Rum Springer

Published by the now-defunct Chicago Literati in August 2015 for their fiction issue.

I debuted this story at Fictlicious at the Hideout in Chicago on July 16, 2013.


We felt like we were living amidst a joke: so these two Amish guys walk into a bar. . . . Our conversations tapered off to confusion and silence as soon as those two walking anachronisms wandered into Piggie’s Pub and took stools in front of where Piggie himself was manning the taps. They wore navy trousers and starchy white shirts buttoned all the way to the collar, suspenders and stiff black hats that they laid carefully on the bar in front of them. One sported a thick, fuzzy chinstrap beard like a strip of carpet ringing his jaw, while the other only managed a wispy peach fuzz goatee.

Piggie asked them what they wanted, and despite the fact that they had deliberately walked into a bar, we couldn’t believe ourselves when they asked for a beer. When he pressed them as to what kind, they shrugged their shoulders. “We will have whatever is your favorite,” one said. Piggie poured them a pair of Yuenglings, and we glanced at each other with cocked eyebrows and crinkled noses. They clinked their glasses together and took a long drink, wiping the bubbly foam off their lips with the crisp cuffs of those stiff white shirts that now glowed electric blue under the neon. “It is good, sir,” the one with the beard said.

It was like watching a surgeon smoking a cigarette, a supermodel scarfing down a chili dog. We nudged each other’s rib cages, pointed at these two goofy simpletons who had come into our bar in defiance of everything they had been raised to know. We were boiling over with possibilities.

Everyday Eddie was the first of us to make contact. He threw down a ten dollar bill and proclaimed the first round on him. He shook hands with both of them, and discovered their names to be Zeke and Mordechai. They said they were eighteen and on their Rum Springer, and we crowded around to listen. They pronounced it Rumspringa but Rum Springer was as close as we got. They explained it as a rite of passage for young men in their sect, but to us, it sounded like Amish spring break: a chance to sample the forbidden thrills of the secular world. What happens at Rum Springer stays at Rum Springer. “We are here to live as you do,” they said, “so we can decide for ourselves if we want to return to the Amish life for good.” We took that as a challenge.

As we crowded in, we marveled at their firm grips, their unflinching eye contact, their naïve smiles and above all, their posture. They sat rigidly, as though their spines were broom handles. “It’s all those years in the fields, raising barns and churning butter,” we whispered. “They must have superhuman strength, like cavemen.” We spoke of them as if they weren’t even there.

We posed for pictures with hoisted beer bottles and arms around the Amish. When Deena showed them her iPhone and promised it wouldn’t bite, they smiled politely and said they had seen iPhones before. There was no shortage of tourists who wanted to take pictures back home.  “Well, have you ever played Angry Birds?” Deena asked, and they launched a few of the cranky critters while we studied them. They held the phones naturally and swiped the screen like they’d grown up with them, and we chalked it up to the brilliant design of the Apple engineers and thought up slogans for their marketing department: a smartphone so simple, the Amish can use it.

So deep was our curiosity that we didn’t even care that these boys were underage, and Piggie must have felt the same, because he kept pouring. They sipped slowly at first, but soon those beer glasses began to pile up in front of them as we all took our turn buying them a round, if only to hear them say, “God’s grace to you, English,” each time. We couldn’t miss this chance to give them a taste of the dark side, and with every fresh drink we cheered and saluted. Piggie’s Pub was a dive – a dank hole to wash away the work week. Most of us were regulars, nightly commiserators slumped on uneven barstools with paunchy middles and pale eyelids, but Zeke and Mordechai had invigorated us. We looked at them and saw a chance to pawn off our problems, to breed our misery. They had come for a taste of the forbidden fruit, and we eagerly coiled around that branch and held out the apple.

It didn’t take long for the shots to appear. Tequila, first, then vodka, whiskey and rum. Lots of rum. “It’s not a Rum Springer without a shot of rum,” we said, tossing them back. We took them under our wings and felt like high school French teachers teaching their students to say merde and putain on day one. And as the liquor flowed, tongues got looser and louder, shoulders slumped, even Zeke’s collar button had come undone. We could see patches of sweat spreading under Malachai’s arms. When he knocked over a beer bottle and spilled it all over the bar, he exclaimed, “shit!” and covered his mouth as if he had just divulged a dark family secret. “Fuckin’ A!” we replied, but we might as well have been chanting “One of us! One of us!”

Angie Potter was three sheets to the wind when she elbowed her way through the crowd and grabbed Zeke by the suspenders. “Wait, wait,” she said. “Wanna hear a joke? What do you call a beautiful girl in an Amish church? A visitor!”

Mordechai and Zeke chuckled politely. “We know some jokes,” Mordechai said. “Did you hear about the Amish cold? There are two symptoms. First you get hoarse, then you get a little buggy.”

We were dying, not because they were funny, but because they were trying to be. Each terrible joke knocked them down another peg until they would find themselves wading through the muck of the thoroughfare with skinned knees and grimy grit under their fingernails, just like us. Slurring and stained, if not for those collar buttons and stiff cuffs, they might have almost passed for slobs like us.

We took it upon ourselves to be their tour guides to the wicked world of the English, pointing out each landmark of sin: we played raunchy rock and roll on the jukebox and tried to explain hockey while the Flyers game was flickering on the bar’s TV sets. We roared in the third period when the gloves came off and slapped their backs as two burly Slavs set to brawling. It was a lively melee, full of wild haymakers that only ended when one’s skate slipped out from under him and he conked his head on the ice, blood trickling from a gash on his cheek.

We asked if they’d ever been in a fight. “We’re not fighters,” Malachai said. We asked if they’d ever been laid, and they just tittered nervously. “It’s not Rum Springer till someone gets off,” we said, and Deena took them back to the stockroom, one at a time. They returned minutes later with glassy eyes and burning cheeks, maybe not fully deflowered, but at least partially plucked.

We put our coasters on top of our glasses to hold our spots while we slipped out the back door into the alley. They bummed cigarettes from us, and we showed them how to inhale, and then it was Felipe, the bar back, sparking a joint and showing them how to hold the sweet smoke in their lungs until they exploded into coughing fits, their eyes watering as they gasped for cool air. “It’s not Rum Springer till everyone’s high,” we said.

They pissed into sewer grates, shaking their floppy dicks like they were waving banners. “I’ve got one for you,” Mordechai shouted in mid stream, barely propping himself up against a utility pole. “Why don’t the Amish water ski? Because their fucking horses would drown!” They puked up eighty proof puddles behind the dumpsters and leaned on us like a crutch to stagger back inside for more.

They were ours now, these new initiates. We had dragged them off their high horses and down to our depths, all too happy to cover the tab if it meant we didn’t have to suffer alone. We projected our pain onto these two fallen angels, because it was part of our evil English world, and maybe by spreading it around, we could dilute it. They shared Sully’s shattered marriage and Deena’s deadbeat dad, Piggie’s crippling debt, Eddie’s clogged arteries and Angie’s addictions. Our cancers, our crimes, our mistakes, our sorrows. We set out to corrupt them, and succeeded by any measure. But we wanted more than that. We wanted to assimilate them, to take all that purity and piety they brought into Piggie’s Pub and bury it deep, and let sprout from the soil all the hard truths that our intoxication and technology and hedonism couldn’t smother.

They left the bar that night stoned and stumble-drunk like sailors stepping ashore. We could have called them a cab, but why should they get luxuries that we never enjoyed? We staggered through the dark streets of the city every night and took our chances. It’s not Rum Springer if you don’t get mugged, beaten, and left for dead. We could have offered them Tylenol and warned them to drink as much water as they could stomach, but there are consequences to this life, and if they were going to learn our ways, we wanted them to feel every bit of our pain. They were one of us, now. Let them clutch their temples and taste bile on their tongues. Let those capillaries burst under sunken eyelids, and if they were still on speaking terms with their Amish God, let them sink to their knees on their dingy bathroom floors, retch into the toilet and barter and beg with Him like we had so many mornings past and would do for countless mornings still to come.

For weeks after, we talked about those Amish kids like they had been our own sons. Debate raged as to whether or not they’d ever return home. Some of us thought we’d succeeded in tempting them to our life of sin, others were sure we’d scared them right back to Amish country. Deep down, we even felt a little ashamed for what we had done. They were good boys, simple but honest, and perhaps that night at Piggie’s had been too much too soon. What did it say about us that we had been so overjoyed to corrupt those kids?

Sully was convinced he saw them at another bar a few weeks later. “I swear to God, it was those Amish kids,” he said. “But they weren’t wearing their Amish clothes. They had, like, Yankees shirts. They looked like a couple of Jersey douchebags. But that one’s beard and those square haircuts. I swear it was them. They looked at me like I was crazy when I tried to talk to them, but I could tell they knew me.”

But that was just Sully being Sully. We didn’t believe him for a second.

In our dull, quiet moments, removed from Piggie’s Pub, our jobs or our families, we considered our own Rum Springers. If we woke up one morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed in Lancaster County, would we breathe that dewy clean air and thank God for our blessings? Could we power off our phones and TVs, embrace the sober pleasures of quiet simplicity? Where would we draw the line, and how soon would we run screaming back to the dark city, to our problems and poisons and weakness and debt, to wallow in the only life we know? It’s not Rum Springer if you don’t have regrets.

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