I was shuffling down the strip one greasy night a few years ago, looking for a place where they wouldn’t call for sirens if I set my head down for a spell. I sidled into this bar with my cheek in full bloom after a fresh five-knuckle kiss from that week’s prince charmless, and my knuckles needed an ice bucket ‘cause no one gets a shot in without gettin’ one right back. Taking a panoramic of the slouched bodies, stale beer, Tom Waits’ gravel-wail circling the air with tendrils of stubbed cigar smoke, I figured yeah, I could make it here. The only thing Momma taught me about men was pigs is pigs, but a girl gets to choose where she sets her trough.
I mop up their shit, sweat, and their up-chuck with a smile because these are my babies, my husbands, my scar tissue and new skin.
Tonight it goes like this.
Early evening I pour myself into my LBD and paint a homecoming queen over my face for karaoke, doubling as happy hour. Under the lamplight I sing something patriotic like American Woman for the crowd from the local air force base. I make my hips roll at the braying oafs like the stars and stripes waving in a plane’s jet-wash, my voice a silk handkerchief binding their wrists to the bedpost.
Around eleven, when I’m all panda-eyed and my make-up’s cracked, the star high school pitcher who blew out his knee shows up, waterlogged from the rain. The bar owner Buck has everyone push the tables against the walls, and I hunker down to play catcher. Buck is always at bat with a pool cue. He rolls his Harley T-shirt sleeves past the green shrunken tattoos on his upper-arms, pretend spits tobacco. I use three fingers to signal for a Slider. The pitcher nods, checks the bases, plucks an imaginary blade of grass to check for wind direction and steeeeeeeerike x 3. Buck yells oorah and I scream you’rrrrre outtatherrrre. Buck ambles back behind the bar, pinkies poking around inside his ears, and slides back into his black leather biker vest.
The boy limp-jogs around to high-five the room before buckling onto the nearest chair, bloated and exhausted. Did I ever tell you about the time, he starts, telling us the same story about his nine-inning war in the game versus the state champs, the version that ends with the crowd chanting his name then later he fucks the head cheerleader behind the bleachers. The papers said his ACL went neutron bomb on him in the middle of the third, and his rehab went on too long for colleges to keep the recruitment window ajar. He always rolls up his jeans to show us the tan railroad scar. He was a firm pro-league prospect, so the town still mourn the loss hard. Some are mad at him for taking away their college fantasy league hook-up, others that he cost the town some happy.
While the gang pull the tables back I guide him to the corner booth to graze my nails across his forearm like my momma used to. After a few more sloppy rounds, Jose Cuervo throws him a haymaker and he starts to slur the chorus to Take Me Out. He lifts his class of ’94 jacket off the hook and calmly takes himself outside to heave at the storm drain.
Same time tomorrow, kid.
The early AM is reserved for the hardcore regulars while the one drink-and-done types go fish for hot bodies in the packed bar-clubs along the strip. We always get one or two of the broken stumbling beyond the clamour and bright lights to hole up here in the black.
I’m peeling a regular off the floor when I see an Asian guy in an oversized gabardine suit nestling into the jukebox with his sorrow on repeat. I take him a Jameson’s double and let him know I’ll be sweet comfort for him, a concubine if he wants. I’ll wear a kimono, powder my face Geisha style, switch my R’s for W’s if that’s what he needs. It’s what I do.
He looks round at me slow, wipes his nose on his sleeve, the storm in his eyes blowing clear. He sinks the double and southpaws me right in the freakin’ belly, glass in fist. I taste dirty pennies. His cologne-cloud follows him out the door. Tom howl-sings about rain dogs on the jukebox, which I used to think was the coolest.
I’m still trying to scoop my lungs off the floor when Buck calls me over, says he needs me to be his biker bitch again tomorrow. I ride pillion at the Harley rallies some Saturdays to make him look whole, and I earn myself another month on the cot wedged between spent kegs in the basement storage room. My lungs finally reattach themselves and I sputter sure, cool. My heart is still MIA, having dislodged and rolled away somewhere.
Later into the night, the biker crew files in for the traditional pre-rally lock in. I do my duty, draping myself all over Buck like the flag on a casket. When it gets rowdy I sock the strung-out junkie biker groupies who roll through here looking to hit bottom so they can bounce back up for morning mass. Don’t bring us your hopes of chugging on safely down the track, I tell them, throwing my whiskey stink into their wandering sinkhole eyes. This is terminus for these children of absent women, I say, always slipping them a five as I shove them out the door, quietly telling them sorry and to go get a breakfast burrito at the all-night diner. I do it all for the boys because these pigs is my pigs. I do it all in the neon blue ruin of the bar we nickname On the Rocks, ‘cause nowhere else would have us and we can’t ever go home.
Photo By: cobalt123