"Last round, people!" called old Stoolie to his customers.
Hidden in the pub's gloom, some grumbles came from the scattered drinkers, but Stoolie ignored them and returned his gaze to the television mounted on the wall just above his right shoulder.
"Come on! Come on!" shouted Jim, getting off his barstool in the excitement of the game, nearly knocking his drink over.
Stoolie looked at the broadcast game in terror.
"Haha!" cried Jim finally. "They won! You owe me fifty dollars, old man!" The customer reclaimed his seat and finished his drink victoriously.
"Christ man," muttered Stoolie as he rummaged through his pockets for the fifty dollars, "How come you always know who'll win?"
"Don't know." said Jim, collecting his money, a gleeful smirk on his face. "Just lucky, I guess."
Stoolie refilled Jim's glass and watched as the last few customers got up to leave. "Good night, folks!" he called after them.
They nodded wearily and staggered out the door.
"Hey, Stoolie, look at this." said Jim, pointing to the TV.
The old man looked and saw that the game had finished and now commercials were filling the gap before the evening news started. On the screen was the picture of a young African boy looking like he had never before eaten in his life. The camera panned and showed more like him living in the worst looking mud hole imaginable. They all had on their most pitiful faces.
"Damn shame." muttered Jim, taking a sip from his drink.
Stoolie agreed. "Poor kids, havin' to live like that. No food. No clean water. It's not right."
Jim shook his head sadly and took another sip of his drink. "People shouldn't have to live like that. Not in this day and age."
"True, very true." said the barman, nodding.
"Happy Valentine's Day and welcome to the Twelve O'clock News." said the pretty newscaster behind her large news desk as the news started. "Tonight we have late breaking news on Senator Halley and what is to become of him. Also: are your habits healthy or should you try and break them? Our health expert is here with news of a new study on healthiness."
"Oh, yeah. It's Valentine's Day!" said Stoolie, slapping his forehead. "I completely forgot! My wife's gonna kill me when I get home." He chuckled. "How's your family goin', Jim? Still got them 2.5 kids?"
Jim took a long drink from his glass and said, "Yeah, I still got my 2.5 kids. Can you believe Karen's already in first grade?"
"Already?" asked Stoolie, "Why, it can't of been more 'n a year ago that you brought little Karen here to celebrate her first birthday!"
"Yup, it's been five long years. Time really flies, huh?"
"Yes it does. How 'bout the little woman? She still good?
"Liz? She's... fine, I guess."
Stoolie rested his elbows on the bar top and leaned closer to his friend. "What's wrong? Is she ok? Everythin' fine on the home front?"
Jim sighed heavily. "I'm thinking of leaving her, Stoolie."
"What! Why? You two seemed so happy together! What's up?"
"Well... For the past three years I've been having an affair behind her back."
Stoolie shook his head. "With who? Not the secretary is it?"
Jim slowly finished off his drink and said, "Yup."
The old bartender groaned.
"Heather told me last night that either I tell Liz about us or she will. I don't know how Liz will take it."
Stoolie sighed and started to wipe down the counter idly. Suddenly, something outside caught his eye.
"Damn!" he said, walking out the door angrily. Jim looked out the large window in the front of the pub to see the bartender yelling at an old man dressed in equally old clothes who had perched himself on the sidewalk outside. Eventually, Stoolie forced the old man to move, but only after much yelling and pushing.
The bartender came inside and resumed his position behind the bar, washing his hands of the filth. "Damned old man." he said, "He comes 'round here every now and then beggin' for handouts offa the customers."
"Disgusting." said Jim, helping himself to another glass from the bottle on the bar top. "I mean, why can't they just get a job and leave us respectable citizens alone?"
"Don't know." said Stoolie, taking the liquor bottle from Jim and placing it under the bar. "From what I hear, 's gettin' worse."
"Damn lazy slobs. Stop working and start begging. Stop bathing too."
Stoolie nodded. "Disgustin'."
They returned their attention to the TV and stared at it for some time before the flashy commercials ended and the new reports continued.
"In today's top news," stated the pretty newscaster, "Senator Halley, who was caught with several prostitutes during a sting operation, has pleaded guilty to charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and several charges of the solicitation of prostitution. He is scheduled for a hearing in two weeks time and the final word about his future in the Senate will be addressed at that time. And now, here is Carl Reaper live with the full story..."
The report went further into the details about the arrests and Jim grunted.
"It's really sad." he said.
"The state of this country. I mean, look at this bastard, Halley. He had everything going for him: Good job, good pay, good reputation, everything, and he throws it all out the window for a piece of ass. And he's an elected official, whose duty it is to represent people! How is he representing them if he's busy chasing some tail? I'll tell you: he's not."
Stoolie nodded glumly. "The country's goin' ta hell in a hand basket and no one cares. No one is living up to their responsibilities; they're just out to enjoy themselves."
Jim nodded and drank from his glass. "Yup. People need to accept their obligations and live up to them whether it's fun or not. This Halley guy, think about what his family's going through! Poor wife and kids, knowing their father is a horny old bastard always thinking with his prick."
"It's sad, but that's the way some things are."
Jim nodded again and looked back at the TV. The news had paused and commercials were again blaring. "Hey, look at this." Jim said, pointing to the commercial.
Stoolie looked to see a new car commercial. The car featured was a nice one, though expensive.
"What about it?" he asked.
"I bought one the other day."
"Really? How is it?"
"Oh, it's great. It's got all the things you could ever want in a car: voice recognition, on-board GPS map system, lots of leather, the works. Just like the commercial says. I knew I wanted it the moment I saw it. The only down side is that it guzzles gas like a fish. I get about six miles to the gallon."
"Ouch." said Stoolie. "That'll get expensive."
"Oh, I think it's more than worth it. I mean, this is the- and I quote- 'Only car in it's class to come well below the government's environmental requirements for emissions.' If I can help save the planet while driving to work in a flashy car, all the better, I say."
The bartender nodded. "That's the right attitude."
Jim finished off his drink and looked at his watch. "Well, I guess I had better be off!"
Stoolie looked to the clock and agreed. He turned off the TV and gave the bar one last cleaning as Jim put on his jacket and rummaged for his keys.
Jim waited patiently as Stoolie finished tidying up the bar and helped the old man put the chairs up for the night. Together they walked to the familiar door and glanced at the familiar cracks and the familiar 'No Smoking' sign pasted on it.
"You know," said Jim as he walked out into the street, "I'm glad I don't smoke."
Stoolie agreed, "Yup. Nothin' worse than not bein' able to breathe right in your old age."
"Damn straight. I wouldn't want my kids breathing the smoke, either, and what's not good for them is not good for me!"
The old bartender coughed as he turned the key in the lock, closing the pub for the night, and said, "That's the ticket! Don't give your kids anythin' they don't deserve! Be a good father!"
Jim laughed and coughed. "Damn air. It's a good thing I live on the outskirts of town. This air would get to me before long if I lived here."
Stoolie chuckled. "Well, thank you! I live here and it's just fine to me!"
Jim shrugged as they headed toward their cars. "Maybe now, but I hear it's getting worse by the year."
Stoolie looked up into the dark sky and sniffed. "Maybe someone should do somethin' about it?"
Jim shrugged again and got into his car. "Same time tomorrow, Stoolie?" he asked through the window.
"Sure thing, Jim. See ya then."
And with that, Jim drove off down the street in his flashy, new car leaving old Stoolie idly standing on the curb, sniffing the air.