Sunday, May 1, 2011

Of All The Gin Joints In All The Towns In All The World…

I walked in there looking for a pool table. Or at least that’s what I told the bartender. 

In my defense, it was 50% true. I was looking for a table, and they did have one, so that is why I stayed. But that’s not the whole kaboodle. And since I’ve never been a girl to hide an embarrassing detail about herself if there's any way I can turn it into a good punchline or a halfway-decent story, I see no reason to start holding my water now. Especially since I can turn this one into a whole box o' whoppers of ’em both. And my Dad doesn't know about this blog yet, anyway.

So let's try this one more time, then, shall we? From the top. With whatever I’ve got left that passes for feeling in this pruny little heart. Are you with me? Are you sure? Because I gotta tell ya, it ain’t all bubblegum and wallabies where we’re about to go. The road's prone to taking sudden hairpin turns through sour-patch and skunk-cabbage, and I won’t tolerate any sissy-ass boo-hoo-ing. Ain't like I didn’t hang a big fat “Here Be Monsters” poster on the door.

Still with me?

All right, then, we’re off. Buckle your chin straps and keep your hands and legs inside the cart, please. The ride's a little bumpy, and sometimes it has a tendency to roll.

A-one and a-two and a-three and a-four...

I walked in there looking for a pool table… and perhaps a taste of the local flavor, if you know what I mean. A little something-something to entertain me for the evening, on the off chance there might be any likely-looking thing-thing to be found.

There. Okay? I said it. And before you start lobbing your tut-tuts and your well-I-nevers at me, let me remind you of the Big Fat Honking Year I was still knee-deep in at the point this tale begins. If any newly-41-year-old, imminently-divorced, half-orphaned, and twice-shitcanned girl ever deserved herself a taste of likely-looking something-something, I was That Girl. And I will never, ever apologize – neither for the fact that I was looking, nor for what I accidentally found. So shutty, or I swear to god I’ll pull this ride over and put you out right here.

But I wasn’t about to tell the bartender I was Looking for something Likely. I’m not some last-call barroom hussy, thanks! And besides, it's not as if you can just order up those sorts of cocktails, anyway. So, no. I didn’t tell the bartender about the Looking. Not, at least, until five whole months later when, right in front of her and as a complete shock to us both, some sort of human something overcame me and these, like, drops of water fell out of my eyes because the—

Hang on. That was supposed to be a secret. My secret, which the Bartender has so far diligently kept. So I’m gonna ix-nay on the ater-way. For now. That wasn’t until January, anyway, and this was August. If I told you, I’d be getting ahead of myself by – oh, let's just call it an even eighteen years.

Now where was I? Oh yeah. So I walks in an’ I points to the pool table an’ I says to the bartender, I says: “That’s what I'm lookin’ for, right there.” Then I asks if I can have some quarters and what she’s got for IPA on draft.

“Oh,” the Bartender looks stricken. Stricken, I tell you! She’s blonde like me, with a wide smile and a big, bold, brassy voice. And she says:

“I’m sorry, honey. We don’t have any IPA at all. The closest thing we have is Red Hook ESB in a bottle. Would you like me to set you up with one of those?”

Well, I never. And, also? Tut-freakin’-tut.

“I guess,” I sigh. “But only because I like you.”

“I like you, too, honey,” she says. Then she hands me my beer and quarters, and I commence to drink- and rack ‘em up.

At this point it’s early, yet. I don’t know what time exactly, but I remember the setting sun shining through the open door, getting in my eyes, and ruining every shot I tried to take (hey, this is my story, remember? If I say that’s what happened, then it’s true. Now get your goddamn hands back in the cart.). I played by myself till well past sundown, though, and that other thing was Looking less and less Likely, because there wasn’t really anybody coming in. I was this close to giving up on the idea all together, when all at once the Wednesday Crowd appeared.

In my memory, at least, it was a crowd. But my memory is 41 years old and drinks a lot (it has to; the rest of me’s not legally allowed to since The Accident, and you'd shit if you knew half the things we've seen). So of however-many folks were really in there that night, my memory only held on to four. 

There was the Bartender, of course, who acted like we’d known each other always, and I wasn’t sure whether she really liked me or was just cranking me up to see if I’d put on a show. And there was the Maine Guide – for whom, I’m embarrassed to say, I did kind of put one on. Or take one off, as it were. But it was just a discreet peek at my Partridge Family tattoo, and it was at the ass-end of the evening. I don’t think he remembers it at all. 

Then there was the Guide’s Girlfriend, who was sweet as pie and wanted to exchange phone numbers with me and be friends, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of intimacy yet. And, finally, there was the Kid. He was Looking very Likely, I'll admit it -- and I was obviously Looking pretty darn Likely to his shiny green eyes, too. But since I'd make book on the Likelihood that I was out of college before he was out of diapers, I spent most of the night Looking away.

Most of it. 

Hey, I said I was a barroom hussy, not a nun.

Wait, what’d I say? Oh: I think I might’ve said I'm not a hussy. Well, potato/potahto, man. Whatevs.

But there were other people there, of course, and I decided that I liked them. I liked the place. And I needed a permanent local more than I needed a temporary local taste. I still wasn’t sure whether they really liked me back, or if they were treating me as that evening's floor show, but sometimes you just slap on the pasties and run with it, you know? So I put away the idea of that Other Thing, and although I can still see the Kid’s likely-looking little face smiling at me over everybody’s shoulders, I was careful to always keep at least one of those shoulders between it and the horny little devil on my own.

Always, mostly. Tomato, tomahto. WhatEVER! I may be having a hard time keeping track of my current standing in the Barroom Hussy Register, but I’m not even listed in the Book of Nuns.

I didn’t stay till closing, though. I don’t know what time I left (and no, I’m never gonna get myself a watch), but at one point I just suddenly decided it was time to go. I showed the Guide my tattoo, thought “Whoops. That’s it, sister. You’ve crossed a line. Put it away and take it home. Alone.” and me and the Partridge Family slipped ourselves quietly out the door.

Or tried to.

GOOD NIGHT, ERIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Bartender remembered my name. The Bartender remembered my name Very Loudly. 

And, from some safely-hidden sober corner deep inside my drunken ass, I pulled out hers.

GOOD NIGHT, BARTENDER!!!!!!!!!!!

 That's not really it, of course. But you catch my drift.

"WILL WE SEE YOU AGAIN SOON, ERIN?"

"YOU CERTAINLY WILL, BARTENDER!"

But, honestly, I really wasn't sure. I mean, even That Girl might not be brave enough to show her face again in a place I'll call the Pigpen, after she goes in there on a Wednesday night, slaps on the pasties, and shows her tattoo to a Maine Guide with a Girlfriend who is sweet as pie.

Especially when there are Kids running around.

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