Author’s note: We’ve all heard the “ Three guys walk into a bar” jokes. So, as a part of a
Catch Phrases fiction challenge on a writers’ platform, I posted this awhile back. I took that phrase and created a little back story on the characters.
An astrophysicist, a brain surgeon, a rocket scientist walk into a bar.
Dyson Sphere had a drinking problem.
It hadn’t always been that way. Oh sure, he’d done his fair amount of keggers in his undergrad years. But that was just college boy stuff. Never amounted to more than severe hangovers and a few million dead brain cells. But Dr. Sphere had plenty to fry in those days. He committed those drunks to the sacred name of partying. Now it was just out of boredom and loneliness. And to ward off the penetrating cold inside the dome of the big observatory sitting atop a desert mountain in West Texas.
His wife Aurora left him a year ago, having taken up with a rodeo bull-rider she’d met in a Midland bar. It was during one of those trips when she and some other astronomers’ wives
went on one of their weekend getaways. They went on these monthly outings to escape the isolation and monotony of the astronomer community. Those Wife leavings were an occupational hazard for astronomers. The attrition rate was high. Dyson knew all along it was only a matter of time with Aurora. She was dark-haired, vivacious, and flashing-eyed pretty. He never understood why she married him. Most likely it was because of the Ph.D. behind his name. That attracted young pretty women, thinking it offered the chance for a superior lifestyle. In most cases, that was true. Not so, with your run-of-the-mill astronomer.
Aurora explained—in a text—that she just couldn’t take it anymore up on that cold mountain, spending her nights alone and her days watching soaps. That she wanted to go on the rodeo circuit with her new boyfriend Buck, who also had a damn nice pickup and a horse trailer which included human sleeping quarters. All Dyson had was an eleven-year-old Toyota RAV-4 left over from his post grad years. He bought it for its utility, not its romantic charm. It was great for hauling scopes and other such astronomy paraphernalia.
After Aurora left, Dyson would make the winding fifteen-mile trip down the mountain to the little town of Fort Davis once a week to stock up on whiskey. Fort Davis had only a couple thousand residents, counting the astronomy community, but one enterprising resident recognized that a liquor store was just what that wilderness community needed. It did a booming business.
Dyson took a bottle to the observatory to spice up his coffee, but as the nights wore on it became less coffee, more spice.
His boss recognized the signs, himself a disheveled, thrice divorced stargazer who didn’t comb his hair or wear deodorant. Most bosses’ first instinct would be to fire a boozy subordinate, but Dr. Betelgeuse was a practical man. Also, a kind, empathetic man. He’d been there three times himself. Then there was the fact that Dr. Sphere was flat out brilliant. Even with half a pickled brain, Dyson could out-astronomer ninety percent of them. After all, he’d discovered Triangulum X-3 based solely on predictive calculations. He’d be hard to replace.
When Dr. Betelgeuse told Dyson he needed to represent the observatory at the weeklong Astrophysical symposium in Denver, the young astronomer refused to leave his post. Betelgeuse told him it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Lars Mander had been blowing things up since age three. That’s why he loved rockets... and the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. With rockets, he could create an explosion that would last twenty minutes or longer, an explosion so powerful it would put something into space.
At eight he found a stick of dynamite in his dad’s truck (a seismic geologist) and put it under a thirty-gallon galvanized trashcan to create a rocket. It mostly worked, but was technically a failed experiment. The trash can flew to an altitude of forty feet before descending into their neighbor’s backyard, narrowly missing their pet Rottweiler, Queeny, who was both terrified and infuriated when the missile crash-landed as a tattered sheet of galvanized sheet metal. The incident earned Lars confinement to his room for two weeks.
In the summer before his junior year in high school, he thought to impress a girl he seriously wanted to befriend, by blowing up a spare propane tank his dad had for his outdoor grill. A group of teens had gathered at the Tastee Freeze drive-in one night, and Lars was bragging about some of his blasts from the past. Sandy White—the girlfriend-elect—had expressed wonder at Lars’ tales, so he seized the opportunity to give her a first-hand demonstration. The next day, he set up in an open field. He and Sandy retreated about thirty yards to hunker down behind the bank of a dry creek bed. With his dad’s 30.06 deer rifle, also purloined, he shot the propane tank.
A piece of shrapnel from the explosion hit Lars in the face, taking out his left eye and leaving a five-inch gash from his forehead to his left cheek. He survived and Sandy came away with singed bangs and a red face which for a week gave credence to her constant embarrassment. The whole thing horrified Sandy so much, she avoided Lars like Princess Leia would Darth Vader. In fact, the scar and milky eye didn’t help Lars with any of the opposite sex. He started wearing a black patch over the eye his freshman year at Berkley. The eyepatch and scar made him look like a James Bond villain. To his amazement, some girls found it sexy. Mainly those from the anarchist crowd, so he joined them. Not for political reasons, though. Yes, there were the women, but gathering with the anarchists gave him great opportunities to set fires and blow things up. And they used a lot of fireworks.
Lars graduated with honors, earning degrees in mechanical and chemical engineering. He did his doctoral and post-doc work in celestial mechanics. With those, he was a shoo-in for a position at SpaceX. Brilliant, yes, but even Elon Musk was afraid of him. Your run-of-the-mill mad scientist, which Elon liked to hire.
When Lars exhibited too much glee at the cataclysmic launchpad explosion of a rocket topped with a billion-dollar DOD satellite, his boss decided his top scientist needed a short sabbatical. Sent to Denver, he met with a conclave of rocket scientists set to discuss their latest ideas on how to get to Mars.
Grey Matter, M.D. was one arrogant SOB. But why not? He was a brain surgeon. Not an eminent one, but still a brain surgeon. And no one thought more of him than himself.
Despite his dad’s money, he couldn’t get into Harvard or Stanford or even Duke, so he had to settle for Hofstra, rated the eighty-second best medical school in the country and the alma mater of Bernie Madoff and Christopher Walken. He felt it was beneath him. But what can you do? There were rules about where you went to school in this country, and money wasn’t the only one. His dad, a billionaire in the concrete business, had the money, just not the influence.
Still, Dr. Matter had enough brain power and hand-eye coordination to make the grade, getting his doctorate with honors. Didn’t surprise Grey. After all, he was good-looking, smart, and rich. And
his dad staked him into a partnership with like-minded individuals: privileged and narcissistic. They became neurosurgeons for the rich and famous, with Grey leading the pack.
A medical convention in Denver invited him to be a keynote speaker. He accepted the invitation. The paid expense and $5,000 honorarium were trifling, but he felt the unwashed medicos needed to hear what he had to
say... for the betterment of humankind. Besides, a few days in cool mountain air would a nice change from Southern California’s air.
The Hophead Pub catered to business professionals, attorneys, conventioneers, and hopheads. It was upscale—all polished mahogany, dark green walls, sparkling glass and mirrors, softly lit Hanover light fixtures, and attractive baristas of various genders.
Seasoned conventioneers recommended it, which is why Dyson, Lars, and Grey walked into it.
Dyson parked himself in one of the cushioned swivel high back stools near one corner of the gleaming bar. Lars came in two minutes after Dyson and took the stool on the astronomer’s right. They nodded to one another. Grey entered and walked to the stool perpendicular to Dyson and Lars. More nods.
Lars wore a maroon blazer covering an Under Armour white T above tan Dockers. Of course, he wore his black eye patch strapped over his shaved head.
Dyson, with his Einstein/Tsoukalos hairdo and three-day beard, had on a knee-ripped pair of Carhart jeans; a green plaid flannel shirt opened down the front with sleeves half rolled up. Under the flannel, embossed on a faded blue t-shirt, a Gray alien peered out ominously.
Grey sported a teal Fendi polo, charcoal Ermenegildo Zegna slacks and brown Cucinelli penny loafers. He propped his Oakley shades atop his salt and pepper gelled back hair.
The bartender broke the ice. “You fellas here for the conventions?” he tossed logo embossed cocktail napkins before each.
“Yes,” Grey said. “I’m a keynote speaker at the brain clinic.”
“You don’t say,” the bartender said, feigning awe.
“Mars travel symposium,” Lars said.
“Astronomers,” Dyson followed.
“Awesome,” said the barista. “What’ll you have?”
“I’d like a glass of Bordeaux. Moulis, if you have one,” Grey answered.
“Whiskey, straight,” said Dyson.
“Vodka martini,” said Lars. “Shaken, not stirred.”
The bartender served them. “So, what’re you guys’ claims to fame?”
Dyson threw back his whiskey in one gulp, slapped the glass down and gestured for another. “I discovered a black hole.”
The bartender, observing Dyson’s sad eyes and furrowed brow asked, “Is that a bad thing.”
“It’s eating me alive,” answered Dyson.
Lars ate the olive from his martini and sipped. “I came up with a revolutionary rocket design.”
“That’s impressive,” said the barkeep.
“But it blew up in my face,” answered Lars.
Grey sniffed his Bordeaux. He smiled. “Well, to make it simple for you, I remove parts of human brains.”
“Really?” The bartender wiped down the bar, making no further comment.
“For me, it’s a no-brainer.” Grey looked in the mirror behind the bar, smooth an eyebrow. “But for you... never mind.”
The bartender wasn’t really a bartender. He was a writer. He took the job wanting to study people… that, and to continue eating. It looked like this evening would be bountiful for character catching. Plus, he figured the brain surgeon would tip him big.