Vernon slumped on the beat up, key-scratched, elbow-smudged, cigarette-burned, blade-chopped, liquid- and vomit- and chili-cheese-stained oak bar all by himself. Slurping club soda from a highball – lemon atop the outer rim – he sat knocking out games of video solitaire – drool drops dabbing the screen – in the far left corner of the bar.
The bar’s still, stale air – leftover cigarette smoke settled into the wood grain walls from many nights before – reeked of loneliness and decay. It was especially prevalent during the daytime, a time when only the maintenance drinkers haunted these halls. Less than 8 hours prior, it was an atmosphere of feigned life and laughter. However, the hangers-on, the ones soon filling coffins instead of barstools, preferred a dusty backdrop of darkness juxtaposed against minimal light, which would enter each time a new depressed soul wandered through the door. Beer signs, some still in working condition, adorned the walls. A cardboard Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, leaned against a faded Joe Montana as two Schmidt’s beer fish lights hung over a tilted pool table. Plywood lay beneath two legs of the table providing a sad attempt at “leveling the playing field.”
A ceiling fan attempted frenetic rhythm with Hank Williams’ howl of “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”. Empty bottles and schooners, both powdered with chalk dust, sat atop a brown cigarette machine. A variety of thirty or so unopened beer cans lined a shelf behind the bar. Each can strategically placed in alphabetical order with dates ranging all the way back to the mid-70s — Coors, Hamms, Olympia, Schlitz, Strohs — all with perfect, yet dated, logos. Attached to each aluminum relic was the ambience of a time when even beer cans required an opener.
“Do your fucking job, Charles!”
Sig wiped down the bar with quick, pointed strokes. It was as if he were attempting to paint a jagged mountain range in Pledge and towel debris. Being the owner, Sig really didn’t enjoy wiping down his own bar. He preferred taking care of more important things, such as paperwork, ordering, fixing anything that needed it, and schmoozing with the customers. Especially the ladies. He was self-proclaimed, “lady aficionado.” According to urban legend, many of the scuff marks on the wooden bar top were formed, not just from broken shards of glass and coke-blade chops, but from of finger nails of different sizes and depths.
According to Charles, another urban legend suggested a secret, underground bungalow somewhere within / connected to the storeroom. Whether Charles knew anything at all was beside the point. It was the principle of imagination: drunks love speculation.
Day drunks had plenty of time to speculate. The “unhireables” — a group name decided on by many of the pre-noon anti-socialites — waxed conspiratorial while normal people worked.
Weekday “Day” drunks, albeit sad to think about and even sadder to be surrounded by, are a interesting lot.
Sig’s gruff, projecting voice cracked through the sour, dust particle-ridden air.
The stillness of the bar was disrupted by the sound of a toilet flushing. Charles quickly walked out of the bathroom and into the bar.
“Sorry, Sig,” Charles spoke, unable to look Sid in the eyes. “I had the shits real bad last night.”
Sig stared at his employee’s hands.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Charles looked down his own hands.
“I washed ’em,” he said.
“No you didn’t, Char-Uhlz. You didn’t FUCKING wash your hands. You know why I know this, CHAR-UHLZ?”
“Sig. I washed ’em with that alcohol stuff. The shit on the wall.”
Sid’s face began to shade itself a light shade of maroon. Sig did not get the same shade of “beet red” as some. (Why do they call it “beet red”? Beets are purplish. Stupid.)
“Come here, Charles…Chuck…Fuck.”
Sig slapped Charles on the back and pushed him along towards the bathroom.
“Sig,” Charles started to stop, “at least let me go in there and spray the bathroom. At least let me do that for you. It fucking stinks in there. It was a rough night…”
“Ok,” Sig shouted through gritted teeth. “Hurry up. Or…better yet… while you are in there, bring me the empty bag of hand sanitizer.”
(added on 7/2/19)
Kool-Aid Man is what they used to call him.
Until he had his 4th heart attack, it was a term of endearment even though Carl didn’t see it as such. These days, they called him Couch Man or barstool pigeon. His most familiar bar comrades called him “Kool-Aid” for short.
After the first cardiac arrest, a victim should slow down on all heavy partying, high cholesterol eating, and smoking cigarettes. Carl (aka Kool-Aid) was not down with those rules. Following his 4th “arrest,” the bar legend emerged that Carl had no blood left in his body. Very few thought it possible that any blood could flow through his tightly clogged arteries. Others say that they heard doctors replaced Kool-Aid’s heart with the inside of a vacuum cleaner in order to keep the smoke that he inhaled from invading the rest of his body. To the handful of wet brains in the bar on a daily basis, this explanation seemed rational. To the rest of the world, completely absurd.
Those who knew Kool-Aid the longest wondered how the man was still alive. Along with his daily intake of tar and resin from 40+ cigarettes, Carl’s daily diet consisted of scrambled eggs and toast in the morning, followed by various snacks from Sig’s “bar food” options. His favorites included Cheez-its, chili cheese Fritos, Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies, pickled sausages, and Starburst.
Newbies to the day drinking crowd at Sig’s were confused when they were introduced to Kool-Aid. Many expected him to only drink Kool-Aid, or be the token “teetotaler” that every bar has at some point while the person either: A) cleans up his/her act while on paper with the courts from DUI; B) is rehabbing from health issues; or C) just had to give it up but didn’t want to give up the social aspect. Although it should have been obvious by Carl’s size and shape, many did not recall who or what the original “Kool-Aid Man” was.
“I can’t do it, Mike. If I weren’t in a better place right now, I would consider it, but I don’t want to go through the pain again. You need to move on too.”
Christy only stuttered when she was emotional. Although able to maintain composure in face and body, Mike could hear the slight, recognizable tremble as her words trailed off.
It had only been six months since the relationship ended, but it seemed like forever to Mike. This wasn’t the first time they broke up. After a series of one-night-stands, they would always end up back living with each other, going through the same rollercoaster before burning out in a drunken debacle on some random weeknight when most “normies” (Mike’s counselor’s words) were doing normal things, like participating in community activities, attending their children’s activities, or enjoying a nice, quiet night in after a long day at work.
“I know we said this was going to be temporary for now,” Mike spoke, “but are we just going to put it off another few months, or are you talking about ending it right now?”
Bill sat at a small round table in the middle of the cafe.
“What the hell,” Bill said in disgust.
Bill took the lid of his cup and lobbed it on the table. Fumbling around in his shirt pocket, Bill pulled out a clumped up pack of smokes. Pulling a bent, tobacco-leaking cigarette from the cellophane and examined the remaining supplies for the night.
“Three,” he said with a rasping gasp of a laugh. “Three fucking cigarettes left. Welp…sorry lungs.”
To be continued…