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The Pint Man: A Novel [Hardcover]

Steve Rushin

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Praise for THE PINT MAN

"An exceedingly enjoyable first’s Rushin’s narrative voice, guileless, digressive, and ribald, riddled with wordplay and trivia, that makes this such a pleasure.....great company for an evening, with or without a pint at your elbow."--Booklist

"What sets the work apart is Rodney's sharp wit....Rushin emerges as one of the sharpest wits on the scene"--Publishers Weekly

”THE PINT MAN is clever, bracing, and full of laughs. Steve Rushin proves to be a master juggler of words, a mischievous crossword-puzzler run amok.”
--Carl Hiaasen, author of The Downhill Lie and Nature Girl

“I had so much fun reading THE PINT MAN. Rushin can do more tricks with words than Houdini with locks. There's nobody in America like him. I would put him up against Ogden Nash-and spot Nash half the alphabet.”
--Rick Reilly, author of Who’s Your Caddy? and the upcoming Sports From Hell

"Steve Rushin's The Pint Man is a wisecracking, rib-shaking, beer-stained, warm-hearted romp of a novel about a Midtown ne'er-do-well adrift in that elastic period between post-adolescence and manhood. It's the literary equivalent to Happy Hour at some dreamy shambles of an Irish bar: a raucous carnival of laughter, gruff camaraderie, insults, arguments, languishment, romance, more laughter, blurred reflection, big sloppy hugs, and endless rounds of beer. Anyone who's ever fallen head-over-heels in love with a bar will fall just as hard for this book."
--Jonathan Miles, author of Dear American Airlines

“Steve Rushin has written a very funny book that's also unexpectedly deep and poignant. And just so it's clear, I wrote this blurb while completely sober.”
--A.J. Jacobs, author of The Know-it All and The Year of Living Biblically

Praise for Steve Rushin

“His work is imaginative, quirky, and insightful….. it is a pleasure to encounter a writer who seeks out the humanity and humor in competition.”—Booklist

“One of the most agile essayists around.”
Publishers Weekly


“A real delight"--USA Today

“Rushin can cull a chortle from a cat.” –Denver Post

“Rushin’s wide-ranging cultural references and casually witty writing style appeal to both insiders and outsiders . . . This is modern literature, wearing broken-in sneakers.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

About the Author

STEVE RUSHIN, the author of the nonfiction books Road Swing and The Caddie Was a Reindeer, wrote a beloved weekly column called Air & Space for Sports Illustrated from 1998 to 2007. He and his wife, Rebecca Lobo, live in Connecticut with their three children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

  To say that Rodney went there religiously was not just a figure of speech, for Boyle's resembled a church even at noon, when no one was yet kneeling in the Gents, asking God for His mercy.  

At that hour, a shaft of sunlight shone through stained glass. Which is to say, windows whose glass was comprehensively stained--by a double-glazing of nicotine and automotive exhaust, and the secondhand smoke of a half-century of bullshit.   There were just the two windows--flanking the punched nose of a red front door--so that Boyle's faced the world through befogged spectacles. Whether these were the befogged spectacles of a man who has just come into a warm place from a cold one or of aman wearing permanent, prescriptive beer goggles depended largely on what one wanted from Boyle's.  

Suffice to say that over the decades the bar and its regulars had begun to resemble one another, in the way of pets and their owners or old married couples.   It was now impossible to tell whether its customers smelled of Boyle's or Boyle's smelled of its customers, only that both smelled, unmistakably, of corned beef and Lysol.   

    Rodney sat at the bar, his right hand slapped up against his brow, so that the ballpoint pen plugged between two fingers appeared to grow from his forehead, like a unicorn horn.   He looked up from his crossword, to the bottles of the back bar: there was something provocative about those jewel-toned vessels, their backs turned to a mirrored wall, as if trying on pants in a department store dressing room, as if checking out theirown bottoms in a new pair of jeans.  

More than a few of Boyle's regulars regarded the bottles that way--voyeuristically, with what amounted to lust.  

A bottle of Cockburn's was shelved next to a bottle of Dry Sack. Given their proximity, Rodney thought of them not as port and sherry but as twinned male medical afflictions, the former leading inevitably to the latter.  

In front of him, a pint of Guinness, with its clerical collar of foam. Behind him, four booths, snug as confessionals, their rosewood benches salvaged from St. Michael the Archangel's. Two million asses, squirming through Masses: they had burnished thepews, leaving a rich patina that looked to Rodney like Murphy's Irish Red.  

He thought of how, when he farted in church as a kid, his mother whispered, "Now you're sitting in your own pew."   Boyle's church pews, like Boyle's dogs, had found a better home in Boyle's. A sign above the first booth quoted Mark 2:16:     

  When the Scribes and Pharisees saw Him, they said unto His disciples, "how is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?"      

Armen set Rodney's lunch plate heavily on the bar. It settled like a spun coin. Armen's name was Gary Garabedian, but to anyone who'd been to Boyle's more than once, he was Armen. Armen the Barman.  

Rodney and Armen once passed a summer's evening compiling a list of notable people, like Armen, of Armenian ancestry. The list consisted entirely of famous surnames that ended in -ian: Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Cherilyn (Cher) Sarkisian, basketball coach JerryTarkanian. "Yossarian," Rodney said. "From Catch-22."  

"Raffi Cavoukian," Armen said, citing a multiplatinum children's troubadour whom Rodney had never heard of. Rodney was not merely childless but as bereft of children as a man can be--a kind of orphan in reverse.  

Rodney played to his strength and countered with sports personalities of the 1970s: Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian, and NFL field judge Armen Terzian, who was knocked unconscious by a thrown whiskey bottleafter costing the Minnesota Vikings a playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys.  

At the end of the bar, another man being slowly knocked unconscious with a whiskey bottle said: "Conan the Barbarian."  

Rodney turned to look at the guy. He had a face like a punched pillow. His jug-handle ears--and the emptiness echoing between them--called to mind golf's Wanamaker Trophy, given annually to the winner of the PGA Championship, whose highlights were justthen playing on TV. In time, he would become known to everyone at Boyle's as Wanamaker--except on the back of his Boyle's softball jersey, where his name would be abbreviated in the way that old baseball box scores abbreviated Gionfriddo as "G'fr'do" or Vandermeeras "V'D'M'r."  

On his softball jersey, "Wanamaker" was contracted to "Wan'ker."  

During nights like that one, celebrating celebrated Armenians with a group of strangers, Rodney had all the companionship he needed inside Boyle's.  

As new people entered through that swinging red door, they were challenged to name an Armenian celebrity whose name ended in -ian. When an old man said, "Ruffian," Rodney recalled how the great thoroughbred filly was buried where she had collapsed--at Belmont, her nose pointed for all eternity toward a finish line she'd never reach.  

It was about as apt a metaphor as he could think of for the comic futility of life.     

  Rodney forked a piece of porterhouse into his mouth and chewed it like a cud. He fed a French fry to Edith, the bulldog who spent entire days asleep under the bar, a courtesy extended to only a few of Boyle's regulars.  

He had no idea where or whether Edith went when Boyle's closed. But Rodney had seen Edith drink Bushmill's directly from a dog dish in a match race won by Wanamaker.   Until a year ago, the bar had two bulldogs. But Edith was widowed when Drinketh died of pneumonia, leaving Edith that most disappointing of all creations: a setup without a punch line.  

Rodney had a blind date tonight, a setup that would almost certainly have no payoff.   He took a pull from his pint of Guinness and his brain began to run on its hamster wheel to nowhere: Guinness is stout, stout is a kind of porter, porter was popular among porters in the street markets of London, who drank it in porter houses, which servedsteak, which is why they call the swatch of suede I am now masticating a "porterhouse steak."  

Rodney wondered if he should order a second porterhouse tonight, on his date, so that he could regale her with this history.   He looked again at his crossword clue: "Spot remover." With the safecracker's disdain for the locksmith, he inked in dogcatcher. Then his right hand went back to his forehead, and the ballpoint again was unicorned to his brow.   Before the smoking ban, when that pen was a cigarette, it looked like a smokestack for his brain. That brain remained a bustling widget factory, three shifts working round the clock to make a product that nobody needed, at least not outside of Boyle's.  

Some people have a mind like a steel trap. Rodney had a mind like a lint trap. It retained only useless fluff: batting averages, ancient jingles, a slogan glimpsed once, years ago, on the side of a panel van, for an exterminator ("We'll Make Your AntsSay Uncle") or a window-treatment supplier ("A Couple of Blind Guys") or a septic tank specialist ("Doody Calls").  

High in a corner behind the bar, beneath a ceiling tiled to look like tin, hung an ancient TV, a Zenith at its nadir. Armen turned the sound up. Family Feud, with a new host, who said: "One hundred people surveyed, top five answers on the board, name afamous Rudolph."  

Rodney clicked the ballpoint pen with his thumb as if it were the plunger on Jeopardy and said: "Red-Nosed Reindeer, Giuliani, Nureyev, Valentino . . ."  

Armen said, "Wilma Rudolph."   Wanamaker said, "Wilma Flintstone."   "It's famous Rudolphs," Armen said. "Not famous Wilmas."  

"There are no other famous Wilmas," Rodney said.   Armen said, "Not true: Wilma Mankiller. Chief of the Cherokee Nation."  

On TV, the host said, "I need an answer."  

A young woman in a lime-sherbet pantsuit held her palms upward as if waiting for rain. She cringed preemptively and said: "Hitler?"  

Armen roared and shouted, "Rudolph Hitler!"  

Rodney thought how "Rudolph" sounded benign, "Adolf" malevolent. He wondered aloud if names were destiny.  

"You mean, would I be a barman if my name weren't Armen?" Armen asked. "It's like Alicia Keys. She plays the piano and her name is Keys."   "Her real name is Cook," Rodney said. "Her stage name is Keys. Just like your real name is Gary. Armen's your stage name. You're Armen because you're a barman, she's Keys because she plays piano."  

If Cook's name was her destiny, Rodney reflected, she'd be making pot pies with Vance, the Boyle's cook who seemed to pop his head out the kitchen door once a day, like a cuckoo from a clock. 

  "I'm talking the other way around," he said. "Like the archbishop of Manila was Cardinal Sin. The team dentist for the San Francisco Giants, his name is Les Plack."  

Armen said, "I read that an unusually high percentage of people named Dennis become dentists."  

"What about Wilma Mankiller?" Wanamaker said. "How'd you like to go on a blind date, you ask her her name, she says, 'Mankiller.' Probably didn't have a lot of second dates." 

  "Mankiller, party of one." Armen said jauntily. But the four booths of the Boyle's dining room were empty.  

Rodney felt compelled to point out that Wilma Mankiller did not become a killer of men, but Armen had already moved on to Lorena Bobbitt, who famously hacked off her husband's wang with a kitchen knife and flung it out a car window. "Lorena, bob it," Armensaid. "That's destiny." 

  Wanamaker said to Rodney,...
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