Saturday night, stool-side at my usual digs, the corner wine bar. I come here to write in the evening, when it’s time to switch from coffee to beer.
“I have Stone on tap. Interested?” The bar tender knows me. I’m past the initial flinching at that recognition.
“Looks like you have two.”
“Yep, this one has pineapple and tangerine with a…” Jason, I think I call him (I hope that’s his name).
“Whoa, no fruit in my beer,” interrupting his pitch.
That first sip…not sure which bliss compares aptly, not quite orgasm, but not far below. Not three steps, anyhow.
Uh oh, the guy next to me peers over at my screen and squints.
“How do you see that tiny print? I mean it’s so…”
“I manage.” Yeah, I’m a bitch. Pick a different intro.
My stinky fries arrive just then, anyhow. The sirracha-ketchup is the bomb.
Long day nerding over AI and healthcare. Auditioning a piece for a real journal. I’ve claimed expertise in the area, but it’s really just gushing sci-fi enthusiasm. Yes, I’ve written a few thousand words on it for my weekly health tech start-up gig, but this is big-time. My head’s a bit spinny.
“Ready for another?”
Shit, I washed down half the fries with an entire tall one already?
I still have a half plate of stinkies. It’s the melted cheese over them that lends them their title. Ah, I’m going to hell anyhow. As my father reminds me daily, “I’m going where it’s warm.”
So it may seem that I drink a lot since I write in bars, but I actually don’t. I drink A beer and order some food, all nicely paced with my productivity. For instance, tonight, after writing copy for the male stripper websites, I wrote a little more for pay–my wellness gig–while I enjoyed the first few sips of my local Seal Beach Citrus IPA. As the glass’s golden elixir diminished, I moved on to other less demanding writing, like fixing up a few blog posts or articles I’m in mid-write. And when the glass reached below half full, about twenty minutes into my stay, I ordered food, and scanned my usual news outlets to look for digestible “news” bites.
Today, at half glass, I switched to the Chronicle of Higher Education and read a lively response to what should be taught in English composition courses and why. It was a rebuttal to some cynical writer’s estimation of college students’ abilities to write a correct sentence let alone a cogent argument. I didn’t read the article to which the writer responds, but I’ve read enough of them to know in my nearly two decades of teaching comp what that might have been. The comments here are among the very few places that I actually read and learn something–good comments.
At one third left, I ordered braised Brussels sprouts with red pepper and read Flipboard’s writer’s section. I perused some headlines but found nothing to land on. Trying to stay absorbed in my screen, an intrusion entered too close to my bar stool. I’ve seen him here before. He’s a regular. But so am I, I guess. I just don’t think of myself as one.
This guy always feels like he’s looking for a conversation. He ordered the meatball special. He scrawled on his phone plenty, but when he picked up his phone and made a call, he was out of my sphere of interest–even for compassion/boredom chat. He knows the young bartender well. The bartender doesn’t know my name or my beer preference, so I think I’m safe to say I’m not a regular. Whew.
At 1/8th of the glass, I started writing this ten minute write. And now, my attention span is thinning, so I figure I can hammer words on a screen rather than focus on content of someone else’s polished work or try and polish one of my own.
As the buzzer sounds, ten minutes are up, I swig the last of the glass, fork the last of the greasy, dripping sprouts and call out to the young man sporting an indecisive beard, “Check, please!”
A bar. One of a few I frequent to write and imbibe heading into happy hour. During the day I wrote in a Vietnamese gluten-free, vegan make your own design of a meal restaurant around the corner. The owner is friendly and generous. He often gives me a free gluten free basil and chili home baked cookie or a piping hot freshly roasted slice of Kabocha squash, like he did today. I write there for hours, sipping a caffeine-loaded Vietnamese iced coffee, the one with loads of ice and condensed milk to offset the deep, strong coffee shots. He tells me about his mysteriously buckling knee for which no MRI nor doctor can discover let alone cure the ailment.
I wrote about well-being, connection, and compassion in companies–and got paid for it. I actually got paid to write something I believe in, a refreshing change from the usual 20 ways or things listicles that make me want to rip my eyeballs out of their sockets and drop them on the ice of my Vietnamese coffee. But it’s work. I can’t complain too much. Any day writing is better than a day slinging hash or practicing law for that matter.
And yet, the procrastination…why? It makes my job so much more difficult. I have no real patience for ease, I’m surmising.
But today at the corner bar, called The Corner, I sat on a stool and wrote my Nanowrimo tortured piece. It’s supposed to be a novel, but it’s a piece of shit, some sort of mosaic of events and dialogue and scenes that make no sense, have no order. It’s worse than last year, which at least had a thread if not grace and a point. This year’s is more than pointless. It’s almost a waste of time unless I can pull something out of it, some conclusion, reflection or resolution of what the hell happened to the world, my world among the larger world.
The teeming television barrage: run, skate, tackle, hit, fly, and fall.
It’s all that motion that sickens me, I think, causes me to open the wrong door,
Trying to get out, the populous din of greasy chomps and cheer, too much.
And my left eye, the throbbing reminded me that nights like these…
Well, running into your past hurts, like the face plant into the wall it is.
The years, the years, the years swimming in your clogged ears,
Suck out the details, the exact dates, times, names and numbers.
Never any good at any of them, I just kept doing what needed doing–as I do.
And tonight’s no different with all that begged to be said and felt, all along
With your voice inside my head, telling me not to go, and asking who’s there
With that menace, that hint of cabined, caged control ripping at your will
Your mind round with edges like that pool, your legs wrapped around me
By the waist, by the mouth, by the threads unraveling between our fingers,
That darned holes in our visions, sepia snapshots on silk screen partitions.
At the diner at 4 a.m.,
cheesecake and coffee
the brew so dusty sweet
and the cake real ricotta.
At the diner, we’d talk
after the bars close
and the beer wore off,
and eat French fries
or eggs and put dimes
in the table top juke box,
hear our favorite songs
like Free bird and
Sympathy for the Devil.
And we’d splay our
legs on long, red, vinyl
seats sometimes cracked,
our backs against booth
walls of plastic sheen.
At the diner, we’d hum
the songs we heard at the
bar we just left, our favorite
local bands playing, while
we drank Heineken and
smoked Camel cigarettes,
out back for a J or two.
But under the bright lights
of the diner til quarter to 7 or
later, we’d laugh sometimes
spitting our coffee or Pepsi
at some stupid shit one of us
said, and everything’s funny
when you haven’t slept all night.
At the diner, off the expressway,
the waitresses know us, and
bring us our eggs and toast
the way we like them, sunny
side up and easy tan and grape
jelly in the little plastic peel off
boxes, three or four of them.
And every Friday and Saturday
it was the same for us three,
Deb, Jackie and me, at the diner.
A man walks in to the bar and sidles up to me, stool side snug,
gives a side glance quick-like, casual, and motions for the boy;
at least he looks like a boy, tatted up the arm muscle contours,
blues and greens twitching and bulging in the heaves of lugging.
But his face smiles baby-faced 21, hype curbed in sedative cool.
Fleshy-courteous grin, his lips precede his face to our bar seats.
“Scotch, straight up,” he orders as if awaiting a standing ovation.
I make for my screen, avoiding an audience for what’s on Twitter,
scrolling in feigned interest, the intensity frosting an act of denial.
A momentary pondering how my deft fingers in memory motion
flick images by the dozens past, rehearsed in the skin of bones,
I lose sight of him who I spy in the heat of electromagnetic sense.
But he makes himself known with shoe scuffle and breathy groan,
the kind that signals satisfaction of the quaff, smack of the throat,
wedging himself in the blankness of space I apportioned off to me.
“What are you drinking?” the gargling chuff of each word spit out
in rhythmic steam of Scotch, cloying ambition, and blind incursion.
Lifting my head with a start, I flash from half-mast to widened lids.
“Liquid, something liquid,” I reply, speaking to the drop on his lips.
His chin is at 5 o’clock, at shadows, retiring, and sun-downed dark.
Slicked, stay-put hair, one rogue strand licking forehead to cheek,
peppered head to toe with an in-between-ness of age and youth,
he stares, hiding discomfort behind the glaze of liquid eye screen.
“My optometrist knew my diet by my crystal clear corneas,” I offer.
Then he smiles, his eyes disappearing inside of his face in pause.
Deliberately he turns away, glass in one hand, the other propped,
a podium for his head, as his eyes bore holes in the wet, oak bar.
I study his exposed cheek a minute, while he recomposes himself.
Will he strike again from his fox hole retreat, re-armed and ready?
Then likewise turn my head downward, alit to a screen of options.
photo credit: beeroftomorrow.com
“He was such a creeper, he made my skin crawl.”
She spoke with squinted nose and eyes sucked in tightly drawn to the center of deep disgust.
“Where did you meet him?” I sipped lemon water.
“A place called ‘After Hours’ on Beach near Central.”
She shuffled the boot leather sole of her left foot underneath the quaint table dressed for two.
Its mate was folded up underneath the back pockets of her 501 Levi’s firmly squat into the padded seat.
We used to meet at this corner cafe often; she was married then.
“He spit when he talked too close to me and had a dripping smile, loose grin spun widely–and loud.”
I conjured up with a shudder the stale beer, punishing electronic drum beats and the glint of a greasy stare too close up inside the parameters of my circle of heated breath.
“He thought he was hilariously funny wishing me ‘good morning’ at 9:30 at night with a wink as if he could make it happen just by saying it.”
Sinking inside with an outward sympathetic half smile, I inwardly groaned at the enormity of it, like Sisyphus’ burden this giant gap of want, need, ties we seek just to sever, never have and don’t even want.
photo credit: http://media.brainz.org/willmon