Catching Up And Catsup Bottles

Luckily, less than a handful of patrons frequent the Marlin’s Inn, so I doubt anyone’s noticed that it’s been closed for two weeks.  The reason being?  I will get to that in a moment.

Since my last posting occurred awhile ago, I feel I need to catch you up on things.  The reason I haven’t been writing?  I will get to that in a moment as well.

The day: a couple Saturday’s ago.
The time: early evening.
The occasion: Santiago (in my mind) was seeking out the love of his life.
The problem: I was left in charge of watching the bar.
The bigger problem: it was my mom’s birthday and I cancelled our plans.
The biggest problem: Mom didn’t like that.

As she burst into this safe-haven for drunkards and old men, neither group being mutually exclusive, Hank was berating me.  In reality, I overstepped my bounds with him by bringing up the possibility that his girlfriend, Grace, left him.  Not one to recoil from a slight or a fight, he became angry with me just as my matriarch walked in.

She said to Hank: If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

To which Hank replied: You must have me confused with Maxwell House.

I’ll still admit that was a pretty good comeback, and at the time, I laughed under my breath.  I didn’t dare let either of those titans hear me.

You’re coming with me, Aiden, right this minute.  Mom remained firm in her place and firm in her decision.

Sorry to inform you, but Aiden ain’t going nowhere.  He’s got work to do.  Hank slammed his beer and handed the mug to me.  Of all the times for him not to do it himself.

Do you work here, Aiden?

He’s filling in.

Why don’t you mind your own business?

This place is my business.

I turned to Kilgore and then to H.L. for any sign of confirmation.  Each of them shrugged.  Did Hank own Marlin’s Inn?

Mom hurried into the adjacent room, grabbed a pool cue, and held it like a weapon.  H.L. did something similar to me one time.

Son of a bitch, you let my son go.  As if I was being held hostage.

Hank must have been hankering to say this:

Funny you should say “son of a bitch…”

This is when things get a little fuzzy.  From one of the tables, Mom grabbed a catsup bottle and crashed it over the top.  And it triggered something in me… like in that one movie where the director throws a garbage can through a window.

I grabbed the cheapest liquor and splashed it across the lacquered bar.  From the glass full of matchbooks, I plucked one out and lit it.  The fire spread quickly.

From what I’ve ascertained, Kilgore escorted my mom out of the Inn; H.L. and Hank lead me.

So to answer the first question at the start:  repairs have kept Marlin’s Inn closed for two weeks.  

To answer the second: I’ve been behind bars…

…you know what kind I mean.

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The Birthday Surprise

I was standing behind the bar a full half hour before anyone stepped foot into Marlin’s Inn.

H.L. was first.  He dropped a five on the counter in front of me and dug in his pocket for change to use in the jukebox.  Of course, he selected some Warren Zevon and proceeded to the MegaTouch.  He paid no mind to me; he was lost in a myriad of puzzles and games.  I filled a clean ashtray with quarters and put it next to him.  Eventually I remembered to fix him a drink.

Within another half hour, Kilgore arrived.  He hung his coat on the rack, whistling all the way to his bar stool.  I made sure he had enough napkins earlier, and sure enough, out came his pen and after a click, scribbling ensued.  I also poured him some spirits without being prompted.

Another half hour passed, and someone unexpected dropped in.  He took his place in front of the spigots, and without hesitation I held out an empty mug.

Thanks, Hank said, and he poured himself a beer.

I leaned against the back of the counter and smiled. 

Everything was smooth. 

Everything was cool.

Everything was how it should be.

Holy shit!  What the hell are you doing here?  Hank shouted in reference to me, as if I had been invisible, or– I thought you were Santiago.

Kilgore and H.L. pried themselves from their distractions to acknowledge me.

I wondered why there were so many napkins, Kilgore said.

And I didn’t have to pick up my coins off the floor, H.L. added.

Where is that refugee anyway?  Hank would never have said that to Santiago’s face.  Nor his back.  To Santiago’s fist?  Definitely.

“He went out to find Ms. Barkley.”

They all howled at that response.

I clarified, “Well, that’s just my guess, anyway.”

With great authority, Hank had this to say:

If anyone’s learned anything in this joint, it’s that a woman ain’t worth the trouble.

I foolishly responded: “Why?  Did Grace leave you?”

Hank stood up on the rungs of his stool to tower over me.  If it weren’t for these other pair of fools needing service – cuz I sure as hell don’t – grace would be leaving me, and you’d be leaving in a trash can.  You understand me, Puss N’ Boots?

I had gotten so used to Hank, that my fear of him had left me.  Guess what came back in a hurry.

Oh, and guess who walked into Marlin’s Inn at the exact moment to hear that.

If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

Hank returned to his seat and turned around.  The other guys faced the fragile woman in the doorway.

All I could think to say was, “Happy Birthday, Mom.”

The Gross, Bloody Anchor Analogy

It was a Saturday afternoon, and I only planned on stopping by Marlin’s Inn for a brief visit.  It was my mother’s birthday, and I was taking her out for dinner to celebrate in the evening.  Didn’t want to get too tipsy, or even tip a little bit, so I didn’t even start at all.

Then why go to a bar on a Saturday afternoon?  What else am I supposed to do?  Or maybe I should have answered, “to visit my friends.”

Aiden, it’s beginning to seem to me that you spend an awful amount of time at that establishment.  Because it’s close to your home is no excuse.  Mom, always looking out for my best interests.  And what does Ashleigh think about all this?  She can’t approve of her future husband’s visits to a bar on a Saturday afternoon.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that I’ve yet to mention recent events to her.  Like the fact Ashleigh and I are broken up.  And the fact that Ashleigh is already engaged to another guy… our old high school teacher, as a matter of fact.  That’s a lot of facts for her to factor in.

Dare even I mention the pregnancy scare I went through, albeit alone?  Dumb me thought Ashleigh was, well, and it was, well, maybe mine.

In truth, that’s why I went to Marlin’s Inn.  That’s why I wanted to drink.  And good ol’ Mom was why I wouldn’t.

But because I didn’t, Santiago did.

None of the other guys were up there.  The bartender we knew and loved and feared was watching golf, leaning against the counter.  The daylight spilled inside as I entered, and exited quicker than I ever could.

I nodded as I approached Santiago, and he readied a beer.  “A cola, please.”  It was as much an order as a plea.

So from the fountain he readied me another glass, low on ice.  He kept the beer for himself.  I wanted to ask him if he was supposed to do that, but as I’ve already hinted… it’s kind of scary to ask him things like that.

How do you do it? he asked softly, as if he was standing on the golf course televised behind him.

I wasn’t sure what he was asking exactly, so I took a sip of my soda to by me more time.  Maybe he’d add more to the question…

When someone submerges their anchor into your soul, how can you allow them to leave without taking a bleeding chunk of still-beating heart?  He slammed the full mug he held in hand, and immediately filled it again. 

How could you release that chain, and permit it to permeate your lungs, your ribcage, your muscle, and your sinew?  How can you survive with a gaping hole in your chest cavity, dripping all that remains of you, all of your remains, onto the once already stained linoleum floor?  Bleach only cleans so much.

Ms. Kat Barkley That’s who he had to be talking about.  In the time it took me to ponder an explanation, Santiago pounded another mug of social lubrication.

It was then Santiago made his request: She cannot leave me again.  Will you watch the bar tonight?

For some reason, I replied, “Yes.”  It probably had something to do with the blood and guts analogy he described, or because he was so eloquent and heartfelt, it freaked me out.  Either way, it wasn’t like I hadn’t watched the Inn before, however short a period of time.

I pulled out my cell phone, and hit redial.

Mom,” I started in that questioning tone…

Santiago dropped the keys on the counter in front of me and pointed.  It will be better if you stand back there.

…I continued into the phone, “Do you mind if we adjust our plans?”

The Escapists

H.L. and I are not cut of the same cloth.  I, on one hand, strive to fit into the machine, or at least find my place in it.  At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m trying to make sense of everything.  He, on the other hand, absolutely does not fit.

In fact, I always thought that if he could find a way to disable the machine, he would.  But he – like life – is full of surprises.

The last time I had any kind of social exchange with Horselover Fat, it didn’t go too well, in my opinion.  Since then, he’s offered to erase my memory possibly, and he’s rocked the mic on St. Paddy’s Day, so has my opinion of him changed much?  I’d say yes.  Bringing beer to my home just as I’m running out helps, too.

“I didn’t expect to see anybody, let alone you,” I told H.L. upon his arrival.  I had stayed away from Marlin’s Inn for a week.  I had my reasons.  And I had my reasons to turn him away, too, but he had twenty-four reasons to stay.  I invited him indoors and lead him into the kitchen.  There was no way that beer was getting warm.

I told you, those guys have been bumming me out lately.  Hank has his GraceSantiago has his Kat.

“So they are an item!”

An item is singular, so yes… they are singular.  Everyone’s mind is preoccupied.

“Don’t you usually occupy yourself,” I said, emptying the case into the fridge, making sure to hand H.L. a can and put one on the side for myself.

The MegaTouch runs on energy.

I waited for him to say more, but he didn’t.  He simply cracked open his brew and wandered back into my living room.

Is this that video game system where you can bowl and play tennis and box?

Having finished the aluminum transfer, I answered by handing a wireless controller to H.L.  “You bet your Wii it is.”

He had a ball.  And his glee was contagious.  I hadn’t touched the system for awhile now, but the absence in deed made the heart grow fonder.  We played every sport and every competition and every co-play on every disc that I had.  But I started getting sleepy, and I turned the regular game play over to him.

The last thing I remember him saying as I dozed off was:

What does it mean when your Wii glows blue?

It made me chuckle on my way to dream land.  The next morning I awakened on time for work, and early enough to the puttering of a go-cart engine outside.  H.L. was nowhere in sight in my living room, so I rushed to the window to see him riding one of these away:

barstool

I was surprised… but I equally wasn’t.

The Bomb

To begin, I don’t know how I made it to work the morning after St. Paddy’s Day.  I awoke, feeling new and stone sober, and even at an earlier time than I do on any other given day of the week.  All without feeling sick.

Then lunchtime came.  And so did my hangover, but it was more in my head than my stomach.  I muscled through the remainder of the day, and I promised myself I’d go home and get a good night’s sleep, but curiosity was getting the best of me.  I wanted to know more about Ms. Kat Barkley, the proprietor of Marlin’s Inn, and possible paramour of Santiago.

I’d only go in for a drink, I told myself.  Or two.  Then I’d leave.

Upon arriving at the Inn after work, a surprise awaited.  There once was a time where I enjoyed surprises, but that time has long passed.

How’s it going, kid.  Hank had returned.  He was at least back at the bar, but instead of his seat in front of the taps, he now resided at the table where the Lovebirds usually nested.  And he wasn’t alone.

Hiya, Aiden He was with his possible paramour, Grace.  I still couldn’t believe he was spending time with my ex’s future grandmother-in-law, in any capacity.

I merely nodded at the pair and headed to my stretch of lacquered wood between liquored friends.  Santiago handed me a beer, but I couldn’t take it.  I couldn’t take any of it.  I mean, I no longer felt sick.  It was the situation that was wearing me down.

Hank abandoned this place.  He ditched us to play bingo and drink at some other dive.  And he was going to just come back in here without consequence? 

I looked at H.L.  His eyes were glued to what else but MegaTouch.

I looked at Kilgore.  He scribbled away without incident.

I took a swig of my beer as I looked at Santiago.  He merely raised his eyebrows.

So I slammed my mug down and walked back over to Hank and GraceGrace’s arms were flailing about, animating her most likely boring story.

“Excuse me,” I said.  I guess I’m even polite when I’m angry.

Oh, honey, I was just about to tell Hanky here my big news, so you can hear it too. 

Goodness, I thought, could this woman be anymore annoying?  Well, the answer was yes, because she grabbed one of Hank’s hands and took one of mine.  Shaking both of them firmly, she said:

I’m gonna be a great-grandma!

That’s when it all hit me.  “I’m going to throw up now.”

The Toasted (Addendum)

Before I get to the beginning of the end of my world, I had a few more things I wanted to bring up about St. Patrick’s Day.

  1. H.L. is a great singer.  I don’t think I made that clear.
  2. It seemed that Santiago wanted to talk about Ms. Barkley with me, but Kilgore was around the entire time.  The reason why it seemed like he wanted to have a word with me was because he said so.  Just that he wanted to have a word with me.  Not that it was about Ms. Barkley.  That’s my interpretation.
  3. Kilgore swore he saw a leprechaun come into Marlin’s Inn.  Here’s his unfinished doodle of it/him:napkinleprechaun
  4. And the last thing… The Princess made it a point to come over and talk to me.  I found out her name is Esme.

The Toasted (Part 3)

Noon was rolling around on St. Patrick’s Day.  Kilgore shouted: It’s a hold up!  And only I seemed to dart my eyes around concerned. 

Even my old (young) buddy Steve caught on to Kilgore’s playful announcement.  He raised both of his hands in the air equally, then shortened one to imitate the minute hand.  When I still didn’t comprehend, he pointed at the grandfather clock on the wall.  I remember laughing when I realized it was a grandfather clock though, and how most of my friends are old men.

Wuz and his band had finished setting up awhile before the hold up, so now they were working on setting themselves up, which required lots and lots of booze.  By the way, his was band was called ATWEBTAW, which was short for All There Will Be, There Always Wuz… It said so on the drum.  And here I thought it was a clever saying.  Forgive me for my dimwittedness, but in my defense, I had been drinking since the bottle crack of dawn.

Noon also meant we had a new addition to the party.  Her name was Kat Barkley.  And she was the proud owner of the Marlin’s Inn.  I loved her right from the start because she brought pizzas.  Santiago loved her simply right from the start, oh so many years ago.

She commanded attention as soon as she entered, but not in the way that young girls do.  She may have been in her “fifsixties” (I’m terrible with ages, weights, and heights), but she was so magnetic and enigmatic.  And did I mention she had pizzas?

Hello boys, the cavalry called.  You all can thank, Santiago, not me.

As we thanked our solemn yet stoic bartender, that’s when I saw it – a smile.  It wasn’t a smirk, or a leftover from some boorish joke.  It was a 100% genuine smile.  One that told me right away – and was later confirmed by Kilgore – that Ms. Barkley meant something awful to our usually dismal Cuban friend.  And I mean “awful” in every way possible.

Clad in a tight wool trench coat that met her leather heeled boots at her knees, she placed the pizza boxes centrally and with merely the curl of one finger, lead Santiago back to the hidden areas of the bar.

While they were away, we devoured the soggy sauced slices.  I never knew pizza could taste so good, and I wondered if it had more to do with eating lunch after five hours of boozing, or if it’s simply that – what was the name of the place?  Oh yeah!  Perhaps it’s that the Moveable Feast Pizzeria makes the best pies, period.

Santiago returned to his place behind the bar not a moment too soon because a bus load of boozers arrived, and I literally mean a bus load.  As a part of a party bus called the Safe Patrick’s Day Parade, this group of thirty or so people in their thirties or so (I told you I’m bad at ages) filled Marlin’s Inn to the gills.  (I’ve been dying to say that.)

Wuz and the crew took up their places and their instruments.  One spot remained empty – behind the microphone.  H.L. rushed forward to take it.  Who knew?  Together, they did a cover of this song, and the place came alive.

Ms. Barkley was nowhere to be seen through the remaining festivities, so I assumed she left as quickly as she arrived.  Kilgore and I kept Santiago company between the visiting patrons’ refillings and between ATWEBTAW’s sets.  The bus eventually departed as did the bulk of the people, but the activity inside still drew more random people in from the outside.  A few other “regulars” even made their appearances throughout the course of the day… The Lovebirds for one, and my co-worker Ellis for another.

At one point, Ellis pulled me aside and begged me, Please don’t tell the office I’m out drinking.  They think I called off sick.  Didn’t he realize I was doing the same thing?  And was that girl he was with his new girl, or his new girl on the side?  He didn’t swear me off on any of that, but I swear I didn’t and still don’t even care.

St. Paddy’s Day was that one day of distraction that I so desperately needed.  Because after what happened the next day, I deserved some recent happy memories…