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…

The Party’s Over

It all happened so fast.

It’s funny, but athletes and spectators of tragedies will often report how time slows down in the midst of magnificence.  Details pop and movement becomes unreal.  Senses are heightened to the levels of our cave dwelling ancestors.  The mind records and processes and reacts simultaneously.  Whatever it is that causes that – I wish you could choose when it’s enabled.

Walking in on Ryan and Ashleigh those many months ago, catching them in the throes of betrayal.  I’ve mentioned Ryan’s half brother to my best friend, but have I made it known he was also my teacher?  But that’s neither now nor then.  What I want to say is that moment lasted too long.  I remember too much without trying.

Then flashback to that moment on Valentine’s Day when she showed up with him.  I felt like a car battery was strapped to my nuts, and my hands were covered in cardboard cuts getting dunked in pickle juice.  For whatever reason, Ryan wanted to make amends with Hank.  And I needed to bring closure with Ashleigh.  So I followed her into the ladies restroom at Marlin’s Inn.

I burst through the door without a knock.  “What are you doing here?”

And there she sat, on the faux leather couch, crying.  I’ve made a mistake.

I sat beside her to console her.  The wreckage and melted steel pacified the bomb.  And she planted her nuclear lips on mine.  The remainder of my weakened frame collapsed and folded upon her.  Yada yada.  As I mentioned before… we did it.

She reassembled herself much quickly than I ever could have, and she slipped out of the bathroom.  Like I said at the start, it all happened so fast.

As I remained on the burgundy travesty from the late 60’s, maybe early 70’s, one half of the Lovebirds entered.  You can guess which half.

Don’t mind me, the Princess blurted, not minding me as she hurried into a stall.  I held my head in my hands – and get your mind out of the gutter – while she unabashedly relieved her bladder.  You know you’re the talk of the Inn, right?

The level of “uncomfortable” was rising within me, and I decided to stand and leave without making a sound.

You can’t stay while I tinkle and expect a free pass to leave when I’m done.  Hold on.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t mean to stay.”

The roller squeaked and the toilet flushed and the Princess emerged and approached the sink, smiling at me all the while.  You two…?  And she whistled her insinuation.  I didn’t answer.  I had a feeling.  She grabbed a healthy dose of paper towels and dried her hands.

I must have seemed like an idiot to her, hiding in the ladies restroom, hiding from Ashleigh, from Ryan, and the gang.  I was even trying to hide from this woman before me.

Hey listen, she demanded, and I looked at her.  Whereas the first time I met her, I thought she might have been five to ten years older than me.  But at this second glance… two years tops.  You’re not going to get a lot of women’s opinions if you hang out in a place like this, but let me fill you in on a secret.  We’re just as confused as you.

I finally was able to stand and face the Princess.  I don’t know why I said this: “You wear too much makeup.”

She laughed and tilted her head signalling beyond the confines of the water closet.  He likes it.  And so do I for now.

“But you’re getting married.”

She grinned one last time before leaving.  You don’t listen very well.

I lingered another moment or so, letting the food digest before diving back in the water with the marlins.  By the time I returned to my place at the bar, the party had ended.  No more Ellis and his date.  The Lovebirds flew the coop.

I joined Hank back at the bar, where Kilgore and H.L. also sat in wait.

So… the usually silent Santiago began… did you fall in?

Happy Valentine’s Day, My Ass!

It was setting out to be an interesting Valentine’s Day at the old Marlin’s Inn.

For starter’s, the Lovebirds returned.  The time was midday, so we anticipated that this was merely the starting point for the Prince and the Princess’ big Hallmark Holiday plans.  It would eventually turn out we were wrong.

The Prince approached Santiago as openly as he had he first visit.  Howdy gentlemen, he said to us all.  Garçon, if you would be so kind to put a round for all these gents on my tab.  My old lady and I are getting hitched, and I want to celebrate.

Hank vocally grumbled.  The remainder of us grumbled internally, but we each took our drinks with a nod.

And a pair of super dooper Long Islands for us, thanks.

As Santiago handed the Prince his mugs, he clarified something.  You called me “boy.”

I did.  I’m so sorry.  Well, how do you say bartender in French?

“Barman.”  But I’m Cuban.

Well nice to meet you, Cuban.  The Prince left a hefty tip for Santiago, so he answered to Cuban the remainder of the night.

How come when I refer to you as Cuban, your butt puckers and your urethra gets its panties all up in a twist? Hank wondered.

Santiago pointed his finger in Hank’s face. Because you are a racist and a bigot.  And you don’t tip.  I am an excellent “camarero“, and you never seem grateful for that fact.  (I found out camarero is Spanish for bartender.)

Technically, Kilgore began, a bigot is a racist.

Shut the fuck up weirdo!  Santiago and Hank said together.

As the Prince and the Princess danced and drank the early evening away, another pair of visitors appeared.  It was my co-worker Ellis, and he was accompanied by some mystery woman who was possibly his recent ex.

This one’s on you, puss.  I always sensed that Hank didn’t like it when I became a regular.  I really think he’d rather be all alone in this place.  Simply him and his beer taps.

Ellis rushed right to Hank, stole his hand and shook it.  I owe it all to you, Mr. Chinaski.  Thanks for setting my mind straight.  I mean it with all my heart.

The last time Ellis followed me here from work – or was invited here by me out of pity or whatever – the crew gave me the cold shoulder as I had them.  They stepped away from their infinite positions at the bar and sat with Ellis the rest of the night, listening to his unending sob stories, dispensing advice like stale Pez candy.  We all laughed about it the next day, but Hank must have gotten through.

You touch me ever again and thank me so much, I’ll punch you right through your chest and rip out your heart.  Understood?

Like in that Indiana Jones movie?  Sure, Mr. Chinaski.  I get it.  And Ellis winked at him, like he thought he got it, when he really didn’t, at least in Hank’s mind.  Hank jerked his hand away and returned to facing forward.

Ellis engaged me next.  I got back with the misses.

“Great,” I responded, thinking it probably wasn’t the best idea.  After all, they had trouble.  Didn’t she cheat or something?  I must not have been paying that much attention, but I swore she was unfaithful.

I promised her I’d never cheat again, and she took me back.  Mr. Chinaski told me to say whatever she wanted to hear, and that I should iron out the details later.  His cuckquean waved from their table.  I’ve got to get back, otherwise she might accuse me of another affair.  Imagine that!  He laughed as he grabbed his order, and I avoided imagining any such thing.

As the hours passed, Kilgore and H.L. took up a game of pool against the Lovebirds.   Ellis and his sucker would take on the winner.

Hank and I sat quietly at the bar.  Santiago hand dried some glasses.  I wanted to bring up a topic to Hank, but I sensed he knew I wanted to bring up a topic he didn’t want to hear.  So I chose to mope and think about my Ashleigh.  I thought about the six Valentine’s Days we spent together, and the six elaborate celebrations I held in her honor.

I thought about how I never would have never cheated on her.

I thought about how much I loved her.

And I thought about how I would have never brought her to this bar.

The frontdoor squeeked as it cracked open in the middle of my travels down memory lane.  The play list had just ended on the jukebox, and from the other room, Kilgore and H.L. cheered as they sunk the thirteen ball standing in for the eight ball.

And I felt it.  The chill down my slouching spine was unmistakable.

Hello motherfuckers!  With those words, Ryan Antonlini made his presence known.  And he brought Ashleigh with him.