At times, when I need an inspiration for a new short story, I read… song titles, usually without even knowing the song. When a title gets my attention, I start weaving a story around it. One singer that I absolutely adore, while not at all listening to his songs, is Tom Waits. Have a look at his albums and the titles therein, and you can’t help but chuckle (Well, if you have that kind of humor). Just to give you a few examples: Tango Till They’re Sore, Chocolate Jesus, I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, Bad Liver And A Broken Heart, I’m Your Late Night Evening Prostitute, Is There Any Way Out Of This Dream, Cemetery Polka, and, after all, Warm Beer And Cold Women.
Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
– Carrie Fisher
Like a boa constrictor suffocating her horrified victim, Nora slung her bony arms around my neck and looked me deep in the eyes. With her dark brown, glassy eyes half-closed, she talked to me with her raspy voice.
“It never ends, doesn’t it?”
Baby, when was the last time you washed your hair? I thought while struggling not to spill my beer. I am sorry, but I will never get used to dreadlocks, and I honestly can’t stand the odor of dry shampoo mixed with the smell of cigarettes, cheap gin, and beer.
“What does never end?” I asked, and as soon as the words left my mouth, I knew it was a mistake not having answered with a plain “Yes.”
Nora looked confused, and it took her a few moments to think about the answer.
“Life,” she finally murmured.
My attempt to maintain a highly sophisticated conversation was futile. In an eye’s blink, she was gone.
Don’t always act so rational, I advised myself. Just go with the flow. Play the game.
On the other hand, as long as I frequented this joint that called itself a neighborhood bar, it was never my intention to pick up women. I am happily married, but tonight my wife insisted that I leave the house. It was her turn to host her quilting group, and one of her friends, Thelma, was not only afraid of cats and dogs but also of yours truly.
In my life, I have never won a blue ribbon for my social skills. Don’t get me wrong, according to my wife, I can be genuinely charming when I choose to be. Still, it takes a person with a brain – like my wife, for instance – to tickle my curiosity. I am not good when it comes to maintaining small talk, and to some people – Thelma, for example – I come over as intimidating.
I also firmly believe that this level of unsocial behavior has kept me healthy, if not alive in this night’s hostile environment. Let’s just say that there had never been the necessity of visiting a doctor after a night of sleeping with somebody whose name and face I couldn’t remember the next day. We’re talking here about the time before I got married. These days, my protection is the wedding band on my left hand. Well, to face the truth, even that is not necessarily a capable tramp-repelling device.
It will come with no surprise that I was not in a good mood that night. First, my beer – a good Irish Harp – was flat, because, apparently, I was the only person to drink it, and they kept the keg until it was empty. I was also angry with my wife because I was not in the mood for a trip to the dark side, but she had insisted that I go and have some quality time for myself.
“I’ll have a cheeseburger with French fries,” I heard a voice behind me. I turned around to see Jimmy, one of the regular barflies, addressing the new bartender, a young girl in her early twenties.
“How’s it goin’,” he grumbled at me.
“Just fine, thank you.”
There he stood with his fuzzy beard still containing some small remains of his last lunch. Chicken soup, I guessed.
“Extra Ketchup, too!” he yelled after the bartender. “And I’ll have another Bud Light!”
Then he turned back to me.
“Nice ass,” he pointed to the girl behind the bar. “I’m working on her.”
Yeah, right, I thought. You’re what … like sixty-five, and you dare to dream of having sex with a beautiful twenty-one-year-old? Get real and act your age!
“So, what you’re up to?” I asked him. I mean, besides dreaming of having sex.
“Just came from my Weight-Watchers meeting,” he grinned while rubbing his enormous gut. “I already lost fifteen pounds.”
Where? At the ear lopes?
“Wow! That’s great!”
He nodded and grinned, looking satisfied with himself and the world. Tammy, the head waitress, walked by with a full tray of beer and food, and both, Jimmy and I, admired the firm body underneath those spandex pants as she walked upstairs toward the second floor where the pool tables were.
“Had her,” Jimmy commented as soon as Tammy was out of sight. Out of the blue, Nora reappeared and floated to the other end of the bar to talk to her friend Heidi.
“Had her, too.”
Shut up, Jimmy!
I leaned back and tried to ignore him. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have talked to him.
“It’s just a shame what that bastard, you know her ex, did to her. You know, he cheated on her.”
Didn’t I just tell you to shut up? And where’s your wife tonight?
“Yeah, that’s too bad,” I said. “She’s such a nice person.”
At least I assumed she once was nice before she started having years of sex – nothing wrong with that, provided she was at legal age –, rock ‘n roll – nothing wrong with that, either -, and drugs.
Nora’s ex had come into some significant money – nobody knows quite how – and, deciding it was time for a crisper model, got himself a model. Literally, a model. And young. Very young. And they say money can’t buy you love.
Needless to say, Nora took him to the cleaners, bought herself a Porsche, a Harley Davidson, and a million-dollar villa. At the same time, she started to drink and sniff and smoke all kinds of substances that I am personally not familiar with. As they say, money can’t buy you love.
“Yeah! Whoo-Hoo! All right!”
Two guys down the bar got up from their stools, enthusiastically engaged in high-fiving and hugging each other. They were watching a basketball game on the large TV screen. I checked the score, assuming something significant had happened. The game was still in the first minute, and the local team – Red Sox? – had just evened the score. It was 2:2.
“How about them…” Jimmy continued but stopped as soon as he saw Tammy coming down the stairs with a tray full of empty glasses. We both admired the view as she walked over to the other end of the bar to place orders.
“…Celtics? You think they’re gonna make it to the playoffs this year?”
“Don’t know. I’m not really a hockey fan.”
The initial chuckle turned into a violent cough, but he recovered quickly. “You are quite a joker! And you say it like you mean it, ha, ha!”
I didn’t have a chance to think about what the joke might have been. He slapped me hard on the shoulder, causing my beer to spill, but missed catching up on that. Instead, he watched in anticipation as the bartender finally approached him with his beer and food. Then, with a full glass and a plate in both hands, considering silverware and napkin an irrelevant luxury, he looked for a spot at the bar, fortunately, a number of seats away from me, giving me the space and the occasion for some solitary meditation.
It had escaped my attention that Tammy was yet again on a trip to upstairs, but I finally noticed that she had stopped halfway up, looking at me. I played the game, checked out her ass, and she, satisfied, continued climbing up the stairs.
I leaned over to the young girl next to me.
“Excuse me,” I said, pointing to the napkin dispenser next to her. “Can I…”
“Don’t you try hitting on me, you old fart,” the exceptionally attractive and young lady with multiple piercings in ears, eyebrows, and lips, hissed at me.
“…have some napkins, please?”
She looked at me, consternated, and, while I admired her multicolored hair and the multitude of tattoos, she reluctantly handed me a napkin.
“Thank you,” I said as she turned away. To this day, I don’t understand how people her age can afford numerous piercings and tattoos while working minimum wage jobs. But then, it is none of my business how they spent their hard-earned money. At least I assume it was hard-earned.
“Can I bring you another beer?”
I looked at the bartender, who started wiping the mess in front of me with a kitchen towel.
“Yes, please,” I answered. “Thank you for cleaning up.”
She smiled at me, and for a second, I had the opportunity to admire her pretty face, the freckles that came with it, and the bright blue eyes.
“By the way,” I said. “What is your name? Sorry, but I’d prefer to call bartenders by their real name instead of just ‘Miss.’”
“Lisa,” she smiled back. “And I’m a Lesbian.”
“Is that a problem?” I asked.
“No. Not as far as I’m involved.”
“Good,” I said. “Lisa, would you please bring me another beer and the check, please?”
Working on that last beer took another half hour, and I spent my time solitarily engaged in social studies before I left the premises. Jimmy continued hitting on Lisa. Tammy, whose shift had just ended, was making out with Nora. Not a terrible choice, considering the current selection of testosterone-carrying subjects. The world, according to the drinking class, appeared to be intact, and nobody noticed the stranger who had just left.
I made it home only moments after the quilting group had left. The first thing on my agenda, after my wife refused to kiss me, was a long shower and a thorough brushing of my teeth. When I came back, my wife was already in bed, where I joined her.
I assumed she was already sleeping, but I couldn’t help saying, “Honey, next time your quilting ladies come, I would like to stay home.”
“Don’t you dare,” mumbled my wife, and I, vastly disappointed, turned off the light.