At my usual spot milking a Pabst pounder. Some 80s rock band is playing in the background. All the bars in Cloudytown play crap music. Where is Madeleine, my Goddess? Ms. Peyroux, can you slip me another from Between the Bars? Where is Marissa, the Fallen Angel? Are you still wearing the August Overcoat the Master gave you? Jolie Holland, take pity on a refugee. Take a Lapenese boy down to Louisiana with you. He’s dying too. Fasten him to your walnut hairpin and let him play with those sad Texan ringlets. Where is my Priestess and Healer? Nina. I’m hungry tonight. I’m starving. Where is my Pied Piper of Solace? They say the saxophone cures all ailments.
All the bars in Amerika play crap music. That is until they get a jukebox and then it gets worse. Julie the bartender quit after the management refused to remove it. She was a gal with principles. Julie’s boyfriend, they called him the Roadman. The Roadman gave Tenowski and me a ride to The Tavern once. He waved a shotgun to my face and said that even though it was loaded he wasn’t planning on shooting anyone. The Roadman looked like Jesus Christ. He lived out in the country. The mellowest fellow I knew.
I light a cigarette. Jimmy Donetall is already out. Tenowski is in the basement with some band from Duluth. He is the man with the goods. Everybody knows him. Everybody likes him. Randy Tenowski is a Spanish History major from Albert Lea and knows everything there is to know about the Inquisition. The girls dig him or at least they pretend to. I take another swig from my can and look around. Bobby Dunlap just walked in. There is a piece of reddish yellow meat dangling precariously from his enormous forehead. It looks like a slimy half eaten noodle. Clumps of hair stick out like pointed swords around the bloody spot. A faded red stain runs all the way down to his thick eyebrows.
-What happened to you?
-Aw man! We were playing darts at BB’s.
Bobby yells for a Jim Beam, neat.
-You wanna go the hospital?
-Hell no! Give me your scarf.
- I’ll have your sorry ass deported.
-You might die from a blood clot.
Bobby gulps down the concoction and we drive down to the pharmacy.
-Aw, man! None of them chicks will look at me now.
-To be honest, it looks pretty macho.
-Go shove it.
I buy a pack of smokes from the gas station across the pharmacy and walk back to the bar. There is a girl sitting on my stool. She works the straw with her long slender fingers. I move in and order another pounder. She has deep blue eyes.
-You drink that stuff?
-Can I buy you one?
-No thanks. Waiting for my boyfriend.
-What if he doesn’t show up?
She pulls a Camel out of her handbag.
-Where you from?
I get this question every other week. I think facts are boring. They reveal very little about a person.
She blows a cloud of smoke on my face.
-Where the hell is that?
-You don’t look African.
-We’re all African sweetheart.
-No really, where are you from?
-Stop screwing around.
I tell her that it’s 2062 where I come from. A guy grabs her from behind. He nibbles on her ear.
-Stop it Zach….
-Let’s go to the Blue Carpet babe. This place is depressing.
I park myself behind the jukebox one more time, light a cigarette and exhale slowly. The smoke comes out like a string of pearls resting in the air for a few seconds. Where is Lester Young? Another drag. It meanders and slips past the faces. Happy faces, sad faces, hungry faces, blank faces. Somebody’s asking for a glass of water. The jukebox isn’t all that bad. The Irish Bard has soul. A lot of soul. I suck in my cheeks and gently dispatch a third battalion. The smoke coils around my eyes and takes to the cold decrepit ceiling. A chalky rivulet twisting and rising to the heavens, defying gravity, flaunting its curves, dissipating into Nothing. Sucked into a colossal vacuum of colorless, odorless, shapeless Nothing. The last puff is a Declaration of War. The fume darts out. It bursts in front of me, knocking a napkin to the floor. It billows and rebounds from the flat wooden slab, transforming itself into a monstrous cumulo-nimbus whore. I punch the vaporous bogie squarely on the nose and poof!