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The Ant, the Grasshopper…

and the Bar Fly

     So, this guy comes into a bar…actually the two of them had been lounging for most of the afternoon flexing what was left of their pale muscles, pumping wisdom like a tired old well about to call it a lifetime. Both were heavy into self-absorbed. But swashbuckling tomcats like Don Juan were light on scrutiny preferring the other side of the looking glass to the mirror.

     These were very important men. Don Juan had an opinion on everything which he shared with the less fortunate like Candy, his shell-shocked drinking buddy who had eager ears but little as backup. 

     “Yeah, I’ve damn well got her made,” started Don Juan. “Got my bank roll, my trailer house is paid for, and my pickup is runnin’ great.”

     He turned his neck ever so slightly and caught a glimpse of Candy who looked like he was trying to crawl into his cloudy pilsner glass.

     “For crying out loud, man, sit up straight,” he cuffed. “Look at your body language. It says everything about you. It tips your hand.”

     Candy looked at his body. He didn’t see or hear anything but he came to attention anyway following a pattern that had begun early on. Candy was there as a human reaction, to do as he was told. He was all but transparent because it had become easier that way.

     “Look at this,” said Don Juan, scanning the local gazette as he reached for his beer. “They sent a probe to Mars but it blew up when it got close. Idiots! I wonder how much that cost. I pay taxes and I’m damn sick and tired of the government shooting off space ships like they were butterflies.”

     Don Juan thought about what he had just said and smiled at his linguistic flair.

     “I don’t like bugs,” said Candy, “especially flying ones.”

     Don Juan continued to read the paper; his glasses fallen down around his cantaloupe nose. To him the expression on his face while reading was far more important than any information extracted from the experience. He wore a somber frown accentuated by hush puppies and a cap that read Cheyenne Frontier Days.

     “Winter’s comin’,” he soapboxed. “Look here. It snowed three feet in Duluth just yesterday. I’m glad I’m ready…got my wood all in and new mud and snows on the Power Wagon. How ’bout you?”

     Candy looked into the bar mirror. He had a propane heater in his small apartment that was paid for by the Veteran’s Administration because of the war. He didn’t drive and the last time he tried to can a batch of tomatoes, given to him by his sister over in Delta, he’d almost blown up the place. How could Candy prepare for winter? One season just plowed into another.

     “Oh, I’m fine,” he choked with an uncertain voice, all but drowned out by the television.

     “Fine, huh?” barked Don Juan. “Just like last year when you never got around to taping your windows and your pipes froze. Then you had to sleep on my couch for the whole month of January. You’re like the man who had a forest of firewood at his fingertips but forgot to discover fire.”

     Don Juan was on a roll.

     “Security doesn’t just wander up into your yard,” he preached. “You gotta go get it. Whether it’s financial, social or romantic there’s a brawl going on and you just as well join in right away. Lead with your left, boy!”

     He slapped Candy hard on the back. The tiny toothless aperture just under his road map nose was not to be stopped now.

     “Take money, for instance,” he continued. “I worked for thirty-five years to get me a nest egg and now I’m gonna enjoy it. I got stocks and bonds, 40 acres up on the Plateau, a great retirement, CDs, credit cards, a fat bank account and even some of them annuities. Everything I got is paid for and I don’t have any kids to leave nothin’ to.”

     Candy stared into his empty glass. Don Juan ordered two more beers and companion shots. He had a captive audience and the four dollars was a well spent investment to keep it that way.

     “You might as well spend it all,” quipped Candy breaking into a smile.

     “Hell, we might just do that this afternoon,” smiled Don Juan who continued to peruse the paper. He was a man smart enough to do two things at once.

     “Yeah, you got to be ready for winter around these parts,” he said glancing in the direction of his doleful disciple who smelled like an empty case of Pabst. “You still got time and maybe I’ll even lend a hand but first let me tell you a story. I know you don’t like bugs but it’s called The Ants and the Grasshopper. It’s by some fella named Aesop. He was a Greek a long time ago.”

     Candy perked up. “That’s a funny sounding name,” he mumbled.

     Maybe you’ll get the connection here. You’ve got to have your affairs in order. You never know when your card will come up. What would you do in an emergency? What do you have to fall back on?”

     Don Juan went on to tell Candy the story of the industrious ants and the lazy grasshopper. Despite the fact that Candy did not like bugs he listened intently. Don Juan told him about the ants drying grain on a fine winter’s day. The grain had been collected over long, hard days throughout the summer months.

     “Then along comes this grasshopper, half starved, begging for a handout,” he explained. “One of the ants asked him why he had not stored up any food during the summer. He says he had not leisure time enough and that he had passed the days singing. The ants scorned him saying that if he had been foolish enough to sing away the summer then he must dance supperless to bed in the winter.”

     Don Juan waited for a response.

     “Mean little bastards,” said Candy.

     “You miss the point,” said Don Juan. “The ants worked at getting their ducks in a row while the grasshopper wasted his time. It’s just like you and me,” he added. “I’m the ant and you’re the grasshopper. My house in order while your roof is caving in.”

     Suddenly Don Juan clutched his chest, executing a poignant plunge from his prosaic perch at the bar. A swan dive in a dive. He hit the floor hard, his satellite brew crashing beside him. He was a goner.

     At the funeral a lot of people that Candy had never seen talked about what a great man Don Juan had been. They said he had grit. They said he had enjoyed a full life. They said he’d be missed. What they were really doing was a little preheat jockeying for position with regards to his assets, which ended up going to an uncle and aunt Don Juan had never liked.

     Meanwhile Candy wandered home and spent the rest of the day putting up visquine over the peewee windows of his ratty chamber. Was there no end to the chores? Don Juan’s old pickup sat propped in the driveway, a gift from the counterfeit relatives who didn’t want to haul the thing back to Salida. Now he would have to put gas in it. How would he ever get around to that.

– Kashmir Horseshoe