Vignette on a bar scene
|The bartender has been doing this for years. She has seen it all. A veteran in the truest sense, she once spent months recuperating from surgery after a blow to the head with a full half-gallon bottle. You might expect past experiences such as that to make her a little gun-shy. But tonight it didn’t bother her at all that she was the only woman in the bar, except for a sexy blonde seated at a table with three men.
On this steamy full moon night, the sexy blonde was in a heated discussion with one of the men at her table. The guy was trying to look macho, and at about 260 pounds he was succeeding. He was ignoring her repeated plea for “her money back.” Sexy was in a tight-fitting body suit, with loose-fitting boxer shorts over the top, barely hanging onto her pelvis.
Bartender, who had kept a watchful eye on the situation, looked at me, raised her eyebrows, and sent her eyes in a well-practiced roll. “She gave her money to him and now she wants it back. She’s the stupid one for giving it to him in the first place.”
At the far end of the bar sat a fellow who was the quintessential “flaming gay.” With him, at least in conversation, were three other guys who seemed to be highly entertained by his antics in an in-joke, elbowing-each-other sort of way. They predictably seemed most entertained by the gay fellow’s penchant for sounding and acting feminine.
Next to them was a man I had seen a few times before in this bar. He was one of the most obnoxious individuals I have ever avoided. His bad habits included throwing money around, especially if he could do so in a way that would make someone else feel degraded or demeaned. He also liked to flirt with men in a winking, hesitating-with-anticipation manner. He was probably after one of the men at the bar.
Next to Obnoxious was a tall man in a black leather hat, sitting quietly, drinking Glenlivet doubles on the rocks. Obnoxious was probably buying them.
Just to the right of Glenlivet sat a couple who were lip-locked much of the time. Their close proximity and his cowboy hat, together with her too-big bouffant hair style, made them pretty much unidentifiable beyond their extremely drawled Texas-slang-sounding conversation every time they came up for air.
Between Bouffant and me there were three empty stools. And the stools were about as empty as the music that was playing on the jukebox.
It was Cowboy Hat I had just seen over at the jukebox putting in quarters, and the music seemed to fit his archaic cliched appearance. This one song, though, was really bad. And somehow nobody in the place seemed to even notice that the recording was dragging. It sounded like it was in as much pain as I was experiencing listening to it.
At the bar to my right sat three men in conversation. (There were decidedly too few women in the place.) One man in that group was wearing a white shirt and black tie, which made him stand out in the crowd perhaps even more than the mincing of Obnoxious or the quavering arpeggios of Flaming.
White Shirt was looking for work and mentioning all the various odd jobs he’s ever had. The other two guys recommended a contact person at a local construction outfit. White Shirt then went to the toilet, saying he had to “powder his nose,” which created quite a stir of conversation about his sexuality. While he was in the bathroom Flaming Gay said to no one in particular, and at the same time to everyone, “send him down here,” and that he had a “job” for him.
Behind me, clustered at a couple of tables near the pool table, was a group of night creatures--lots of rough-around-the-edges flesh eaters, gathering momentum for their anticipated feasts to the big full moon. Rough language proliferated over there like some sort of contagion out of control. All of them were out for a night on the town, and all of them were looking for someone to spend it with--someone who was better than the one they were currently standing beside. Bartender pointed out that if the usual pattern held true tonight, the requirements of that group would soften considerably as the hours slipped away into the alcohol.
Meanwhile, Sexy again pleaded for her money back from Macho just as Obnoxious raised his voice and flailed his arms around in a lame attempt at drama. As it happened, Obnoxious was talking about a woman he had seen recently.
Unfortunately, this was a woman who I, myself, had recently had an interest in for a while, and still had an outstanding lunch date with if we could ever find the time.
There is an old saying among friends that “Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.” I, myself, have many times used that line and meant it. But I try not to use it any more, ever since I saw this particular woman catch sight of Obnoxious one day on his way into this bar. She made over him like some sort of long lost friend of the dearest kind. Knowing what little I do about Obnoxious, her vignette almost turned my stomach. I haven’t thought much about her since that day, but tonight for some reason it angered me slightly to hear Obnoxious talking about her in an affectionate way.
At the continuing table argument a few feet away, Macho changed his tactics and actually requested a grope from Sexy with, “Take it if you want it.” She obliged by momentarily struggling at his pants pocket, then stopped, grabbing his arm and pleading again. Macho sat complacently, unmoved emotionally or physically by her insistence, or her half-hearted grope.
Everyone at that table was decidedly intoxicated. All of their conversation had stopped to see just how far Sexy would go to get her money back. The other two intoxicated men sat and watched Macho ignore Sexy. One of them, a Mexican with large eyebrows and huge bushy white side burns, finally stood up with the apparent intention of intervening. He was only about 5’ 5” and 50 years old--not too big an intervention despite the size of his side burns.
The other man at the table also then stood up and became animated in a way that somehow made me think of a sluggishly drunken monkey. He stood up to pull Bushy back from pending disaster. By now all conversation in the entire bar had stopped as everyone’s attention was drawn to the unfolding drama at the table on center stage.
Bartender took control, intentionally wading right into the middle of the escalating disagreement before things got completely out of hand.
Directed by the guiding hand of Bartender, the unhappy group started breaking up just as an attractive forty-something in a casual sport shirt and skirt came into the bar. Unaware of the situation, she walked directly through the ruffled group, punctuating its dispersal. Macho and Sexy left together as everyone expected.
The new arrival, Forty-Something, eyed me entertainingly and walked directly to the empty bar stool at my left. I had just turned the pleasant eye contact into an explanation of how she had barely missed the previous action, when Drunk Monkey joined her on the other side, offering a fast twenty in payment for her drink, yet to be ordered.
Forty-something, seeing the twenty, turned quickly from me and ordered something strong with at least two or three liquor ingredients, “with Grand Marnier on top.” Glancing back in my direction a couple of times, Forty-Something seemed torn between her first impression of me and her long-standing impression of a twenty-dollar bill. I was slow to react and she chose the twenty as she and Monkey went to play a game of pool, for which Monkey was more than happy to pay.
In the slow and ugly moment that followed, I decided to write a poem about the bar and about this night. This forced poetic moment was, of course, the result of the silent solitude following the just-missed opportunity with Forty-Something. As is all too often the case, my weak poetry became a substitute for my even weaker life.
I plucked a bar napkin from the fanned-out pile and scribbled a few lines on it. Pausing and staring thoughtfully into an aquarium full of pregnant fish behind the bar, I was interrupted by Obnoxious’ sudden comment about fish. It was his effort to get my attention.
"Oh, sorry. You’re thinking," he said. "I thought you were just looking at the fish." But all too soon there he was again, commenting over my shoulder that I wrote in far too small a script for him to read what I was writing. I didn’t offer to show him, and he walked, hesitatingly, back to his stool.
The poem of the moment took control as I wrote.
NIGHT ON THE TOWN
70 different liquors and 13 brands of beer.
Not quite that many people, all getting buzzed.
“Things for the drunks to look at” include rotating lights,
figurines that whistle and move on the hour,
bright aquariums in the darkness,
near-subliminal messages advertising beer,
lots of mirrors under very low light,
Glenlivet in leather, doing doubles;
Sexy in a body suit under boxers;
A cowboy hat sucking face with a too-big bouffant;
Three guys in the closet elbowing each other and laughing
at their favorite flaming faggot;
a night on the town; a night on the town.
Okay, so it wasn’t much of a poem, but it was a start. I had done worse, believe it or not.
Some fellow with the “little-guy” syndrome, whom I had seen in the bar a couple times before, wandered up and immediately exhausted his brief quota of one-liners--the same ones he said on each of the other two occasions. Now I knew why no one had laughed the first time. Or the second time.
With Cowboy Hat now whipped nicely into place for the night, Bouffant got up to leave, drawling even more slowly than usual that they had intended to have only one drink on their way home.
Then somehow, to my relief the music seemed to magically transform into entertainment, as Santana came up on the Jukebox. Maybe somebody else had noticed the dragging music after all. Or maybe Bouffant had a sixth sense for when Hat’s quarters ran out.
Forty-something’s on the make,
Missing my chance I feel the full moon ache.
Flesh-eaters gathering momentum for the kill,
Rough language, smoke, on the bar another spill.
Eyes unite and balls crawl, as colored lights bounce off the wall.
In the juke the conversations drown,
Night on the town, baby; ...Night on the town.
Still lamenting the full moon departure of Forty-Something, I was reminded that others were feeling the moon as well. Bushy suspiciously scooted Forty-Something’s stool a bit closer to mine as he moved in to fill the vacancy. With Sexy gone, and Monkey having bought a tumble with Forty-Something, he was probably hedging his bets against spending the night alone. Remembering what Bartender had said about the softening of standards, I started wondering just how much more I would have to drink for that to sound good.
Bushy took the offensive and tried to talk to me in Spanish, but the words were getting nowhere. I don’t do much Spanish. But his body language and demeanor were coming through loud and clear.
He stood up and immediately fell backward into Glenlivet, a full three stools away. Glen, however, was too far gone to even notice the contact.
Bushy then ordered a shot of tequila and another beer, and tried to buy me a beer as well. After both Bartender and I had repeated several times that I didn’t want one, and after two more near falls to the floor, both of which I was able to arrest, he finally accepted my refusal of a drink and to everyone’s relief, he sat back down.
Downing the shot that he really didn’t need, and starting the beer which he needed even less, Bush started “working his magic” on me. I started to think the falls and the intoxication were part of his come on, especially since the nearly comatose Glen or I had saved him each time. But he had fallen backward all the way to Glen, and away from me ricocheting off the bar the other times, so it was probably not part of the act. Just luck. His, not mine.
Bush rattled on in semi-intelligible fashion for several minutes. I responded occasionally with “no comprendo,” and “no intiendo,” and “no hablo espanol,” but those were not the things Bush wanted to hear.
Then he made another frightening attempt to stand up. My concern for his falling soon faded, however, when he moved closer to me--close enough for me to feel the projection and heat from his pants on my leg.
I told him he was way too drunk for his own good. That he was going to hurt himself. That I had to leave. Bush was going to have to find some other way to survive his night on the town.
With a poem in hand and no prospects for the company of female companionship, I decided that the adventures of the evening would have to continue without me. Obnoxious was again flailing lamely, and the crowd at the pool table was starting to look a bit more hungrily at each other, with glances out into the rest of the room looking all too ominous.
I decided to pack it in. My night on the town was going to have to wait for some other night.
All pulled by the moon, we talk, we joke, we swoon.
Some leave with others; some leave too soon.
We drink and we think of what next we might do,
Of how much better than one it is to be two.
Of others not present the stories abound,
What they would do and where they could be found.
No more for me, thank you; I’m headed for the can.
And this poem’s going nowhere, nor me with Bush Man.
Copyright 1997, Dan Cooper