The Assistant Town Drunk doesn’t want the pressure that goes part and parcel with managerial titles. So he lives in Town Drunk’s shadow. Call it messing up at messing up.
He has laid down and will again stretch out in a drainage ditch, in an actual gutter, so far all face-up. At age fifty he prefers to intersperse binges with periods of moderated foolishness. He goes through the paces on Wednesdays and Thursdays, said the last performance review.
Someone must be the angel on a shoulder to The Town Drunk, hand him water when he treats gin like lemonade in the August heat wave. We aren’t so young, The Assistant would say, and maybe stay the bottle hand. Lord knows how many devils whisper to the boss from his other shoulder. Were the two of them real friends, beyond the Drunk Department positions? The Assistant hoped so, but wondered.
If the Town Drunk were so careless as to drink himself to death—automatic promotion for the limelight-dodging Assistant. He doesn’t wish to hold the standard; he’s the helper, backup insurance, the guy on the bench most of the game.
The Assistant imbibes one too many, sometimes, embarrass himself, a little. Work is work, we have our assigned tasks. But he doesn’t relish spectacle or covet greater local fame.
He’s at it because he’s better at drinking than interacting with others, or thinking. Leave a man alone to fill the shade beside a legendary figure. Screwing up as a screw up, but still not swimming the mainstream.
The entire situation changed when a mail carrier found The Town Drunk face-down in a ditch, three inches of rainwater his killer.
“Come in tomorrow,” The Sheriff told the Assistant Town Drunk on the phone. “We’ll say a few words about the departed at the council meeting, then we’ll make your promotion official.”
“No can do,” said The Assistant. “If nominated I will not serve. You folks need an outside candidate.” His reasoning: townspeople have fairly rigid expectations, even if those expectations are negative, as in re their Town Drunks. The Assistant had fetishized drinking irresponsibly precisely because he was sick of expectations and not fulfilling them. “So no,” he reiterated to The Sheriff. “Get yourself another go-getter to run the Drunk Department.”
Nobody outright loved The Assistant, but everyone in town was familiar with him, and the bar is set pretty low for public drunks compared to what’s in the job descriptions of other municipal officials. There was a universal assumption that The Assistant would one day take over. Since he didn’t, the issue was thrown into civic disarray.
After much more deliberation than a reasonable person would think would be necessary, the council decided to leave The Town Drunk position vacant. How long? Until a surprisingly divided town could reach a consensus on a replacement’s term. Did they hope to be served by a Temporary, Interim, Part-time Town Drunk? Half the townsfolk wanted the Town Drunk position to be professionalized. Those people wanted someone with multiple rehab stints and legal run-ins on their resume. Others advocated for a more spontaneous, free-form approach to Town-Drunking. Arguments were passionate, feathers ruffled, offense was taken, etc.
The debate raged on three years before the wording of the job posting was finalized. The Assistant Town Drunk hung back from the fray, so pleased to be free of political ambition. Screw ambition, he figured. The Assistant was free to drink way too much when he chose to, without being required to be seen drinking in public every day. He liked the balance.
The Sheriff appealed to The Assistant again after people complained to him about the drinking methods of the Temporary Interim Part-Time Drunk. “Take the reins, man.”
The Assistant wouldn’t consider it. “Hey, there’s a process in place for this. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s a process.”
Crazy like a fox in that inexplicably long gap between official full time Town Drunks, The Assistant stayed the course and dodged a firestorm.
Todd Mercer was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. His chapbook Life-wish Maintenance is posted at Right Hand Pointing. Recent work appears in: A New Ulster, Clementine Unbound, The Lake, and Soft Cartel.
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