Friday, September 16, 2022

Poopstone Jones

Frank and Buddy leaned their elbows into Pip’s bar, a Northeast Pennsylvania joint where patrons could drink all night on a five dollar bill and still leave a tip.

Buddy said “Hey, you remember Poopstone Jones?”

Frank, his elbow bent and glass of Firestone halfway to his lips, stopped mid-sip, something he rarely did for anyone. “No,” he said. “And you don’t forget a name like that. Don’t think I ever knew him.”

Buddy pointed toward the end of the bartop. “Guy who always sat over there, by the video machine.”

Frank’s eyes flicked over. “Don’t remember.”

“Always drank hefeweizen, everyone gave him shit about it like he was some kind of Euro-snob or something.”

“I’m telling you, I don’t remember.”

“OK fine. Might’ve been a couple years younger than you. Grew up with us in the hill section. Dunno why, but turns out that a snob was the one thing he wasn’t.”

“Yeah? Wasn’t eating quiche all the time or nothing?”

“Nope, was always eatin’ rocks.”

Frank almost choked on his next sip. “Rocks?”

Buddy shook his head. “Couldn’t take him across a parking lot for Godssake. He’d be picking up pebbles and throwing ‘em down the hatch.”

Frank shook his head, drained his glass, and hoisted his empty for the bartender to see. The man filled another, set the new drink in front of Frank and carried off the empty. Frank was a good tipper.

“Hey Paddy,” Buddy waved, “you remember Poopstone Jones right?”

Paddy the bartender scrunched up his nose like he’d smelled something foul. “No, I’d remember a name like that.”

Buddy spread his arms. “How am I the only one!” He watched the bartender return to his corner and go back to scrolling on his phone.

Frank sipped his fresh draft. Good old Firestone. “So, whatever happened to ol’ Poopstone?”

“Actually, he wasn’t called that right away. Used to call him Rocky. Then Stoney, That stuck a while. Stoney’s a good nickname to have. Then one day someone said ‘that must hurt comin’ out,’ somebody called him Poopstone Jones and it stuck.”

“What was his real name?”

“Tommy. Tommy Jones.”

“Poor kid.”

“Brought it on himself. Always eatin’ rocks like that. Washing ‘em down with heff.”

“OK, so what happened to him.”

“Believe it or not he’s still around. Lives over in Meshoppen.”

“Plenty a rocks out there,” Frank said. “Lotta guys we knew are already gone. Maybe ol’ Poopy knows something we don’t.”

“Wasn’t always that way. There was this one night…”

Frank rolled his eyes. “Here it comes.”

Buddy dripped indignity. “What?”

“Nothing. It’s just, you’ve collected a story for everything. You’re the oldest young man I know.”

“You wanna hear this or not?”

Frank waved his glass lightly. “Sure, why not.”

Buddy took a breath. “One night, we’re out camping. About ten years ago. Sitting around the campfire, belly laughing, you know…”

“Sure…”

“And Jonsey, he’s drinking his heffs, and pretty soon he says he’s gotta use the latrine.”

“Probably gone for an hour,” Frank teased.

“Two,” Buddy said. “Two hours. Finally, we got worried. Maybe he’s fallen asleep. Or a bear got ‘em. So we went lookin.’ Go to the latrine. No Jonsey. Trail of heff cans leading out to it, but no Jonesy. So we grab flashlights, walk off into the woods. Half an hour later we find him. There he is, sitting beside the creek.”

“He OK?”

“He’s gulping water, right outta the stream! He sees us. You know what he says?”

Frank waited.

“Says ‘ran outta beer. Gotta stay hydrated boys, you wanna have a gut works like mine!’”

“He’s found a way to adapt to eatin’ rocks,” Frank said.

“Shale, sandstone, that crumbly stuff that’s like dried clay. Guy was a connoisseur. But you wanna hear the upshot?”

“Of course.”

“Ol’ Stoney was traveling the world. And he’s in some place, I don’t know, some country has a quartz mine or something. And when he thinks no one’s looking he takes a small piece and swallows it. And this woman, she sees him do it, and BAM. He looks at her, she looks at him, instant love.”

“Amazing.”

“They’re still together.”

“Out in Meshoppen.”

“Out in Meshoppen,” Buddy nodded.

Frank shook his head. “People look their whole lives for their one and only and somehow these two rocks eaters sniff each other out.”

“That ain’t all.”

“Course not,” Frank said.

“They had a kid.”

Frank nodded. “Eats rocks too?”

“Damnedest thing.”

“Poopstone Junior,” Frank said.

Buddy said “no one calls him that yet.”

Frank reached in his pocket and paid his tab, left a few extra bucks for the bartender. He got off his stool. “Give it a few years,” he said. “Before you know it they’ll be in here drinking heff together and chewing on the Spanish tile.”

“Probably,” Buddy half-heartedly agreed.

“Then again, you never know. Ol’ junior could go off to college, start drinking Old Latrobe and outgrow his rock habit. Then you’ll have to call him something else.”

Frank pushed the front door open. Buddy called at his friend’s back. “I don’t know. Thing like that ain’t something you just outrun in a generation.”

Frank, with a hand on the door and a tone of finality, said “kids in our neighborhood used to call me something until I was twelve or so.”

“What? How is it I never knew this!”

Frank shook his head. “And you never will.” He went through the door, into the night.

Buddy turned to Paddy, his lone audience. “How do you like that! Know the guy for years – decades and I’m just now finding out he had a nickname?”

The bartender nodded, scrolled. He said “I know what it was.”

“What! Tell me,” Buddy leaned into the bar.

Paddy put his phone down and sighed. “First things first,” he said.

Buddy gave him a look. “What?”

“Here’s an inside scoop for you, OK? If you’re a regular at a place, you can be sure you’ve got a nickname. Maybe the staff all call you Bud Light Buddy,” then Paddy gestured at the front door, “or Firestone Frank.”

“Is that what you call me, Bud Light Buddy?”

“Nope.”

“What then?”

Paddy lifted a stack of receipts from beside the register and set it next to Buddy’s wrist.

“Tabs,” he said. “Sometimes it’s Tabs McGee, but mostly it’s Tabs.”

“Because - ”

“Pay up,” Paddy said. “Break out a credit card, ATM, cash, Venmo, whatever. Then we’ll start calling you something else.”

Buddy shook his head. He reached in his pocket and slid out a Visa he knew was good for a few thousand. “So long as it’s not as bad as Poopstone,” he said.

Paddy waved the card in the air. “So long as this goes through, and you add twenty percent - ”

“Twenty percent!”

“To divide among the staff. A staff’s been very patient I might add. If that all goes through, I’ll make you a deal. You get to pick your own nickname.”

Buddy leaned against the bartop. Paddy turned and ran the card. The slip soon printed out. He put it on a plastic tray with a Bic pen, ready for Buddy’s signature.

“Storybook,” Buddy said.

Paddy looked at him “Storybook,” Buddy repeated, “Frank just finished saying I’m always collecting everyone’s stories. So maybe Storybook Buddy.”

Paddy shrugged. Buddy smiled, then it fell and he shrugged too.

“Guess it doesn’t work that way, does it.”

“Nope,” Paddy said.

Buddy nodded. He pointed at the bar. “This requires some Thinking Juice,” he said. “Have a shot with me, buddy.”

Paddy turned and reached for a bottle, his customer’s final word echoing in his head.

Buddy. Yep, Paddy thought, and poured fresh shots. Some things you can’t force, because they’re fine just the way they are.


Matt McGee writes in the Los Angeles area. In 2022 his work has appeared in Gypsum Tales, Sweetycat Press and Red Penguin. When not typing he drives around in rented cars and plays goalie in local hockey leagues.