head toward Michelson.
“Damn, now I will have to go down and talk to him,” Daryl said irritably.
“So how did you become a champion of higher wages for the state’s working poor?” I asked amused. These two had served in the legislature at the same time.
“I wasn’t,” Daryl said more aggravated than aggrieved. “It was basic horse trading. I needed two senators to guarantee passage of the insurance reform package. To get them I had to deliver four votes against the minimum wage equalization bill. Fed minimum for a waitress is $2.13 an hour. The state has its own at $4.40. That’s more than double the Federal and is a job killer.”
“So, to increase insurance company profits you protected tipped wage earners,” I said, implying there might be some sort of virtue to be found here.
“Cusper, I would have supported unwed mother’s rights to use food stamps to buy a fifth of gin every week of their pregnancy to get that bill done,” Daryl smiled and got up from the stool.
He took a deep breath, patted me on the shoulder, and whispered, “Now I’ve got to go show the losers some love.”
“Tim,” he said loudly so that his voice could be heard throughout the bar. “Guys, you will get ‘em next session.”
“Mark, I’ve got this round, for everyone,” Daryl said even louder.
The bar erupted in shouts of thanks and applause. The servers stopped running to and from the kitchen to focus exclusively on filling drink orders. I finished my rum. I could see Daryl in the thick of the lobbyists whom he had pointed out. He was shaking hands and they were smiling and exchanging courtesies.
“What’s it going to be?” Mark asked as he filled orders up and down the bar.
“What?” I asked, confused by the question.
“Daryl’s got this round. What will you have?” Mark explained.
For some reason the offer didn’t seem to extend to me in my mind. I was only a visitor here. But still, a drink is a drink.
“Another Kraken,” I decided.
“Sorry Cusper. You and Daryl killed the Kraken,” he jerked a thumb to the empty place on the top shelf where the bottle normally sat. “How about some Pompero?”
“Nah, Mark, I never change horses during a race. I’ll just take it as a sign and call it a night,” I said, sliding from my stool and pulling out a handful of bills.
“You sure,” Mark asked, taking the money.
“Call me superstitious if you like, but I have killed the Kraken,” I grinned, “and you have got a happy hour on your hands.”
“Jackals are always happy when one of them is buying,” Mark muttered to me.
“Have a good night Mark,” I said to the retired editor and then I left The Press Room.
Text Copyright 2012 Cusper Lynn
Text Copyright 2012 Hellbent Press
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