Trying something new, hoping to get some feedback (positive, negative, encouraging, discouraging, boring, interesting, give up, keep going, hopefully more than one word) for a longer fiction piece I’ve just begun, so here goes:
I walked down a street I didn’t know the name of wondering.
What was I wondering about you might ask?
As I looked around up and down the street, a question formed on my lips:
Where am I?
Before attempting an answer I spotted someone coming toward me, and as the person got closer, realized I knew her. It was Mary Williams, who I’d known in what seemed like another lifetime.
“Hello, Mary,” I ventured as she approached.
She passed by me with no sign of recognition.
Hmmmm, I thought, perhaps I was mistaken, but I don’t think so. Just like the Mary Williams I knew, she had long brown hair parted in the middle, pale skin, pink lips, was of average height, and wore what they used to call a peasant dress with flowers on it. And she smelled like patchouli, too. It was a big world out there, I supposed there might be a few women named Mary who fit her description, and wore patchouli, but I doubted it.
Still, it seemed to have helped me get my bearings, and I was able to continue on, though I knew not where. Hopefully I’d figure it out by the time I got there.
The street was empty, not unusual I suppose at the close of day, almost twilight, though every now and then a car or truck jounced by on the pot-hole ridden street. The sidewalks were pristine, though, smooth freshly-poured concrete. They’d get to the streets eventually, I figured, it was the longest day of the year, after all, plenty of time before winter came. I didn’t know why I cared, but for some reason I did.
And where would I be when winter came? I wondered. Probably not here, wherever that was. Best not to think that far ahead, besides, one place was as good as another I’d come to learn, in my frequent travels. Maybe that was it, I thought, I’ve lived a vagabond life, and been so many different places they all seem the same to me after a while.
There was a bar on the corner that looked to be open. Before I entered, I looked around one last time, and realized that the street, the wind in the trees lining the street, and the smell in the air were all familiar, I just couldn’t quite place them.
As I entered it was difficult to see in the cool and dark, having been out in the bright sunshine. When my eyes adjusted, I could see that, aside from the bartender, there were only a few customers, a lone guy at the bar, and two guys playing pool under a dangling ceiling lamp above the pool table over in the adjacent room, past tables for two lined up against a half wall.
Distracted by the loud clicking of balls breaking the dead silence, I didn’t hear what the bartender said as I approached the bar.
What’ll it be, Mr. Houton? the bartender repeated.
Rather than being surprised to hear my name, I found myself vaguely recognizing the bartender’s face, although I couldn’t quite place it or his name, and, sitting on one of the stools nearest the door, replied, I’ll have my usual, wondering what that would be.
That was the way it had been for me lately, coming in from out of the blue, recognizing faces once I was inside a place, but still with no clue as to where I might be. I wasn’t sure why this was happening, and didn’t really want to know, as long as I was able to recognize faces sometimes and get where I needed to go, wherever that might be.
I had a sudden thought. Perhaps it was because I was outside Mary Williams failed to recognize me. The bartender had no problem, as you can see. I’ll have to test this theory further when I leave. Also should pick up a map if I can remember. That will tell me. I would never tell anyone what was happening to me, and, always having considered myself to be self-sufficient (although I was beginning to doubt that somewhat), had to find out for myself where I was.
As I quaffed my by now tepid draft, I noticed the bartender looking at me with what can only be described as a quizzical look on his face.
What’s with the look, I wondered out loud.
I’m just surprised you don’t recognize our friend down there, the bartender said, nodding toward the lone guy at the end of the bar.
I looked and again only vaguely recognized the face but couldn’t place the name. Not wanting to seem unfriendly or strangely out of place, I walked toward the man. As I did so, he raised his glass in salute. When I got closer I realized he was blind, but while his eyes were vacant, he was looking right at me.
Dom? Long time no see, he continued, chortling at his gallows humor.
I guess he’s entitled, I thought to myself, after I’d recovered from the shock of him recognizing me, and hearing my given name (nickname really, but that’s another story), which I heard so seldom it seemed strange when I did, almost as if I didn’t know who they were referring to. Self-conscious, I sat down next to him.
Get us two more, I said, nodding at the bartender, a draft for me and whatever Joe’s drinking.
Jim’s his name, Joe said, realizing I didn’t know who anyone was. I was grateful that he didn’t comment on it, figuring he must have had that experience before, being blind.
He was a talker, I realized almost immediately, but then, how could I not. He talked nonstop as though I were a stranger, filling me in on his life, even though he knew I’d probably heard it before, although if I had I didn’t remember any of it. He’d wanted to be a farrier, like his father, since he was a kid, but had contracted meningitis when he was eight, leaving him totally blind in the left eye, with only ten percent in the right. Built like a brick shit house, he still had the forearms for the job, that was for sure, and had still managed to make a living doing something he loved, training horses. I found myself admiring the hell out of him for that.
I heard everything he said, although I have to admit I was a bit preoccupied with trying to figure out where I was until I suddenly realized that, although I didn’t know, I somehow knew this was where I was supposed to be.
It must be a Friday night, I surmised, the place actually beginning to fill up ever so slowly, with the regulars filing in, one at a time.
As though sensing I was intently observing my surroundings but not quite knowing what to make of them, Joe nudged me and said, don’t worry Dom, I’ll be your eyes and ears until you get your bearings. How he would accomplish that I had no idea, but for some reason I had no doubt he would.
First off, there’s Gator (given name Bob), a local cab driver, who, when sober, was as docile as could be, in fact, you barely heard a peep out of him until he started drinking, and then he started talking nonstop, a mile a minute, and loudly, emphasizing each point he was making to no one in particular with a raised index finger, smiling and laughing bemusedly with self-satisfaction to himself, in spite of the fact that most of it was garbled nonsense with no point whatsoever, an answer to a question that was never asked (in fact, no one dared asked him a question, for fear of getting him going). I’ve ridden in his taxi many times and can vouch as a good driver and human being when he’s sober, very ashamed and contrite about his drunken behavior, when he remembers or is reminded of it by someone.
Then there’s Honest John (really, Dishonest John- go figure), a ruddy-cheeked gnome-like mystery man who carried a plastic bag of what could most closely be described as a form of pemmican, with a touch of Tourette’s that caused him to utter curious and inappropriate sounds now and then, these increasing the more he drank, after which he’d get an edge to him such that you had to be careful what you said or he was liable to go after his interlocutor with a knife (he’d been known to carry one) and have to be tossed out in the rain sleet snow or humidity, depending on the season, who lived no one knew where, but who had been spotted all over town (the name of which, if you’ll recall, I can’t remember), always outside, so it was assumed he lived on the street, which argument was further buttressed but his complexion, tattered clothes, and peculiar odor.
Gee, some of that sounds a lot like me, I realized. Maybe not the crazy part and definitely not the Tourette’s, but the gist was enough to scare the crap out of me. But, so far, I didn’t remember any of this. What’s wrong with me and what happened to make me get this way? I hoped against hope Joe would enlighten me.
Grover Roberts, he continued, was a piece of work cut from the same cloth as Gator, sweetest guy in the world sober but a holy terror when soused, laughing maniacally at people for no apparent reason, especially a poor soul he called The Poet. Grover was a newspaper reporter who it seems at one time had literary ambitions, but now laughed at himself to think he could have ever have written anything. So I drink instead, he’d say, raising his glass to toast whoever was around, laughing and mumbling at himself until it became an incoherent babble- dapper coming in, rumpled coming out, I’d listened to some of his literary discussions (which seemed to be the only ones he was interested in having), especially with the aforementioned soul he dubbed The Poet, even had some of these discussions with him myself, and they were quite stimulating, him talking about one particular writer I’d never heard of who became a favorite of mine after reading him on his say so (actually having to have it read to me by a lady friend, as with most lesser known writers it wasn’t available in Braille, but ultimately, his low opinion of himself was a downer, and I suspected if he didn’t have drinking he wouldn’t have been long for this world.
Which brings me to The Poet, aptly named I suppose, as that was all he wanted to talk about or at the very least seemed capable of carrying out an intelligible conversation about he was so drunk most of the time, but he seemed to know and had read a lot of it, had even dabbled in it himself, although he was afraid to show anyone, most of all Mr. Roberts, who really seemed surprisingly supportive of him (when he wasn’t laughing uproariously at him), even believing him when he said he’d read Biographia Literaria in its entirety, which I highly doubted, though I never said as much as he wasn’t talking to me and I wasn’t one to interrupt, being impressed enough he even knew about it; seems he was a library clerk with a lot of access to books, which made sense, very down on his luck, or, as he put it, poor as a church mouse, who’d had a very bad childhood he would only hint at, until one day he came in with some of his poems and Mr. Roberts was actually impressed that he’d accomplished this much, certain more than he himself was capable of, although they eventually had a falling out over some short story he’d written (which, it turned out, Mr. Roberts had also reported on for the paper when it occurred) concerning the kidnapping and drowning of a little boy by a disturbed teenaged girl, with Mr. Roberts blowing up when he’d expressed sympathy for the perpetrator- what do you know about it! You didn’t see the parents! You didn’t see the boy’s body! which caused The Poet to stumble drunkenly out into a cold winter night, the last we saw of him.
And lastly, Earl the Pearl, one of the few black guys who frequented the joint, a nice guy, even if he was a bullshitter par excellence, which everyone knew, so they cut him some slack, although he didn’t know they knew, which I figured someone should clue him in on so he wouldn’t keep sticking his foot in his mouth, but he wasn’t around all that much and it was very entertaining to hear him talk about all the cruises he’d been on all around the world, about his high school basketball days when he played on the best team in the city (what city I don’t know)…
But he was around tonight, all the regulars were, these five, making seven total including Joe and I, a nice round number, bellied up to the bar, keeping Jim hopping with the herculean task of wetting their insatiable whistles. Everyone was here, no one was going anywhere, come what may.
As the night wore on, young people began arriving. This was very puzzling to me, as I’d figured it must be an old man’s neighborhood bar, the only places I ever did, or would, visit. That much I remembered, in addition to the fact that I was a creature of habit.
And even though it seemed things were becoming at least slightly clearer (I now knew it was Friday, having confirmed my suspicion with Joe, and I knew Jim the bartender’s name, Joe’s introduction of the regulars and the ever-increasing influx of young people, along with my inability to remember anything, was unsettling, to say the least. And it was more than me not taking to drinking with strangers very well, which I didn’t. I had to start figuring some things out for myself pronto. It was all well and good to surmise what I could from what Joe told me, but I didn’t dare (nor did I want to) ask him anything more lest he think me barmier than he already did.
Still, in spite of my best intentions I found myself asking, What gives, Joe?
Oh, you know, Joe responded after a moment’s hesitation, same old, same old. The times they are a changin’, as the song says. Gotta go with the flow, get with it man, you know, that’s just the way things are these days.
Even more shocking than the mouthful he’d just uttered, and his dropping of a Bob Dylan reference, was the fact that I recognized the reference. Music, I suddenly remembered, that’s one thing I know! And books, too! I know I had a lot of both at one time, but where were they now? I’d have to think on that a while, but for now those revelations would have to do.
When I recovered from my initial surprise, I asked him (spontaneous as it was), yet again another question: Do you recognize any of them?
Now, you might think it strange to ask a blind man that, but I knew if anyone would, he would. You see, his sense of smell, hearing, and corporeal antennae were as preternaturally keen as any wild creature. He could take nothing for granted but be constantly on the alert. He didn’t give me the answer I was seeking (more names, one of which I might possibly remember), but instead noted the late arrival of a semi-regular named Casper Piver.
Casper? Casper, who’s named Casper these days? I responded.
What’s in a name? Joe said. Besides, if ever a name might be apt, it’s that one, for him, in that he doesn’t come in all that often, maybe once a week, if that, always at this time. Easy to miss, doesn’t say much. Mutters to himself a lot, like he’s trying to remember something he’d forgotten. Certainly lonely, searching for something he lost, or never had. In fact, like his more famous namesake, he kind of haunts the place when he’s here. That’s the impression I get anyway. Could be way off.
Impression, you say? I responded. Listen to you. Sounds like quite a lengthy dossier to me. How do you come up with this stuff? That being said, that could describe any of us, I thought to myself.
I watch, listen, and learn, my friend, Joe responded. The night has a thousand eyes, he interjected cryptically, as if anticipating the question I was about to ask.
For some unknown reason he’d piqued my interest. I looked down to the other end of the bar where I spotted a dapperly-dressed man wearing a dove-colored fedora, a tweed jacket, and a nice dress shirt with a bright emerald green cravat, something like you might only see worn once a year on St. Patrick’s Day, leaning with his elbows on the bar. When he doffed the fedora I saw he had thinning coal-black hair, a closely clipped yet bristly mustache matching his hair, and beady eyes peering through thick-lensed tortoise shell glasses that darted quickly around the bar as if he was indeed looking for something, then looking down at his hands. He could have been a professor the way he was dressed, but something told me he wasn’t, as he looked to have none of the arrogance of one.
What does he do? I asked. Why the cravat?
Whoa, Joe responded. What is this, twenty questions? Why the sudden interest?
You’re one to talk! I said. No big deal, it’s just for the sake of conversation, that’s all.
Joe smiled and said, I’m just jakin’ with ya. To answer your questions, he’s a bookkeeper, and a pretty good one I hear. As for the second, like I said, he’s probably lonely. Lotta that going around. Nurses a draft every now and then, shoots the bull with Jim, and leaves. And everyone here’s looking for something or someone, even me. That answer your question?
So whaddya think about that… It’s possible isn’t it?…
Before I could respond I heard a loud THUD and when I looked toward the sound, saw the regulars gathered around something, blocking it out so I couldn’t see what it was.
Oh boy, I heard Joe say, Gator’s at it again. Wonder what he’s done now?
Before I could even ask how in the heck he knew it was Gator, the regulars parted like a wave and Gator himself stood up with a little help, his pants below his knees. They made him put them back on and several of them escorted him out the door, Gator laughing uncontrollably the entire time.
Tch, tch, tch, Joe said, shaking his head, looks like Gator’s finally lost it. Bound to happen when you can’t handle your liquor. Guy drinks too fast and doesn’t eat beforehand- bad combo. What exactly did he do?
Pleased to be able provide Joe with some info for once, I still hesitated. You don’t wanna know, I said.
That bad? Joe said. Come on, I’m a big boy, I can take it. Besides, nothing can surprise me anymore. I’ve seen it all.
I smiled wryly at that and when I told Joe what had happened he was wrong, I’d definitely surprised him.
Now that’s sad, Joe said. Don’t think he’s ever done that before, can’t imagine why he would in the first place.
Wonder if that’s the last we’ll see of him, I responded.
No way, Joe said immediately. Jim’s the forgiving sort. Once you’re in with him, you’re in for life. Kinda’ like the Hotel California.
Another rock reference. I never thought Joe had it in him. He’s full of surprises tonight.
Suddenly the place was inundated with young people, both sexes equally represented, at least that’s the way it looked.
It’s getting too crowded and loud in here, I thought to myself, and began to get antsy.
Whateryer so nervous about, Joe asked, again uncannily.
All these young kids, I said, too crowded and the noise- I hate it! Makes me feel old and claustrophobic, if you know what I mean.
Sure I know, Joe replied. Quit being such an old fuddy-duddy. Myself, I’m here for the nonce. I got this stool early and by god I’m gonna keep it. Besides, we can outlast ‘em. They’ll be leavin’ for their underage hotspots before long. They just come in here to get oiled up on cheap booze. You ain’t gonna leave me, are ya? You know how I hate to drink alone.
Of course not, I responded sheepishly, I wouldn’t desert you. Besides, you need a buffer from the rest of these hooligans. And I’m getting pleasantly lit myself, I thought, although I’d never admit that to Joe. But he probably already knew that.
Both of us knew who that was. Dishonest John. Even though he couldn’t help himself, it was amazing he could be heard above the roaring throng. We wondered if someone was engaging him, but it was hard to tell, as the wait at the bar was three-deep, even with Jim having set up more tables and rustled up more cocktail waitresses. Besides, he didn’t need anyone to converse with as he had no problem talking aloud to himself, in fact, from what little I’d seen, much preferred it. In addition, he was so unremarkable, no one ever seemed to notice him.
And remarkably, we noticed Mr. Piver was still there, long past his usual time, still scanning the crowd as closely as he would a ledger and nursing his beer, readjusting his cravat, which was becoming rather wilted in the smokily close atmosphere, wondering how he could be so focused, until Joe suggested they probably all looked like figures on an accounting ledger to him. Did I mention he was uncanny?
All of a sudden, I spotted the same green cravat on what looked to be a young man in the middle of the crowd! I mentioned this to Joe who already knew something was up.
That can’t be a coincidence, can it? I asked him. Two strange seldom-seen seldom-worn styles of tie, both the same color? And unless I’m mistaken, which I very well might be, it sure as hell’s not St. Patrick’s Day.
No, Joe said, rest assured, it’s not St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe they’re looking for each other, father and son reunion, or maybe they’re both light in the loafers, if you know what I mean. Casper Piver isn’t married, you know, and lives by himself, so either is possible, I suppose.
He looks just the right age to be his son, I said, not willing to even entertain the other option. Maybe I should go over and tell him, I said, before it’s too late. I hate the thought of two ships passing in the night, don’t you? But when he looked down the bar, Mr. Piver was gone, and when he looked into the crowd, the young man either had gone, or been absorbed by it, or they had left together, which I doubted.
Not much we can do about it now, Joe said. We’ll ask Jim if he knows anything about it later, after the place clears out. And from what I hear, it looks like that might take a while.
See how Joe did that, a juxta positioning of two senses worthy of Stephen Foster! He’s clever that way, though he pretends not to know that.
It was getting so raucous it was deafening, which in a way was good as it didn’t give me a chance to brood about not knowing my whereabouts, or where I was going to stay for the night, or what my future was. I had to believe things would fall into place, they always had, hadn’t they?
Well whaddya know, Joe suddenly announced, look who just walked in. I would’na believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, he continued, The Poet is back! Like I said, hasn’t been here in a coon’s age. Listen up, you might learn something after he and Grover get going.
I looked over toward a figure burrowing his way through the crowd. When he emerged near the center of the bar, I saw a painfully thin rather unremarkable kid with a baseball hat on, very long hair and round glasses, holding a book in his hand. He was standing next to Mr. Roberts, who had his head buried in a newspaper. He stood there, not moving a muscle, until Jim, giving no indication if he recognized him or not, walked up to him and asked what’ll it be?
I’ll have a Ballantine Ale, he said, upon which I heard Mr. Roberts say, without looking up, That’s on me, Jim. When his bottle of beer came, he saluted Mr. Roberts, who still hadn’t acknowledged his presence, with it, and said something I couldn’t quite pick up.
He’s a bit of a low talker, Joe said, and a mumbler, too. He mumbles. Not Grover, though.
Sure enough, I heard Mr. Roberts say, Can’t you see I’m reading, kid?
See what I mean? Joe said. Poor kid. Grover’s too rough on him. No wonder he hasn’t been here in so long. And I’ve never seen the kid talk to anyone else. Keeps to himself, orders a sandwich every now and then, plays a little pool, and, if you want to know the truth, Gets pretty shit-faced every time he comes in. He holds his liquor pretty good, you wouldn’t even know he was drunk. I heard he was jilted by a woman he’d been with for a while. Not that he talked about it that much. I just happened to overhear him tell Grover one time but he cut him off in mid-sentence, saying, Be glad, now you can be a poet! I’ve never talked to him, though. Quiet kid like that, doesn’t seem to want to be bothered, wait for him to come to me. But he hasn’t, so there you have it.
Just happened to hear? I kidded Joe. You always seem to be in the right place at the right time, I’ll give you that.
It’s my job, Joe responded. Hey, I got nothin’ else to do, don’t begrudge me my only pleasure.
Of course, Joe, I said, somewhat sheepishly. I was just kidding with you.
And I with you, Joe said, clapping me on the back. You think I’m as thin-skinned as all that? You should know better. But listen, it’s about to begin, and you might even learn something.
I had to take Joe’s word for it because I doubted his veracity about the learning something part, although, as he’d yet to be proven wrong, I was looking and listening intently. I saw Mr. Roberts suddenly raise the paper in front of him, shake it to straighten out the crimps in the crease, fold it vertically, put it flat on the bar, smooth it out, snap the fold lengthwise, and rest it there when he was finished.
I sensed I was in for a running commentary by Joe and I was right.
See how he treated that paper like it was a baby? Joe said. Now there’s a real newspaper man. Doesn’t even care about the newsprint all over his hands, probably loves it.
It only made him neat and dirty at the same time, I thought, but didn’t say anything. Next he turned to the poet and asked him if he’d written any poems lately, laughing peremptorily before The Poet responded, Yes I have, as a matter of fact, several.
Well, are you gonna show them to me or not? Mr. Roberts asked.
The Poet shook his head no emphatically with no hesitation.
Why not? Roberts asked. Every writer needs/wants an audience. And I have no doubt you’re a writer, although perhaps you might not have anything to say.
He’s right about that first part, Joe said. Don’t know about the second, haven’t had the pleasure.
Didn’t bring any with me, The Poet responded.
OK, Mr. Roberts said, I’ll take your word for it, although I don’t really believe you. Let’s see the book.
When The Poet showed some reluctance, Mr. Groves responded, Come on, what’s it gonna take? I’ll buy you another beer.
That’s not necessary, The Poet responded, and started to hand it to him when a sheaf of papers fell out of it to the floor. Mr. Roberts pounced on them, and holding the protesting unfortunate at bay with this right arm while perusing the fallen papers, proclaimed, You have been busy. Mind if I read them?
Might as well, The Poet said. Besides, what choice do I have now? I’m gonna take a leak. You can read them until I get back.
OK, kid, Mr. Roberts answered. Don’t fall in.
Mr. Roberts read while he drank his vodka and o.j., nodding his head, and pursing his lips as he did so.
Not long after, The Poet returned and asked for his poems back.
Hang on, kid, Mr. Grover said, these are good, I haven’t quite finished. Hey Jim, get The Poet here a drink, Mr. Roberts said, laughing a growly laugh, I’ll have another too.
Of course you will, Joe intoned.
By the time Jim got them their drinks, Mr. Roberts had finished reading and handed them back to him. You’ve got talent, kid. I envy you.
The Poet shrugged his shoulders and mouthed his thanks.
Now what’s that book? Mr. Roberts asked.
Oh this, The Poet said, showing him the book briefly, just something I picked up and am enjoying tremendously, a poet you’ve probably never heard of. away
I’ll be the judge of that, Mr. Roberts answered, snatching the book from him.
Hmmmm, The Selected Poems of Robinson Jeffers, you’re right, never heard of him. As you may por may not remember, I’m not much on poetry, he concluded, perusing the “Table of Contents,” then flipping through to something that must have caught his eye as The Poet watched nervously, ready to snatch it back should he attempt to harm or walk away with it.
“I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk,” he read stentoriously, enabling everyone within earshot to eavesdrop, to The Poet’s (who obviously didn’t crave notoriety of any kind) great chagrin. Now that’s something I can get behind, Mr. Roberts cackled. Humans, a thoroughly detestable lot. Seems like a strange guy, nevertheless, looks pretty intense, like he had a bad breakfast or something. Again, he cackled, somewhat more manically this time, downed the rest of his called out exuberantly to Jim, Hey, barkeep, get yours truly and The Poet here another drink, and skip the o.j. this time!
The Poet, still eying him warily, attempted to dissuade him, but Mr. Roberts, who rarely took no for an answer, was having none of it. Come on, he said, we have something to celebrate!
What’s that? The Poet asked with a modicum of dread.
The fact that you got away from those foppy Brits, those Romantics, Mr. Roberts said, showing loyalty to your own country!
Not true, The Poet rejoined, while I’m enjoying Jeffers immensely, I still plan on doing a thorough reading of Wordsworth’s Prelude.”
See what I mean, Joe interjected. Fascinating, ain’t it?
Although I might have appeared to be listening intently, I had stopped entirely when I heard the name “Robinson Jeffers” mentioned. Robinson Jeffers! I exclaimed to myself. I know I’ve heard that name before- many times- but where? I thought and thought about it and had no idea, except that I came back to my original reaction, that I knew the name and that I’d heard it before. I was becoming increasingly worried about what was happening to my memory, although I still hoped to be able to figure it out.
Cat got your tongue? Joe asked.
Oh…no, I said, just thinking about something.
You certainly were, Joe said. You haven’t heard a word I’ve said.
Sorry, I said, I guess I haven’t.
I should be insulted, Joe said, but I’m not. I was just saying watch what happens now. One of them will leave very shortly, and one will continue to get very inebriated. My money’s on Grover.
For what? I asked. Leaving?
No, Joe said.
Shortly after, The Poet left with a brief wave, stumbling a bit. Mr. Roberts, if he noticed, didn’t give any indication.
It was getting on towards 11, and the place was beginning to clear out rapidly, so much so you could hear the regulars’ cacophony of their ongoing complaints against society in general, and more specific complaints of injustices perpetrated against them by various groups/members of that society: this country’s lost something, said one, my ex took me to the cleaners and I ain’t seen my kids since I left, fucking bitch, said another, Mmmmmph, Fuck! Who said that? said Dishonest John.
It was a sad litany, I admitted ruefully. But I don’t think any of them are homeless at least, which I might very well be if I don’t figure out where I’m going to sleep and soon. At least it isn’t the middle of winter, though. There’s that.
Last Call! Jim said, moving down the bar, looking each regular in the eye, receiving silent acquiescence as well as marching orders (this being a mere courtesy, as he really didn’t need them, knowing all their preferences in advance), as he did so, then turning around and snatching various bottles off the shelves and placing them strategically for quickest access as he made his way back to the other end of the bar, from whence he’d launch his return peregrination to fulfill said orders forthwith. This was the hardest part of the evening for Jim, already having had a long day, especially with his carpal tunnel acting up, and dreading that anyone interpret his hand shaking as a result as the DTs, so, as was his custom, he quickly took several shots of Hennessey to forestall both. He silently refilled the shot glasses as they were greedily extended to him- double shots for everyone, as it had been a money-making evening all around, even if thoroughly exhausting. If things kept going like this, he’d have to hire extra help for Fridays, which, even though it would be a pain, and something he’d never done before, was not a bad problem to have. He needed it, his place needed it.
When he got to me, Jim seemed to realize I didn’t drink shots.
What’ll it be? He asked. Another bottle of Ballantine?
I’d switched from drafts to bottles of Ballantine Ale (The Poet had jogged my memory about that) over the course of the evening, but decided to up the ante slightly.
You got any India Pale Ale, I asked Jim.
Of course I do, Jim responded. I keep it for you- you’re the only guy who drinks it.
Hiding my wonderment I responded, Then, by all means, I’ll have one of those, thanks.
Just then a someone burst loudly through the door with a couple of people in his wake.
It’s Big Mike, Joe said, watch this.
Jim groaned perceptibly and Mike asked, Am I too late? I can go elsewhere if you don’t want my business.
Of course not, Jim said, what on earth makes you think that?
Big Mike, black-haired with pale skin, and a perpetual sneer on his face, was an obese Boston Irish cook who came in at least once a week at last call, and it was quite the production.
How many? Jim asked.
Fifteen, Mike replied, line ‘em up. Jameson’s.
Mike watched greedily as Jim proceeded to line up 15 single-shot glasses and fill them neatly with the Irish nectar, not spilling a drop. Next to that he put a pitcher of ice water.
None of the regulars paid much attention but I, not having seen the spectacle before (or at least not remembering if I did), watched in rapt amazement as Mike, all business, proceeded to down each shot, chasing it with a gulp of ice water straight out of the pitcher. When finished, he smiled, tossed some money on the bar, said, For theirs too, keep the change, and wheeled around and marched back out into the night, his companions (acolytes obviously), not even having time to finish their drafts, following him out.
Did I just see what I think I saw? I asked Joe.
Yes indeedydo, Joe answered. Gluttony, pure gluttony. Not that I’m judging, mind you. Just sayin’. Did you see him sweating? He was drenched. Poor guys not long for this world, I’m afraid.
The time had come. Everyone had to leave. One by one the regulars, in various states of inebriation and mood, began to depart. It was getting awkward not knowing where I was going or what I was going to do.
Guess I’ll take off, Joe said.
Can I help you? I asked, sincerely wanting to help but also wanting to buy some time before I either had to leave or figured out what I was going to do.
No thanks, Joe responded. You know me, self-sufficient like always. Don’t have to depend on said anybody you’ll never be let down, I always say. How about you? You headed upstairs?
My first thought was I know not of what you think, which I almost blurted out, but instead said goodnight to Joe, figuring I’d reconnoiter for a bit until I absolutely had to depart the premises.
All right, Joe said, Don’t be a stranger, it’s been too long between drinks, if I may say so. Thought for a while you were back on the water wagon. Don’t forget, I know where you live, I’ll come and get you if I have to.
Joe reached out to shake my hand. Always good to see you, Dom, he said, chuckling briefly. I mean that.
Goodnight, Joe, I replied. See you again.
I watched as Joe ambled away, waving at Jim before he went out the door, wondering how does he do it, where does he go?
Shit, I thought, I better worry about my own self. Jim and I were the only ones left in the place. Headed upstairs? he’d said. Water wagon also. Looks like I’ll have to hang around Joe every day if I have any hope of regaining any semblance of my former self.
I looked around the room and spotted a staircase in the corner just past the pool room. I hadn’t even realized there was an upstairs, although I admittedly hadn’t thought much about it. I decided, here goes nothing. We’ll soon see if Joe’s barmy or not. Before I could move Jim said, I’m gonna lock up and leave in a minute. You gonna be all right?
Sure thing, I replied. I’ll head upstairs.
OK Dom, good night.
By the time I reached the staircase the place was in total darkness. There was a light switch on the wall by the foot of the stairs. I heard Jim close the door and the sound of the deadbolt when he locked it.
It’s now or never I said to my self as I looked at the dark tunnel heading upstairs. I switched on the light and proceeded up trepidatiously, having no idea what to expect once I got up there. I reached the landing and looked down a narrow hallway whose warped floor was covered with threadbare carpet. Not much different than I expected, I thought. I saw a doorway in the center and headed for it, smelling the faint odor of what I thought was sewage as I made my way. I reached the door and turned the handle only to find it locked. Shit, I said, slightly panicked. What do I do now? Instinctively, I put my hands in my pockets and found a key in the left one!
I put it in the lock, it fit perfectly, and the door opened into a dark room. I found the light switch and switched it on after a momentary nervous pause. When the single light in the ceiling went on, I was surprised if not shocked at what I saw. Surprise for the made bed and pillows, a lamp with a nightstand next to it, and what looked like a hotplate on it, carpeting of the same type as the hallway, and a small bathroom on the far end, with a sink and toilet. Shock at the wall to wall book cases, completely filled with books and record albums, and a small coffee table on top of which was a record player with attached fold-out speakers!
I might as well tell you if you haven’t already figured it out by now that I had a great memory for faces, but not so much for places. I suppose this was due to my peripatetic life, my father having been a military man, and me an army brat. Between that, the drinking and massive amounts of acid I dropped (some of it bad) for a couple of decades, it was no wonder I didn’t know whether I was coming or going half the time, if not all the time. One place was as good as another as far as I was concerned. Don’t let anyone kid you, I was the original Space Cadet, Captain Trips, Narcotic Nomad, whatever. Ironic right? Having been dragged all over the world my exclusive method of travel now was the mind. I wouldn’t budge from my little room now that I knew where I was.
You see, while it may have started out as partying, tripping was serious business for me now, a quest you might call it, and I’ve seen some things over the years you wouldn’t believe, things I wouldn’t have either if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes.