He ain�t so smart


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����������� Being as close to Montclair State College as The Red Baron was, the bar got an equal mix of �bright boys� as it did blue collars. Although the steady drinkers drove trucks or unloaded them, working out of terminals in Pine Brook or warehouses in Fairfield, weekends saw an influx of the college crowd looking to slum it among the red necks, getting drunk in one great swoop, starting fights they generally lost, stealing away girls the blue collars wanted.

���� On occasion, but not too often, college boys wandered in as part of the regular crowd, sitting up at the bar, sipping beers elbow to elbow with the working stiffs. For the most part, people accepted them, indeed, some of the office girls -- who generally came in to flirt with the truck drivers -- were actually quite taken by these �superior beings,� leaning in on every intelligent syllable they uttered, letting the college boy buy them one too many drinks so as to say �yes� when in most cases with the blue collars they�d have said �no.�

���� A sizeable part of the male bar population, however, took as ill to this version of the college crowd as most did to the weekend warriors, seeing the individual weekday regular as in some ways more dangerous, like a secret agent from some alien race of beings sneaking in to gather intelligence about life on our planet, taking away the women as merely convenience.

����������� I got away with going to college because I started there years after I started hanging out, and was generally viewed by the bar crowd as someone clawing my way out of the gutter to make something of my life. In some ways, I never managed to adopt the mannerisms that marked me as a college boy, losing out a little on the campus where the younger crowd sometimes viewed me with some disdain the way they might have a hillbilly. I never quite got the lingo right and continually made foolish mistakes no fully educated college kid would have made. Not only did I have gaps in my intellectual upbringing, but flaws in the way I acted, always laughing a little too hard or saying the wrong thing, unable to divorce myself from the blue collar life from which I had rose.

����������� I guess that�s why the guy at the bar didn�t peg me for a college boy when he sat down beside me one week night and eyed one of the college regulars down the bar with disdain. When I offered to buy him a drink, in that tradition long lost in more modern bar settings, using the beer as a means of starting a conversation, his opinion of me rose.

����������� �Another beer?� he said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, more a habit than a necessity. �Sure, I never refuse something for nothing. My old man used to say only a fool ever did.�

����������� He fished a Marlboro out of a box on the bar, snapped open an army-style lighter to light it and sucked the smoke deeply into his lungs. He was dirty, but he had a sense of the everyday about him, his blue overalls worn at the cuffs, washed too much, with spots of stain suggesting he was a mechanic or someone who had regular dealings with dark fluids. He stuck out his freehand for me to shake.

����������� �My name�s Bart,� he said. �But people around here mostly call me `Lefty� cause I�m left handed. The nuns used to try go break me of it, but I survived. I didn�t last long in Catholic school because of it neither. I suppose I was never one much for proper manners and such. Not like Mister Dainty-Pants over there, if you get my drift.�

����������� He jabbed the hand with the cigarette towards a crowd down at the bar, where a clutch of clerical help still in their office clothing giggled over remarks made by a large, blond-haired man.

����������� �Yeah him,� Lefty said, answering a question I had not asked. �The one everybody thinks is so smart. I could tell you a thing or two about that if you had time to listen.�

����������� If my expression said I lacked time, Lefty missed it, mumbling on in what seemed to a story he had told often and to many, part of a campaign against the college crowd had had only marginally encountered previously.

����������� �So smug I wanted to smack him the first time I met him here -- sitting right where you're sitting, dressed in a shirt with that small alligator on it, wearing shoes that would have cost me a week�s wages to buy I wanted to ask him why he wasn't up in Verona with the rest of his kind. But hell, I'm not a mean guy. I thought I'd try to make friends.

����������� �He squinted at me like a was crazy, but I wasn�t the only one looking at him funny. Most of the guys at the pool table didn�t like him coming in here either, and kept mumbled about him loud enough so he could hear. I guess we all figure if one comes in during the week, we�re gonna get them all, and then where would we be? Stuck with them stealing all the girls.�

����������� Lefty crushed out his cigarette, drained his beer and held up his glass for Tommy to refill, though Tommy was a little busy filling the orders down the bar, all the girls getting their giggles by buying the college man a drink. Perhaps they wanted to get him drunk and force him to take one of them home. Lefty seemed to think so and grumbled some more.

����������� �It's the way they look at you, I can�t take, their pupils opening ever so slightly like some analyzing machine,� he said. �That bastard looked at me like that, even sniffed at me as if I stunk. I washed up after work like everybody else. I just don�t bring no cologne with me so as to smell pretty the way he and his kind do. If he don�t the smell of gasoline and oil, he ought to go to bars where people won�t smell that way. He even looked offended when I offered to by him a drink, as if I�d stick some poison in it or something.

����������� �He didn�t even want to shake my hand, cringing a little when he did, as if he�d catch something from me. Look, I know I�m not refined and all, and sometimes, I drink a little too much and speak a little too much of my mind. But nobody -- not even a nigger -- deserves to be treated like that.

����������� �I didn�t guess anything more about him until he said his name was Carl, and then it hit me. People had been talking about what a genius he was, and how good he was figuring things out in his head. When I confronted him with it, he looked a little embarrassed. I think he saved that line for the girls and didn�t like hearing it when it came back at him from one of the guys. I saw him try and hide the paperback book he had stuffed in his back pocket, looking a little like a kid caught with something dirty -- only that book didn�t have nothing dirty about it, real intellectual stuff if I know anything.

����������� �Maybe he just kept it there waiting for some girl to notice so he could have an excuse to tell her how smart he was. That isn�t my kind of smart. Smart is learning to get through the workweek without killing your boss. I told him as much, and he gave me that queer look again.

����������� �I tried to change the subject and talk about the losing streak the Giants were on, and how it weren�t likely the team would make the Superbowl any time soon. He looked at me like I was talking a foreign language.

�`The Giants,� I said, talking real slow and loud in case he was hard of hearing. `You know the football team?�

����������� �But still he looked me and shook his head.

����������� �`Don't tell me you've never heard of football?� I said.

����������� �`I've heard of it,� he said. `But it never interested me much.�

����������� �I didn�t have anything left to say, I was so shocked,� Lefty mumbled. �How many goddamn Monday nights had I spent in this place my eyes glued to that TV over there to have that smart assed bastard saying he doesn�t like football� But I didn�t give up on him. I just changed the subject too booze and getting drunk, knowing how the college crowd liked boozing it up as much as we did, if only they did it all at once, instead of coming in day after day.

����������� �But he said he wasn�t like that, that he came into the bar about once a week to `socialize,� meaning, of course, to talk to our girls, and maybe take one home or something.

����������� �Even that, I could have respected, except when I started to point out the attributes of some of the babes sitting around the bar and asked him how he�d like to get into their pants, he looked at me like I was talking shit.

����������� �`Look, friend,� he said so slowly he must have thought me too stupid to understand him if he spoke quick. `Nobody asked you to talk to me so I wish you would go find someone else to bother.�

����������� �Just like that he said it! Other people heard him, too. But there he is, talking to those girls, thinking about how to get at them, only he�s too good to talk about it out in the open. God, we�re only human. I just wish guys like that would admit it once in a while.�



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