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!”
Happy hour. A hearty hoppy beer might make things go right for a short while anyhow. Maybe even release the vise grip on my brain. This tension headache brought to you by your local, fucked up telecommunications service. No tv, then no internet, and no rhyme or reason. “We’ll overnight that modem to you, but it will take 3 to 5 business days.” What do you answer to that kind of math?
But at least it forced me to work at my favorite watering hole for some atmosphere, compared to my usual, dull writing environment: dusk-lit room, dilapidated desk over-cluttered, bed beckoning from behind my back, and puppy chewing on my bare feet as I try to focus on a screen that sometimes allows me to reach the world outside–when the internet hasn’t drifted in then out. Today, like yesterday, it’s all out.
And then there’s the election. It’s worse than anything I can remember in my public awareness age. Yes, even Watergate. This trumps all, pun intended. The banana republic antics. It’s hard to stomach any more. It’s like stupid times infinity, as we used to say. We’re sliding speedily down the ice hill in reverse. I can’t watch–but like that carnage on the side of the road, I must. No entertainment. All sadness and nausea. There’s an ache in the pit of my stomach that threatens to swallow my entire body, engulf it in burning bile.
Or is it just me? I can’t tell any more. As I look into the foamy, golden crystal ball of my immediate future, cold and wet to my clasped hands around its glassy trunk, I ask, “Is it just me?”
She answers from inside a beer bubble, “It’s always been just you.”
Hear the roar of intelligible volume.
Music bass beats disrupting cardiac rhyme.
Shouts, whispers and laugher, all a boom.
Fist bumps and swaying good cheer.
Love and loneliness conflate, swill in beer glass
Bottoms, oh where can I feel this good again?
And why the price to pay bankrupts me.
Write in a thumping pub.
Stool side bar lined drinkers and snackers,
I buzz along the page, noting the din,
An elf pit padding by, no a child.
Bar strip invisible barriers to the dining room,
No walls, balloons, kids and family, clinking wine
Glasses and frosted mugs, steins, clicks, smiles, shouts
Above the music, lyrics swallowed in the mêlée of
Motion and shoveled appetizers and gin, hospitality
And bused trays of bitten bits, refuse, waste, prolifligate
Posterity to posh sea and salt surroundings, spirits and
Song and gathering grand mirrored cheer, happiness
In a thin stemmed crystal–and you, out there somewhere
Celebrating your birth, the wonder of survival,
without me, alone with all of your friends
And family, a beer or so inside your belly, thinking of us,
Being with them, and both alone in our own movies.
And so it is, writing in a bar.
Biting at words.
Sculpin IPA on tap.
Payday a week away.
Summer squash in fall, I had to.
No more, no reason.
Ready to say,
“I’ve been out this Friday night.”
Every day’s sameness.
Writing at my desk,
The confines of my chested blues.
Like a cliché gone staler.
But after just one. More.
July 19, 2016
I’m having trouble. I stayed up too late and ruined my sleep. Those sleep-deprived days hit hardest, most difficult to bear. The world seems scary, like one giant acid trip gone wrong that I cannot come down from, no matter how much I talk myself through it. My feet feel as if I am walking in the bounce house.
Morning came too quickly, the doors opening and closing to my bedroom. Communal showers suck. I worked late into the night fixing my article for the new French client, only to awaken to stern reprimand from someone half my age, probably. I did not follow directions, too worried about meeting deadline and not the specifics. Certainly my fault but can we just treat each other kindly? Even editors?
Hard pressed to inhabit the Zen of it all, I fought all morning with myself. “This is the life of a writer. This is life. Don’t be afraid of rejection, judgment and criticism.” I had to keep myself from diving over the cliff of “I fucked up.” Forgiveness.
My nerves still sore, I taught class, guilty that I wasn’t fresh, alert and sharp, but that turned out to be a lie I told myself. The class discussion meandered through colonialism, prejudice, Black Lives Matter, censorship, profanity, the sub-prime mortgage debacle, the abc’s of finance, medicine, medico-legal ethics, euthanasia, and stories, lots of anecdotes, for a breezy four and a half hours. At least it seemed that way. Summer school. Beautiful students.
Rounding out nicely with a particularly grapefruit citrus-tinged IPA and halibut tacos ordered at my local hangout–family members all working (except for dad glued to the t.v.)–this day wanes okay, citing my own research on French proverbs (my maybe rejected assignment)–apres la pluie, le beau temps (Every cloud has a silver lining). I’m about to chomp down on my halibut tacos silver lining. Cheers and Bon appetit!
Perfect. I’ll do my ten-minute write here, a place I haven’t visited in a while. The last time I imbibed here–my usual IPA per the bartender’s suggestion–I wrote a piece that my editor thought worthy of publishing. Perhaps inspiration will visit again.
Swallowing quickly the two offered shot glass sampler selections, surprisingly I choose the Pale Ale. It’s smooth and hoppy, more like an IPA than the IPA the bartender had me try.
I have not been here–a place exactly five minutes walking distance from my house–because I drink beer here, always drink a happy hour beer here, and I have not wanted to anesthetize in beer-land for a couple months or so. But today feels like the day. There is nothing to hide from, just the spirit of the day I nod to in being here.
Tomorrow I will embark on a road trip up to the far up north, another soccer tournament. With three soccer 17-year olds and a commiserating partner in tow, I will head for Davis and watch the road blur by as I gaze out the window and ponder the big and small questions: What did Jack Kerouac do on the road when he wasn’t taking notes for his novel? How many almond trees are actually out there in endless rows? Will I have time to yoga? Will she play well? How did pioneers foot and horse all of this, leagues and leagues of open vistas, dirt, dust and brush?
My eyes welcome open spaces, too often closed in confined spaces of the classroom, bedroom, kitchen, grocery store and local restaurants for a bite. Change of scenery flips the creative thought channels. Floating. Not like a pc drags me through the cyber-sphere.
The ten minute timer went off, but so did my notification buzz for a text message. She got a haircut and lost ten pounds. She looks the same–memory mine.
Seated at the after thought extension of the bar, maybe the disabled low table, the woman next to me, leaving half her appetizer over, declares to the server, “Close out.” I ignored her while I wrote this but meant to pay her a few words of invitation to conversate. Too late, as ever. But I’m sure her life bends back way past this moment and my feeble speculations about her momentary needs, wants and reasons to be at this bar. Now I’ll just have to create her story without her.
She sits down next to me when there are so many other stools to occupy.
All dolled up, clearly she is waiting for someone special to occupy the stool to her right.
I am to her left.
Happy hour, bruschetta is half off as are select beers.
Of course, my selection costs its usual six and change. No discounts for the IPA’s–ever.
Some have accused me of having gout deluxe, but I say, “nah.” Simple woman.
My tastes range from pleb to elitist. Depends on the thing, the subject.
Food, wine and beer, yes, I enjoy top of the line. Clothes, functional.
Not a shopper, no interest. That’s why the guys say, “You’re like a guy.”
Other reasons, I prefer conversation about what matters: the world, the local and
all in between. My interests range the span of my experience, read, written and lived,
relationships only one among many. Frankly, I don’t care much for confession.
Keep the distance, please. Tell me about what matters to you as a member of the world.
Two beauties sitting on top of each other taking selfies. In another bar, that might be suspect.
But this is not that kind of bar. Affluent, beach, blonds.
And the texts on my phone: bad news about the revenge of cancer, someone out there, on my mind.
And the stranger narcissist filling my inbox with doings, wishes, manifestations.
“I can’t go out with someone I am not attracted to says the made up late fifty something with the silver shiny horizontal studded stripes in her blinged out black warm up jacket.
Ping…the cancer returned after five years. I thought I was done.
Ping…I love the way she feels…
Ping…but I am afraid to go through it, the chemicals, the time off…
Ping…Egyptian, her parents moved from Cairo…
“Everything doing okay here?” The bartender wants to know. “Yes.”
Happy hour at its edges now settles into its middle.
“The grass is always greener on the other side….she’s got to pay her dues,” says bling jacket. The babe next to me moves kitty corner with her guests, two other women fresh from work, twenty somethings, nearing thirty somethings. One curly blond, and two brunette: the Asian with the “whatever” bun and the white girl with the straight slung hair parted down the middle.
The time difference lets me off the hook. “Good night, sleep well. Dream healing dreams,” I genuinely wish and type.
There is a four year old behind the bar, and I watch her skim her hand over every glass and bottle she passes down the row on her way out of the bar well.
The device speaks: ring. “Yes, I am at a bar. Come meet me. We’ll eat. Want me to read you the menu? Braised beef ribs…bleu cheese sliders with Angus beef, poached halibut…okay, see you soon. Yes, chill a pinot or merlot, something interchangeable…feeling marinara or fish. Bye.”
Boys at the end of the bar closest to the television pin their eyes to football and the commercials that go with, men with pizza slices and desire written all over their orgasmic posed faces, Mercedes mini van advertised as affordability (right) and something computer and football combined, guys at desks and a football player fish out of water, Ameritrade. And then the Cardinals line up at the 40 yard line.
Honey, you don’t look as if you can handle the double IPA. Stick to your happy hour house wine. She just moved in and made it clear to the bartender that she was ordering for her boyfriend who was on his way. She is two barstools away: young, neat, attractive, twenties, trying to keep herself entertained, phone, looking around, the silk scarf around her neck shifting with each turn of her head from the wine cabinet to my left and the incoming guests. We are at the entrance. And he arrives. This is a new boyfriend. I can tell by the kiss they greet each other with–something between a peck and I-recognize-the-sink-into-the- thick-of-your-lips. They are still something stand-offishly, sweetly polite. He is soft and quiet, appetizers smartly waiting for him by her selection. He digs in with gusto, eats obediently, appreciatively, while she authoritatively introduces her informed choices. She will make a fine mistress of the house.
Isn’t this great?
“Who is training her? Their job is to come in, check in, go down the hall, check the laundry…” bling says to her patient hearer, the one who asked the bartender to turn down the lights, which bother her eyes. Bling speaks for the crowd to hear. “I’m not bashing her. I haven’t said nothing about her for weeks…”
The girl friend returns from the water closet with her hair bunned up. Why? What’s the projected look trying to achieve? I’ve never been good at style and signals. I do New York bag and that is the extent of my “style.” And that was a long time ago. Now I just dress whatever-is-clean-and-top-of-the-pile. It used to be important to dress with purpose. I am nearing golden, no need.
The symmetry of a wine cellar on display soothes, the circular slotted holders sprouting capped spouts or the buddy bottles snug lined up along a leisurely reclined shelf to feature chillin’ wine bottles, casual, seductive. I hope the temperature behind that glass is 58 degrees Fahrenheit. Nothing worse than room temperature wine, the myth of the uninitiated–says a pretender.
The beer has done its work. It only takes one, especially after a sleepless night of sacrifice: term papers and morning frolics in missed motel beds. The buzz combines exhaustion with hops, and I am content. School’s out. Time to eat: transition from bar denizen to restaurant patron.
Wait, the four year old swiper’s parent just came on shift. Maybe just a few more minutes….