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The Living Room Part II
I had the cab drop me off near City Hall. The El wasn’t far away and I could walk a little and reflect on my way back to that hole I called an apartment. But as soon as I jumped out of the cab, I felt the pull of the bar again. Sure, I could go home and wallow in the fact that yet another woman tried to cause me serious bodily harm after sleeping with me, or I could go to the bar and begin the forgetting. Hmmm…. Serious introspection or shots with strangers ? Like it was really ever a choice.
But where to go ? The city was littered with my castoffs. You couldn’t walk two blocks in Old City or Uptown without running into a bar I’d been to a couple of times and decided I didn’t like it for one reason or another. Either the jukebox sucked or the service was bad or there were too many college kids or… Hell, sometimes I think I just made up reason not to like a certain place. As a result, I’d become a connoisseur of the “Old Man” bar. The quiet joint where there were three or four old guys who were always at the bar. They didn’t talk to each other, much less the bartender. They would just sit and watch the TV and sip their beers. A little quiet and solitude in a very busy city. And they were fantastic. The bad TV, the lack of anyone coked up and talking about how they could change the world and the complete and total anonymity. The “Old Man” bars were hidden all over the city and it became sort of a mission to find them all. I thought about writing a book once about them, just something to put into my bag. A quick ref for all the quiet places in the city to get a beer. As a matter of fact, I may still do that.
There was a place I knew that wasn’t far from the station, a little hole in the wall that just might do the trick for the night. Just outside of Boys Town and on 13th. I knew I’d been there a couple of times before, after I’d been out for a few hours, but couldn’t place why I hadn’t stuck around the joint. Tonight, I aimed to find out. And, a short walk later, I was sitting at a very crooked bar in a place that was the farthest away from clean I think I’ve ever been. I ordered a pint and a double whiskey, because if I was going to sit in this squalor, I would need all the booze I could fit in me. When I say the bar was crooked, I mean exactly that. It wasn’t level. At all. There were small runs that tilted towards the customer, causing your beer to slide back at you every time you put it down. The were others that tilted away from the stools and right back at the barmaids. And still others where there was a significant bow, and you were never sure where your beer would end up when you put it down. It was like someone had turned a soap box derby track into a bar and made it fit, somehow.
Whiskey down and about halfway through my pint and my thoughts started to turn back to her. It was gonna be weird without her particular brand of madness. We’d bonded almost instantly, just before Christmas. Before the blow and the lies. I ordered another double, cause it was gonna be a long night. We’d seemed like we had a lot in common, before the truths started coming out. She liked punk rock and fast cars and pinball. She wasn’t afraid to go to shows and push back when she got shoved. She made me smile immediately and if you know me, that’s no mean feat. I ordered another beer and a double. All these things she told me, and they were all lies. The things that were bouncing around in my head were the things I was trying to erase. Memories like beans rattling around in a can. They needed to go away.
The thoughts of her and the layer of grime that covered every available surface, they both needed to go away. Something greasy and sweaty that screamed of desperation covering the place. It was almost like a barrel of it had exploded in the middle of the bar and covered everything. “Desolation ? You’re soaking in it.” The booze really wasn’t doing it’s job. I could still see the film on everything. I asked the barmaid with the crooked teeth for another beer and a shot, which wordlessly she brought. Set them down in front of me and fixed me with a look. “Honey,” she whistled through the gap in her front teeth, “You look tired. Why don’t you go home ?” I told her I would; I just need to finish my drinks first. She sighed and walked away. Before I did anything, though, I needed the bathroom.
There was one on either side of the bar, neither was marked. I decided to go with the closest one and was happily surprised when it contained urinals and not rows of toilets, which often happened to me. Regardless of where I was, every time I would walk into an unmarked bathroom, it was the ladies. And that’s when the smell hit. The stench of a million drunken pisses. A smell so bad that any sort of prolonged exposure would tattoo it into your skin and soil your clothes. Even your shoes. A smell that apparently nothing could kill, judging by the number of air fresheners on the window sill, all useless against its power. I decided I didn’t have to go that bad, and suddenly remembered why I never came here.
I went back to my stool, finished my drinks and said good night to the barmaid with the bad teeth. She told me not to be a stranger, and I headed out into the night, still looking for the living room.
To be continued...