The Thurber Brigade

The Thurber Brigade 

by Jay Williams
Published Spring 1991 in Singlelife    

Off in the distance he could see a small white flag waving. It was slowly being moved from side to side, raised a few feet above their nearest trench. Was it a trick like last time? Were they really interested in honest negotiations or were they just stalling for time to better prepare for their next assault? Matt sat back down in his foxhole and pondered what to do next. It had been a long time. Maybe it was time to extend the hand again. What would his comrades say though? They had warned him numerous times about making forays on his own without their expert guidance, but he wasn't sure he could wait for word from headquarters. It was resolved. He would try again.

Matt took a handkerchief out of his pocket and attached it to a branch that was near his position and climbed over the edge of his battle position. The enemy saw Matt's movement, climbed out of the trench, and advanced toward him. As the two approached each other, Matt straightened his tie and brushed off the dust from the seat of his three-piece suit. The two bitter enemies got within ten feet of each other and stopped. They looked each other over, looking for a sign, or maybe looking for weakness. Matt cleared his throat first, as usual.

"How 'bout lunch?"

"Sure," the enemy answered softly.

"Anyplace you interested in goin'?"

"I don't care."

"How 'bout The Night Stop?"

Before Matt could react, she pulled a pistol from behind her back. "Nah, I can't stand that place."

Matt stumbled back to his trench, dazed and wounded again. How would he face his comrades?

 

Matt stared out the window at the traffic as it slowly made its way down the street and he tried to keep out the sounds coming from behind him. If only the boss would take his suggestion to heart and get some dividers for the room. He was sure that if everyone had his or her own little corner, a lot more work would get done. But no, Jones was too cheap. That's why they were still stuck in this old building instead of a new one with private offices. Matt glanced over his shoulder at the three desks behind him and then looked back out the window. At least he had a window to look out.

"...insisted on watching that stupid detective show again. I just get sooo mad! If just once he'd let me watch what I want."

The sound penetrated Matt's resolve anyway. He swiveled around and faced the woman who just interfered. "Did you ask him if you could watch your show," Matt asked flatly.

Linda frowned, raised her eyebrows and shrugged, doing her best sad-eyed puppy imitation. "No, she said weakly. "It doesn't do any good."

"Of course it doesn't do any good. You don't even say anything to him," Matt said, restraining himself.

"Oh, I know how Linda feels," Rose chimed in. "My husband just makes up his mind and that's all there is to it. Discussion closed."

"Sure it's closed. It never gets opened," Matt said. "If you women would just once, just one time, say what you really felt, instead of leaving it up to your husband's ESP powers to tell what you're thinking, you might get to watch your shows."

"Tsk, you just don't know what it's like since you're not married," Linda retaliated.

Matt turned back to his desk. "Yeah, thank God," he said to his paperwork.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to look up into the face of a bearded, white-haired, old man. "No thanks necessary son. It's really all your doing."

God had a beer in his hand and Matt was extremely jealous.

"No, your lack of a female mate is entirely your doing," God continued. "Of course you could always thank me for women," he said smiling.

"I'm not sure if that's what I'd do."

God took a large gulp of beer (Matt noticed there was no change in the volume in the glass) and laughed slightly. "Strange, a lot of guys tell me that." God scratched his beard and looked up to the heavens. "At the time, I thought it was a pretty clever creation, but, boy, I never expected this sort of negative reviews."

"Gee, I always thought they might have just been some sort of accident."

"Hah, hah. No, no accident. I did it on purpose. Of course, who'd of guessed they'd turn out like this?"

Matt looked questioningly at the old man. "Aren't you God?"

"I know, I know. Sure, I know everything. I was just trying to make a little small talk. Anyway, don't worry about it. Sooner or later you guys will figure them out. Well, maybe not." God took another large gulp and slapped Matt on the back. "Either way, good luck kid and keep trying."

"...and so who had to watch the baby?" Linda droned while looking up disgustedly at the ceiling. "He just went out and didn't think twice about it."

Matt scratched a few notes on the paper in front of him and tried not to hear the conversation. Dividers, boss, dividers, Matt tried to think to his boss. Unfortunately, he knew his extrasensory powers were about as good as Linda's husband's. Matt looked to his left at Connie, who was listening to the conversation between Linda and Rose, but not taking part. She was unmarried and often the brunt of a lot of abuse from the other two women for being in that state, but at least she was halfway cool, only partially following the dreaded list.

THE WOMAN STATUS QUO LIST


1. If you are not married, you are a deviant.
2. If without children, you are a deviant.
3. You must shape man to fit either woman or society's status quo list. Preferably both (since they are one and the same).
4. Your spouse or male partner will never have any true feelings or emotions as all men have had their emotions surgically removed after birth.
5. Man is never right, even when in agreement with woman.
6. Etc.

 

"Poor Matt," Rose said. "He must go home and tell his friends that his office is full of crazy women, always talking about their troubles."

Matt turned and smiled.

"Easy, kid."

Matt looked over his right shoulder at Humphrey Bogart. "No, don't say anything. It won't do you any good." Bogart took off his hat, took a long drag off his half-smoked cigarette and surveyed the room through squinting eyes. "No, no good. They might listen to what you say, nod their heads, smile at you. It wouldn't mean anything though. The next day, maybe even that night, they'd come back to the same old belief. That's why old wives tales are still with us today."

Matt frowned and raised his hands in front of him. "But they are always complaining about men. Always whining about how some man has sinned against humankind or the good of society--or them."

Bogey felt the rim of his hat and nodded his head. "Yeah, it's their way. It's like when those strange sex reports came out. Compiled by some female researcher, questionnaires filled out by lonely old spinsters who sit around the house all day, watching soap operas. They always say how they want more sex from their men, but the men can't give it to them. This even though there are hundreds of men's sex magazines but no women's, that men are involved in the majority of sex crimes, that it's the man who has to make the first move." Bogart replaced his hat and frowned. "No, it doesn't matter what reality is, it's what they think. And if you argue with them, they just get more steadfast."

"But at least they will hear how the other side feels and thinks."

"Nope, doesn't matter," Bogey said, as he took a long drag off his cigarette. "They may let it go this time, but deep down, deep in their inner being, it's eating away at them and they'll either repeat the same old argument with you later, or rehash it in a new incident. No, better to just let them say their peace and nod your head."

Matt nodded his head and turned back to his paperwork.

"It's so easy for men to take off weight. It's a lot tougher for women--especially me. I just look at a cake and gain five pounds," Linda said sadly.

Matt turned at looked at her. "Do you do any type of exercise?"

"Oh, sometimes. It just takes too much time, and I have to look after the kids and fix supper."

"I realize that looking after the kids is a 25-hour-a-day job, but if you would just eat 100 less calories a day and jog half a mile a day, you'd lose a pound every two weeks. Twenty-six pounds a year," Matt said, trying his best to sound helpful and not sarcastic (refer to status quo list above however).

"Oh, I know it wouldn't work for me," Linda sighed.

"You know, I tried this diet one time and dropped..." Rose added to the conversation.

Matt had conveniently remembered something he had to do and returned to his work, which, wasn't exactly getting done. Concentrate Matt, concentrate, he thought to himself. He looked out his window at John Wayne, riding by on a horse. The Duke tipped his hat toward Matt.

"Well, pilgrim, I reckon there's not much you can do about that wimmen talk. Ya took the job knowin' the office was all female, I reckon yer getting what ya had comin' to ya."

"Shucks, Duke," Matt said, "I don't mind working with females, it's just that I wish they'd apply their standards across the board. For men AND women."

Wayne patted his horse's neck, nodded his head and frowned. "Like wanting you to wash the dishes, but refusing to mow the lawn?"

"Yeah, well, sorta like that," Matt said, shrugging.

"Maybe somethin' like, oh, wantin' to be treated equally, but wantin' the man ta make the first move, stick his heart out on the line first."

"Exactly!"

The Duke tugged on his chin, thinking about his cavalry days and shrugged his shoulders. He suddenly grinned broadly and pulled back on the reins, getting his horse to rear up. "Not in my lifetime, pilgrim."

Mr. Wayne galloped off into the fading sun, his horse vaulting over a car, and they soon quickly disappeared. There was a strange sound coming from his left. It was Connie speaking to him.

"How 'bout a beer after work today, Matt?" she asked.

Matt blinked twice quickly and shrugged his shoulders.

 

Matt stared through the stale smoke of the room at the map on the wall. The battle lines were sketched in red and ran down the map like a frenzied snake. He looked back across the old wooden table at Henry the VIII, whose helmet was pushed back on his head, and who smoked a large, smelly stogie. The stench of smoke and death pervaded the dank bunker and Matt fought back a cough. It would be a sign of weakness. He clasped his hands together on the table and leaned forward.

"Henry, what is truth?"

The king tugged at his beard, then wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and dried it on his fatigues. "Truth, Lieutenant, is your particular concept of reality."

"I don't understand, sir."

Henry leaned back in his chair. "I think Major Freud will agree with me on this," he said nodding to his left at a smaller, gray-haired man with a gold cluster on his collar. "It's like, oh, say you want a divorce and the church people, in their simple-minded madness, believe it is wrong. In your concept of reality, separating from your wife, or separating her head from her body, is an acceptable condition. It is your reality. Therefore, it is truth."

Matt brought one hand to his chin and looked questioningly at the king. "So, if I believe that a woman has a harder time taking off weight than a man, that is my reality and my truth."

"It could be, but your example is pretty strange. What are you getting at?"

"What happens when in your reality, there is a contradiction? Say, a woman suddenly, and out of the blue, invites you out."

"What!" the king shouted, rocking forward in his chair.

Major Freud sat forward also and placed his hand on the king's chest to calm him down. "Hold on, Hank. Remember, he's just a lad."

Freud looked at Matt. "Listen, son, you gotta get that id under control. Our battle lines are shaky enough as it is, don't get reckless with your logic. Now I suggest you get back out on that line and get a real dose of reality. Go get your face slapped by a woman who flirts with you and then knees you in the groin when you try to kiss her. You'll soon see truth."

Matt sighed and stood up. He put his helmet on and fastened the strap under his chin before saluting the two senior officers. As he headed for the square of light in the distance that marked the door, the King tripped him.

"And keep your head down out there," Henry yelled at him as he got back up and staggered to the door.

As he left the bunker, Matt thought he heard Freud tell the king that the American Front was on the verge of collapsing. Matt shook his head and stumbled through the muddy trenches back to his position, vowing all the while not to be the one that weakened.

 

The smoke-filled bar was dimly lit, with walls covered with odd signs and memorabilia of the owner's past. It wasn't scrungy, nor did it have dirt floors, but this was definitely a dive. The type of bar Matt loved. It had personality, not pretensions. It had beer, not libations. It had people, not patrons. It didn't have ferns. Matt took a swig of beer and looked across the table at Connie. She was casually looking around the bar at all the "things" on the walls.

She turned back around, picked up her wine cooler and looked at Matt. "Come here often?"

"Oh, now and then. I don't live here, but I do like it." He raised an eyebrow. "Do you like it?"

"Um, yeah, yeah, it's, oh, nice."

Matt looked over Connie's shoulder at George Washington, who suppressed a laugh and winked back at Matt.

"Yes, it's quite special. I find it rather unique, as all dives are, fitting a special personality of the owner and customers. But you know how you can tell this is really one of the good bars in town?"

"How?"

"The graffiti on the bathroom walls."

"Yes, I imagine it's quite different."

Andrew Jackson suddenly sat down at the table and tapped Matt on the arm. He shook his head and took a drink out of a whiskey bottle. "Listen, son, women will never understand what a good bar is, or about having a good time."

"Well..."

"Trust me on this. Take a woman to a bar and the first thing she looks at is the floor and the tables ta see if they're clean. A man don't care about those, he knows he ain't going ta eat off 'em! He'll look at the drink selection and who's bartendin'--in hopes it's a friend he can git a free drink off of."

"Sure, sometimes..."

"And fun?" Andy paused to look at Connie who was watching a couple of guys playing cards at the next table. "Believe an old backwoodsman who knows how ta throw an inaugural, men like ta have fun."

"I know a few women who like fun too."

Jackson took another long drink from his bottle. "Hogwash! Let's see, there was some squeaky-voiced female that sang about girls wanting fun? Hah! Take my word fer it kid, you walk into a dance hall and go up and ask some sweet-lookin' thin', who justs wants ta have fun mind you, if she wants ta dance, and nine times outta ten she'll say buzz off!"

"Listen, I don't know..."

"Hey, I've gotta go. You got a twenty I could borrow?"

Matt looked in his wallet. "Uh, sure."

Jackson took the twenty and his bottle, and went up to the bar.

Although Matt was paying attention to Connie, he was also keenly aware of the time. As the conversation wended its way over office politics and other work-related tidbits, Matt kept one eye to his watch, timing Connie for the subject he knew was bound to come up. In "The Men's Training Manual," chapter two, page 31, section b, Matt had learned that fairly soon in a conversation with a female, the male was bound to be questioned about his buying power. The subject of money was dear and a priority to women, Matt read, and although some females had learned to control their early training, they invariably gave in and made inquiries about the man's monetary standing. Connie was obviously a modern woman, as it had been 10 minutes, 40 seconds and the subject had not come up. Perhaps it was because they were in the same office and Connie already knew his financial ranking.

"...constantly asking me why I'm not married. It's part of the old establishment mentality of theirs that insists that a woman that isn't married, is either a threat to their stability, as they know it, or is some sort of aberration," Connie said, waving her hand.

"That's really amazing!"

"What? That I'm not married?"

"No, your attitude. It's an attitude I've always believed in, but I thought that women were stuck in one mode, a special status quo, you might say."

"People tell me it's 'cause I was brought up in the '60s, but I see a lot of women from the same age who have fallen into the clutches of the establishment and followed the strong urgings to conform."

"That's right, conform or be an outcast! If you don't do as they do, you're acting childish. Dress like them, coat and tie, or you're still in adolescence."

"That's it exactly! The women in our office are just like that. They believe you should get married, have kids and push your husband to achieve the higher goals. You know, make more money, get the bigger position. "

"Careful boy," Matt could hear Major Freud saying into his hidden earpiece, "Don't give away any secrets."

"I agree," Matt said. "It's amazing the way they talk there in the office. It's like the '50s or earlier."

"Right! Now, take you for example. How much are you making a month?"

Matt checked his watch. Twelve minutes, 23 seconds.

"Probably just slightly more than you--since I started before you."

"The women in our office would..."

Matt looked to his left and noticed that F. Scott Fitzgerald was sitting at the table near them. He had on a top hat and tails, and was drinking what looked like some expensive port. He tipped his hat, took a small sip of his drink and sighed, then smiled at Matt.

"Well, I may not be an expert, but I'd advise caution, my friend." He sat his drink down and crossed his legs, taking his time to compose his thoughts. "You see, once you fall, you're in danger of having to earn up to their expectations, or even worse, their desires!"

"We're just having a casual drink," Matt said defensively.

"No such thing. If you are with a woman, she is either thinking of spending your money, or how to convince you to part with it."

Matt wrinkled his nose and shook his head. "Nah, I think that's being a little callous, and perhaps, stereotyping everyone based on the actions of a few."

F. Scott chuckled to himself and picked up his glass. "Trust me, boy. I worked my fingers to the bone to please a woman, and you know what it got me?"

"Uh, fame, fortune and a devoted readership?"

"Poverty and heartache!" Fitzgerald said. He took a sip of port to calm his nerves. "Listen, you don't have to believe me, I'm just trying to help. But if you are smart, you'll at least be on your guard. In other words, guard your checkbook."

"Defenses up?"

"Precisely." He finished his drink and stood up. "Which way is the gentlemen's room?"

Matt pointed to the doorway.

"Good. I've got some writing to do," F. Scott said as he pulled out a pen and headed for the restroom.

"...in a new dress." Connie said.

Matt nodded his head and felt for his wallet.

"Well, this is a nice place, but how 'bout continuing our "discussion" at my place?" Connie asked.

Matt sat back in his chair, dazed. "Henry!?"

Connie looked over her shoulder to where she thought Matt was looking, but didn't see a soul. "Who are you talking to?"

"Um, uh," Matt said, quickly regaining his senses. "Well, oh, um, gee..."

"Are you okay?" Connie asked, smiling kindly.

"Oh, um, sure." Matt said authoritatively.

"So, you want to go to my place?"

"Mmmmaaheeyes. Let's go."

Matt shook his head, desperately trying to get the clouds out of his brain, stood up and lead the way to the door. As Connie followed, she looked over her shoulder at Susan B. Anthony, who winked and raised her mug of beer in salute to Connie.


General Henry put his hand on the bloody shoulder of the soldier and rolled the lifeless body over. He looked at the face of the young trooper, shook his unshaven head and grunted. Major Freud walked up beside him and frowned down at the fallen warrior. The expression on the dead man's face was a mixture of surprise and happiness. The general straightened up and looked at Freud.

"Poor bastard never knew what hit him. Nailed in the back."

"Don't take it so hard Hank," Freud said, "You did your part. Gave him the best training, warned him of the dangers, and even provided the top line of teachers. There was nothing more you could have done."

"You're right, Sig, it just always gets me when we lose a good recruit."

Freud looked over the edge of the firing position toward the enemy's line. "There'll be others, and we'll just have ta train them a little harder. The enemy's getting craftier all the time. We'll have to improve too."

The general looked over the edge of the embankment and tapped Freud on the shoulder. "You're right, old friend. This is only one small battle, there'll be others."

"That's right! Why, did you hear about the recent skirmish at the Supreme Court?"

"Yes, I read the field report. It's lookin' good." Henry slapped Freud on the back and began walking down the length of the trench. "Yes, you're right. These small battles won't hurt us. Let's go map out the next attack."

Freud followed after the portly general. "Where do you have in mind?"

"Oh, how about television? It looks ripe."

"Lead on, Hank."

The two seasoned veterans returned to their bunker, leaving the body of the dead lieutenant for the vultures and creatures of the night.

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