Humor Fiction posted May 12, 2024

This work has reached the exceptional level
Understanding what you don't see

The Secret Handbook of Life

by Terry Broxson

I have a story to tell you about a book. Don't look for it in the self-help section of a bookstore. Forget Amazon. 
Never mind any religious section. This handbook has nothing to do with the Bible or any interpretation scholars like to opine and pontificate about.  
The New York Times bestsellers list? Really? The title should give you a clue.
If you want to find this book, you need to go to a little hole-in-the-wall bar two miles south of Justin, Texas (pop. 4,410). Justin has been famous for its boots since 1879. Don't look for a neon sign. The only sign you'll find hangs above the entrance. It's hand-painted in black on a white background: It'll Do. 
The bar changed hands in 2012. Charlie Buckhorne (48), the original owner, had been making nice with Amanda (31) at a back corner table when his wife Patricia (40) walked in. Patrica simply stared at Charlie. He reached into his pocket, smiled, and handed Amanda the keys. She's owned the bar ever since.
Charlie and Patricia were never seen again.
The decor consisted of number two pine paneling covered with a patina from years of cigarette smoke—banned in 2001. A framed eight-by-ten picture of Amanda and Charlie hung by the antique cash register. Written on the picture in cursive, "It'll do till she finds out."
None of the six tables, with four chairs, matched each other. Five bar stools, a collage of colors sagged in front of the wooden scarred bar. Any thought of the place having a touch of ambiance looked more like a slap into the face of a missed opportunity.
The only bright spot belonged to a nickel-sucking 1954 Wurlitzer that glowed and growled in the corner with the vibrating bass of Ernest Tubb's Waltz Across Texas.
The daytime drinking crowd usually topped out at five or so. The customers consisted of a few irregular regular fellas and up to three irregular ladies. No one wore Justin boots, but Justine did like her red Tony Lamas. Justine prided herself as the only regular, irregular lady.
On a Thursday in May, a stranger walked into the It'll Do. He carried a book. The five patrons, at first, thought this stranger might be some visiting preacher coming to help these back-sliding sinners slide back into Baptist pews and on a straight path to redemption. 
Amanda smiled at the stranger. "What're you having, partner?" 
The stranger looked over Amanda like a politician assessing a donor, a free buffet, or a porn star. "I'll have two fingers of Jack and notice my fingers are fat." 
"Umm, that middle one does look fat. Before we go any further, who are you, and why are you in my bar with a book on a Thursday afternoon? This ain't no library."
Amanda acted like that with most people. Nosy, pushy, bossy, we all thought she might have been a disbarred lawyer before she hooked up with Charlie.

"Little lady, I'm just a wandering writer looking for more truths to add to this here book. My life's work: The Secret Handbook of Life."
"Never heard of it." Amanda shook her head as she poured two fat fingers of Jack Daniels into a Flintstone's jelly glass. 
Treating the glass like fine Waterford Crystal, the stranger swirled the amber liquid and sniffed the aroma like expensive wine. "Well, I wouldn't expect you've heard of my book. This is the only copy. It's a work in progress." 
Amanda seemed to be intrigued. "How in the world would a handbook about life be useful to anyone if it's a secret?"
"My dear lady, the book's not finished."
''Lookie here, fella, you've called me a little lady and your dear lady, and I ain't either one. What's your name? Are you some famous author out slumming under the guise of research?"
"My apologies. I mean, no offense. I'm Hank Hargrove. I'm not famous yet. When my book's published, it'll be a life-changing event."
"Hank, honey." Amanda raised her left eyebrow. "The last time I called a man honey—I got this bar. Now, what's in your book?"
Hank's demeanor changed. "Well, honey. It's everyday stuff that makes common sense sound uncommon."
"Hank, honey. You better call me Amanda. You can't run no tab in here, that'll be $8.50 for two fat fingers of Jack. Give me an example of common, uncommon sense."
Hank pulled a gold money clip out of his right pocket. He peeled off two $100 bills and placed them on the bar. "Amanda, you sweet thing, setups for everyone, and when that runs out, let me know."
"Well, listen to you, Hank, honey, you do know how to sweet talk common sense to a girl."
Amanda started motioning to me and instructed, "Now, you boys, put a couple of tables together. Justine, you sit on Hank's left, I'll sit on the right, and you boys grab a chair. We're going to find out what's in this book." 
As the guys sat down, Justine took Hank's hand and started to shake it, but instead, she slid both hands over his wrists, dancing lightly up to his elbow. Goosebumps appeared on Hank's arm.
Amanda unplugged the jukebox, grabbed two brand new bottles of Jack, placed one in the middle of each table, and dispersed six of her finest Davy Crockett and Looney Tunes jelly glasses, including one for herself.
"Now, Hank, honey, let me see that book."
"Amanda, there is no way I can let anyone see what's in my book. It would be like if Picasso let people see the Mona Lisa before he finished it."
Justine gave a quick look at Amanda. A scowl appeared on her face. "Hey, Buster, Hank, or whoever you are, Picasso didn't paint the Mona Lisa. That Italian dude, Da Vinci, did. You must think we're all hicks out here."
"Oh my, no! My reference may seem slightly obscure, but it refers to Picasso's effort during his blue period to create a new version of the famous portrait. To this date, no one has ever seen his painting."
Amanda finished her two fat fingers of Jack in her Davy Crockett glass and refilled it. "Hank, honey. I'm calling that a bunch of cow pies on the prairie."
"Amanda, I assure you it's true. It refers to one of life's important lessons. Chapter eighteen, Never Mess with Perfection: It wastes time and makes a fool of you!"
I looked over at Amanda. Her mouth was open, but her lips didn't move. So, mine did. "That may be the most common uncommon sense I ever heard. Who told you that?"
Hank looked over the small group. "Friends, who said it, is not nearly as important as what was said. That's chapter two."  
Amanda's voice sounded dubious. "What else is important?" 

"Amanda, this manual doesn't look at things in conventional ways. It doesn't tell you what's important. Every chapter is designed for each person to map out a plan for what's important in their life."
Over the next two hours,  both bottles of Jack dwindled to the nubbin. Hank mesmerized his audience as he described the words of wisdom in the book. Heads nodded in agreement. I felt a peaceful feeling had descended over the group. 
I also allowed that maybe we were all shit-faced on a Thursday afternoon—again. But before I could come to any definitive conclusion. Justine changed the subject.
"Hank, I want to know what's in the book about sex?"
Hank poured the last drops of  Jack in his jelly glass. "Justine, I'm sure it will be no surprise to you. Chapter sixty covers the basic twenty-seven pleasurable positions for women. Chapter sixty-one details fourteen unique variations that add a man for maximum effect. But just wait till you read chapter sixty-two!"
Amanda whacked the table with bare knuckles. "I've heard enough. The bar is closing. You'll call some Ubers to get home. I'll see you tomorrow.  Hank and I got a little more business to conduct to settle his tab."
My friend Barney dropped me off at the bar early Friday afternoon. When my eyes adapted to the bar's dim light, I immediately noticed it. The book was next to the antique cash register, enclosed in a plexiglass box,  with a Yale combination lock guarding the contents. The picture of Charlie and Amanda seemed to smile at the book.
The title, handwritten cursive, The Secret Handbook of Life, could be read on the cover.
"Amanda, how did you get the book from Hank?"
"Oh, we came to a mutual satisfaction, which led to a beneficial understanding.  The book will draw people to the bar when the word gets out."
"So, folks will come here, have a drink or two, and read the book. Very clever."
"Not exactly. Nobody will get to read anything.  Do you remember that children's story, The Emperor's New Clothes?" 
"Oh sure, the Emperor only thought he wore new clothes. But he had been duped and stood naked before the world. "
"Yep, just as naked as a book without any words." 


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