Me, Josh, his best friend Dylan and Sloppy Joe were having a guys night out this past Saturday. We started off with a huge dinner at Buca, then hit the super chill cigar lounge across the street. Sloppy Joe had a midnight curfew from his new girlfriend, so that left just me, Josh and Dylan. None of us wanted to go home, so I talked them into heading around the alley corner to the Volcano. While we were walking over, I asked Dylan about his brother Travis, who was in the psych ward at Huntington Hospital. I’d of done it earlier, but I didn’t want to bring it up in front of Sloppy Joe, since I didn’t think he knew what happened.
“He’s doing better,” Dylan said. “Still no idea when he’s getting out, though.”
“That’s great news,” I said. Then I stopped short of saying that I thought the place they had Travis was almost like a jail. Dylan and his family may have thought that he was better off in there for a while, and there here was probably more to the story than what Travis told me and Keaton. “So maybe me and Keaton should go see him again next week?”
“I’m not sure. I think Mom and Dad are going to want to keep all the visiting hours to themselves. It’s only an hour and a half a day, remember. But it was real nice of you and Keaton to go see him. It cheered him up a lot. Maybe we should get more of his friends to visit…but Mom and Dad are still in highly overprotective mode.”
“Like you should talk about being overprotective,” Josh said.
“Hey, Travis is my baby brother, and I worry about him. Like we all saw last week…he gives us something to worry about.”
I wasn’t going to interfere. I certainly wasn’t going to say that me and Keaton didn’t think Travis was crazy. Like I just said, there’s probably more to the story than what Travis told us.
“I thought it would be great to take Travis to a Dodger game,” I said. “Me and Keaton. Do you think that would be okay with your parents?”
“I don’t think he’s going to be out anytime soon,” Dylan said.
I looked up the Dodgers schedule on my phone. They’ve got a series of games against the Rockies weekend after next, and then that’s it for home games until the playoffs.
“How about Sunday the 21st? He’ll definitely be out by then.” I counted the 3 and 14 day holds from Labor Day before I said that.
We stopped in the alley to have that discussion, but we started walking again. 20 seconds later we were shaking hands with Keaton, who was on guard at the bar’s door. (I also made sure he’ll be free two weeks from Sunday to go to the game with Travis. He’s good.)
Josh has been to the Volcano a few times, but we were both surprised that Dylan didn’t know the place. Keaton knew I would be over eventually so he could drive me home, but he was reckoning that I’d have Sloppy Joe with me. He looked surprised when I showed up with Josh and Dylan instead.
“This is the place,” I said once we were inside. “Kinda a dive ambience, but a pretty chill crowd. Sometimes they get a few jerkoffs, though.”
“SGV wetback trash he means,” said Miguel, who was walking by and heard what I was saying.
I introduced Miguel to Dylan and Josh, and he moved along to say something to Keaton. They take turns watching the door and walking around to keep the peace.
“Scary dude,” said Dylan, who I think was a little put off by Miguel’s calling people wetback trash.
“He’s a latino,” I said. “He’s allowed to say wetback.”
“When you’re his size, you can say whatever you want.”
“Miguel may look all badass, but the bad cop is actually Keaton,” I explained. “He’s the one you seriously don’t want pissed off at you.”
“Fuuuuck…” said Dylan. “Who’s that?”
That was Dani, who was behind the bar with super gay super blond Ron, as usual on a Saturday night. I introduced everybody. Dani made a point of bending over real far when she was getting Josh and Dylan their beers. I tried not to laugh.
We then headed out to the patio to sit. It was pretty busy, but there was space for us at one of the picnic tables. We weren’t sitting there long before Carter came over and joined us. He was pretty shitfaced, although less shitfaced than he usually is at 1 in the morning. He was wearing cargo shorts, flip-flops, a USC tshirt…and a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap. I didn’t know that he was so into politics. He hung out with us for a while. He’s a cool dude, even when he’s drunk. Thing is I got to see him sober a few times this summer when I was over using the Andrews’ pool, and he’s super nice that way. It’s not that he’s a jerkoff or anything when he’s drinking…but he does get fuckin stupid. (Everybody who’s 22 gets fuckin stupid when they drink, although, like y’all know, Carter can get stupider than most.)
He eventually headed off to get another beer, and, a few minutes later, someone slapped me on the back and said “Seager’s fuckin awesome!”. I was pretty dang puzzled for a moment, then I remembered I was wearing a tshirt with Seager’s name and number on the back. The dude who slapped me on the back and two of his buddies were also on their way home from the game; we asked them to take a seat and we talked baseball for a while. Y’all know I’m always down for that.
So everything was cool and…well…y’all can probably guess what happened next. The kind of noise that makes you go over to the area around the side of the bar where it’s ok to smoke and where trouble usually happens if it’s gonna happen.
We got up to see what was going on. When we got there a tall Asian dude was being real loud and saying “you’re a fuckin racist man…admit it, you’re a fuckin racist.”
“Yeah, you’re a fuckin racist,” repeated what I reckoned was the tall dude’s friend. He was a much shorter stocky Asian. They were probably 21 or 22. Remember what I just said about 22 year olds being stupid when they drink?
The dude they were calling a racist was…wait for it…Carter.
“I may be a racist. But you’re a fuckin asshole, asshole,” he said.
“You’re the asshole. Fuckin nazi racist asshole. Sexually harass any women lately, asshole?”
“If I harass anyone, it’s gonna be you, motherfucker.”
“Shut the fuck up, you fuckin racist.”
“Yeah, shut the fuck up.”
“Free country, man. I can say what I want.”
“Not if it’s toxic racist bullshit.”
“You ever hear of the Constitution?”
“It doesn’t give you the right to be a racist, fucker.”
“You think you can stop me from being one, asshole?”
It looks totally lameass and pretty funny when you write it, but if you’ve ever been in a bar at 1:30 and two guys start in at each other, you know this kind of dialogue. By that point there was a bunch of us watching, and we were all waiting for someone to make a move.
Turns out the person who made the move was Keaton, who turned up out of nowhere.
“There a problem here?”
“Yeah. I got a problem with the fuckin nazi racist asshole over there.”
“You got a problem with him, then I got a problem with you, man. And that means you got more problem than you can handle. Head on home, buddy. And take your friend.”
“You fuckin throwing me out?”
“I ain’t doin any throwing. Yet.”
Ok, so what’s the one thing you should never do to Keaton Penner? Y’all know it by now: take a swing at him. Which is what the tall Asian dude did. He didn’t connect. Keaton’s work on the light bag really paid off next, because I didn’t even see him throw the punch that landed the Asian dude on his ass. El Tigre would have been proud. It must have been a right, since he immediately landed a left in the dude’s buddy’s jaw. That knocked him on his ass too. He probably didn’t realize that Keaton went easy on him with the shot, since I reckon the last thing Keaton wanted was another KOd jerkoff to drive to the ER.
“Got anything else you wanna say to me, motherfuckers?”
They were both still getting to their feet. The dude who’d gotten it in the jaw already had a big red mark on his face.
The Asian dudes did what they should have instead of trying to start trouble with Keaton.
Keaton got applause from the customers who walked over to watch the fight that didn’t turn into a fight. Like usual when he gets a compliment, he just growled.
And he started in on Carter.
“The fuck, man? What are you gonna do when you don’t have me around to fuckin save your ass? You really think you were gonna fuckin survive two against one?”
“I can handle myself.”
“Last time I saw you handling yourself you were getting your ass kicked by a dude you had 30 pounds on.” He put his hand out. “Give me the fuckin hat.”
Carter knew better than to ask why.
“If I thought you really believed in Trump, I’d let you have it. But you just put it on to stir up shit. I know you, man.”
“No…I…ok…you’re right. It worked, though.”
“I don’t mind saving your ass, man. It was a boring night until a few minutes ago…but I gotta say it. One of these days I’m not gonna be around and you’re gonna get yourself in a shitload of trouble.” He folded up the ball cap. “Probably do you some good.” He laughed. “Go take a seat with bubba over there and cool off. Do I need to get you some coffee?”
“No. I’m good, man,” said Carter, who obediently walked back with us to our table.
I could tell both Josh and Dylan were impressed with this side of Keaton they didn’t know about.
“Who the fuck is your boxing teacher? Shit, man. Sign me up. I just thought Keaton was good at double plays and needed a haircut. That was something to see. Does it usually get that rough in this place?,” Dylan asked.
“Only when I’m here,” said Carter.
“Did you really put the hat on to stir up shit?”
“Fuck yeah. I didn’t vote for Trump. I didn’t vote. I just like pissing off SJWs. I got enough of them at USC. Those two assholes go to PCC. Shows that they’re a bunch of assholes over there too.”
“Dude,” I said, “you can’t go pissing off politically correct jerkoffs like that. You’re pretty fuckin lucky Keaton’s always around to save your ass.”
“Maybe you’re the one that needs to take lessons with…what’s his name?,” Josh asked.
“El Tigre,” I said. “Or maybe Keaton’s right and he should just let you get your ass kicked once. You learn a lot losing fights.” Then I felt a little bad for him: I know Mr. Andrews, and he’s not the kind of father who takes you out in the garage and teaches you how to take care of yourself. He’s the kind of dad who sends his son a text when his big dream comes true and he makes the baseball team. “But I reckon nobody ever taught you or Lucas how to fight.”
“Of course not. I’ve got the kind of dad who hires a baseball tutor for his son.”
“Oh…wait a second…this is the brother of the kid you coach?,” Josh asked.
“Sorry. Probably should have told y’all that first. Lucas is Carter’s younger brother.”
“Are you still working with him?”
“I think so,” I said. “I haven’t heard anything different from his parents. We worked for an hour the day before yesterday. He learned a lot away at baseball camp.”
“Baseball camp too?,” asked Dylan. “The kid must be serious. Is he any good?”
“He’s getting there.”
“Hunter’s not gonna say it, but he’s a great tutor. He got Lucas to make the team at school when nobody thought he would.”
“You ought to look into taking on other kids,” said Josh. “It’s got to be more interesting than working at the Gap.”
Before I had to answer the lights on the patio flashed. Keaton came over to us through the door.
“Closing time, cowboy,” he said to Carter. “Call yourself an uber.”
“Yessir,” Carter said. “And thanks, man. I hope I wasn’t too big of a dumbass.”
“Like I said, boring night. Not often I get to punch two guys.”
“Keaton’s my ride,” I told Josh and Dylan, “so I’m gonna stick around. It was a fun night. We gotta do it again.”
“I get my next free pass in a month,” said Josh.
“We’ll let you know,” said Dylan.
“One of you guys should text me as soon as Travis gets out. I’ll get the ballgame tickets in the meantime.”
“I’ll take care of that,” Josh said.
“But don’t expect it to be anytime before the end of the week,” Dylan added.
Then they cleared out with the rest of the crowd. I went inside, Keaton handed me a Short Story, I lit it and went to sit on my stool in the corner like usual, and, also like usual, Miguel told me I wasn’t gonna be so pretty if I got ash on the floor.
Maybe if they’d let me order that extra meatball at dinner I wouldn’t of been so hungry as I was then. So me and Keaton were gonna hit the IHOP as soon as he, Miguel, Dani and Ron were done with their share of the cleaning.