Shut Up, Phil. 

So I'm sitting quietly at my neighborhood bar, nursing a beer, chatting with some of the regulars, when a new guy walks in.

"What'll you have, pal?" says Ray, the bartender.

"What a stupid question," the guy says. "But then, you ask a lot of stupid questions. Gimme a Diet Coke."

"Okay, comin' right up, sir," says Ray, thinking to himself, "what an asshole."

click to enlarge toc_diet-coke-8.jpg

But Ray's a congenial guy. He likes to keep the peace. So he slides a Diet Coke across the bar and tries to make conversation. Pointing to the TV, he says to the newcomer, "Helluva thing, those wildfires out in California, eh? Dozens of people killed, whole towns burned to the ground. Schools, houses, cars, everything. It's pretty bad."

"Nah, they got what they deserved," says the new guy, loudly. "It's just bad forest management. They ought to cut off federal funding to those people. Sad!"

At this point, the other customers in the bar are beginning to notice. There's an awkward silence in the room, until a perky dishwater blonde at the right end of the bar speaks up.

"You know, I actually think you're right," she says. "The only way to stop a bad forest with a fire is a good forest with a fire."

"That makes a lot of sense, Marsha," says another customer. "In fact, that's just the sort of creative bipartisan thinking I could work with, if I were given a chance."

"Shut up, Phil," says Marsha. "You're boring the crap out of everybody. Nobody wants to hear it any more."

"Yes, ma'am, I suspect you're right," says Phil. "I'm just trying to point how easy-going and inoffensive I am."

"Yeah, shut up, Phil," says the new guy. "I just met you, and even I can see you're a loser. Think I'll call you Flounderin' Phil."

"Hey, you don't need to talk to Phil that way," says Mario, another regular. "He's totally harmless."

The new guy turns to look at Mario. "You look kinda brown, Pedro," he says. "You some kinda gang member? You come up here in a caravan? You MS-13?"

"No, I was born in Puerto Rico. I'm an American. I live here. What's wrong with you, anyway?"

"Puerto Rico, eh?" says the new guy. "That was some really bad hurricane management you people had down there. All those fake death reports. Ridiculous. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Sad!"

"Wait a minute," says Mario. "You think you can just come in here and start insulting everybody and get away with it?"

"Sure, I can. I'm a very stable genius. I have the best words. I could take you out and shoot you in the middle of Union Avenue and people would still love me."

"Why, you son of ..."

"You know," says Phil, cordially interrupting, "you're probably right, sir. And that's just the kind of strong leadership I could work with, if given a chance ..."

"Shut up, Phil!" says Mario.

"Yeah, shut up, Flounderin' Phil," says Marsha.

The new guy takes a sip of his Diet Coke and looks in the mirror behind the bar. "Looks like I'm having a bad hair day," he says. "I'll be right back. And you," he says, pointing a tiny forefinger at Marsha, "I'll need two cans of L'Oreal Ultra Freeze hairspray, stat. Follow me. And don't make me grab you."

"Yes, sir!" says Marsha, beaming, obviously smitten by the manly newcomer.

As they head to the men's room, Mario turns to Ray and says, "What could she possibly see in that guy?"

"What could anybody see in that guy?" says Ray. "He's a total jerk."

"I don't know," says Phil, cautiously. "He has the kind of hair I could work with, given the chance ..."

"SHUT UP, PHIL," says everyone.

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