I don’t often write what I call “straight” or literary fiction. That said, here is a little something I did a few months ago sitting in a West Nashville bar.
Scenes in a Bar
Sitting in a midtown bar was a new experience for me. Not the bar part, mind you as I was intimately familiar with most of the dives and out of the way holes along the outskirts of town. Smokey cut outs in the side of old buildings, their décor a quarter century out of date with toothless waitresses, burly bar backs and a host of white haired, red nosed, leather faced drunks with scruffy beards doing their most shameful Santa impersonations in the dim light. But this place was different, almost classy sitting on a busy corner on the west side of town. The bartender was a proportionate twenty something with thick black glasses and bleach blonde hair pulled into a pony tail behind her. A college girl in a college bar with fancy wines on designer shelves under impressionist pieces, paintings of beer steins and bongs that were supposed to be guitars for sale by local artists. There were band stickers slapped on the side of the cash register and a dog eared Ayn Rand novel weighing down the soda machine. For a man whose classiest move was jerking off with a pinky elevated this was a departure from the ordinary
So why, then, worldly scholar and world traveler I clearly was not, would I be in a bar like this? What could persuade me to leave my dusty warren in a dimly lit pool hall and venture into such an upscale environment? A woman, of course. In all recorded history, in every heroic tale and epic ever penned there was always a woman to blame. For the love or lust of her, for the fortune she possessed or the power she could bestow the story was always the same. The unwitting hero would set sail for strange and alien worlds in search of his damsel in distress, his goddess, this grand temptress who had haunted all his dreams and given life to his wildest fantasies. My story, while less grandiose, was no different. I was an uncouth and uncultured man driven by the wiles of a sophisticated woman and had chosen to dive head first into this undiscovered country.
My face was clean shaven, fresh as a newborn though pitted and scarred in places and wrinkles slightly in others. My shirt was clean pressed and neatly tucked into my pants save for the wrinkles where a slight paunch had pulled it out above the belt. Jacket and cap draped over the aluminum bar stool where I sat I sipped on an overpriced pint and waited for my girl. Around me in a sea of people were a dozen voices in an infinite number of tones and inflections added to the whir of motors from the heater overhead and the muted indie rock from speakers in the corners of the room. Bland platitudes from servers and cooks, laughs a bit more raucous than needed for jokes that just weren’t funny. Men with their dates feigned interest in the conversation all the while undressing their women with lustful eyes as they fantasized about rushing home to fuck. Collegiate girlfriends clucked and cackled, reminiscing about sorority life as the guy at the opposite end of the bar, the one with the paperback of French poems looked longingly at one bubbly redhead who seemed to be the focus of the conversation. He knew all the right words, the ways of the great lovers and the moves that would sweep her off her feet if he only had the nerve to stand up on his own. Another man sat in the far corner booth in sweats and headphones listening to the scores of various races and games. He’d looked once for companionship, for some deep and intimate meaning to be found with another person and, finding nothing, sank into a world of alcohol and gambling.
In that empty space between us all, that sucking, soundless void that prevents voices from carrying with any measure of meaning from one seat to another is where I found my comfort. Dim the lights, strike a match and blow a little smoke in the air, this would be home. The regulars chatted up the little blonde bartender, flirted and made pass after pass only to be rebuffed and redirected to more platonic vistas. Save for the geography, it was just another in a series of dives that I knew all too well.
Early as usual I fumbled clumsily with my phone to see if I’d missed her call. I felt like a jittery school boy waiting for her, nervous as always over what I’d say or whether or not my mannerisms would embarrass her in this particular setting. She was always late everywhere she went. Soon she’d come sauntering through the doors behind me, fashionably late and gorgeous as always. Glancing up from my phone to the place where the bar curved were two men in black shirts who had been chatting for a while. One was black, tall and a bit heavy set with a short trimmed beard and dreadlocks that snaked out from under a dark colored knit cap. He had a chubby thumb and index finger stroking his chin as he listened dispassionately to his counterpart. The other was white, scruffy and unkempt with the top buttons of his shirt undone to expose a gold chain that dangled in a tangled mess of chest hair. He was rambling on and on about some reality TV. show he’d watched last night. Both drank deeply from the amber fermentation in their glasses, secretly hoping to find some hidden truth or beauty where the beer had been.
The empty seats beside me were soon filled by another odd, though not out of place couple. The middle aged businessman with his distinct Northern accent in a Southern bar announced loudly his intention to drink the bar out of business as his twenty something trophy wife sat quietly beside him. It was that nails on a chalkboard New England accent that turned “R” into “AWE” in every word where the letter was found. He was an average build with receding salt and pepper hair that formed a wreath around his head as if he were Caesar home from the wars. He was wearing a pair of khakis and a light colored button down shirt that did little to differentiate him from any other middle aged man suffering a midlife crisis as he tried so desperately to exude an air of youth and vigor to anyone who would give him a moment’s notice.
His trophy, bride or girlfriend or mistress sat there with a look of disinterest that her man was oblivious of. Dark glasses, more for show than function, shielded darker eyes that looked through the Yankee at her side. A few visible piercings in the cartilage of her ears and nose, likely her tits with the way she kept tugging at the front of a tight white shirt, were the lingering tells of a party girl. She was there to be wined and dined, spoiled by an older man. She would moan his name breathlessly in the dark tonight, moan and scream at the appropriate intervals as he gave her the same lack luster performance that had been disappointing women for decades before she was even born. She would choke on the bile and sully herself for whatever trinkets he offered. It was a familiar story, one I’d seen countless times before. He started to prattle on to the bartender about fine ales and local brewers as if he’d personally laid the foundation and raised the hops. His trophy stared off into space, looking for something that she’d never find sitting there.
I turned back to my beer and smiled. Money didn’t change things. Geography and culture could pretty up a place but no matter how much paint you slapped on the walls the people inside were always the same. A bell tinkled behind me. In the reflection of my near empty glass I saw a familiar, beautiful smile. Without turning I knew it was her. Small hands grabbed at my waist, soft lips kissed my cheek. There was the unmistakable perfume, that sweet, indecipherable nectar she wore that would never leave my memory for as long as I lived.
“I hope you haven’t been waiting long,” she said sweetly.
I finished my beer, turned to face her and smiled. I kissed her on the lips and tasted the sweetness, the essence of what had brought me on my quest into these unknown, yet hauntingly familiar worlds.
“I’d wait all night for you.”