THE REGULARS, THE few of them who'd shown up this first night of the O.J.'s rebirth, were discussing homecomings. "Who was it said," one of them wanted to know, " 'There's no place like home alone'?"
"No, she said, 'I want to be home alone. "
"Switzerland, she meant."
"Switzerland? Greta Garbo came from Switzerland?"
"This place was closed for a couple days."
Wait a minute; that wasn't a regular. That was a little droopy-nosed guy sitting in front of his beer a little off to the right of the regulars who, being so thinned out in number, hardly took up any bar frontage at all.
It was the first regular who answered: "It's been a hairy couple days. Nobody knew what the future was gonna hold. It was like that time Amelia Earhart got lost."
"She's still lost," pointed out the second regular.
"She is? Well, D. B. Cooper, then."
"The guy went outa the airplane with the money? He's still lost, too, but I think he wants it that way."
"Well, dammit, Judge Crater, then."
"He's also still lost."
Exasperated, the first regular said, "Doesn't anybody ever get found?"
The droopy-nosed guy said, "The O.J. wasn't ever lost, you know. It was still here. It just wasn't open."
"Gave me the whim-whams," the third regular confessed. "You leave your place, you go out on the street, you go in where you're supposed to go in, there's guys in the place make you very uncomfortable."
"Exactly," the first regular said, "but whadaya gonna do?"
"So you come back the next day," the third regular said. "You know, it's like your route, it's what you do. But then you come down the street, you're braced for the uncomfortable guys, you turn in at the door, bang, it's locked. You can't go in. Walk around the block, try again, same thing. This whole neighborhood, man, I felt like it was goin to hell."
"Yeah, I get that," the droopy-nosed guy said. "But what happened?"
"Well, some people," the second regular said, "think those guys were part of a reality show, where everybody has to be difficult and obnoxious, only then it got canceled."
"That's not what I heard," the first regular said. "I heard they were hooked up with some Arab sheikhs wanted to buy the place without anybody knowing, so they could get booze without anybody knowing, which is why all those cases of hard stuff kept coming in, but then some of their wives found out about it and made them stop."
The second regular frowned like an olive tree. "Arabs? Those guys were Arab sheikhs?"
"No, the representatives. The sheikhs couldn't do it theirselves because they're not supposed to be around booze."
"That's not what I heard," the first regular announced. "What I heard, they were working for some real estate guy, wanted to buy the whole block, force people out, put up one of those middle-finger towers."
The third regular smirked a little. "Force people out," he asked, "by bringing in all that liquor?"
The first regular was still marshaling his forces for the rebuttal when the door opened and half a dozen guys tromped in. They were older guys but big and meaty, with close-cropped gray hair and lots of tattoos showing below their white T-shirts. They had a kind of rolling gait in their walk, and they headed for the opposite end of the bar from the regulars, hallooing, "Hey, Rollo! Whadaya say, Rollo? Land ho, Rollo! Permission to board, Rollo!"
"Pipe yourselves aboard, boys," Rollo replied, and immediately began dealing out glasses onto the bar, followed by a big bowl of ice, followed by two bottles of nationally-known-brand whiskey.
The regulars, once again stunned into silence, watched this largesse with unbelieving eyes, until the droopy-nosed guy said, "But what happened? I heard the old owner all of a sudden came up from somewhere—"
"Puerto Rico, I heard."
"Whada you guys know? It was Padre Island, Texas."
"But," the droopy-nosed guy persisted, "what made him come up all of a sudden?"
"Oh, some crook told him what was goin on," the first regular said.
The droopy-nosed guy looked confused. "Some crook?"
The second regular explained, "There's these guys, they come in here sometimes, use the back room to do their plotting, their planning."
"You mean like robberies, burglaries, like that?"
"Something like that," the first regular agreed. "None of our business."
"We buttoutski," explained the second regular.
"See no hear no speak no," expanded the third regular.
"But it was one of those crooks, crook-types," the droopy-nosed guy said, "that talked to the old owner down south somewhere?"
"Yeah," said the first regular, and asked himself, "Now, what's that guy's name?"
"It's the same as some beer," the second regular told him. "I know that much."
"Ballantine?" hazarded the third regular.
"No," said the second regular, as the new arrivals at the other end of the bar started in on some sea chanteys.
The first regular had to raise his voice but managed: "Budweiser?"
"No, it's something foreign."
"Molson," tried the first regular.
"Molson?" The second regular couldn't believe it. "That's not foreign!"
"Canadian isn't foreign!" The second regular pointed perhaps north. "It's right there! They're part of us, they're with us, except for 'oot' and 'aboot' they talk the same language as us."
"They're their own country," the first regular insisted. "Like Hawaii."
"It's not Molson," the second regular told him, to put an end to that.
The droopy-nosed guy said, "Heineken?"
Everybody took shots at it now: "Beck?"
"What? He's not Chinese, he's like one of us, he's not even Canadian, it's just his name is—"
"Nobody's named Dos Equis! Wait a minute, wait a minute."
When the second regular put on his thinking cap, it made his entire forehead form grooves, as though somewhere there might be a socket to screw his head into. "Dortmund!" he suddenly cried.
They all looked at him. "Yeah?"
"Yeah! That's his name! Dortmund."
"That's pretty funny," said the droopy-nosed guy, and took the name with him back to Jersey, where he gave it to Mikey, who didn't think it was very funny at all.