When you’ve worked as a writer, by the time you hit 40licious, you’ve likely stopped and started about 100 projects. Thirty years ago they would have been written longhand on yellow paper, dissolved or crumpled and tossed. Now they sit, forgotten and perfect as they day they were created, on my external hard drive. I found this by accident and can’t for the life of me remember writing it. What was it for? The only thing I can tell you is that it’s all true. And that I have no idea what to do with it now, though I kind of like it.
Look at them, their faces pressed up against the glass. Four minutes. They can’t wait four fucking minutes. There’s Frank, woozy old Yalie. That guy hasn’t done a thing in 30 years except tell everyone he went to Yale. And drink. He can still do the puzzle, though, like it was nothing. All downs or all across, he switches every day. That kills me. How the hell does he know that Clytemnestra’s sister was Helen? The longest I’ve ever seen him take was 12 minutes, and that was because he was distracted. The day his son died.
I’m not opening up. I’ve still got two minutes. Two minutes, people, and I still need to program all the songs in the jukebox. So if you don’t like Earth Wind and Fire, put your own goddamn quarters in there. That’s what it’s for. I’ve got plenty of change. I don’t see you. I don’t see you, Laura, pretending to rummage around for something in your purse. A lipstick. A lottery ticket. Papers and that roll-your-own tobacco.
And Doug. Sweet Doug. He’s the last real hippie in New York. For real, those are actually clothes he still has from the 70s. Uh oh, he’s got a brown bag with him again. Yesterday he brought me a sandwich made with hummus. He ground the garbanzos himself. He hasn’t cut his hair since 1982, but they made him, when he went to work for the city, fixing boilers in public schools. That job lasted exactly 72 hours. All that hair, gone, what a waste. Doug, you’re going to have to wait until I line up all the chairs. Like that.
30 seconds. Last wipe down the bar. It’s good, these clean towels, white, bleach. Mmm. In 11 hours, this whole stack will be gray, stinking like beer and pineapple juice and melted ice cubes coated with cheap scotch. Cheap scotch is like Listerine. I will never understand that. At least drink rum. That tastes good.
A big ring of keys and a turn of the lock. Happy hour has officially begun.
They take their regular places, backs to the window, front to me, like waiting puppies. Would it kill you to come in at 5:02 some day? Just for once? To sit at a different chair? To maybe go to Bahama Mama’s across the street? They have happy hour too, you know. No, not these people. They like their bars straight up. Old. Irish. Plain. Booze and wood and a big mirror. I guess you really don’t need much more than that for drinking.
It could be worse. I could have to work Arnie’s shift every night. He’s got the yuppie crowd. Somehow it became cool to hang out in old man dive bars. The men in dark suits, women with frosted blond hair, French nails, leather briefcases. All laughing so hard in their little circle of friends, desperately ignoring each other. The money’s better at night, that’s for sure. But the shit you have to put up with. I helped Arnie on st. Patrick’s day, all these drunk firefighters. An inch of beer on the floor. When I gave the tab to one guy he told me he’d pay it only if I let him feel me up. Fucker. He was drunk enough that I could throw him out before he knew what hit him, they started calling me Terminator after that. I guess it’s all shit, just a different brand.
Laura and Doug and Frank all sit at their regular seats. They face away from the window, maybe they wither up if they get too much sun. Rum and Coke for Laura. Well scotch and splash of water for Frank. Tequila and orange juice for Doug. In a year, it hasn’t changed, except for the time when Laura won a judgment against her landlord. She ordered champagne cocktails for all of them. Frank drank his scotch anyway.
These three are the most regular. There are others, maybe they come in a couple times a week, a couple times a month. Like Brad, the Heat Seeker, we named him. He used to play lead guitar. Now he’s a music tutor for prep school kids. Amstel Light, “to keep his girlish figure,” he says. Sometimes he’ll leave with a woman, but he’ll never come in with anybody. He works it. Makes sure they know that he knows Dick Clark. He’s a little bit orange from tanning.