Bar | Leisure

Way back in the far corner where the dim lighting in the bar couldn't reach the shadows

, the bartender sat slumped in a chair, his aching feet resting atop a stack of Budweiser boxes. There hadn't been a customer for hours, and he passed the time by chain smoking cigarette after cigarette while watching through yellowing eyes the pavement outside the window and the few abandoned buildings on the street. Every now and then a man or woman passed on the sidewalk, and he'd wave. Sometimes the person waved back, other times they just ignored him. But for the most part he just sat there thinking about closing, and about his one room kitchenette and the bed that awaited him there. On occasion he dwelled on the bar, his many years there. How he, like the bar, had once been young and filled with dreams. Now they were both old, each living out the few years left to them. He wasn't a man giving to soul searching, and never expanded upon the thought. Instead he just supposed that was the way it should be, and went back to watching the street. An hour later he was still thinking about closing, the street outside and about how much his dogs hurt even when propped up on the Budweiser boxes, when the bell on the door rang and a customer he recognized from years ago when the bar was hopping day and night entered. The guy mounted a stool and lay a ten dollar bill atop the once bright, but now dull sheen of the oak bartop. The guy waited a second, then yelled, "Anybody here?" As the bartender tried to remember the guy's name, he curiously watched the guy swivel his heard in search of him. The bartender knew the guy couldn't see him in the shadows and just sat there, half hoping the guy would leave. When the guy called out again, the bartender softly sighed, slid his feet off the stack of Budweiser boxes and moved with a slow arthritic walk to where the guy sat. As the bartender came out of the shadows, the guy gave him a startled look. The bartender greeted the guy in a gravely whisper that was spoken so low that it almost died even in the quietness of the bar. "I didn't catch that," the guy replied, then adjusted himself on the stool so he was leaning close to the bartender. "You're?" "Frank. I used to come in here a years ago."

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In thought the bartender tapped his forehead with his right index finger. "Shot of J. D. Water chaser?" Frank smiled broadly. "Hell of a memory!" As he set about filling Frank's order, the bartender's face came alive at the compliment, and his head bobbed, and his voice raised to a loud whisper, "Yeah, yeah, that's true." He deftly plucked a shot glass from the bar rail and placed it in front of Frank, "It's about all I got left." He took a dusty J. D. bottle from the shelf behind him and filled the shot glass beyond the line, then placed the bottle on the bar, "That and my eye's." Next he drew a glass of water from the sink and placed it next to the shot glass, "Bottoms up." Frank rapped on the bar twice with his knuckles for luck, just as he had done years ago, swallowed down the whiskey, set the shot glass down and immediately picked up the water glass. Sipping slowly, he inspected the bar and was surprised to see it hadn't changed much over the years. The bowling game still sat in the far corner by the shadows; the first and fifth pin broken at the neck, and there was the same tin ceiling that was stained yellow from years of nicotine, and behind the bar rested the big glass jar that had held pickled eggs. Only now the jar was empty. He returned his attention to the bartender. "Do me again. Kinda slow tonight, huh?" As the bartender refilled the shot glass, he said, "Naw, always like this now." Frank's left eyebrow lifted into a question mark. "What about the old gang. They still come around? Don't they?" While taking a pack of filterless Camel's from his shirt pocket the bartender's brow tightened as he considered the question. His head nodded in affirmation of his conclusion and with a rapid twist of his fingers he screwed the cigarette between his lips. The cigarette danced in his mouth as he said, "A few like you stumble in every now and then." From his shirt pocket he produced a wooden kitchen match and lit the cigarette by scraping the match on the side of the bar, coughed twice, then blew a smoke filled whisper Frank's way, "You know how it is. Times change."

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"Yeah," Frank replied, "The neighborhoods gone to hell. The wife and I saw it coming that's why we moved. Spicks and niggers took over, you know. I was in the neighborhood on business and wassurprisedthat the old place was stillhere.ThoughtI'd stop." "Yeah, and yeah, and no, and yeah and yeah," the bartender replied. "No what," Frank asked. "No nothing." "Yeah," Frank agreed. He lowered his head and stared at the shot glass nostalgically. "Sure had some good times in this joint." "Yeah," the bartender replied. He pushed the cigarettes toward Frank. "Have one?" "No," Frank replied. "I quit last year." "I tried quitting. Doctor said smoking causes my whisper. Found I missed em too much." "Tell me about it," Frank answered, eyeing the pack. His fingers twitched. "Well maybe just one for old times sake. Won't hurt. Right? I mean just one. Can't hurt. Right?" The bartender shrugged his shoulders, and placed a kitchen match atop the bar. "Thank's," Frank said. He scratched the match along the side of the bar, and lit his cigarette. He gagged on the first inhale, and flashed a foolish look. "First drag's a mother." "Yeah," the bartender replied. For a few seconds their only communication was the cigarette smoke mushrooming over thier heads. Then the bartender, the cigarette dangling from his lips, removed a towel from a shelf under the bar and dusted it

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gingerly over the J. D. bottle. Frank watched him work the towel over the bottle as if the bartender had all the time in the world. When the bartender had finished and set the bottle on the bar Frank butted his cigarette in the ashtray. He stared at the bartender with a hopefull look. "Remember the New Years party about ten years back?" The bartender draped the towel over his shoulder and looked at him questioningly. "I've seen many parties in this joint." "Yeah, Yeah," Bill exuberantly replied. "But I mean the one where a guy named Bill danced naked on the bar." "Yeah, I remember that one," the bartender confirmed. "The women chanted: Bill has a small pecker, and the guys sprayed him with beer." Frank grinned sideways. "Yeah, that's the one. What ever happened to Bill?" The bartender crushed his cigarette under his foot and said nonchalantly, "Got himself crushed by a drunk driving a cement truck a few years back. Had to literally scrape the poor guy off the pavement." Frank's grin vanished. "Jeeze!" The bartender's yellowing eyes blinked in agreement. "Remember his partner Jim? A big burly guy, rubbery face." "Sure. We nicknamed him Blarney stone because he told so many tall tails." "Right as rain," the bartender replied. "Well he closed up the television repair shop him and Bill owned, and moved out west with Bill's widow. Hear they used Bill's life insurance money and bought into a Pizza Hut." "Pizza Hut? What about a girl named Joanne?" "You mean the bean pole of a girl with tea-cup-tits? Always reading the green sheet and muttering under her breath about this nag or that nag." Franks face brightened. "Yeah, yeah! That's the one."

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"She's doing a dime up at Joliet for embezzling. Seemed she played fast and loose with the books at the accounting firm she worked at. I heard she got well over a hundred grand. She lost it all on the ponies." "Really. Damn, I didn't think she had it in her," Frank said, shaking his head in disbelief. He rapped on the bar with his knuckles and emptied the shot glass. "Hit me again. What about Steve?" As the bartender filled the shot glass, his brow knitted in thought. "Steve?" "Yeah, tall fellow. Receding hair line. Parents ran the Standard station on thirty-sixth and..." "Right. I recall now. He took some night classes and became a Lawyer. Bought a hair-piece. Married a rich dame. Moved to Highland Park." "That was always his dream." The bartender snorted. "Nightmare if you ask me." "Yeah. Remember Maria?" "Sure. A little slip-of-a-woman who worked at the Italian bakery." "Yeah," Frank replied with an unsure small smile that said he was almost afraid to hear what had happened to her. "The bakery closed down. She tried waitressing for a while. I guess it was about five years ago she up and married a janitor, excuse me engineer, with two rug rats and moved to Indy. He was an uppity bastard." Frank's small unsure smile remained frozen on his face. "Two kids?" "Right as rain. I tried telling her the guy was looking for a wife, mother, and housekeeper, but she didn't wanna hear it. I guess she figured she was getting old and didn't wanna spend her years alone." The bartender paused, then said, "Can't-say-as-I blame her."

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"No, me neither," Frank murmured, his smile gone. "Well she was a hell of a fun woman." "That is the truth," the bartender agreed. "Yeah." Suddenly the bartender's face brightened. "Did you read in the papers about Ben?" "Ben?" "Roly-poly man. Medium build. Beard. Bookie." "Yeah, right, I remember him now." "Died right here in the bar. His ticker gave way. Fell nose first into his Budweiser. Died with the Television on. Bears playing the Packers. Bears behind by a touchdown." "Who won?" Frank asked in a lackluster voice. "Bears by a dozen." Frank stared glumly at the shot glass. "At least Ben went out happy." "Right as rain," the bartender happily replied. "Ben's girlfriend was so grief stricken that she became a lesbo. Moved to Frisco." "Wasn't he seeing that pretty little girl who wore fire-hydrant red-lipstick. Named Amy?" "Right as rain." "Lesbo." "Yeah." Frank shook his head in disgust. "Jeeze! What a waste!"

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Getting into the conversation, the bartender leaned loose and friendly like on the bar. "If you thinks that's a waste, listen to this. You recall Kovac. A little runt of a guy who worked as the ink man at Mell printing." "Little guy? Easy going?" "Right as rain. He married a female cop. She sticks to him like super glue. Poor guy can't even go out for a beer." "Him? married to a cop!" The bartender nodded his head in disbelief. "Yeah. Can you believe it." "Jeeze!" "Wait, there's more. Member Sue...you know, tall girl with big knockers, taught grade school. She used to come in every night, tilt a few tall cool ones and whoop in up with the best of them. She found religion. Teaches Sunday school now. Member Pete and Alison...Pete drove a cab while dreaming of writing a novel; Alison was a sparrow like girl with skirting eyes. Well they got married. Then got divorced. Pete got the mortgage, she got the house and the kids. Neither one can afford to go out much. Chris, you member him don't ja, a tall blond kid. Well he moved to Madison Wisconsin and is bartendering at a fern bar. And..." The bartender stopped talking all at once, then raised away from the bar and touched a finger to his forehead. He looked at Frank in surprise. "Damn, I think that about covers it, at least way's as far as my memory goes. Some just drifted away. Got lost in life's shuffle I imagine. Don't know what happened to them. " All at once, as if embarassed by his outburst, the bartender stared out the window. There was a tear in his eye, but Frank didn't see it as he thoughtfully finished the whiskey. The bartender blinked back the tear and turned to Frank. "Want another?" Frank slid off the stool and hesitantly backed toward the door. "No. Long drive. I live in the burbs. Like I said, I just stopped by because I was in the neighborhood."

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The bartender scooped up the ten dollar bill that Frank had left on the bar. "Yeah, well stop by again," he said as loud as he could manage. "I'll be sure to do that. Yeah sure," Frank replied. As the bartender closed up for the night, he thought about Frank and the few other ex-regulars who in the past month had stopped by. Seemed like they were coming by more frequently now. Looking for the old days. Looking for their youth. Looking for dreams. As he worked, he muttered, "Yeah, yeah, and yeah, and no, there are no dreams left in this bar." A few miuntes later, he checked to make sure the register drawer was open so anyone looking in the window during the night would know there wasn't any money there. Satisfied, he went to the window and pulled the string on the Budweiser light. The bar was thrown into darkness. He hunched his shoulders against the cold wind as he locked the door. He shook the door twice to make sure it was locked, turned and walked up the deserted street, the warmth of his one room kitchenette now on his mind.

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