Thursday, July 16, 2015
Night at the Bar
((A Neighborhood Escapade) (1967))
The church steeple drifts off into the darkness. The trees in the adjacent cemetery, across Jackson Street, can only be seen by the fleeting headlights of cars. The mist whitens the trees. Everyone is at the corner bars, Bram’s or the Mount Airy. Chick Evens straightens up, takes out a cigarette, a light drizzle of rain fills the atmosphere, as he walks slowly up Sycamore Street, turns—sees the corner bars.
A few run-down looking busses, pass him, but are soon lost, once they turn the corner—he notices a few black faces on the bus, hateful, looking faces (perhaps it’s the times, he senses).
He hears voices coming from both bars, music is loud. He opens his eyes wider, leans his neck back, his belly is a little sour from the drunk he had the night before. A taxi goes by, stops in front of Bram’s, it looks like Nancy, David, Carol and Rockwater.
Now standing in-between the two doors of the Mt. Airy, he can hear the blind noisy street behind him. There are a few familiar faces in the bar, so he notices looking over the western style, swinging doors. He thinks it would have been better had he come later—more people, but he’s here now. He heads for the bathroom, urinates and combs his hair, washes his face. He’s been drinking half the day, up at Jerry Hino’s house, a half-mile past the church (he had been playing cards with Jerry and his brother Jim, and Mike Gulf, and Betty—Jerry’s wife, who had to feed the kids her kids as well as Jerry’s kids, so he decided to leave.)
He comes out of the bathroom, his light jacket laid over his arm, his friend Al Juneau is in one corner of the bar, he nods his head—I mean they both nod their heads for recognition of the other; he’s getting lit up, half drunk. Bill and his wife Judy are in a booth to his left, Bill had just come back from the war in Vietnam. John St. Clair is in another corner of the bar, his girlfriend is by herself at the bar opposite him. Big Ace, close to six-foot six inches tall (the neighborhood mannequin), no teeth,
ten-years everyone’s senior, or thereabout, not all that bright, is sitting
next to Doug, singing his weird song: “Twenty-four black birds baked in the
pie…” then he forgets the rest of the verse, he always does, and goes into a
humming episode, as if lost inside his own head—pert near dancing on his padded
stool, pounding on the bar with the palms of his hands, his feet kicking the
lower part of the bar some.
Doug and Ace are sitting in the middle of the horseshoe shaped bar, like most everyone else, drinking beer, it would seem a beer fest was going on; but it’s really a normal everyday thing, and on the weekends the only difference is they all get drunker. The bar is not much more than a dive: no, it is just that, a dive. Chick Evens feels a tinge lousy but knows with a few more beers he’ll not feel anything, anyway, that will fix him up. As he orders a beer, drinks it down, his headache disappears. He runs his hand over his forehead, as if to wipe the beer sweat off of it.
The worst thing for Evens is that he has spent all his money but a dollar, buying beer at Hino’s house. He is Not sure how he’ll get by tonight, but there is always someone to buy a fellow neighborhood buddy a beer or two or three…. He’s good for it he tells himself.
He hears Doug’s voice, far, far away—or so it seems, he’s dating Jackie, Evens’ old girlfriend. He now joins Bill and Judy, he knows he can borrow a few bucks from Bill if he has to, needs to. The side window has a light chunk of the moon showing, all around it is a dark sky, and he falls down—purposely, onto the soft cushion at the edge of the booth, by Judy.
This whole business of drinking night after night has made Evens thirsty. Bill notices Chick’s glass of beer is empty. Bill says—in a wholehearted way, “Come on let’s get another round,” he is smiling, waves the waitress over—
“As long as the glass is cold, and the beer is cold, I like it,” say Evens.
These two bars have been a place for the neighborhood boys to drink at —from the cradle to the grave (or for most of them it will be); they are drunks and they don’t even know it, at such a young age too. Chick is but nineteen-years old, Ace is twenty-nine, and Jackie is his age and Doug perhaps five years older, and Roger is Doug’s age, thereabouts (Bill will die before his 40th birthday—electrocuted; Roger at 65, or thereabouts, Al Juneau at 63—in all cases alcoholism will play a part in their deaths: Don in his early 40s from alcoholism; Jerry Hino in his mid-forties—a car transmission will fall and cave-in his chest; Dave in his mid-sixties from cancer; Kathy S., Evens’ old girlfriend will die in ten-years or less, a car accident; Betty will die of alcoholism a short while after her husband, in her 40s; Lorimar at 66 of cancer), and on and on. From the looks of things—should a bystander take notes—the so called Donkeyland Neighborhood Gang, so named by the police, the Cayuga Street neighborhood, in essence, one would think they were all weaned from infancy to infinity at these two bars, on beer, wine and whiskey—and cigarettes.
Inside the Mt. Airy bar, is an inexorable dampness, grayness like a mist that lingers, it reeks (The Great Northern Railroad is down and under the Jackson Street Bridge—and just outside the bar, you can hear the trains coming and going sporadically. On the other side of the bridge are the warehouses). The jukebox is playing “I’m Sorry,” by Brenda Lee (Gunner’s song, whom is now becoming a truck driver, he was the one that likes to gun his car, especially his black 1940 Ford up and down Cayuga Street, racing his pal, Mouse, waking up the dead at the nearby Oakland Cemetery). Now the jukebox it was playing something by Jack Scott, Elvis of course will be playing soon, a half dozen times along with Ricky Nelson, and thereafter the Beatles—no one really cares for the Beatles all that much in Donkeyland, a group that’s been out a few years—Tom T. Hall is singing something called, PTA or is it something about old dogs and children, not sure. Most all the males in the bar have their shirtsleeves rolled up, past their elbows, some are chewing tobacco—a noisy veracious lot, but more under control than Bram’s across the street—over there, there is a pool table; some of the boys will shift bars later on, as to break the monotony, those in Bram’s—bumping into each other as they crisscross Jackson street to reach the other waterhole.
The waitress is in her forties, has a shabby apron on, the Italian owner is her lover, he’s married, but after they close up the bar, she settles down in his office with him, they’ll not leave until close to three o’clock in the morning.
The jukebox goes louder, a few folks are dancing. The bar is filling up, with smoke, multicolor white to pale faces, Native American faces, copper color faces, one Mexican, no blacks or Asians.
Armpits are starting to smell like old rotting fish. Bill hands Evens his beer, Fran, the waitress, just brought it over.
“Shut the door,” a voice yells, “you’re leaving in the flies!”
That was Larry and his wife Jeannie who had come through the swinging doors. There’s an empty booth alongside Evens’, they grab it, everyone shaking hands or hugging one another, as if they hadn’t seen one another for ages, and ages in these two bars are simply days.
“Two bottles of beer,” says Larry, he likes bottle beer, as does his wife, she’s Native American, like Jackie her sister, and John St. Clair, their brother.
The neighborhood factory, “Structural Steel,” its second shift is letting out now, and Jack T, and Danny Knight (in due time Danny will go up for murder charges) the Crazy man (pleasingly plump), so he is known—are now walking through the bar door, Jack is now going with one of Chick’s old girlfriends, a Mexican. Bunches of the neighborhood boys still work at the factory, for most all of them have at one time or another. Old Charlie, even got Evens a job there once, and then Charlie retired, he was Mexican, the only one in the neighborhood.
Now there are more people in the bar, and the fish like smell is becoming undecipherable, it weakens the stomach although, nauseates it.
“What a sickening job,” says a voice, it seems to come from the area where John L. is sitting, and his girlfriend Karin. John L, had traveled to California with Evens recently, as Jerry Hino had a year back, went to Omaha, Nebraska, with Evens, and Ace’s brother Keith, had went to Seattle with him; all wanting to rush back to the neighborhood but—but Evens.
The only relief from the squeezing smells in the bar—if you are not totally drunk—is to leave the bar for fresh air, so, Evens picks himself up, excuses himself, he hears the collective voices, the motors and horns coming as he opens the bar doors, that faces Sycamore and Jackson Streets. His ears clear out all the deformed thick noises. His memory fades from all the prominent cheekbones, dead looking, red-eyed drunks, all those drowsy looking bodies that had clustered around him, and everyone else.
He lights up his 40th cigarette for the day and night, he’s working on 60. He sees the accumulated garbage along the side of the bar, in the street. The music from the bar jukebox mingles with the live band across the street. He sees Sonny playing the guitar (Sonny had taught him a thing or two about finger picking, in his younger days: and that’s not all that long ago. He also played for a short while with one of the national Country, Rock and Roll bands)
The door to Bram’s is wide open, he can see his older brother Mike, drunker than a skunk, sitting at the bar—his elbows leaning on the bar, his back to him. He throws the butt onto the sidewalk, buries it under his heel. He had sucked it down to half an inch, a Lucky Strike.
He thinks: why don’t I leave, and never come back?
He thinks: I have dreams, other than drinking myself to death here in these two dives. I want to go to San Francisco. (But he really wants to travel the whole world, and get a college degree, and write poetry, and books but he doesn’t say this—nor does he quite understand his wants and needs to survive in this world, because he’s from this neighborhood and people would think he’s insane to bring such delusions to surface, and can such things really be possible? I mean, are these dreams not for other folks, not like him, folks you read about, or see on television, not really for folks like him; but only time will tell. He senses something, and thus, unknowingly, perhaps he’s willing to wait and willing it to be, even if it takes a life time. He doesn’t know all this remember; only I do—now looking back. He’d like a home by the ocean and one in the mountains, this too seems to come out of the movies, perhaps he can follow his dream and make it come true. Between you and me, he makes it come true, or should I say, the Holy-One listening to him…)
He watches the circle of foam from a pitcher of beer being carried to a table of five people at Bram’s; he sees an old man vomiting alongside the bar. He sees cars in the parking lot disappearing into the night under a gibbous moon.
He thinks: We’re all frightened to go away—to leave forever this neighborhood; constrained by our minds. Defeated before we’ve even tested life; and then we grow old. A thousand times we say: if only. These are not really his words, he doesn’t even know such words yet, but if he could say them, he would have.
The music on the jukebox is playing a sad song, “Lonely Street,” by Ricky Nelson, that’s Chick’s song, and Bill likes it, they’ve played guitars together, ever since they were fifteen years old, in Bill’s basement, they were going to start a band up, called: “The Blue Dreamers,” they figured out the name together, but never did; they practiced Karate in Bill’s backyard together, Chick being the instructor—
His world grows quiet, more intense—he looks inside the bar, stinking armpit smells, and more beer being passed from one hand to another: garbage on the floor, smoky clouds from cigarettes are settling overhead like cobwebs throughout the bar, the same images every night—this weekend night is no different.
This bar is a can of worms, he tells himself, a brain twister, but he walks back inside: as if it were home; although he doesn’t say that, but if he listens to his second self—the voice of the mind, he’ll know the truth, and the truth is, it’s not home (although the devil would like him to think so), it’s just a dive, and that he will have to learn quick, because time is concentrated in the moment; and life is short at best: and dreams do come true if you activate them—follow them, do the work, write out a plan in your head, and if you do not have one, then surely it will never materialize; prayer without a plan is dead, only if you work the dream and follow it grab the opportunities on the way will it come to pass: will he pick up on this? The sooner the better!
No: 631 (12-11-2010) /Also, in memory of my old friend Al Juneau (died, 2011/63-years old)/ an Old Donkeyland Friend and Father Washington