Long time, no nonsense. I've been enjoying a beautiful Chicago summer, although my top floor apartment with only one air conditioner is a bit sticky. A fine excuse to be out and about testing the limits of my deodorant on a regular basis. I'm pleased to report that life is treating me well, full of ups and downs as any life fully lived should be. Wednesday night of this last week I read at Reading Under The Influence at Sheffield's here in Chicago, which was my first foray into fiction writing. Telling a five minute story is a challenge, for me at least, but the fiction part was really entertaining as I didn't rely on my memory to put the story together. While I was out and about I fielded a lot of questions on what I plan to do with my writing. Interesting question, too bad I don't have an amazing answer. The truth is I never really believed I'd do anything with it, really. I do plan to write more autobiographical stories, hopefully performing them with 2nd Story or other organizations like them; the performing aspect allows for instant feedback that sitting at a desk typing does not. I can't really see writing for a living as I fear it would take all the fun out of it, although I certainly fantasize about it after my millionth eye roll in response to my request to put your damn tray table up, already. I guess I entered the world of writing with no expectations….so every great thing that's happened has been gravy, every disappointment a learning experience.
Which leads me to relationships…..a staple here at the blog. The crashpad family had a fire pit meeting a few months back where we did what we do best, talked ad nauseum about the world's problems, all solvable thanks to those who make and distribute wine. We were deep in discussion about what to expect from other people, both in romantic and friendship arenas, when I said, "What if you don't expect anything? What if you just concentrated on your end of the love equation?" My BFF laughed and said something to the effect of "Well that's probably impossible and certainly insane." Quite possible. But it got me thinking…..what if you just offered your heart without prejudice, using common sense and good judgment of course, and just gave up on worrying about demands, requirements, wishes, desires, wants, assumptions, presumptions, suppositions, etc. (Thanks, thesaurus!) What if you just let it all go and just went with an overall feeling of HOPE…..every great thing that happens interpersonally is gravy, every disappointment a learning experience. I'm not saying such a thing is easy, but difficult things often reap the most reward. Plus think of all the extra time you'd have on your hands if you didn't have to worry about what everyone else in your life was going to do and how it was going to affect you? Shit, with that kind of time I could finally watch Friday Night Lights….clear eyes, full hearts CAN'T LOSE, people! Not to mention cute boys half my age. MEOW.
Below is the story from RUI…..special thanks to Cynthia, Ouida, Scott, and Professor Don for being my outside eye on this one. And many thanks to those who came to the show…I know Chicago has a million things to do in the summer, or you could be working. I'm honored by your support…I offer it in return, optimally without expectation.
"The sign says the TV is for SPORTS ONLY!" Frank roars. "Can't we watch the M's game?"
"I suppose, Frank," I say, reaching for the remote control. "But you know the rules. No sound."
"That's fine. I just want to watch the game," he mutters while trying to light another generic cigarette. His ashtray is filled with butts as I've given up on trying to keep it empty.
It's another day shift at the dive bar. A cloud of smoke blankets us in filthy air and obscures our ability to see much of anything clearly. I survey the street outside through the haze. Why do dive bars have windows? You're there to escape reality, any reminders of it seem cruel, or at least unnecessary. And you certainly don't want reality seeing YOU there. I turn my attentions back to the patrons, whose glasses are all half empty according my current level of optimism.
"Another Dickel, Frank?" I look at him with a questioning face, as if there was any other answer besides the affirmative. He stubs out his cigarette and nods, his yellow fingers circle the glass as I pour, his hands shake as he takes the first sip. I try not to think about what Frank does when he's not sitting at my bar. He drives an airport shuttle. If only his fear-of –flying riddled passengers knew that their ride to the dreaded airplane was in the quivering hands of someone who can't get through the day without a steady stream of cheap whiskey. I try not to let this truth about him make my head explode. Since I haven't let my bartending job define me, I decide to extend Frank the same courtesy. There are a bunch of other regulars at the bar, not staying a full shift like Frank, but coming and going, getting a buzz on and staring at the television. They all prefer Lana, the other day bartender, to me, as Lana brings a certain magic to the joint with her brown lipstick and tight jeans, and she wraps everyone around her finger with the fine art of giggling. Her fake smile is more genuine than mine; her small talk is bigger. During my shifts, the bar is mostly quiet; I sense that the lack of chatter makes us all a bit uneasy. But in the end, everyone still appears to be getting what they need.
I don't care about the baseball game, but I stare at it as well, mentally adrift. I wonder why these people don't drink at home. Booze is cheaper there, right? I know when I get off work, I intend to shower off the smell of smoke and fryer grease and enjoy a drink in peace and quiet at a fraction of the price of what they're paying to sit here and sip themselves into a stupor.
Pete, one of the regulars, interrupts my judgmental meditation to ask for change for the jukebox.
"You know the rules, Pete," I say, handing him the singles. " NO ROY ORBISON. Things are gloomy enough around here." He nods, and laughs, and punches in B21. Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing". Pete may have telepathy.
I wash some glasses in preparation for the night shift. I wonder how much longer I'll work here. I have no other plan, but I'm not sure how much more time I can spend staring at people drinking themselves senseless. My brain starts running on the same redundant treadmill…. If Frank kills someone tomorrow morning on the way to the airport, am I legally responsible……? Or worse yet, ethically responsible? I grab the reins before this line of thinking tramples me. I silence my discordant brain chatter with a vow to look in the want ads tomorrow to see who's hiring. It might still be bartending, but surely there's a nicer place than this that needs help, perhaps with more white wine and appetizers and less reminding old drunk men about rules.
I see the night bartender, John, walk in. Ah, sweet relief. I start doing my closing duties, making sure everyone has a fresh drink and clean ashtray. I count the till, I bank face my tips in a small attempt to control what's positive about this gig. John has a strange expression as he ties on his apron and comes behind the bar. I wave my hand through his million mile stare.
"What's up, dude?"
"You know, Amanda, from next door?"
I'd just seen her on the street the day before, pushing her toddler in a stroller on her way to make the bank deposit for the dry cleaners she and her husband Matt owned. She had only the sunniest expressions to offer the world and her clothes smelled of dryer sheets, in staunch opposition to my smoky, sulky stink.
"She died in her sleep last night," John says. "Some kind of brain embolism. I just saw Matt's brother outside the cleaners. Matt woke up this morning and she was just laying there next to him, dead."
"You're kidding. How old was she?"
"That about sums it up. She always seemed so happy. Now Matt's got the kid to take of, all by himself."
Amanda looked like she never worried about a thing. Amanda had nothing to worry about, assumedly. She just smiled at her perfect life; she didn't waste her time judging people. And I bet not once in her short but perfect life did she ever drink alone.
I put my carefully arranged cash in my pocket. I untie my apron, placing it in the laundry bin. I put a dollar in the jukebox and punch in A29, Neil Young's "Sail Away". I walk back to the bar and for the first time, I pull out a chair. The chair next to Frank.
As Neil croons "See the losers in the best bars…Meet the winners in the dives…where the people are the real stars….all the rest of their lives", I sit down and say,
"Get Frank another Dickel, John. And pour me a Makers Mark on the rocks. Actually, make it double. I'm going to be here for awhile."