hadnt walked through those doors in over a year. i stood outside for a while
smoking a cigarette and petting the dog. i pretended like i needed to calm him
down. even though it was only guss fur that kept my hand from trembling.
i knew why i was there. i was sure of it. i bet he even knew why i was there,
looking at me with sad brown eyes begging me to just make a phone call instead.
i stared at the blinking green neon of the palm tree and the pink miami text of
blown glass and chemicals. the last resort. i grew up in that bar. or at least
i aged there. threw up on the bathroom floor under the watchful eye of pleading
dyke graffiti telling all its filthy stories across the wall like a diary. there
was the night me and grit crawled under the pool table to fuck but were too drunk
to get the travesty of buttons figured out. dezi found us there later and called
us a cab. she never mentioned it again. would never embarrass a girl that way.
the next time i walked through those doors, she had a jack and ginger sitting
there waiting for me before i could even say hello. i got in my first brawl there.
got busted shooting crystal in the can. fell in love a hundred times. fell out
at least ninety-eight.
was early. six. me and gus walked in and there was dez, wiping down the counter
and getting ready for the gaggle of girls to descend upon the barstools and tables
mixing up the air with more sex than you could imagine. some nights you walked
into that place and you could feel it. have you ever been on a college campus
during finals week, where the desperation hangs in the air like morning fog? you
know what i mean? its contagious. you dont even gotta be in school
to feel it. well some nights you could walk into the resort and sex would hang
in the air like that. everything smelling like beer and pussy. everything begging
you to either open your throat or open your legs. if you played your cards right,
youd usually get to do both. in fact, you didnt even have to know
how to play cards on nights like that. all you had to do was sit down at the table
and plenty of people would be right there to show you a royal flush at the drop
of a hat. you walked in looking for a compassionate ear and walked out with your
future ex-wife. youd even pass that u-haul place on the corner of valencia
and mccoppin on your way home to the studio where its only you and gus now
thinking ill never do that again. dividing up the cds is
the worst. all youve done is left the bar with someone and in the back
of your head, you have already had the divorce. but thats not the point.
the point is the feeling in the bar. nazareth is pouring out of the jukebox screaming
about how love hurts and all the dykes know that just as well as any idiot, but
they dont care. they can have all the safe sex in the world, but no one
can protect their heart. even those shut down girls, their faces curled up like
hobgoblins needing space from the first drink. they hand you a schedule of their
alone time along with their phone number and a photo of the cat. a business card
that might as well say ineedspace.com. and you drink and you drink and you wonder,
can anyone just crawl through the trenches anymore? do we give up too easy in
the name of health? do we get our tattoos covered up before the scabs have even
was some nights. there were the awful ones too. where some kind of terrible social
thing was happening. some famous couple trots into the bar with their harem. there
are photos of them on the wall fucking in a dog pile. huge grainy black and white
numbers, everyone wearing beautiful leather straps and garter belts peeking out
of strange angles through fishnet over a lens. its all cool. the femme even
wrote some guidebook about the myth of jealousy. but when her fella picks you
up, all hell breaks loose. then her friends who used to be your friends all pick
teams by who has the best uniforms and its the cold war. you watch the door
all night, every night for months, sipping whiskey hoping youll be drunk
enough to stay calm when that terrible thing happens. oh god, shes here.
and whats she doing with her? jesus fucking christ, this town. my ex is
your ex and i just gave up and went to pick up some boy for fucks
sake. and wouldnt you know it? hes your goddamn brother. its
enough to drive a lady crazy. which it finally did. there wasnt enough dope
or whisky in town to fix it. is that why i left? who knows. but i left all of
it. hopped into gloria with the dog and aint been back since the last time.
this was the
great return. there i was petting the little man, breathing in the air snot of
nicotine knowing it would just be a few more minutes. me and gus grabbed a barstool.
there was only one other lady in there, sitting by the jukebox reading camus.
the myth of sisyphus. joey loved that book. he had this quote from it tattooed
sideways down the inside of his left arm. on the vein that leads to the aorta.
it said the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a mans
heart. when we were together i would lay with my head in the crook of his
arm and i felt like the strength of those words alone could tie us together. id
run my fingers over the script and cover his arms with a billion tiny kisses trying
to ease all the struggle from his brain. every new diagnosis brought some new
medicine and every medicine brought some new side effect. the people in the coats
finally settled on bipolar and joey came home and said
hester. i really am crazy. then i watched him hold himself and rock slightly
forward and back on the bed for an hour. i tried to say all kinds of things i
thought were supportive or some such crap. things like
now at least you know what it is.
the meds will help.
you were just self-medicating all those years.
be here no matter what.
he finally brought his glassy eyes down from the ceiling and one tear ran down
to his mouth and he said i have to take these pills every day for the rest
of my life. they eat away your thyroid. hester, im so sick it takes
chemicals that will munch away an entire gland, the endocrine emperor, to feel
fuckin better. what kind of choice is that? do you blow your head off or
do you walk through every day knowing that at the base of your neck a mass of
tissue is being devoured with no guarantee that youll ever even be happy.
what the fuck is that? what the fuck is that?
what you have, joey. its just what it is.
that. he said and he grabbed his jacket and left. when he got back there was
the bandage on his arm. and so every night, with every pill, with every piece
of thyroid, there was camus reminding him that this was the hand he had to play.
and he was going to play to win. even if it wasnt pretty.
stared across the bar at that book, a little lost. the last five years shuffling
through my head. how i was a mess and when joey and me fell apart i lost it. wandering
around jacked up twenty four seven and stoned and drinking cooking sherry when
i couldnt make it to the store without a nip of anything first. then grit
came and played with me in the mess and even the king of fun herself had enough
after a while. and then it was just poor gus waiting at home alone when it would
take me all day to score and find my way back. it was even worse when i would
take him with me. its so embarrassing to have a dog more composed than oneself.
a little humiliating during the five minutes a day i was thinking clearly.
havent see you and gus in a while. heard you were driving
a cab. you look great. there was dezi around the bar in a second, throwing
her thick arms around me and rubbing her hand up and down my spine.
how ya been?
i been real good. i missed your face,
girl. even with all the trouble that followed you around. i missed your face.
i missed this place more than i thought i would. when your safe
spot turns into a cage, you forget that you loved it.
smiled. god could she smile. teeth like a thick rope. like a girl could almost
want to live again. almost. she fished in her pocket and pulled out a couple bucks.
why dont you go play me some songs, hester. i took the money and
headed to the jukebox. i played every sad song i could find. sam cooke,
otis redding, elliott smith, old bruce springsteen, neil young, waycross, brenda
lee, concrete blonde, spoke poker, and caught myself just in time to save a slot
for cheap trick. i wandered back to my stool where gus was curled up on the floor
by a bowl of water dezi had put down.
it be pretty lady?
jack and ginger, dez.
stopped washing the glasses and looked at me for a second. then she filled one
with ice and poured in ginger ale all the way to the top, pulled two napkins off
the pile and plopped it down in front of me. she put a pen next to then second
napkin and turned her face from me as she said its on the house.
with absolutely no tone at all.
i stirred the soda
around and picked up the pen.
order a pen, i ordered a whisky.
how long you
been clean hester? she asked, her back still turned away from me.
a year and a half.
thats great. you gotta
be real proud.
actually, i dont really give
a shit, dez, i want a fuckin drink.
down and opened the cooler, turned around and cracked a beer. she pulled a good
long swallow out of the neck, swished it around her mouth and swallowed hard.
well, you aint gonna die in my bar on my time. if you really wanted to
call it quits hester, you woulda gone to the store where nobody knows you. you
wouldnt put otis on my jukebox and sit there gulping down whisky in this
you got a beer.
im not you hester. im not an alcoholic and while that probably doesnt
seem so fair, thats that way the prom queen fucks. whether you like it or
not. and if you wanna go back to where you came from, puking in my bathroom, leaving
me to find syringes on my floor, scraping you off the tarmac twice a week, you
do it somewhere else. im through with that shit. now drink your fuckin
ginger ale, write me a poem on that napkin and shut the fuck up with your stupid
shit. she took a deep breath and paused. then she slammed the beer down on
the counter and all of a sudden she yelled. you dont throw away a year
and a half over some asshole like jimmy. you love her or you leave her, you dont
die over her. i never heard dez yell.
how do you
know about jimmy?
girl, i own the only dyke bar
in this town. i know about everything.
so i started pushing the pen across the napkin and four napkins later, this is
what i handed over the bar
came to me, alright? i dont care what you read in the papers or what you
saw on the teevee, she came to me. she came and she says
you keep me company
will you feed me for a while
you take up this little space ive made
show me where to turn?
thats not true.
little space she made... thats true. have you been there? its the
space between losing the beautiful thing you had, and trading up for the thing
you really want, which i suppose is lovely too, except that i dont care.
but you know how it is, the people, they come and they need you. and so you go
to the people and they paint targets on your throat in the dark and they cover
them with poems and they fix an eye patch to your stupid face and they tell you
that youre beautiful. they sit you between what was and what will be and
they tell you it matters. they insist. they lie.
because they mean to
we all have to.
you keep me company
will you feed me for a while
you give me what you dont have
will you get the
paint off my throat, cowboy
cuz red just aint my
friend anna, she says
is a smirking hydra
is the shortest distance between two points
and the place
the salt spills over.
im not so young today
keep forgetting i forgot you.
here ya go
i say and push the napkins back at her.
know, i got a box full of your napkins downstairs. i used to save em after
theyre really good. you want em?
actually can you hold on to them for me?
theres that smile. yeah. i can do that.
sit there a second and i say so what do i owe you?
bout a dance?
sir, i would absolutely love to dance with you.
comes out from behind the bar and we spin slowly with her hand on my back as neil
young looks and looks for a heart of gold and i stand spinning with one right
there in my arms while gus circles us and jumps and jumps and the girl reading
camus smiles at me from across the red red room on 19th street.