So. So. So. I walked all the way down to where the water was. It was the first day of the year. Everybody was done or fed up with themselves from the previous night’s sordidness. I was in fine fettle, though, which was unusual. I hadn’t had a drink in a week: a new record. I wanted to walk down to this little bar I knew by the water and have a nice drink by myself, the thought of which was the only thing keeping me going.
It was a good thirty minute walk. I made it in twenty. I tend to walk fast when I’m out among other people.
The sand wasn’t so hot. The people down there by the water were lousy and petty and ordinary. I got tired of the seagulls poking at things all around me, and I decided to walk over to the bar.
There were only a few paying customers moping at the bar in there when I arrived. The window shades were all drawn. The bartender was a beefy bald guy in slacks and a Hawaiian shirt that only had a few buttons done. He eyed me like a sheriff in a western scouting out thieves. I sat down and ordered a gin martini.
There was a wiry guy in a dirty three-piece a few stools down, a real whiner, who was clenching his glass of beer like a crucifix and going on about, “The disintegration of addressing the needs of the common people.” He didn’t seem common at all. “We’re chaste in our sweet-and-sour attitudes. At best, or at most, we chuckle half-soused in what our charity will allow. Fuck this staring at a blank canvas. Fuck it. I’m moving to Alaska.”
The barman quipped back at him, “Quit your pipe dreaming. The only place you’re moving to is another stool down.”
I sat there watching this ugliness work itself out, and then took a hard swallow of gin and vermouth. The way it hit me going down was just as marvelous and enchanting as it always was, and I immediately felt in stride with the world’s spin again.
“Boomtown transience is a real drag for us common folks.”
It was the sweet-and-sour sucker again. He was really on a yapping jag. I decided to nip this one off before it became too much to sit through. “Hey, Pipes. Can you keep that mumbling inside your head, maybe? I’ve got a beverage I’m trying to indulge in over here, and you’re killing my concentration.”
He scowled at me. It was a great scowl, like an hysterical magician gone to shit after revealing too many of his tricks. I appreciated the gesture. It isn’t often you find someone really willing to give you the business in a public place.
The portly Caribbean cruiser on the bar’s operating side didn’t like any of it. He leaned his girth against the speedwell to light into us: “You boys better behave, you hear. I’ve got a large party coming in soon, and I don’t mind clearing some space out to make room for ‘em.”
Nobody liked the idea of that. We all frowned in our own way and sipped at our drinks. The whole place smelled like mothballs and rancid cheese. I was very proud of myself for having not spilled a drop of my martini on the napkin below it. It was a bold accomplishment in these corrupt and unappreciative surroundings. It made me feel less miserable than a garbage man on a Monday morning, but not much. It was enough to keep me at it though, and so I hung on, there at the bar, barely. The knives of winter were getting duller by the swallow. I was enjoying my unpopularity.
The place got quiet as an x-mas tree farm in July. We all knew what was coming, and were steeling ourselves for the eventual onslaught of amateur-hour revelers. We drank and ordered another.
“It is not laziness but disharmony that makes me do these things.”
Some bored sap was grappling with the seasonal decorations in the window, standing on a crooked ladder, his face strained with what seemed an unbearable burden, tinsel in his hair and red-and-white fuzz all over his clothes. Probably a barback who came in early to pick up a few extra bucks. The whole scene made me dismal and morose, and I got back to work on my second martini, which was about as dry as the ocean.
I’d told the barman, who was keen on lurching over me with a dented expression of boredom on his weary mug, “More olives next time. And don’t be shy with the vermouth. I want to be able to dip my nose in it and get soaked.” Neither he nor I had any idea what any of it meant. But, I guess some wishes do come true, as he wasn’t as light-handed with it the second go around.
I motioned to the sap in the window, “Hey, kid. Get a move on it with all that undressing. You’re blocking my view.” It wasn’t true, really. I didn’t feel like looking out the window much. But I never know when I might want to afford myself the chance for some taking in of scenery. I once knew a girl named Scenery. I couldn’t remember the view of her very well. I took a few more hard swallows of the vermouth sprinkled with gin, picked an olive out and ate it, and stopped thinking about girls’ names and views and whatever it meant just then to be who I was.
The barman went back to his glass wiping and self-inflicted duress. I became occupied with some fitful memories that the vermouth’s taste was bringing back. When I was in my late teens I somehow was able to get my hands on a few bottles of cheap vermouth. I don’t remember how it happened, probably some store clerk who didn’t realize what the hell this odd Italian-looking stuff in the aquamarine bottle was. But I kept the bottles in my closet behind some boxes of books, so my mother wouldn’t notice them, and I used to sit up at night and drink that horrid vermouth from the bottle, calling up random numbers on the phone, back when you could still punch the numbers on the pad and get that fulfilling sensation of the tiny square button crunching back at you, and the special click when you put the handset back down on the plastic nodules and hung up.
Sometimes one of the random people I dialed would engage me in a conversation. I would drunkenly state many absurd things, like, “Telling differences is for birthdays never wished happy. I’m young enough to be your cousin’s daughter. Well, you can papier-mâché my Mephistopheles and call me Jesus already. You see, this here holster’s for ketchup and mustard only.”
It passed the time, and most folks weren’t too bothered by it. Most who picked up just listened silently to my excited blathering yammer until I decided to hang up and punch another code into the phone. I rarely dialed out of the area code. It’s likely that I even got someone who knew me. If I did, they never said anything about it to me. The kindness of strangers I guess.
And then, to everyone’s dismay, that large aforementioned party arrived in a giant gaggle of heated celebratory fervor. “Let the miserableness start already,” I mumbled slightly below an inside voice. “Here goes everything.”
These were young folk, well-to-do party kids, out for a good time to spend their trust funds in. The howlers and their high-pitched woots took over the place. All at once they were everywhere, filling out the bar, on chairs by the window, hanging from plants, lined up for the pisser, feeding bills into the jukebox, and contorting in any empty spaces they could get into.
I took out a cigarette and stuck it between my taught lips. I sat there with great dignity — that unlit cigarette wavering from my lips like a prop for some sideshow act — just to have something to do besides be involved in this buffoonery.
Then, perhaps for a joke, some corny x-mas music came on, and I sat there staring at my dewy glass, raising my unsmoked cigarette to the gods, masking my hatred in sadness. It was some sort of postprandial-like routine I’d been staving off as long as I could — waiting for my mood to fit the music just right; it was something to look forward to in all the muck and rind shavings of existence. With the idiots in control of the jukebox these moments were becoming rarer all the time. Maybe the world was only idiots with horrible taste in music. Is this what things had come to while I’d been away from social gatherings? Perhaps I was just becoming righteous and sentimental in my curmudgeonly older age. I’ve always had a hard time figuring out why people like the things that they like. Kids these days. Shit.
Then one of them plopped down next to me with his 80-dollar sweater and faux-ripped jeans, and started yapping way too close to my ear. I finally looked at him after about an eon of his blabber. He was too pretty for words. I hated him immensely.
“Gee whiz, kiddo. I’m just trying to be nice. If it’s not appreciated then, well…”
“No. No. It’s appreciated. I swear. I appreciate it.”
“Then shut it, won’t you? Just for a minute here while I pretend to smoke and listen to this song. I’m busy numbing my pain. I really can’t be bothered with this ordinary crap.”
The kid finally shut it, and I took a long, long thoughtless swallow that almost finished off my martini. I shuffled the cigarette from my mouth to my ear, and soon felt significantly better about being in my surroundings. I even tilted back on my bar stool some. I was having quite a time of it.
The sappy x-mas song ended, and I glanced over to where the yapping pretty boy was, and he was no longer there. It was a good, small thing, and I started really feeling great about my position in the world for the first time all week. I thought, ‘It’s elevens all around, and I’m making eyes at someone else’s wife. The vultures are singing in circles, just for me.’ It felt good to be thinking such fine things. I was tired of being nice.
It was getting to be well beyond my opinion of maximum room capacity in there. I tipped the barman rather generously, as is my wont in situations of public service, and drained the lees of my martini, dreaming one last time about late-night phone calls and savoring what was left of my unlisted life. The evening-in-a-bottle perfume of the whole affair was choking me, and I clambered for egress.
Feeling somber and maladjusted, I walked down to where the rowdy breakers tufted and plucked at the shore’s hard sand. I was just an ampersand holding the place for period. The water wasn’t in the mood for forgiveness, and another new year was upon us all, and I sat down on the sand and watched the horizon settle into some foggy distance. All I wanted was a warm beer and a good place to sit, for my worries to dissipate with the assuaging belt of alcohol’s blush and comfort as I watched the world disappear.
Sometimes in this life, though it’s rare, you can actually get what you want, and you should always take advantage of it when the opportunity presents itself. No matter how awful it all gets, never lose the opportunity to have some enjoyment, even if it’s meager and small. Besides, what isn’t really meager and small when it comes down to it? We all run ragged in the raiment of tortured misdoings: sapped, delirious, bored, locked-up, paying rent, or gallivanting around in gaggles of goof-offs and crowding up otherwise peaceful bars just the same. Sometimes you’ve just got to do something for yourself, and not be so concerned with other people.
I got up, brushed the sand from my garments, and went to a nearby corner store to buy a can of beer.