Hooters or Bust

"I'm sorry that this is what I've become! I'm sorry that it's not good enough for you now, or ever."

"That's not true. Not true. But you did used to, you used to be different. You hadn't given up yet. Now, now, you're just a..."

"What...a bum? A piece of shit? What am I? I'm no different. This is the same man you married ten years ago. I was nothing then...just younger, not as fat, maybe...but just as talentless."

"You're not talentless. You're depressed. And it's been for some time. That's the only thing that's changed. You're not happy anymore."

"Yeah, I'm not happy!" And with that pronouncement, Jim Zimmerman grabbed his car keys and slammed the door.

She was right, of course. Women are almost always right, which is why men like Jim have to slam doors and drive away.

He didn't have a destination. He considered driving to the seedy part of town filled with strip clubs and disillusionment. He wondered if one of those establishments was dark enough that nobody would notice him. He wanted someplace dark and delusional so that he could continue feeling sorry for himself.

It wouldn't have mattered if somebody did notice him. He was no longer an Elder at FaithSprings Evangelical Church; and he was no longer Head of Sales at Price First Honda.  Gas prices had dropped, and the market for hybrid vehicles, the division that Jim headed, had fallen 24% in two years. Corporate didn't care how similar this drop was to the national average, they needed fall-guys instead of pragmatic answers, and cutting Jim's $55,000 salary made some fiscal sense.  Jim was offered to go back to the sales floor, a job he hadn't done in seven years, and one with more daily stress and a variable income based on sales numbers.  In a fit of childishness, because the executive vice president of sales of the company was always throwing thematic parties, he chalked the windows of all his gas-freindly inventory with Harry Potter insults: Mudblood, Half-blood Prince, and Muggle-Born, before tagging the VP’s Land Rover with Voldemort.  

It was very un-Potterish.  

He resigned as an Elder (and the almost volunteer position of youth pastor) because he refused to terminate the contract of their senior pastor.  The senior pastor's wife recently left him, and his sermons had taken a sour note. The attendance dropped from a high of 650 in each Sunday service to just under that number total for both services. The tithes obviously fell substantially, and the church was worried if it could pay for renovations they had just refinanced.

Jim felt it wasn't Christian, to kick a guy, especially when he's down. Pastor Steve hadn't broke any codes of morality, or preached anything sacrilegious.  Still, the other Elders pointed to his contract. The minister was responsible for keeping the attendance numbers up, and he had failed. Jim's parting words were, "Maybe you should rename the church FinancialSprings!" and in typical Jim fashion, he slammed the door. Nobody chuckled. Elders, unlike wives, are not always right, and usually have a worse sense of humor.  

Both events happened in one week, and played hell on Jim's psyche. He was a good man. Never really drank. Didn't care for the few times he tried drugs. Was a decent father. An okay husband. Never cheated on her, or any girl, for that matter.  But being unemployed in his early thirties, felt like a judgement straight from the heavens.

Instead of cursing the heavens, he started damning people to hell; or more exactly, virtual hell, as he devoted his time to first-person-shooter video games. He enjoyed online killing, he wasn't sure why, maybe it was an evolutionary thing; although Jim didn't necessarily believe in evolution. At least not ape to man evolution; but maybe like those birds on that one island that don't fly anymore because they don't have predators, evolution. That made a little sense, in his mind. He also started drinking cheap beer by the half-racks, as an outward sign of youthful rebellion that he had never participated in.  All these changes felt good, at first.  Like a vacation from his life. Life, up until this point was all about responsibilities and making good decisions. Like anyone who had been a something, once, though, he realized he was devolving. He just didn't know how to return from this vacation. Every so often, his escape into other-worldliness and indulgence manifest itself with disastrous results with the actual spinning world. His wife and kids had even taken a vacation without him, as they needed to escape his outbursts of illogicalness. 

The worst came when he confronted the guy who came to repossess his 2013 Accura ILX Hybrid and ended up getting punched in the face.  His wife found him sleeping it off in the front lawn two hours later. Another notch in the belt of awesomeness. If only he had been packing an RPG, he wouldn't have an empty spot in his driveway, and a splitting headache.  Okay, an RPG would be really messy, maybe just a Heckler & Koch G36. 

Jim felt the same type headache setting in as he sat cramped in his wife's 2000 Honda Insight with a reconstructed title.  Many salesmen and buyers on his former lot wouldn't be caught dead driving one of these "gay" cars, and yet, well, here he was.

The normalcy of his own neighborhood faded the longer he drove. Some of these spots he had visited while in college, a bar here, a supermarket he forgot existed, and then, on the corner of a bunch of big-box restaurants, a new sign: Hooters.

He laughed. His wife would never let him go to Hooters, at least he thought she wouldn’t. He didn't even know a Hooters had opened in his town, not that they would've gone there.

"What's the harm," he thought. "It's not a strip club. It's just a restaurant with sexist outfits."

He wondered if they still served food at 10:45 at night. He was craving bar food. French fries and fried stuff.

"Just one, honey?" asked Shelly, the hostess who was probably too old to be forced into her costume. "You wanna sit in the bar?"

"Yeah, it's just me," Jim sighed. Even when he was working, he rarely ate out alone. He wondered if divorced guys had to do this. He shivered.

She threw down a cork coaster.  "You want a menu shug?"

"Yeah..."

She was already gone.  He looked around. It didn't look much different than an Applebee's late at night, except for the random orange butt-tight shorts. A few people drinking alone, a few couples.  Even a few families that didn't get the memo that 10:45 at night was too late for kids to be eating on a school night (AND AT HOOTERS!). It felt good to judge someone else, Jim thought. He had been too hard on himself. Talentless. He was funny, kinda. And he could facilitate and organize people really well. Or at least, he used to.

"Hey stranger, you know what you want?"

Jim looked straight into the young boobs of a girl he didn't know.  He looked up, and still, didn't remember her.  "Oh, umm. No. I've never been here. I haven't got a menu yet."

"No, silly, you know what you want to drink?"

"Oh, umm. Just bring me whatever is on tap, domestic."

She sighed..."We have, like, ten different beers that..."

"Coors. Coors is fine."

"You still don't remember me, do you?"

"No. I'm sorry, I'm..."

"It's Krystal. You were my youth pastor a bunch of years ago..."

"Oh, oh yeah, Krystal...wow..." He thought how bad he must've been at ministry to lead a girl to Hooters in her early twenties.

"Don't worry, I'm just doing this to earn my way through college. It's not like I'm pole dancing or anything..."  She must've seen the look of failure on his face.

"No judgement...I worked all kinds of odd jobs, I mean, they don't really have a male-version of Hooters..."

"I'll just bring you that Coors."

He threw his head down into his folded arms on the bar top. He wanted to nuzzle away into the beer stained wood grain. "Great. Just great. Can't even disappear at a Hooters." He wished he was at home, holding his Playstation controller, shooting evil terrorists.

"This one's on me, Jim." Krystal said as she sat down his frothy beer. It was mostly foam.

The carelessness of the drink delivery guaranteed she wasn't hitting on him, even though it was free.

"Oh, thanks Krystal, but you don't have to do that..."

"I know. So Whadda you want? Buffalo wings?

"I'm not sure...I never got a menu...I don't know what's good."

"Well, most people get wings, but I like the nachos and burgers."

"Hmm. Well, I've never eaten owl before...are the thighs any good?" Jim joked.

"Oh, a “Hooters” joke…Haha...please, please don't ask for the largest breasts we have to offer...it gets old."

"Oh shit...I mean, jeez, I'm sorry...I wasn't going there...I...just bring me some nachos and fries please...I know they don't go together but..."

"Okie-dokie"

He downed the 6 drinkable ounces of beer in one drink, the froth slowly settled back down into the cup.  He watched it slowly coalesce into something like beer. What am I doing with my life? Why am I at hooters drinking cheap beer and sticking my foot in my mouth? I should just go home and put my resume on Monster.com.  No more feeling sorry for myself.  Time to get on with it. Time to get on with it.

He pulled his cell phone out.

One text from his wife: Please come home. The kids heard us...they're scared and sad. They...we want you to come home. 

His eyes watered.  She was a good woman. She let him slide into this depression without guilt. She carried them financially and emotionally, while he sat in self-pity. She shielded the kids from his fall. But a year of nothingness will stretch anyone.  He didn't know what to text back.  


Krystal brought out the fries.  "The nachos will be out in a minute. You want another drink?"  


"Oh, um. Better not, I need to get home."  


"Okay, but next one's free too... 'member Pastor Steve?  The old pastor at our church, he's at the other end of the bar. He offered to pay."  


"What?"  The oddity of him, Jim, an aging man, getting two free drinks at Hooters. He felt like photographing his free beers on Instagram and tagging them with #sororitysisterprivilege.  

"Pastor Steve is here?"  Jim grabbed his fries and started towards the other side of the bar.  


"Don't call me pastor, please," said Steve, as he pulled his notebook, and Bible reference book to the side to make room for Jim.  


"Alright, but it looks like you're still practicing, Father-Steve, " Jim joked.  


"Well, ready-to-be-used, is all. Ready to be used. Might has well use this time to stockpile sermons."  

"So...you didn't give up?" Jim regretting saying it instantly.  "I mean, the church, it just gobbled you up..." 


"Yeah, it, the church, can do that," Steve said as he gulped down some blackish brew. "Jim, you're blind. You live here, in the Pacific Northwest, in the brewery capital of the world, and you're drinking Coors."  


"Yeah, well, hey, wait a minute, don't get all holier than thou with me, you're at a Hooters..." 


"I am. I am. You forget I'm from Kansas City. This is as close to Southern food or bbq I can get.  The wings aren't bad, and I do live just down the street."  


"Oh, maybe I should've order the wings, I let Krystal talk me into the nachos."  


"They're good enough."  

Jim gulped down a long drink from his mocked beer, and found the courage to move beyond pleasantries. "So, did you ever think about going back to the Midwest, after...you know after?"

"Not really. Sarah ran back there anyway. I don't have much there but old seminary guys and cousins in jail. And the idea of seeing any of them, especially Sarah, seems more depressing than sticking it out here."  

"Yeah, sorry about that whole Sarah mess, I didn't really know her, but nobody..."

"Yeah, nobody deserves that. True. But I wasn't a great husband. I think I loved the church more, well, not the church but the idea of a successful church more, more than I loved her.  I did love her once. But I got complacent in my marriage. It takes work, as you probably know, to keep things afire." 

"Um, yeah."  

"Not real convincing, Jim. Please don't tell me that your marriage is in trouble?"  

"It isn't. Or maybe it is. I don't know. She would know. I just haven't been, much...much of a man, much of anything, for some time, now. I guess if I could pull it together, maybe..."  "Gawd, look at us...consoling each other like priests in a confessional. Is this your normal Hooter's small talk? Haha..."

"Haha, well, you've heard of the priesthood of believers. What if this is what we're supposed to be like? Isn't this what Jesus wanted, his Disciples in some sketchy area of town, speaking truth into each other's lives?" 

"Well, don't go calling me Mary Magdaline. I'm just a hostess," Krystal perfectly chimed in from behind the counter, obviously she had heard part of their conversation.  "Although, if you want to wash my feet, I'm always game for a pedicure."  

Both Jim and Steve looked at her in bewilderment. Where did this Biblical knowledge come from? 

"Don't look at me so weird, guys, the story of Mary Magdaline isn't exactly obscure. I can work here and read the Bible every once in a while, sheesh."  She slid Jim's nachos over to him.  

"You must've had a good youth pastor, once," Steve said knowingly.  

"I did," she smiled back, "You need anything else? Hot sauce? Sour cream? I'm not offering another cold beer, because we know what the Lord says about drunkenness…"  

"…Oh yeah, what's that?" Jim jokingly replied.  

"He's against it. I don't remember the exact verse, because my youth pastor quit."  

"Well he can make it up to you," Steve said, "he doesn't have any oils to wash your feet with, but he does have some Coors light...the alcohol might have a similar effect." 

"I've been here,” she twirled her arms around at the ambiance,  “for six months, pastor Steve, and that may be the most disgusting comment I've ever heard," she said laughing, "but I guess I walked into it, didn't I."  She smiled and reluctantly went on with her business on the other side of the bar.  

"Wow. Just wow, guys. Is this a set-up. Is there some camera hidden in the back, and we are on Christian-Candid-Camera?"  Jim asked.  

"Haha. No, although that'd be a fun show. Catch what the worship leader says under his breath when his mic get turned off, or have some guy steal the money out of the offering, and watch the usher's response..." 

They laughed and watched Krystal joyously serve another soul some spirits.  

"That girl is too, uh, old, now to be a part of any youth ministry, and much too young to ever be in a conversation with guys our age talking about rubbing oils or alcoholic drinks on any part of her body." 

"Don't I know," Steve replied with a hint of sorrow, "although if we were priests..." 

They laughed again, and enjoyed a brief moment of silence. They had laughed well, and it was good.  

Steve continued, "You know, I never got to thank you." 

"For what?" 

"For the moral stand you made on my behalf, for being the lone dissenter.  I'm sorry you lost a church in the process."


"Well, it wasn't right. It's not right. You're a good pastor, a good man...numbers shouldn't matter."  


"No, they shouldn't...but they have bills to pay, and I was running on fumes. I should've taken a sabbatical. But I let pride keep me there. It wasn't just the numbers, my intentions were wrong.  I lost track of why I joined the ministry. I allowed myself to be lonely. She left me, yet I had stopped talking to her, and God for some time. I thought I was a superman. I thought I could do it all on my own. I see all of this now. It's much clearer." Steve's eyes strayed to a shapely waitress on the far side of the restaurant. 


Jim looked over, it was a good view, a small smile started to form on his mouth.  


"Don't you judge me, Jim. I'm a free man, and she's marginally closer to my generation. Plus, I come here for the food. You, however, don't seem to know the food, and are still married, even if there are sexual problems..." 


Pffft. Jim slapped his hand over his lips to keep the rest of his beer in his mouth, and swallowed quickly. "I never said we had problems with our sex life," He said laughing.  

"I know. But there always is. Or usually something related to sex is the problem. At least from the man's perspective. You already told me that you felt like less than a man."  

"I was referring to my lack of job stuff. And becoming lazy and drinking."   


"Oh, never mind, those things do wonders to a guys libido." 


"I never realized how funny you were, Steve.  Anyways, not working, not making money, It just rips at me...I've always had a job."  


"That it does. That it does."  "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man..."  

"I love how you guys do that...just throw out some Bible verse for every season of life."  

"Yeah, well, it's all I know. The word. I spent years in seminary, studying Greek, Hebrew...The King James version. I didn't learn know how to keep a wife happy. They didn't teach me about church politics. But I know the Word, and I occasionally speak with God, and that keeps me going."  

"Again, sorry Steve...she was...she didn't..."

"She was human, Jim. Just like your wife. We men tend to get caught up in things. stuff.  Sales numbers...attendance...bull shit. Stuff that doesn't matter. I know I did. You better stay diligent, Jim. Good women don't hang out in Hooters, looking for broken down men like us. Let me guess...she doesn't know you're here, does she?"  

"No, not exactly."  

"Well, good thing there's hardly any alcohol in that Coors, because I think you should head home, kiss your woman, and apologize."  

"Yeah, but I'd hardly know where to start."

"Well, obviously I'm no expert, but I think "I'm sorry," said authentically, means a lot."  "That's what I'm looking for: authenticity. In my walk with God, in my next church, in my friends. Perhaps, someday, in a woman.  And you have it."  "It's early, way too early to be talking about, really, but 
I want you to work with me. I'm starting a new church. The Evangelical church is looking for another location on this side of town. FaithSprings recommended me."

"They did?  I mean...what?  You want me?" 

“Because they knew I just needed a break.  I was good at what I did, once.  Just like you were, are. And being broken has made me stronger. I trust you Jim. I like you being in my corner. You defended me, like a good Samaritan,” he took another sip of his dark beer.  “They should make a beer called the Good Samaritan.” 

“Yeah,”  “Well, maybe not. Beer doesn’t exactly do good things for most people.” 

“Good point. Moderation.  Anyway, I can’t offer you much money, now, obviously, as the church isn’t even off the ground yet, but there is a little planting money, and I’d like you to preach…”

“But I never went to seminary, I only know the basics…”

“The people need the basics, Jim. They need a leader, one who won’t make mistakes, and one who has a true heart, like you do, for authenticity. We won’t be phonies, Jim.  I want this to be real, and I don’t care about numbers, or programs, or what the building looks like. The youth, our nation, is looking past these status symbols.  People want the real deal. I want the real deal. I want it to be about Jesus!”

Jim felt a shiver go down his back. This was everything he wanted as well, and it frightened him. Could he develop a sermon and preach? Could he do it authentically? Could he be used, by God?  And if he was good at it…what does that mean, at best a salary of $32,000 dollars? Shut up mind, it’s not about money. 

“Look, I’ve given you a lot to think about. I want to you to go home and talk to your wife. Well, do other stuff first, then talk to your wife…here’s my cell number…”

“Geez, I don’t know,” Jim said smiling, “I don’t think I could work for a pervert.” 

“Weren’t you a car dealer before?  You can work with anyone.” 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jim quietly drove home. He missed the sound of a gas engine. He intended to buy a real car again, soon.  Although if he became a pastor, it might be a long time. 

He opened the door to his house and saw his wife crying on the loveseat.  “Why didn’t you call or text me back?” 

“I’m sorry. I ran into an old friend.” 

“Really, where at?  We’ve been worried sick. The kids are probably listening at their doors, pretending to be asleep.” 

“Well, this is going to sound weird, but I had a spiritual encounter at Hooters.” 

“A what? At Hooters?  I’m sure you did…” her whole expression changed.  Jim knew this look from the few times he was genuinely in trouble. 

“I’m serious. I got offered a job. It had to be God. It was too weird not to be God. I had a spiritual encounter at Hooters.” 

She knew her husband too well. He wasn’t lying, she could see something different about him as well. She saw the old Jim.


“Well, this, I gotta hear. But you better go hug your kids first.”

As he galloped up the stairs by twos, the noise of little feet sprinting back to their beds, with giggles giving away their former positions, before he ambushed them with hugs, she smiled. She wiped the last tear away, before another trickled down her cheek. This one started from a different place, a better place, and she let it travel her whole face.   

2 comments:

  1. Powerful! I don't know the level of fiction here, but you so eloquently capture a man's inner struggles. I love the irony of God being present at Hooters with his wayward sons.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Powerful! I don't know the level of fiction here, but you so eloquently capture a man's inner struggles. I love the irony of God being present at Hooters with his wayward sons.

    ReplyDelete