Tuesday, July 24, 2007

i'm sure you will...

it all happened at once. she walked up to the bar fumbling with her bag, a large, over sized affair that carried most of her whole life in it, all her make up, a change of clothes, hair care items, feminine products, every memory she ever had. she asked for a Coors light and when i told her we didnt have any she sighed in exasperation and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. i told her we had Corona light and that maybe i could find some Budweiser, but she just flipped her wrist dismissively and said -Gimme a Malibu Bay Breeze, and plopped down in a stool, defeated. i shoveled some ice into a glass and slowly began forgetting she existed.

two regulars from the neighborhood sat at the end of the bar drinking pints of Stella. they struck up a conversation with her, or maybe she struck one up with them. she seemed like the type to talk to strangers often. she had an air of danger in her manners, hunched over her drink, looking directly into the mouth of anyone speaking, regardless if it was to her or not. the pain of jazz horns spilled down from the overhead. Mingus or Monk or Miles Davis conducting the sanity of ancient america. One of the regulars pushed their empty glass forward for a refill. -i drink alot, i overheard her say.

four kids walk in at the same time and i clock their childish faces and say, -i'll need to see all of your ID's, before their asses hit the chairs. one of them mutters something sarcastic which stings my nerves as im walking away. what did that kid say? i ignore it and take the order of an older man at the other end of the bar. Jameson on the Rocks and a Gin & Tonic. my eyes are sweeping the edges of the bar, watching the girl hunched over her bay breeze and the kids huddled together, heads close, whispering. there is no way they are old enough to drink. they know this and they know i know this. why are they here? what are they doing? what the hell did that kid say?

i give the owner a knowing glance and she closes her book, the newest Harry Potter novel, and gets up from her stool. she is managing tonight, she usually doesnt, and she prefers not to, but someone called in sick at the last minute so there was nothing else she could do. she walks over to the kids and gently ask for their identification. two of them have documents that say they turned of age within the month, one has an ID that clearly states he still needs a years growth before he can legally drink, and the other, the youngest looking one, doesnt have any ID at all. they are all pleasant enough, but something is dark and eerie about the whole situation. they are smiling too wide, their tones too forgiving, and one gets up to walk to the bathroom while another sits in a quiet, anxious silence, his cellphone on his ear but his lips unmoving.

i discount them, uncaring, and move to the other side of the bar polishing a glass, holding it up in the light, checking for streaks or fingerprints. the girl and the two regulars are still having a conversation but its changed directions into a dismal territory. the unhealthy spirit of drunken truth has taken hold and the snatches of dialog i hear fill me with dread and worry. one of the regulars is pleading with her while the other stares absently into his pint glass. in the dim light i can see the wildness in her look. -sometimes girls are bitches, she says, i get called a bitch all the time. the regular thats engaged rolls his eyes in frustration. i go to the other end of the bar, where the kids still sit.

-how much is a hennessey shot? one of them ask. the biggest one, with his hood up.
-seven dollars, i say, then i hold up a shot glass, and this is what it comes in.
-thats it? for seven dollars?
-yeah, or you can get it neat for eight. i hold up a rocks glass.
-whats neat? he ask.

they have never been in a bar before, so why are they here, at this bar, on monday night? it is none of their birthdays, they cant even afford one drink. why is that kid still pretending he is on his cell phone? why does that other kid have his hood up? where is the young buck that made that smart asses remark i couldnt catch, the one that sunk into my nerves like a sharp misery, why is he gone? why are the rest of them still here, what are they waiting on?

i dismiss them again, if they stay any longer i'll have to kick them out, and who know what size fire that move would spark. better to let them leave on their own. the owner looks nervous and worried, her eyes are darting from patron to patron. i take an order from a younger woman. two vodka and soda's with lime. Count Basie goes atomic on the stereo and the lights flicker from the old electrical wiring. the girl is still talking but by now no one wants to hear her. she has unloaded every facet of her wretchedness onto the bar, infecting any surrounding drinkers with her dull agonies.

she is not from the neighborhood. she grew up in brooklyn though. sheepshead bay. then staten island. now she lives in bay ridge and her boyfriends beat her. she drinks too much. she blacks out and doesnt remember and wakes up bruised and aching. she takes a swig of her drink and explains to us how she deserves it. how most women deserve it. how sometimes it is an accident and he doesnt want to but he has to. it just means he is jealous. he cares and she drinks to much and sometimes she gets out of control so he does what any man would do.

no one knows who she is or why she is here. no one ask.

the youngest kid comes back from the bathroom. he was in the bathroom this whole time? what was he doing? he walks up to the group and they speak in hushes, low whispers lost in the music and traffic pouring in from out the window. the owner hustles around them, straightening chairs and wiping down the bar and lining up the coasters and refilling the napkins. i polish glasses and let my sights wander around the bar. we are all hyper aware. me. the owner. the two regulars in the corner. nothing goes unnoticed. nothing unobserved.

The girl orders another drink and no one cares. -i drink too much, she says. the kids slowly begin walking out, one by one. Art Tatum leads a trio across a bridge of piano clangs and hi hat brush strokes. the block is still wet from the earlier rain and a patron walks up and orders another drink. a pint of Blue Moon. the wind from outside blows in a chill. the owner says, -we are closing early tonight.


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Creative Commons License
:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at downtownalleys.blogspot.com.