Rex’s son Marshal and Tommy’s daughter Dewey Claire, on the opposite side of the No. 14 tee stand, gazed at their dads, who were just sitting down at the handsome portable bar beyond the wedding banquet tables.
“I’d like to be a fly on the mahogany listening to that conversation,” said Dewey Claire.
Rex placed both hands flat on the bar. He looked over at the bartender, a young Hispanic man. He ordered his pinot noir. Then he looked around at Tommy.
“You look thirsty,” he said. “What’ll it be?”
“Rex,” said Tommy, “there’s a time for wine, and there’s a time for gin. Julio, I’ll have a Negroni.”
“Negroni. A strong choice, I would agree.”
“J.J. poured me a Negroni once a long time ago,” said Tommy, “and I’ve never looked back. She was feeding me Negronis when I was under age.”
Julio handed him his drink.
“That’s an excellent job,” said Tommy. “See, Rex? The one oversize ice cube and the orange peel. That’s a proper Negroni.”
“To your health!” said Rex.
Tommy dug into his pocket.
“I want to show you something,” he said.
He started tap-tapping on his cell phone.
“Dewey Claire took this photo when she was with Marshal at that Hall of Fame event in West Dell last year. She sent it to me. Look at this.”
Rex raised Tommy’s phone close to his face. He looked at the familiar finish-line photo of Tommy and himself from more than fifty years ago.
“My two-hundred-meter record at West Dell still stands, after all these years,” said Rex. “It’s astounding to me. Truth is, I had quite a few records back then. I’ll bet you did too. But you always expect those records to fall after a couple years.”
“My record still stands too. I set the record at West Dell even though I didn’t win the race. You know you’re the only guy who ever beat me in the two hundred meters?”
“You pushing me was the reason I ran that twenty-two flat. I owe it all to you.”
“You know,” said Tommy, “you didn’t really outrun me.”
“Meaning what exactly?”
“You out-leaned me.”
“This much. By this much you beat me. What I don’t get is, if I’m a good three inches taller than you, how did you out-lean me at the wire?”
“Tommy, it’s all about technique.”
Yes, it was fifty years since that famous race. Rex with his slim form, short brown hair, forehead moving north, was easily recognizable as that West Dell boy, now with a few wrinkles around his eyes, near-sighted with bifocals. Tommy also remained slim and even youthful, but with the blond hair gone thin and white. Both these sixty-something men had something, a liveliness, a joy in living, that kept them youthful.
Evening was descending on them. The sky was blue-black, and one thin pink cloud floated above the tee stand.
“I saw your name in the Times the other day,” Rex told Tommy. “You were on the article’s list of ‘the brainiest people in government.’ Number two or three, something like that.”
“What a bunch of baloney. What’s the Times doing publishing nonsense like that?”
“You’re being too modest.”
“By the way,” said Tommy, “I read your book. A long time ago, actually. Damn good piece of work. Sound advice for young people to get ahead in their workplace but don’t yet have the tools.”
“It was obvious when I was working in Security at the casino that there were a lot of youngsters who had the ambition and the native intelligence to be promoted. But they needed guidance when it came to professionalism. My mother put it this way — stand up straight and look like you mean business. Work on those writing skills too.”
“And that offshoot group,” Tommy continued. “The Stand Up Straight Society. I joined, I get their emails.”
Rex turned now to the bartender.
“Julio, if you please?” he said.
And he held up two fingers.
“Hey,” said Tommy, “I never had a second Negroni before. Okay, what the hell. Promise me you’ll take me home and put me to bed?”
Tommy took the slice of orange peel from his cocktail and swirled it in little circles.
“Marshal tells me that after, what, two or three years, your book is still selling well.”
“I’ve always thought it’s a stretch to call it a book. I think of it as an instruction manual. But, yes, sales are good. It proved there was a good market for my pamphlet. And another thing, Trudy turned out to be a whiz at marketing. Not a week goes by but what we don’t have a few new contracts to sign.”
“And Marshal arranges for charitable donations?”
“Trudy brings the money in, and Marshal sends it back out.”
“I hear you’re one of the biggest philanthropists in the state. Nature preserves, boys’ and girls’ clubs.”
“Well, at the risk of sounding like an idiot, why do I need piles of money? But I’m happy to know that my pamphlet has helped some youngsters get ahead in their career.”
They took a moment to see what was happening around them. The music still played, and the dancers still danced. Some of the older folks had drifted away, and it was a mostly young crowd now.
“I’m a minor-league player compared to the stuff you’ve been working on lately,” said Rex.
Since Senator French had retired, Tommy had worked for the hyperactive David Espinosa, congressman from New York, in his early forties still young, a progressive. Tommy still focused on the issues he had always been interested in — health care, the wealth tax, the minimum wage, income disparity. Tommy and his boss were of one mind on these and indeed on every issue. In addition to these matters was one that was currently very hot — the Universal Basic Income.
“I think it’s inevitable the UBI will happen someday,” said Tommy. “Automation will kill more and more jobs every year. The UBI wouldn’t really be enough of an income to live on — say, a thousand dollars a month. It would be a supplement.”
“I’ve read about it,” said Rex. “It’d be less expensive than people think because it would replace certain welfare programs, and food stamps, and so forth. Is that how you see it?”
“My boss David has me working on the legislation.”
“Didn’t I read that you’re working on a book?”
“It’ll focus on the UBI and a few other issues. It’s sure to be a bestseller, don’t you think?”
Tommy was making fun of himself. Rex waved a finger at him.
“I was about to ask you if you might use a book like that to kick-start a campaign for public office for yourself. But I think I know the answer to that.”
Tommy shook his head.
“I realized a long time ago that I wasn’t cut out to be a politician. I don’t have the patience to put up with the bullshit. I’m too eggheady. I’m just a policy wonk. I’m happy with that.”
Rex glanced at his watch.
“Oh my God, it’s almost ten. Bedtime for Sexy Rexy. I’ll tell you something that’s kind of a secret. I’m going to write a book too.”
“Good! I look forward to reading it. What’s it gonna be about?”
“Well, it’s like this. I’ve got a pet peeve, something I’ve mentioned to Trudy many times. She said, write a book. My gripe is about how boys are educated in this country. You’ve got a kid six, eight, ten years old, bursting with energy, and what do they do with him, tell him he’s got to sit at a desk all day. School is designed more for girls, maybe?”
“And at the same time, schools perpetuate male stereotypes. They want you to play football and take shop class. But if they’d teach you to cook and to dance, think about it. If you could cook dinner for your date and then take her out dancing, the girls would line up for a chance to get at you.”
Tommy pondered all this, nodding slowly. Then he reached into his pocket and drew out a five-dollar bill. He laughed.
“I’ve got five bucks says your book will outsell mine.”