On the regular, I chat with fantastical drunken fanatics of all types, and I do my best to keep my opinions to myself. Really, that is like 90% of the job, and over the years for my landlords sake I've gotten good at it. They come in, one by one, pull up a stool, and proceed to dump. The stories run a crazy range...
Mike, he works next store at the grocery store, stocking food, getting customers what they need, and nursing a broken heart. His X-wife takes near half his check for the kids he rarely gets to see and some crazy thing called alimony. He's a good man and the boulder he drags in here on the regular makes me grateful I cut that last one loose.
Let's take Richard for example...
Tips well enough, orders Jack n Cokes, NO FRUIT..."what the fuck man, if I wanted healthy shit I'd be hanging out at some ritzy lounge, where they charge four bucks for a bottle of mineral water, and the women all cost just enough." So yeah, I take some licks from time to time from him but I understand that it's because life pushes down on him really hard. As long as those tips stay above 15% we should have no problems and my pours will continue to be generous.
Then of course there is Albert...
Everyday is the same...
Shows up way before happy hour and is here much to long after. Sure, I make my electric bill off of him in two weeks time alone but you just have to feel a little something for someone drinking their life away in this manner. He tells me about a time he stabbed a guy in the eye with his thumb during a bar fight. This was back in Boston, he spits a little when he talks, but I'm use to wiping things off the bar. He preaches to me about his kids that love him, how he's living the dream, and then the next day rolls around. Still day dreaming, still sinking dollars into my bucket, and still watching those college kids like maybe somewhere inside them lyes a better version of what he could have hoped to be.
We have Tom, various girls every night, and he always picks up the tab. He let's them order whatever they want, I bring them shots, and he picks up the whole tab. To bad he doesn't know how to tip! When I think of how many money shots I've probably afforded that guy...well lets just say I silently hope some sort of sickness befalls his member sooner rather then later.
You have your regulars that just come to watch the games, the fights, the scrolling spatterings of apathy, and of course my zen like guidance. We laugh and generally through out the night you can hear a common cry of fuck the status quo. Many HOORAYS!!! spirits guiding spirits into that fabled land of pretend that makes sense for a few hours. Shit! What do we know...bills...DUI's...Families saturated in divorce and hardship...economic down turns...and a need to aspire to be something spectacular before our eyelids open no more. Occasionally someone slangs something "cash" like on the jukebox and everyone sings along.
Then again...somenights a stranger comes walking in. It always seems to be on those quite nights. Alone, watching the clock, grazing over the newest crossword puzzle, and hoping 1 A.M. will come sooner rather then later. To be honest, a stranger like this, well, in all my years of pouring poison, I don't know I've ever come across one quite so twisted, and I don't wish to ever share a conversation with the likes of this devil ever again...
but I did...
and you know what they say about dancing with the devil....right?
......Dance with him and you might just end up losing more of yourself then you wagered.
"I'll take a Jameson, double, and neat."
He pulls up that oak stool with a easy and like so many before lets his conscious rest along that bar top. Heavy, I can feel it, but I just can't yet understand why...So I pour his drink and say.
"Tall order sir, hard day out in them killing fields?" Here is me, speaking as if I'm in the presence of the usual...
"I just shot a man..."
It echoes off the walls and comes back to me with much speculation.
"I did it because in my gut I knew it was the right thing to do and because if I didn't do it others would suffer."
Pouring his potion reality comes in with each inch of gold that hits that rocks glass and I'm concerned for the next moments of this jigsaw puzzle called life.
"Like, I loaded a weapon, barged into his den, and left a heavy smell of gunpowder in the air."
He takes a large gulp from his freshly poured drink
"BANG!!! BANG!!! BANG!!!"
setting his drink down at the last bang and looking up at me with a hearty smile.
"I did it for you ya know..."
At a loss for words for the first time in what feels like forever, I stumble with my response, and he quickly says...
"You've loved right? I mean, you look about at least 30 something, I've got to think some sort of warm splintering feeling has taken apart your soul and made you a better man for it? Ya know LOVE! that things you'd do most anything for?"
It takes me a second to realize this is a question and I say...
"Yes sir, actually, very much in love, got a wife, she's due in a few months time here........gona be a spring baby. Thinking about naming him Matt after my father."
"Ah, that's good...."
Another large gulp, taking his glass down to about 1/4, and he says
"ya see...about two months ago, I had something like that. My own little plot of heaven in this madness known as life. I'm in my 50's understand, I've seen a lot of things, experienced two decades worth more then you, and become all to comfortable with the forgotten promises of my younger years. Still though, about a few years back I met her. Eyes just spewing with hope, hair golden, long, streaming, and screaming with strands of comfort. Heaven! I tell no lies, I was a mad man, lost, pissing away my nights in places like this, and then one day she came to be."
He gulps the last of his drink, pushes it towards me, and with out hesitation I pour another. I don't dare breath...I let him finish what has been a long time in the making and hope that he finds me more friend then foe.
"We made plans you know, places to see, things to be...and then one night...he came."
I see a hard demeanor go soft for only a few seconds, a few salted drops catch on his whiskers, and he shrugs this off. Turning to his audience of one his continues...
"I work late, I'm not a jealous man, so I let my flower spread her pollen about this great world because, ya know, it seems like the world could use more happiness...."
I think, where are the regulars? Where are the loyal fans of failed freethinking? Why have I been foresaken to be murdered by a madman at this barely above minimum wage bar? My own undoing I guess, all those glasses I've poured, never telling them to stop, and now death takes the form of an old mystic with tales of retribution.
I guess he can tell he doesn't have my attention...fully, and says...
"HEY! are you listening or aren't you?"
meekly I squeek
"yes sir, just a bit nervous that's all..."
A hearty laugh tumbles out of his gullet and he dumps about.
"Then drink up!!! Worry not friend, your just the last friendly face I'll see for many years, and I have no one else to bare my soul too. Ya know, I thought that's what bartenders were for, soul bearing...
Hell, I use to sit for hours, talk to my bartender about the things I could have done, the things I should have done, and could have been...
All of that was before her..."
Once again a few soft drops of moisture and then....CRASH!!!
What was left of his whiskey goes against the wall and I immediately pour myself a shot.
"better grab me one of them too"
We both meet eyes, heaven, hell, beside one another, two men, a swig, and the burn is so smooth I almost forget my current dilemma.
"He saw her out, with her friends, she was wearing something so appealing, so attractive, intoxicating, and the weaker man that he was made plans for something in sincere."
My phone vibrates, singing loudly, "IF YOU WANT BLOOD!!! YOU GOT IT!!!" (I love AC/DC)
"Go ahead, answer it...I won't be here much longer."
"Hello, uhhhh, yeah, not a good time...oh!....well umm yeah dealing with something much bigger at the moment. What?!?!? No dude, fuck you! yeah I mean, well........Wait wait wait a minute. You tell that mother fucker I'll be there and with bells on. Seriously though...not a good time"
I hang up, smile something awkward at what to me starts looking more and more like the grim reaper.
not skipping a fucking beat, that scavenger of time, hopped right back onto whatever line he was grinding.
"He followed her home and once he realized she was alone...well...He did the things that drive a man like me over that line he once hoped to never see again. I won't bother you with the details that made the stomachs of all the reporting sheriffs weak, or how I had to make her funeral arrangements. All I need from you this evening is absolution. I shot him, dead to rights, before the long twisted arm of what we call the law could make a grand spectacle of him. I found my vengeance in a little double wide and I didn't think twice about it. The only thing I thought about was those that would suffer if I didn't and those that suffered because I hadn't done it sooner. I'd never thought of myself as a killer...ever...I've busted more then a few heads in my day, taken a thrashing, and picked myself up. However, as soon as I caught word of who it was, and put the pieces together...All hesitation went way word and I found myself thriving off instincts."
He clears his throat, motions for a new rocks glass, and I abide....
"Absolution...that's all I'm looking for stranger and I guess maybe a thank you."
I collect myself...it feels like forever but I'm sure it's just seconds. I think about how to best structure the words and half way through that process personality overtakes the thinking machine.
"RUN!!! But know you did the right thing, know that sometimes, evil must be punished by the firmest hand possible, and that a man must do what he hopes to be right. Find refuge, in those that share a similar oder to yours, but know that you did what was right. If this man did what you think he did, then take comfort in knowing that the cycle stops with you. I won't personally thank you, because I don't know that I have the stones it takes to end a life, but let me extend my sincere gratitude for the safe passage of my son. I don't know that they would have crossed paths but the world is an increasingly small place and I'd rather not leave matters like that to fate."
Weak, shaken, and just drained, my hands shake and he reaches next to me. I flinch a little as he grabs a grip of tooth picks and smiles.
"Young man, I do believe you just may have saved my soul, and if I didn't know better few others might find it worth saving."
He pushes that slender piece of wood into his mouth and twirls it round to the other side fast. With a swift motion he lays cold hard steel across my bar, and my gut falls out into my shoes.
"this is for you...or for them...tell them what you like. I'll be long gone by the time the sun catches the one I loved most."
He walks calmly out the way he came and I'm left shook.....
So they come in from time to time...
"HEY!!! what the fuck, can you put the game on?!!?!"
I always ask what game, with clenched nerves, and a smooth calm that you only find in prisoners of war. What they don't know if they've usually snapped me out of the most terrifying moment of my life. Blood on my hands? Blood on all our hands...pssh! So accountable for the actions of others but for one night, I just might have been an accomplice to something so self righteous and pure...
...Matthew is two now and the best parts of my days are when I get to hold him. Part of me continually thanks that crazy old man. This existence... Wild & uncharted... warriors...where do they roam and where does he roam now. On the quite nights, those nights I feed the jukebox alone, I always wonder if he'll come back for his steel. I wonder and with anticipation I hope to spread this real.