Man left the bright off-white daylight of a stormy day behind and let the heavy oak door slam shut behind him. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the blackened smoky interior of the bar. Man wrinkled his nose. The sudden change in atmosphere came as a shock. He took small breaths – he did not want to smell everything all at once – as he adjusted from the scent of the ozone and rain outside to the acrid and condensed scents of burning tobacco and spilled beer and body odor confined within this tiny den of despair.
Man took off his funky green hunting cap – a reference to his literary hero – and swept back strands of greasy black hairs so that they were plastered over his spotted, bald head. But no one would call it a comb-over, a comb-over is something done on purpose. This hairstyle wasn’t exactly a style. It didn’t look brushed or washed. In short, it fit Man exceedingly well.
No One looked up as he entered.
There was a bartender. He was an obese man with a large gut extending over the tie of his dirty apron. He spit into wine glasses and shined them with a soiled red bandanna. He finished washing and then tied the bandana on top of his shaved white head. Rolls of fat and tufts of curly coarse hair sprouted up from his dirty white t-shirt. There was a stain just to the right of his armpit – on his chest, next to his heart – that looked a little like America.
There was a woman. She sat with her legs and arms crossed; inaccessible. The slit of her skirt exposed a hint of bare skin and the lines of garters which held up frayed nylon stockings. She smoked a cigarette, sipped from a martini glass, and stared at herself in the mirror. Her reflection scowled back at her, as if angry over the heavy toll exacted by years of self-abuse on her once youthful and perfect body. She looked away from the mirror and stared down at her dingy shadow on the floor and could still see the outline of the girl she used to be. She dropped her lit cigarette down onto that shadow and smothered it with a violent twist of her high-heeled foot.
There was a kid with a mop and a bucket. He was tall and lanky. The sweet, almost rotten smell of marijuana followed him. He danced a little as he pushed the mop around, nodding his head to the unheard music being broadcast from the ear buds of his personal MP3 player. Inside his bucket, bits of food – perhaps vomit – twirled on the oil-slicked surface of the murky mop water. It seemed the more he cleaned, the dirtier everything became, but he was unaware of this, lost in another world, dancing to the sound of a song only he could hear.
There was an older grey man looking into a beer. His mind raced with fragments of memories. Most of these were bad, but the good ones were the worst of all. The good memories were a reminder he had once had something else, something better. He had once been someone better, but that was years ago and far away; in another time, in another marriage, in another city. There had been a bar in that other city, too, he remembered. It had been much the same as this bar. He knew for a fact that the view was the same as he watched the carbonation bubble inside his warming beer. His last beer, he promised himself before taking another gulp, drowning himself with the warm remainder. He quickly and purposefully forgot this promise to himself as he asked the bartender for yet another beer. He felt a moment of remorse, but just a moment. After all, it wasn’t his first broken promise, not by a long shot.
Then there was Man watching it all. He noted each face, each posture, and each sordid article of clothing. He noted the lonesome wail of steel guitars in a country tune playing softly from a jukebox hidden behind a well-worn pool table. Man smiled with the knowledge he had found his place, had found his people. This was where he belonged. Here, he wouldn’t have to feel self-conscious. Here, he didn’t have to feel ugly. Here, he could be King!
He straddled a barstool, held up a chubby finger to get the bartender’s attention, and asked for a Shirley Temple.