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The Old Man in the Club



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About The Book

He’s the “old guy in the club” who everyone judges and scorns, but there’s so much more to his story—travel into the mind and soul of a complex man on the road to redemption in this riveting, true-to-life novel.

Almost everyone who has been to a nightclub has seen him: the “old man in the club.” He’s the graying, balding loner looking totally out of place, like he could be everyone’s father. Or grandfather. And almost everyone’s wondering the same thing: Why is he in here?

In Curtis Bunn’s The Old Man in the Club, you learn why. Meet Elliott Thomas, sixty-one years old, and not afraid of spending a night among twenty-something strangers. But his motivation for hanging out in clubs isn’t his fear of growing old; it’s his desire to catch up on what he’s missed. Recently released as a free man after years of false accusations and his wrongful incarceration, Elliot is on his journey to redemption. How he goes about it, however, gives some people pause. Some find him charming, some find him creepy. The women his age find him disgusting. His buddies marvel at his nerve. His children loathe his existence. But no matter who judges him, Elliott is set on reclaiming his youth—the way he wants to.

A page-turner that outlines the depth, complexities, and motivations of an intriguing character, this novel will surprise and touch you—and make sure you’ll never look at the “old man in the club” the same way again.


The Old Man in the Club CHAPTER 1 Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number
Elliott Thomas was stuck in the bathroom. Not stuck like he could not get out, but stuck because he had to wait for his pants to dry.

He had peed on himself.

At sixty-one, Elliott’s bladder wasn’t what it used to be. In fact, with his prostate the size of a ripe pear, the reservoir that stored his urine was overworked. In this case, he could feel the need for a bathroom run coming on, but he was on the dance floor with a cute young prospect and could not break away in the middle of the song.

She looked even younger than her age, which made their pairing that much more noticeable. And strange. She liked to dance, and so one song became two, and three, to where Elliott began sweating. He was fighting so hard to not pee on himself right there on the dance floor.

But that was the only indicator of his distress. He smiled at the young lady, Tamara Worthington, and kept up with her moves and drew her into him. Finally, though, the urge became too strong, so he grabbed her hand and led her off the small makeshift dance area at Vanquish Lounge in midtown Atlanta.

Elliott walked her to a roped, reserved area where he had arranged bottle service for Tamara and her three friends, all of whom were in their early-to-mid-twenties with dresses so short he could see they had discarded the idea of wearing panties. It was Tamara’s birthday. She turned twenty-five.

“Going to the bathroom.” He leaned into Tamara’s ear. His legs were pressed together as if they would serve as a levee to hold back his water. “Be back in a few. But drink up.”

She looked up at him with a smile and a wink. “Don’t be long.”

Elliott winked back and headed to the bathroom; a man and his bladder racing against the clock. The men’s room was on the other side of the space, and he maneuvered through the crowd hurriedly, trying to appear calm when inside he was panicked. The urge to go increased by the step, and so did his anxiety.

By the time he burst through the bathroom door and into a stall, the leakage had begun. The front right side of his gray trousers was soaked before he could free himself and drain his bladder into the urinal.

He looked down at the considerable wet spot and his anxiety advanced to panic. It was obvious what happened and he could not go back into the lounge, or to Tamara, looking like he’d wet himself. This was a problem he dealt with on a daily basis by keeping a foam cup in his car. He would pee into it as he drove if the urge became overwhelming, to avoid frequent stops.

In this case, he waited too late to head to the bathroom. With no other recourse and to avoid mass embarrassment, Elliott took off his pants and pressed the button on the heated hand dryer and placed the wet spot under the burst of hot air. Men entering the bathroom did double-takes, the sight of him standing there in polka dot boxers startling them.

But Elliott was unfazed. He was a determined man, and not merely when it came to pursuing young women. He learned to function with a purpose and focus, so he addressed his wet pants as he would anything else: head-on.

“Woman spilled a drink in my lap,” he told a guy who asked the inevitable question. Elliott’s voice was deeper than you might expect from a moderately sized man. When he wanted to, he could sound like Lou Rawls. “I would be pissed off if she wasn’t so fine,” he added, trying hard to be amusing.

“I got a table full of women waiting on me,” he went on. “Can’t go back over there with a river on my pants.”

The man laughed. “I hear you, pops.”

Elliott stood there for almost ten minutes in his wet drawers with his pants under the hand dryer. He could not take off his underwear, so he had to deal with that wetness up against his body. As long as the pants did not look wet, he did not care.

It was one of those moments that made him wonder why he was not at home watching old episodes of The Honeymooners and sipping on tea. But it was a fleeting moment. He was where he wanted to be.

The pants dried finally, Elliott put them back on, and steadied himself in front of a mirror. He tucked in his shirt and tightened his belt, and a sense of calm came over him. He was back to himself, albeit pissy.

The bathroom attendant standing at the sinks supplied soap and Elliott washed his hands as he gazed into the mirror. The image that came back was one of a handsome man whose wrinkles around his eyes and neck hardly told his story, but did indicate his advanced age.

He offset that by coloring his hair, wearing trendy clothes and keeping his body right with exercise and conscientious food choices. But what really minimized his age was his attitude and energy, which made some younger women not look at him as a father figure, but as a man who could expose them and help them to grow.

Some women could not take Elliott seriously. Others were flattered but not interested. A few laughed in his face. Enough embraced his moxie.

He was older than most at Vanquish by more than twenty years. And yet, there was a draw to the nightlife for him, a lure that was far more than about the tantalizing young girls that he kept in his world.

Being out in the night made him feel free, and for all he had experienced in his life, feeling free and alive meant a lot to him. There were many versions of the old men in the club; most of them overgrown children whose insecurities dictated that they pursue younger women. They were the proverbial “sugar daddies” that drove nice cars, flashed their credit cards and presented gifts to entice vulnerable and opportunistic young women.

It was legal prostitution, without a pimp. Essentially, they were dirty old men that could not handle an experienced woman who would challenge them or require them to make an effort. So they lured young girls with things.

That was not Elliott’s modus operandi. He was a different kind of old man in the club. It wasn’t so much that he liked it. He needed it.

It was hard to not notice the generation gap between Elliott and others at the lounge. Although Elliott was an attractive man, right around six feet with a lean body, the gray edges that shaped his chiseled face and the wrinkles around his eyes and neck were undeniable. They at least told he was older than everyone else. He was proud that he was sixty-one but kept himself together to where he was able to attract younger ladies; well, younger ladies with varying issues.

He noticed that the man in the bathroom called him “Pops,” and he heard the whispers when he showed up at clubs or bars frequented by adults half his age.

And he did not care.

Women his age called him a “dirty old man” and his buddies laughed at him and wondered about his lifestyle. He did not care.

Elliott Thomas decided to live his life in a way that pleased him, which was not what could be said by most. A lot happened for him to come to this place—dark, sad, regrettable experiences that shaped the man’s adult life.

He was the old man in the club, and had no qualms with it. It was a blessing to be anywhere. And he liked it.

What was peeing on himself to a man who, when considering the totality of his life, very well could be dead? But there he was, alive and well, and refusing to live any way other than the way he wanted.

“What’s happening?” he inquired of Tamara upon his return to their reserved section.

She handed him a glass of champagne. “What took you so long?”

“Ran into a few friends,” he lied. He squirmed in his seat because while his pants were dry, his polka dot underwear was wet—and uncomfortable.

“Here,” he said to Tamara, pulling a gift out of the bag that rested on the table in front of them. The box was flat and wrapped in purple paper. That was her favorite color. Elliott paid attention to details like that. It was necessary as he tried to connect with much younger women. It was one of his ways of standing out among his youthful competition—young men who were not nearly as skilled in the art of dating. Or just being a gentleman. Or thoughtful. That had to be his edge in gaining younger women’s affections.

“It’s so light? What is it?” Tamara asked.

Elliott did not answer. He did not think an answer was necessary. And she got his point: Open the box and see. And so she did, and was surprised by its contents.

“What’s this?” she asked with confusion in her voice and on her face.

Again, Elliott did not respond. So, Tamara moved the paper closer and adjusted it so light could shine on it.

“A passport application?” she asked. “You got me a passport application?”

“What’s that?” one of her friends, Bianca, asked, from the other side of Elliott.

Tamara passed it across Elliott and to Bianca, who used the flashlight on her cell phone to read it.

“Oh, wow,” she said. “This is a great gift, girl.”

“An application? How?” Tamara asked.

Elliott sat between the young ladies and turned his head toward each as they spoke.

“Why?” Bianca asked. “You don’t get it?”

“Get what?” Tamara said, sounding a bit frustrated.

“You need a passport to travel out of the country,” Bianca said. “So he must be taking you on a trip. Duh.”

Tamara looked up at Elliott. “Really?”

“Well,” he said, “we can’t go where I want to go until you have a passport. So, get that taken care of and you’ll get the second part of your gift.”

“At least tell me where we’re going.”

“I’d rather surprise you when you show me your passport.”

“That’s not right,” Tamara whined. Her cute face that did not require much makeup was scrunched, her forehead dented. She poked out her lips and, for a second or two, Elliott thought he was looking at an adolescent.

“You have about a month to coax me into telling you. That’s how long it should take for you to get your passport after you submit it.”

“Oh, well, I can get that news out of you before then.” She placed her hand on his leg.

Elliott grinned. “I like your confidence.”

They had met about six weeks before, at CineBistro, an upscale movie theater in the Buckhead section of Atlanta that had a full bar and restaurant-quality menu. Elliott noticed Tamara sitting at the bar, waiting on her date to return from the bathroom.

“I’m going to take care of that drink for you,” were Elliott’s first words to Tamara, who had accepted a Blue Moon beer from the bartender.

“Why would you do that?” she asked.

“Just paying it forward. Someone paid for my lunch one day when I was at Flip Burger on Howell Mill Road. Sitting at the bar like you are now. Had lunch. When it was time to go, I asked for my check. Bartender told me the woman sitting a few seats down had paid for it and gone.”

“What? Really?” Tamara said.

“Yes, really.” He reached into his jacket pocket to pull out a business card, then handed it to her. “So, it’s my turn to return that good deed.”

Tamara looked him up and down. He reminded her of a teacher she had a crush on when she was in high school. She pulled a business card out of her purse. “Well, thank you very much,” she said, handing over her card.

“I’m sure you’re on a date, so I’ll leave you,” Elliott said. “But I will call you or shoot you an e-mail to see if you have paid it forward… Enjoy your drink.”

They smiled at each other and Elliott walked toward the theaters, right past Tamara’s date as he made his way back from the bathroom. He turned around and saw that Tamara was looking back at him as she hugged the man.

That meeting led to an exchange of e-mails, a lunch date that Tamara did not consider a date a week later, and drinks at F&B restaurant a few days later that had the feel of a date.

By the time they arrived at Vanquish, Elliott and Tamara had seen each other seven times. Before they met that night for her birthday celebration, he made it clear his intentions, telling her, “This is a date. I like you and I have grown attracted to you. So please don’t take it like I’m coming out just to support my friend. I’m trying to romance you, no matter our age difference.”

He had to put it out there. Elliott did not want there to be any misconceptions.

“You don’t think I’m too young for you?” she said.

“Too young to do what?” he replied.

“Hang out; there have to be women your age interested in you,” Tamara said.

“Sure there are, but their interest isn’t my interest. Is my age too much for you to handle?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I guess that depends on your energy level.”

“Excuse me?” Elliott responded.

She laughed. “Wait, that didn’t sound right.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have to worry about my energy level in any capacity,” Elliott said.

She paused for a few seconds. “Okay, then. If you can handle it, I can handle it. And I’m talking about the age difference.”

For Elliott, that meant he could help her celebrate her birthday in grand fashion. The bottle service at the Vanquish Lounge was $350 per bottle, and by 10:30, they were deep into their second bottle. And while the money did not mean anything to him, it would mean everything to Tamara on this night.

“Thank you, Elliott,” she said over the loud music. “This is so much fun. And I can’t wait to find out about this trip. I’m not saying I’m going on it, but I am excited to know where you picked out.”

“You’re going,” he said so confidently that it almost came off as a boast. “And you know why? Because by the time you get your passport, you’ll know me better and you’ll want to go.”

“You’re pretty sure of yourself, huh?” All the drinking started to have an effect; she was looser, in mind and body. She slid to her right until her body pressed up against Elliott’s. “I may be young, but I ain’t crazy or silly. Don’t think you’re going to take advantage of me because you have more experience than me.”

“Why would I want to take advantage of you?” he said. “That’s not fun. Whatever we do I’d like it to be mutually agreed upon. Now that would be fun.”

Tamara had not heard a man speak to her in such a fashion, and it intrigued her. Men her age were fun, but the next guy seemed like the last guy; there was no discerning them. Elliott moved her because he was different. And to get her an application for a passport as a gift…who does that? And how could she not view it as charming?

She had a unique quality for someone so young: she didn’t lie to herself. She understood her strengths, admitted her weaknesses and embraced criticism, even if it came off as “hating.” So, as the alcohol settled in and her inhibitions diminished, she was honest: If Elliott doesn’t mess it up, I’m gonna give him some tonight.

She put the caveat of “if” in there, but she was pretty sure she would. He had the presence of someone in control, even in a crowd of people who looked at him and wondered why he was not at home. It was a powerful presence in a sense, one that put a woman at ease and drew her into him.

“I appreciate you letting me spend some of your birthday with you,” Elliott said into Tamara’s ear.

“I’m having a good time,” she said. “Thank you for all this. My friends are eating this up.”

Just then, a young man came and stood over Tamara. She could feel his presence. When she turned and looked up at him, she screamed in delight. It was a friend she dated right before graduating college. Their careers took them in separate cities and they had not seen each other in the four years after graduation.

Tamara hurried to her feet and she and Jacobi hugged a long time. Elliott reached for the champagne and refilled her glass as the old friends caught up, laughed and even took photos. They are a good-looking couple, Elliott thought. He’s more like someone she should be with, he admitted.

They talked for up to fifteen minutes. She introduced him to her girlfriends and they shared a birthday toast. Elliott sat there, unfazed. He would not try to compete with a younger man for Tamara’s attention. He would not infringe on her fun. And he did not consider it an insult that she did not introduce him. Actually, he was relieved that she did not. It would only lead to inevitable questions that would put her and him in an awkward situation:

Who’s that?

Is that your father?

What’s that old guy doing with you?

Neither of them wanted to hear that. Finally, Jacobi and his friends left and explored the spot and Tamara rejoined Elliott on the couch.

“Whew,” she said. “That was a friend from college I haven’t seen in a long time.”

“It’s always good to catch up with old classmates,” Elliott said. “You should have offered him some champagne.”

Tamara was not sure how Elliott would react to that scene, but his calm gave her reassurances about him and what she wanted to happen with him that night, when all the music stopped and the people went home.

“Can I ask you something?” She again slid up close to him.

“Only if you can accept the answer,” Elliott responded.

“I like that when I ask you something I’m not sure what your answer will be,” Tamara said.

Elliott smiled, and when he did that he looked exponentially younger. “Go.”

“What does it feel like to be in this place with people so much younger?”

“It feels liberating, to be honest,” Elliott said. “There’s an energy around young people that I need. I’m where I want to be, where I need to be. I have an energy and appreciation for life that make me want to be places where people are living. I read somewhere that every day is a celebration of life, and that’s how I live it. I don’t have to be in a club or out every night. But I do have to do things that celebrate being alive because life is a gift.”

Tamara put her hand on his leg, which alarmed Elliott for a second because it was the side he soiled with urine. He gathered himself quickly.

“That’s a good answer, Mr. Elliott,” she said.

“Oh, I’m ‘Mr.’ now?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “When I call you ‘Mr. Elliott,’ it’s a sign that I see you as an authority figure, and authority figures are very attractive to me. I never told you that you remind me of one of my old high school teachers, Mr. Nutt. What a name, right? But he was dignified and handsome and I wanted to throw myself at him.”

She sipped some more champagne. “Actually, I did throw myself at him,” she added. “But I wasn’t as developed as I am now. He basically let me down easy.”

“So, you like older men?” Elliott said. It was so loud that he had to virtually put his mouth to her ear, and she leaned in so close that his lips and her ear came together. It was just what Tamara wanted.

“You have soft lips,” she said.

“You have a soft ear,” he quipped, and they both laughed.

“I like men who can teach me something, who can add something to my life,” Tamara answered. She was in Elliott’s ear now, and every few words, she kissed his earlobe. “Boys my age don’t do anything for me; that’s why I went to my high-school prom with a college sophomore.

“And now, at twenty-five–wow, I’m a quarter of a century old—guys my age can’t hold my attention. If one does, he’s got about three or four other women, too. But you’re a first for me. You’re old enough to actually be my grandfather. But it doesn’t turn me off. Most sixty-one-year-old men definitely would not hold my attention. But you, I don’t know. There’s something mysterious and interesting about you. You’ve made me very curious.”

“About what? How an old man looks naked? What I can do in bed?” Elliott asked as he kissed her on her ear.

Tamara nodded her head. “Yes. Aren’t you curious about me?”

“Not at all.” Tamara looked confused. “But,” Elliott said into her ear, “I am fascinated by you.”

Tamara flashed a big smile. “I’m gonna be ready to go soon. What you wanna do when we leave here?”

“Move the party to my house. Private party.”

“Just me and you?”

Elliott nodded his head. “Me, you and some candles and champagne and gourmet cheese.” He picked up a champagne flute and tapped glasses with Tamara, who then moved to the other side of Elliott and told her girls she was about to leave.

“Y’all can stay,” she said. “We’re gonna leave in a few.”

Elliott could not hear her friends’ responses, but he paid the bill and asked the server to add a third bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

Tamara told Elliott she was ready. “Okay,” he said, “but let your friends know I have another bottle coming. If they’re going to stay, they might as well have something to sip on.”

“You’re so sweet.” Tamara shared that information and her friends turned to Elliott and waved as they mouthed “thank you.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Tamara said. “Wanna meet me by the front door?”

“Meet you there.” He made his way through the crowd and posted up near the front exit, which also was the entrance. He watched the young people come and go—a fun pastime for him. Sometimes he would go out to places in Atlanta and not say a word to anyone; he’d just watch. And that was a good night for him.

So he was not mad that Tamara had to make a bathroom run. It was his opportunity to get some sightseeing in without feeling like he might disrespect her in the process. The women came and went in impressive fashion, one young lady’s skirt shorter than the next.

Tamara was gone for up to ten minutes because of the inevitable line in the women’s bathroom. Right before she returned, Elliott noticed someone out of the corner of his eye approaching from the entrance. When he turned to see, he almost lost his breath.

Standing before him were Daniel and Danielle. They were twenty-one and Elliott had not seen them in almost two years. But they were not particularly happy to see him, which was evident since there were no smiles and no hugs.

“What are you doing in here?” Danielle asked, looking him over.

“Hi, Danny,” he said. “Hi, Dan.”

Neither responded. They looked at him with disdain.

“What are you doing here?” Daniel asked. There was anger in his voice and posture.

“I’m so glad to see you,” he said. “Have you received my letters or e-mails?”

“Yeah, we got ’em,” Daniel said. “And…?”

“And how are we going to get beyond all this if we don’t communicate?” Elliott said. “It shouldn’t be this way.”

“What are you doing here?” Danielle wanted to know.

Before he could give an answer, Tamara walked up from the bathroom. “Okay, I’m ready.”

Elliott looked at her and then the other two young adults.

“Tamara?” Danielle said.

“Danielle, I didn’t even see you,” she responded. They hugged.

“You know Elliott?” Tamara asked.

“You’re leaving?” Daniel said to Tamara. “We came here for your party. And how do you know him?”

The awkwardness was palpable, and Tamara sensed it.

“Everyone is still at our section over there,” she said, pointing. “There’s another bottle coming. But I’ve been here a long time, so we’re leaving.”

“How do you know him?” Daniel asked again.

Tamara was confused. Daniel’s and Danielle’s reactions was more than about the age difference. It was something else.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Elliott said. He clutched her hand and started toward the exit. “Let’s go.”

Daniel grabbed Danielle’s hand and pulled her in the opposite direction.

“Are you dating him?” Danielle yelled.

“Why does it matter?” Tamara asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” Daniel said. He pulled Danielle into the crowd.

Elliott stood there looking in their direction as Tamara looked up at him.

“What was that about?” she asked.

He continued to look off in the distance.

“Elliott…” Tamara said.

He turned to her and had a look on his face she had not seen, a look of humiliation, which was big because he seemed to be impervious to embarrassment.

“That was my son and daughter,” he said.

About The Author

Credit: Courtesy of Sid Tutani

Curtis Bunn is an Essence magazine #1 bestselling author and has been featured in many publications, including Black Enterprise, Uptown, and Rolling Out. He is the author of seven novels and the founder of the National Book Club Conference, an organization that hosts an annual literary event for African American readers and authors.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Strebor Books (June 17, 2014)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781593095727

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