Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Hole, Part VII: Mixin' It With Love

Whenever I was in there for the week between when I heard the Hole was closing and when it actually did, I looked around to see what I might swipe for a souvenir. Every time I went to the bathroom, or the candy machine (I go to the candy machine at least as often as I do the bathroom; it's a problem), I'd let my eyes roam over the walls and shelves and ceiling, waiting for something to cry out "Take me home!" 

But nothing did. 

I’m not the type to form emotional attachments to things, anyway. (The candy's not an emotional attachment; it's just an Urge.) People, yes. Places, stories, memories, of course. I'm a All-Day Sucker for that kind of sappy shit. But not for things. When I left my husband, I left everything I ever owned back in that house, and I don't care. 

Well, that's not true. Not everything. I have the astronaut doll they gave me at the hospital when I was born, the tractor my mom bought me in kindergarten when the teacher said the school's trucks were just for boys, and my collection of animal-shaped bottle-openers because -- well, just because. A girl doesn't amass a collection like that and then just throw it away. I have one shaped like a cockroach, for god's sake. I mean, der.

Now, if the Hole had pig-shaped bottle-openers, I would've swiped one the first day I walked in. But they didn't. They didn't have logoed anything. And the more I looked around, the more I realized the only thing that meant anything to me in that place was the pool table, and although on a good day the She-Hulk could probably lift it, I didn't think it would fit it in my bag (especially not with the supply of Emergency Tootsie Pops I keep on hand). There was plenty of smaller stuff just begging to be stolen, and other people did good and plenty of that, but I just didn't see myself holding on to a pig doll or a beer sign for the rest of my life just because it was excavated from the Hole. I got what I needed out of that place already, I decided. My home, my friends, my stories, my memories and my Kid (or my memories of my Kid, at least; on which topic I'll write more some other day). The rest is just a bunch of dust-collecting crap. 

Except for the candy, of course. 

The Hole didn't always have the machine, and I was so grateful when they got it, because candy is one of my own personal Food Groups. I have six, and they go like this, in descending pyramidal scheme: 
chicken breasts

I'll take anything when the Urge hits, except for gummies. (Gummies suck. They’re not candy, they’re bouncy little toys disguised as food. If I wanted to suck down rubber on a regular basis, I’d be a real whore, thanks very much. And I haven’t quite hit that rock-bottom yet.) But my go-to default is M&Ms. Peanut, precisely, because if I get the plain ones I just dump them in my mouth all at once. The big ones at least force me to slow down. And I’m lucky, because most bars these days have candy machines in the corner that dispense a perfect handful for a quarter.

   Okay, two quarters for the perfect handful, but whatevs…

Like I say, every bar has one, and wherever I am, I know which corner to find it in. Because the Urge hits me hardest when I haven’t had a bite of real food in a couple hours, so if I’ve been shooting for a while I can get a quick fix without having to actually eat. Everyone I know knows this about me, and they also know better than to ask to share. After all, a perfect handful minus three is not a perfect handful anymore, so if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get your own. And if I set ‘em down on a napkin on the bar while I'm shooting, you'd best leave those fucking things alone.

But anyway, you can't take candy with you -- or, well, you can, but you can't exactly swipe it like a coaster or a glass. Not out of the machine, at least. Or if there is a way, I don't know how to do it without smashing the glass and making a big Emergency-PiƱata scene.

But Bootgirl does.

I know because, on Saturday night, at the closing party, when I'd been there for three hours and was just starting to feel the sweetest Urge, I suddenly saw the whole machine go tearing right past me and out the door. 

Bootgirl was at one end of it, this other woman I sort of know was at the other, both of them stumbling a little bit and giggling so bad I thought they’d choke. The bouncer opened the door for them and whoosh. I felt like Dorothy watching the Wizard go up in his balloon, until my fairy godmother came back a minute later, laughing her drunken ass off.

“What did you do!?” I wailed. “Where did it go?”

I was ready to climb up on the roof with a fistful of quarters if that's where it ended up, I swear to god.

“Hee hee hee!” 

Bootgirl was so squinty-eyed and tickled with herself, I could barely understand her. 

“I wus gunna bring you a whole bag uh MinMses! I wus gunna gettum at the store thish affernoon! But I fergut! So me an’ her – hee hee – me an’ her got you all those!”

“What? What do you mean you got me those? Where is it?”

Bootgirl dissolved into a red-faced fit of choking laughter.

“Uh-huh! Uh-huh! Uh-huh! Iss in yer car! Hee hee!”

Oh, man, that’s hysterical.

Because not only did Bootgirl figure out the one thing (besides the pool table, I mean) that was actually me inside that bar: she stole it for me and gave me one hell of a story in the process. Which -- if you know me, you know -- is 99% of the point of doing almost anything at all. That's why I didn't want any of the rest of the dust-collecting crap. What yarn was I going to spin around it? "This hung on the wall at the Hole. The End"? But now I had me a gen-u-ine Conversation Piece. Plus, I mean, not to mention... candy! Not a hunk of dust-collecting crap at all!

I laughed and thanked her and hugged her hard around the neck. And then -- because I was still jonesing, after all -- I didn't even grab my coat before going to my car to see if that machine would still work lying down.

But it wasn’t out there.

The car was, I mean. But not the candy. Or the machine. Not in my car or anywhere outside.

“Bootgirl!” I hollered in her ear when I went back in and found her dancing by the jukebox. “Where, again, did you say you put the candy?”

“Uh-huh!” she snorted. “We puddit in yer truck!”

“I don’t have a truck, Bootgirl! I’m driving my mom’s Cruiser these days, remember?”

“Uh-huh! I know! That’s where we puddit!”

Well, I went back out and looked. This being winter in rural Maine and all, there wasn’t another PT Cruiser in the parking lot. And it wasn't in the back of anybody's truck. The next afternoon, when I saw her at the Hole's Honest To God Last Day Open, all Bootgirl remembered was that they definitely put it in somebody's car. And she brought me a bag of peanut M&Ms, because she knew there wouldn't be any for me at the bar.

So I don't have a souvenir of the Hole after all. Except for my friends, of course. My home. The Kid. The memories. And, now, one more wait-for-it punchline of a tale to tell for the rest of my life. Not to get too saccharine or anything, but I do believe that if you mix all that with love it makes the world taste good.

But if by any chance the person whose backseat that candy machine wound up reclining in is reading this...

If you know what's good for you, you'll get your own. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Hole, Part VI: Quick & Dirty

I'm going back down the Hole for most of today, because it's the Actual, Honest-to-God Last Day and so why not? But here are some random observations from last night's party before I go. I'll write a real post (or several) later on:

1. Red was not admitted after all. I was shooting when she got there and she was intercepted before I even got her text. So I didn’t meet her in the parking lot like we planned, and I didn’t get to She-Hulk escort her through the door. But she didn’t make a scene, cause a ruckus, or kick a fuss: she Rose Above. Good for you, Honey. Everybody missed you and everybody loves you and everybody knows what really happened – except some people seem to think it happened on the pool table, but whatevs. ;-)

2. That woman never could sing to save her life.

3. That woman still can’t sing.

4. There was cake. I didn’t get any. But apparently, there was cake.

5. Bootgirl stole the M&Ms for me. That’s a good friend, right there – and it’s a good story, too, actually, so I’ll save the punchline and write the whole thing later. Suffice for now to say I love her for the impetus, but I never got the fucking candy, either.

6. Nothing Untoward happened. Not that I know of, anyway. One guy got thrown out, and his shirt got pulled up when he did and I got an eyeful of his hairy beer gut, which was a little traumatizing for me, to be sure. I don't know what he did to get thrown out for, but he was back inside later, so whatever it was couldn't've been as bad as that image I will never be able to unsee.

 There. Now you-all can't-unsee it, too.

7. Oh. Except two new people decided to hate me. Both because of altercations at the table. A woman, who I told to hurry up and shoot already after a ten-minute delay. I was just funnin’, but she took me serious, and once I said it she refused to let it go. Or wipe the puss off. And then that child just really didn’t know what he was getting into when he put his name up. Don’t you dare patronize me, young man, I’ve been at this game since you were a Hershey bar. And if you threaten me, the Kid'll kick your ass.

8. Cow moose in breach labor. Swear to god.
9.  I could've made it an even half-dozen in the parking lot if I wanted to. Not like I didn't have the invitations. Hell, I could've made it an even dozen if I wanted to. But it was cold.

And last but not least…

10. Two new friends from the New Hangout came up to me towards the end of the evening and announced they figured out the identity of the Kid. Oops. I didn’t know it was a mystery. See, "the Kid" is not just a pseudonym I gave him for the bloglike "Bootgirl" is – it's what I really call him, and I thought all the local people reading this already knew. Well... I guess they do now! Anyway,  it's not like I didn't ask permission to write about him before I started. What I actually said was “I’m starting a blog about my life up here. And if you don’t mind, you’ll probably end up in it.” His answer, without skipping a beat, was, “Well I should hope so.” I didn’t know, myself, at the time, that it was going to end up mostly about him, but I've told him since. He knows. And I think he actually likes the idea. But he doesn’t want to read it. And to tell you the truth, I'm happy with that. Because this way I can say whatever I want and not have to worry about what he'll think. And neither of us care what the rest of you-all think, so there.* I don’t know if he realizes how many of you are reading it, however, or who. So if you run into him, play nice. And tell him his Old Lady says hello.

*Just kidding. Of course I do. I love you all. Now beat it, 'cause I'm going to shoot pool.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Hole, Part V: Cue the Tiny Violins...

I got married on Friday, January 13, 2006.

Didn’t choose the day on purpose. It was a spontaneous decision earlier in the week. Hadn’t told anyone. Didn’t even realize what day it was till I checked the Weather Channel for the drive to Maine from Massachusetts. Got married at the Wells town hall. Drove to this cabin I live in now to tell my parents first. Mom wasn’t thrilled. She never liked him. And she was right. He’s not a bad man, but it was a bad relationship – for ten years before I married him, and it just got worse from there. Until a confluence of events two years ago, including my Mother’s death (here’s a link – link – to the whole list, if you’re interested), finally made me wake up and walk away.

Recently, I had a little breakdown. My Best Friend in the Whole Wide World (whom I used to call Dr. One Friend on my old blog) told me she’d thought all along that mine was a textbook abusive relationship, and it kind of sent me reeling. I still don’t think of it that way, but I see why she did, and I wondered why she never said anything sooner. He never hit me (well, he hit me once – so hard I felt my brain slosh around inside my skull – but I still say it doesn’t count because I hit him first). The way I always thought of it was that I was strong, so strong that I could stand up to it until it broke. The names he called me, the drunken rages, the smashed dishes, kicked in walls, doors torn off their hinges, the all-around disrespect for me and everyone I loved. I just closed my eyes and leaned into the lion’s roar for fourteen years, waiting for him to run out of breath.

But it’s also true that, without realizing it, I changed. Stopped doing things I knew would set him off – listening to certain music, going out and shooting pool – not out of fear, but because it was easier. Until, finally, I had no life left. Inside me, or out. I went to work and came home and drank too much and wrote the kind of comedy that comes from sadness.

The Kid’s the first one I told about how bad it really was. Back in September, I think, or October. Anyway, we’d known each other more than a year when I finally told him who I am and why his easygoing, guarded heart has been such a panacea for my soul. Why I sometimes freak out on him for no apparent reason, and why I’m so goddamn grateful that he stays a steady course. But once I broke the seal on him I started telling everyone. And when I got around to telling Dr. One Friend, she said she knew, and that’s when she said that thing about textbook abuse.

The next morning, I called up Red in tears. It had hit me overnight that if Dr. One Friend always felt that way and never said so, my mother might’ve always felt the same. And my mother never got to know I finally left.

“Erin, she knows,” Red interrupted.

“Yeah,” I said. “Okay.”

I wasn’t gonna fight about it. And I was grateful for the sentiment, of course. But still, I took the idea with a grain of salt. I don’t believe in any sort of spiritual anything and never have. Ashes to ashes, like the Good Book says. And dust to dust. So even though mom’s actual ashes have been in a box on the shelf in my bedroom since I got here, watching over me (and, yes, the goddamn Kid) for eighteen months, I don’t believe there’s any way she knows.

“No.” Red sensed my skepticism. “Erin. You’re living in her house, now. She’s taking care of you. She’s out there, lovey, with you, and she knows.”

Well, I couldn’t argue that point. I am living in her house. So in that sense she is still taking care of me. Hell, I’m even driving her goddamn PT Cruiser again for a while, just like I was the night I met—

“And you know what else? She sent you that damn Kid. To help you heal and make you happy and remind you who you are.”

— the Kid. He made fun of the PT Cruiser. I said it was my mom’s car. He said that made it worse. And I said she was dead now, which made him feel so bad he actually turned off his trademark Dog act for a little while. Let his guard down. Accidentally showed me who he is. And that’s the rest of the story, the part I never tell, about why I finally gave in to his advances and said yes to a night with someone half my age. One night that turned into eighteen off-and-on months and counting. And that same night that I gave him all the details of my marriage, I also told him the whole soup-to-nuts story of how my Mom got sick and died. He’s still the only one up here who really knows.

So maybe, in that sense, Red was right. Maybe, in a way, Mom did send that goddamn Kid. And if I hadn’t met him, I might not’ve kept returning to the Hole. It is a thousand miles from the ass end of nowhere, after all. Or I might’ve actually done all the stupid things the rumors said I did, embarrassed myself, and had to leave. So if Mom sent me that goddamn Kid, then through him she also sent me Red and everybody else I've come to love.

First off, there's Bootgirl (I’m calling her that because she had a cast on her leg for the first umpty-twelve months I knew her). She invited me on her paddleboat on the 4th of July, painted my back for me on Halloween, and is about as much fun as you can cram into one loudmouthed dame. And Bootgirl introduced me to Tintin (you’d understand that nickname if you saw her hair). Tintin doesn’t go down the Hole that often, but she delivers coffee (and candy!) to me at work, and has been known to listen to me cry.

The Stud and his Bitch have been married for 26¼ years now and are proof that, although it may not be for everyone, it sometimes works. He shoots pool like a son of a bitch, even bleary-eyed –he consistently makes this trick shot off the nipple that totally blows my mind – and she was the first female non-employee who was ever nice to me in that bar, even when the rumors about me still flew around. As she put it the other night: “I knew you weren’t fucking my husband, so who cares?” She’s really sweet. But don’t ask me to defend you against her if you touch her hair.

Then there’s Jack (as in -Of-All-Trades), who raises pigs and fixes cars and built my porch and does something completely different for a living but I can never remember what. He’s the captain of my pool team; he’ll plow my driveway if it snows when I’m away; and he told my Dad to rest easy knowing that I’ve got somebody looking out for me up here. And his friend the Bear, who I haven’t seen much lately, but who bailed me out when I got arrested and found me a car to replace the one I rolled, and just general helped me clean up the mess I made as best he could. I’m happy to say I’ve paid him back for everything by now.  The money, anyway. There’s no way I could ever repay the rest.

The Black-Haired Bartender and her husband were also always nice. They were the first ones, in fact, to have me over to their house (aside from Red and the Kid, of course). I think they still don’t believe I couldn’t find Macintosh apples to make my famous pie for that rainy cookout like I promised, but it’s the truth, I swear to god. And the six dozen molasses cookies I made instead sure seemed to go over pretty well. (Both of those recipes, by the way, were my mom’s).

Santa Claus, with his beard and his suspenders, walks to the Hole from his house in any weather. He slips in the door, sits in the corner, and quietly waits for folks to notice that he’s there. When I do, I run over and give him a big hug. He laughs when I make a bad shot on the pool table, but only because I stamp my foot and make a fuss, and in the summertime he comes to visit me at Bentley’s, too. (He doesn’t bring me candy, though. Hey Santa Claus: what’s up with that?)

There are countless other colorful characters who aren’t quite my friends, but who’ve come to fill out the corners of my life like garage-sale knick knacks on an unfinished shelf. Boggy (which is his real name, but come on, what else am I gonna call him?): seven feet tall if he’s an inch, with a two-foot white goatee, and all he ever says to me is “Are you winning?” Shorty (who dressed up as Boggy for Halloween) is  5’4” and red-haired; he sings Johnny Cash when he’s drunk (which is not never, I tell you what) and has developed an unfortunate inability lately to keep his hands off my bum; somehow, he’s the only one besides the Kid I wouldn’t deck for doing it. And Toothpick Man (because he always has one in his mouth), who’s loud and happy and tons of fun, not to mention one hell of a shot – except when he isn’t, but he swears to god he never throws a game.  

There are lots more whose names I’ve never managed to commit to memory. Some I shoot pool with regularly, some I just say hi to, some I might have never even officially met. And I’ll have to tell you the story of Snuffleupaugus some other time.

I’m going down to see them all tonight. Whoever’s there. I wasn’t going to. My plan was to stay home, bemoan my anniversary, and try to write tomorrow’s blog post because I’m shooting in a pool tournament all day and won’t be able to. But I just got off the phone with my ex-husband, which went better than expected. And now that I’m writing again, I know I can always write.

Whereas there are only fifty-some-odd hours left to see these folks my mother sent me, at the grotty little Hole she sent me to.

Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Hole, Part IV: Hear Me Roar

Some of you who haven’t known me very long may be shocked to hear this, but I actually have a Bachelor’s degree in biology from a Seven Sisters School. That’s the Ivy League of Women’s Colleges, for those who might not know. But don’t let me catch you calling it a Girls’ School. One of my dear Alma Mater's mottos (we have several) is: “We're not a girls’ school without men; we're a Women’s College without boys.” Yep. And I graduated with Honors, too. That’s right. I’m a smaht, edjoo-cated Feminist-with-a-capital-F. And here you thought all I had going for me was She-Hulk-itude. 

Don’t mess.

My focus was in ethology, which is a fancy word for animal behavior – and which probably explains why I’m such a goddamn Jedi Knight in social situations. The plan was to move to Kilimanjaro and follow Dian Fossey’s footsteps – except, you know, without the crazy-going and the death-by-flaying thing. Instead, I moved to Maine and work at Bentley’s. So at least I’ve put all that Ivy-riddled education to good use in my chosen field, even if the jury is still out on the crazy and the death.

Anyway, one thing I remember learning about mating rituals back then (and I do remember other things besides that, so shut up) is that in any species, whichever gender looks fancier and fights more, it’s the other one that’s got all the control. It’s called sexual selection, and almost always the females wear the pants. The peacock knocks himself out lugging that tail around because it’s the peahen who gets to pick and choose. The female cardinal is brown because she doesn’t have to bother. And that 8-point rack you’re so proud of on your wall is just some buck’s desperate plea for a doe – any doe – to give him the time of day.

But folks got all that shit backwards here in Maine.

Not about the looking-fancier. I mean, it’s common everywhere among the human species to see girls all gussied up and guys in t-shirts, or naked, or whatever. But usually, it’s the ball-bearers who do all the throwing-down.

Not here.

Or not at the Hole, anyway.

In my eighteen months as a Participant Observer—

Okay. “Participant observer” is not a biology term. But I figure since I’m braggin’ on my Lady Learnin’, I might’s’well work in a mention of the Sociology minor, too. Also? Double minor: Spanish lit. ¿¡Que pasa!?

Anyway, in my year and a half down the Hole I have seen exactly zero violent exchanges perpetrated by two men. There has been the occasional married-couple-getting-cranky moment, but in the few of those I’ve seen, it’s mostly s little shouting and some pouting and then kissing and making-up.

But the girlfights?

Holy crap.

I don’t think these girls understand the concept of “whichever gender fights more, it’s the other one that’s got all the control.” And I don’t care how old they are: when they fight, they’re Girls. And not just because of the hair-pulling and the bitch-slapping and the spitting-in-the-eye. I mean, I suppose it’s possible that if I ever saw a solid head-butt or a right-hook expertly-landed, I’d change my mind. But I don’t think so.

Take this one night, for example – a night that has since come to be known around these parts as Catfight Night at the OK Corral. There were three of ‘em, almost at the same time, and the only one that didn’t come to fisticuffs (or slapticuffs, as it were) was the one that involved me. I’m a goddamn Jedi Knight, remember? When some Girl sets out to provoke me, I just put all my socio-biological Seven-Sisterhood to use, invoke the Female Force, and rise above. Which in this case means when she called me a cheater and stole the 8-ball off the table, I didn’t skip a beat. I just said “You better watch out, Kid,” which is who I was actually playing at the time. “Apparently, I cheat.” Then I spotted the 9-ball instead of the 8 and kept on shooting. She actually ran to the bartender to tattle on us. Bartender ignored her. Game, set, match.

Okay, so that wasn’t a real mating-ritual kind of girlfight (or girl-non-fight, as it were), because it wasn’t about a boy. That girl was just drunk and pissed off that the Kid and I were making her wait her turn to play. But the next one, with the bloodshed in the bathroom, was. Four bouncers and seven random strangers pulling two girls off each other. Because, I don’t know, one of ‘em looked sideways at the other’s man or some dumbass, “What's your problem!?” shit like that. They were actually held, panting, with their arms behind their backs until they calmed down, and then lunged at one another again, “Dynasty”-style, as soon as they were deemed calm enough to be released. The third chick-bout that night happened so fast I didn’t even see it, but the Kid says it was perfectly justified: this one kissed that one’s husband; that one knocked this one off the barstool. Bam. Game over. Set and match.

There have been plenty of others. So many, I can’t even remember any more. So many, in fact, that -- what with the Kid and his canine tendencies -- I suppose it was just a matter of time until a real Girl finally came gunning for me.

What happened was, I was shooting pool a couple Friday nights ago when the Kid walked in the door with someone else. He does this sometimes, and when he does, I let him take the lead. Because what he and I are doing has nothing to do with them, and as I keep reminding him: I’m not a Girl. So if he acts like he knows who I am when he’s with them, then I know who he is, too. And if he doesn’t, then neither do I. This time he didn’t, so I went about my night, ignoring them both...

Until she kicked the door of bathroom stall I was in and shouted “Yo! Blondie! What’s your name?”

Well, I didn’t know what this Girl knew about me – the Kid’s a goddamn river in Egypt when it comes to copping to this shit. So I introduced myself and asked if there was something she wanted to talk to me about. But when her answer to that question was “What’s your problem!?,” I said “Nothing, hon,” and left.

The bathroom, that is. Not the bar. I may have had no intention of engaging with this Girl, but neither was I going to let her think she could chase me out of my own Hole.

After that, she started following me around. Buying me drinks, calling me Blondie, bumming cigarettes from other people every time I went out for a smoke. Just generally being there, wherever I was. I couldn’t shake her. Finally I went out to the car to give myself break, called Red and blew off a little steam, and when I hung up, the Girl was waiting for me at the picnic table. So I walked over to her, sat down, and had a Little Talk.

Didn’t work. 

Our conversation somehow made her feel she had to prove herself even more, so I spent the rest of the night Jedi-deflecting. Metaphorically bobbing and weaving. Changing the subject, making jokes at my own expense, telling her I actually like her when the truth is I actually like the Kid a little less if he thinks a Girl like this is cool. For the next three hours, she refused to give me a moment's rest. Until finally, when she tailed me through the parking lot at closing time, I turned around and kissed her on the lips. That shut her up. 

And yes, I learned that shit at Women’s College, too.

But the kicker -- the full-on, wait-for-it, oh-my-god-I-don't-believe-it punchline -- is that, after all of that: I’m the one who went home with the Kid.

So, ladies: the moral of the story – which we should all please keep in mind at the closing party Saturday – is that the ones swinging the punches are never the ones in control.

And a real Woman doesn’t have to fight a Girl to win.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Hole, Part III: Red Rover

There were three bartenders at the Hole when I started going there: Brown Hair; Black Hair; and Blonde.

Brown Hair didn’t like me. She had her reasons, and although they weren’t fair, I understand them. But in my defense: How the hell was I supposed to know? I was a new squirrel in that particular Dog park, if you know what I’m saying (which most of you won’t, but she will, if she reads this, and I hope it makes her laugh), and as a friend of mine likes to say: even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while. Anyway, that was sixteen Dog-years ago. She doesn’t work there anymore, but she still comes in sometimes, and we have mutual friends. I think she can at least tolerate me now.

Black Hair did like me, apparently, although I didn’t think so at the time. She was friends with Brown Hair, so it took me a good while to trust her motives when she was nice. But when she invited me to a cookout at her house last spring, I finally let my guard down, and we’ve been in-the-Hole friends ever since. She does still work there, and the other night, when I first heard the rumor that I’d fucked her husband in the parking lot way back when, she told me “You know how you can tell I never believed that rumor? Because you’ve still got a set of eyeballs in your head.” Yeah. So she and I are cool. I still don’t understand why it’s always the squirrel who gets her eyes ripped out when the dog slips the leash, but Black Hair’s dog never did, and so we’re cool.

But the Blonde (who I'll call Red from now on, because that's what color her hair is now) has become my Best Friend Up Here, and it all started on my first night at the Hole. I’ve written about that night before (here’s a link to it – link – for those of you who weren’t with me then), but I didn’t mention in that story about how I hadn’t had a cigarette in eight months at that point, and how I decided I wanted one that night, and how when I asked Red where the nearest store was, she asked me to pick up a six-pack of Twisted Tea Half & Half for after work. She was very specific when she said it, then wrote it down for me and everything, just in case. The note looked like this:

Twisted Tea
Half & Half

Well, I’d never heard of Twisted Tea at that point, let alone Twisted Tea Half & Half. So I came back with a six-pack of regular-old Twisted Tea and a pint of ½&½, which of course cost more than what she’d given me for the six-pack alone. But when she offered to give me the difference I told her not to worry about it, the price of the pint was the cost of a lesson learned.

And that’s when Red decided I was cool.

Then there was the night a few weeks later when we sat out at the picnic table for hours after closing, talking and smoking and generally becoming friends. By the time we were leaving I was very, very tired and still the tiniest bit drunk, and she wanted to follow me home to make sure I got there safe. I didn’t let her, because it was three in the morning and she lived just down the road – my house would’ve taken her an hour out of her way (I’m telling you: I live at the ass end of nowhere; it was months before anyone besides the Kid ever came out to my house). But that’s the night we traded phone numbers, because she was insistent that I at least text when I got home. Like I said: she lived two minutes away, but she stayed up and waited till I did.

And then her car died just when I lost my driver’s license, so I let her borrow mine for a couple months. She would pick me up sometimes to run errands, or take me to lunch, or bring me to work with her so I could hang out and shoot pool, or drop me off at the Kid’s house for a couple hours in the afternoon while she went to do laundry. And that’s when I started talking to her about him. Which at that point it’d been almost six months since I’d met him and I hadn’t talked to anyone about it (here’s a link –link – to the story of how I met the Kid, by the way, for those of you who haven’t read that yet). I’m ready to admit now that I cried a little when I finally talked about it, but when we parted company that afternoon I said I’d kill her if she ever told. And right up to this day, even though I’ve been writing about it on the internet for seven months now, she never has. This girl keeps a secret, I tell you what. I mean, if anyone ever calls her up and asks her a direct question, she won’t lie. But until you turn that key her lips are sealed.

Red and I joke, now, that she shares custody of my dog. We go out and have fun and get bored and come home and stay up all night talking about things I won’t get into here (and if I won’t get into them, you know they’re nasty). She catches me when I fall, and I try to do the same for her – although I think she’s stronger than me, or just has better balance, because even though her life’s harder than mine she doesn’t fall anywhere near as often. I even babysit her son now, he's the first non-related kid I’ve been trusted alone with in 25 years – the Kid doesn’t count; and I can’t be trusted alone with him, anyway. And she might be the only one who really understands why, eighteen months into the game, I still don’t blame that Dog for all his squirrels.

But Red doesn’t work at the Hole anymore, and she won’t be there for the closing party Saturday night. Because since June or so, she hasn’t been allowed inside the door. Officially, she’s barred because she was in there as a patron one night after she quit (yes, quit – not fired for stealing, as certain stories go), and she was overheard saying the place sucked. 

Now, I know a business has the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, blah-de-blah. But I hope they'll change their minds and let her in. Because if that's the only reason, well, the Hole did suck at the time she said it. Everybody said so – hell, I said it to the owner’s face and no one ever refused service to me. They were going through some Issues, and you could feel it in the air. But they got past them, and we all came back. Except Red, who's not allowed, despite the fact that she worked there for more than a third of their existence, and everyone who ever went there loves her ass (by which I mean loves her, but yeah, her derriere is generally beloved, too).

So if it's not the only reason –– well, there's a chance I won't be let in Saturday, myself, if I say what I really think. But I've managed to rise above a Canine Confrontation or two of my own at the Hole these past few months, just by being the Grown-Ass Woman that I am. And this Grown-Ass Woman won't be told to shut the fuck up, not even by the owner at the pool table.

So here goes [heavily edited after post-workout second thoughts, for reasons more related to Red's well-being than my own]:

While some think it's okay to blame the squirrel for the dog that slips the leash…
...blaming the dogcatcher is just nuts.