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2004-09-13 - 9:02 a.m.

“Here’s to the habit.”

A grizzled man with errant hairs dipped into the crevasses of his face, raised his Budweiser bottle to mine with this tune on his lips. Like so many he’d noticed the open notebook sitting in my lap.

“Sketching the world?’

“Writing it.”

The bluegrass band played on a stage the size of a Brooklyn bathroom. The bassist leaned back and momentarily muted the drummer’s clanging cymbal. Surrounding the four, a bar complete with stools and a shelf just large enough to hold a pint and an ashtray. Behind the drinkers nursing their watered down hops, a pack of churning thirty-somethings rocked out to the jive of the trembling bass in golf shirts and dusty tight dresses, slamming down as many drinks as possible before the babysitter needs payment. They barely look around, keeping their eyes closed. They don’t have anyone to impress. No one’s looking for sweeping change to sweep them off on the dance floor. They just want to dance.

If the dollar cover didn’t tip you off, the smell of old wood and older beer winding its way over sweat and aging perfume certainly must have. Ordering the house wine would have most likely gotten the response:

“The house wine? How ‘bout ‘Whadda ya mean we gotta go home?”

Behind the actual bar, someone’s painted a mural depicting an old bartender, described by his successor as being “more liked than respected.” The face in the paint bears a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, except in a T-shirt that reads “the torture never stops.”

Around the mural is a border of shamrocks and Celtic knots and beer taps, and then a lemon and lime with Ghostbusters style strikes through them. Those questing for a Margarita might as well abandon all hope nigh they enter here.

Manning the taps, the answer to the question, what would retirement era Z-Z-Top look like. In front or the bar, three Caucasian men and their Chinese girlfriends.

“How goes the language barrier?”

“Just difficult enough to be interesting.”

Balancing things out at the other side of the bar, an elder statesman in a silk shirt etching out an anime style beheading. To his right a midget in a hockey jersey and a former bouncer in an orange truck rally wife beater.

“I know all these guys think they’re tough. You don’t have to be tough. You just have to be willing.”

I ask the bartender for a pen, and then look up to the white board listing the tap beers, so I can pick my second pint. The list totals ten, under the heading “Happy New Year.”

It’s September.

The college boys hold summit at a table behind me, keeping their distance from the mid-lifers on the dance floor. Arms crossed and leaning into the conversation, someone holds the table in rapt attention with a story that most definitely contained the word “she.”

The local girls chat more openly, adding percussion to the trio onstage with quick shotgun blasts of laughter. The tables of each gender never look at each other.

“What are you writing?,” orange wife beater chimes in. “Stupid shit that goes on in bars? You didn’t near enough fucking paper, kid.”

They dubbed me New York within about five minutes, ironically the same amount of time it feels like I’ve lived in Brooklyn. The lead singer makes sure I have correct spelling of the band’s name. Two people ask where they can read my article.

In the bathroom, relieving myself of the four beers previous, I read four walls worth of shout-outs and quips, including the phrase “Fuck ‘till it hurts,” in long looping cursive one usually expects to find in a browning copy of the Bible.

I look over my quickly crumbling penmanship in there: the stories I’ve written down, after performing them so many times, the quips I’ve jotted down as my sarcasm dealt them.

In here I can hear the words running out from each and every mouth, without the flashing lights and the slamming backbeats. The locals killing the evening with their friends over headlines and cut-downs. Everyone knows the stories, and no one cares about them anymore. They’re happy to give them up. They’re old news.

I leave an hour before the barkeep bellows out last call, curling up into the back seat of a taxi with seven pages held tight between my fingers. I don’t say anything for the ride back to the hotel. Not a word.

Just, “Stop here.”

“Hey, what are you writing?”

“Nothing…” I hold the pages up. “Here’s to the habit.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Here’s good, man.”

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