January

Advertisement  (turn off)
Buck had a good system. For every dozen drafts he poured he kept two dollars. For every tenth shot of well whiskey he pocketed three dollars. It was almost fail proof. Tammy owned the bar with him. I’d stumbled into the job on accident. It wasn’t much of a job but it wasn’t much of a town. My girlfriend had family there. There was always a war over money. She was older than I was and she wanted a family. I only wanted a clear white space. It caused conflict. I was burned out and she was useless by herself. She wasn’t far in life but she was as far as she was because of weak men. People in the town liked me because she had big tits. We’d walk around the town and I’d see people from the bar waving to us. I thought it was funny how they saw us.

And funny that I was the one to blame for the two of us being poor, but I was the only one who worked steadily. Apart from a pack of smokes a day and my coffee I had no personal expenses. I didn’t care about food or furniture. I didn’t care about glasses or plates or clothes. My budget was tight and angry. I spent money on typing paper and ribbon. I’d had a computer but it was destroyed during the drive up from Phoenix. I plugged it in and it was dead. I remembered her face when I was setting up the attic. I plugged in my machine and when it wouldn’t turn on I felt relief from her, satisfaction. It was the first time I’d felt a definite hatred for her. I thought about it while I poured.
“One dollar, Lutz.”
Lutz was a regular. He came in and drank from noon until close. House drafts were a dollar. And he nursed each beer for all it was worth. He drank day and night and left me with four quarters. Every Tuesday Buck made tacos. Three small tacos for a dollar. They were sloppy and shitty. They sold like wild fire. Tips at the bar were lousy. Except for Wednesdays, I walked home with maybe thirty dollars. Buck came out of the kitchen and sat next to Lutz. I poured him a draft. He looked around the bar. It was half full. He smiled, “How’s taco villa?”
“The usual. Do we have enough back there?”
“I just filled the prep bar.”
The phone rang. I looked at him. He shook his head. I picked it up.
“City Folks.”
“Hi sweetheart. How’s business?”
“It’s good. Same cast of characters.”
“If you need money for the lotto payout it’s in the office in the safe.”
“Nothing but losers today. I think Sam won twenty bucks.”
“But he lost a hundred to get it.”
“Right.”
“If I had the money he’s blown on that machine I could retire. Anyway, let me talk to Buck.”
She did that a lot. Buck refused to take her calls. She figured some banter might get some momentum going and he’d pick up the phone and flow into the conversation.
“Yeah, Buck just stepped out.”
I looked at him. He shrugged. I told her he said he’d be back in half an hour. Tammy came in after six at night. Buck never left. Buck had a son and a daughter from a previous marriage. He’d landed in town with a small savings and met Tammy. She was divorcing a man who had money. She put up the cash for the bar. It was Buck’s idea but she held the keys. Buck hired me because he wanted to bring some dignity into the bar. That’s what he said. I was young and strong. But I also had no temper. It took a lot for someone to get at me. Sam tried on my first day:
“Hey, nurse. Can you get me another one?”
His buddies laughed. I ignored him.
“Come on, man! Look, I’ll give you five bucks if you bring me two at once.”
I brought the two over. He looked at me and smiled, “You’d make a good faggot, you know that?”
I leaned over the bar and stared at him, “Care to find out?”
The bar broke up laughing. I put some glasses in the dishwasher:
“Seriously, Sam. Once you’ve had an ass like this you’re hooked. You’re totally gay.”
My girlfriend walked in and sat at the bar. The guys looked at her. She leaned over the bar and kissed me. Sam yelled, “Wait! I thought you were a faggot! That’s cheating!”
I filled a glass for her, “Sam, you’re only gay if you’re fucking a guy and you slap his left ass cheek three times.”
The bar broke up laughing again. Sam pounded on the bar, “I love this fucking guy!”
After that a few of Sam’s smartass friends tried to have a go at me. They weren’t hard to beat. Once I put them in any gay situation they broke down laughing. Buck and Tammy heard about it and gave me more hours. Then the full-time night bartender was fired for skimming the till. Buck caught her doing it. His system was better. I didn’t know why he was doing it. To cheat the government, maybe. He seemed happy with Tammy. Me, I had shit. I had big rent and a fucked up girlfriend. The bar job would have been alright had I lived in the town with a woman I cared about.
She ended up getting a job in Bend, working the sales floor for a fixture company. Faucets and toilets and lighting. She had to get up early. Apart from Wednesday night, when she would come into the bar while I closed, she was asleep when I came home. It was a blessing.


I usually came home and wrote. I hadn’t sat down for a hard run the first week of the job. One night I moved my typer downstairs and wrote from the kitchen table. I’d set up the attic for my study, then she immediately wanted to make it into our bedroom. We had two bedrooms downstairs by the bathroom. But she wanted to encroach on my fucking creation. I sat at the table and drank coffee. I lit a smoke off the stove and worked into a story. I heard the footsteps. The footsteps were black clouds above me. I reached over and turned up the radio. I felt her behind me. She walked over to the stove and brushed away the little spot my cigarette left on the burner.
She rinsed the rag in the sink, “I hate it when you do that. It’s so trashy.”
I sat there and stared at the page. She walked into the bathroom, “What the fuck?”
I reached over and grabbed my coffee. She came out, “I told you I hate seeing cigarette butts floating in the toilet. There’s something desperate about it.”
I read over the page:
Those who retain beauty and youth never had expectations of others.
She sat down at the table, “You’re awfully late.”
“Did the typer wake you?”
“Not really. I knew you were here. Why didn’t you come to bed with me?”
“Not tired.”
“What are you writing about?”
“Nothing right now. I’m listening to you whine.”
“Oh, so it’s fair that I have to work all day then wake up to you downstairs in the kitchen by yourself?”
“That’s what happens when people work opposite schedules. You should get some sleep.”
“This isn’t working out.”
“I get paid at the end of the month. I can be out then.”
“No. You’re not living with me if we’re not together. I can’t take that bullshit.”
It was her best move. If she was driving she’d tell me to get out of the car. I’d just made rent and she was telling me it wasn’t working out. Her uncle and grandmother lived in the town. But they never spent time with her. She told me that she was tired of the two of us not spending time together. She said that I had to do something about it. I lit another smoke off the stove and sat down, “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do about it, I’m not going to quit my job, that’s for damned sure. If you’re really shaken up over it you can find different hours somewhere else.”
“No, you can switch to the day shift at the bar.”
“And walk away with six dollars in my pocket after seven hours? Good idea.”
“Then you’ll have to leave.”
“Gladly. In a month.”
“No, tomorrow!”
“Maybe you forget that I’m on the lease with you.”
“Merle likes me. He only rented the house to us because he likes me.”
“You must be proud.”
“Fuck you.”
“No thanks.”
She raised her eyebrows, “Really?”
“I’m trying to write here. Why do you have to walk down and start in on me? You bitch about having no time together yet any time left over you spend bitching at me. If it’s so fucking important for you that I leave I’ll hit Buck up for an advance and rent out a room for a month off my final check. Now, let me fucking write. Please.”
“Fine. I’m leaving, then.”
“Perfect.”
“Good. I’m tired of waking up and arguing with you. I have to be at work in three hours and I’m sitting here arguing with you.”
“Whose fault is that?”
“I can’t believe the way you treat me.”
“It’s too bad, I know. The way you suffer.”
“Maybe you can shack up with one of those sluts from Wednesday night.”
“She’d probably treat me a lot better.”
“I’m not going back to bed. We need to talk about why you are the way you are.”
I looked at the page again, stood up and put my shoes on. It was snowing outside. I zipped up my coat and found my gloves.
“Where are you going?”
“To build a fucking igloo and get some peace.”
“I’m going to get ready for work. This isn’t working out.”
I took off the gloves and the coat and sat back down. I shook it off and picked up the story where I’d left it. I heard her walk down. She walked straight to the bathroom. I unrolled the page and set it on top of the pile.

Upstairs I laid across the bed and watched the window. It wasn’t snowing but it was white. There was nothing pure about it. I was defeated and pissed. It was bright and deadly out there, cold and deadly, but it was like summer compared to where I was living. I heard her coming up the stairs. She stopped at the foot of the bed.
“Are you going to be here when I get back?”
“I have to work tonight.”
She put her hand on her hip and stared and me. I hated it.
“That’s not what I mean.”
“I need to sleep.”
She bitched some more and walked out. I jacked off to an old girlfriend and fell asleep.



“One dollar Lutz.”
“I just gave you a dollar for the last one.”
He laughed at himself. Sam came in and sat next to him. He nodded at me, “You ready for your big night?”
I set his beer down, “You’re just jealous.”
“Shit. I’m over that phase in my life.”
Lutz looked over at him, “What? Sex?”
“You’re goddamn right. I was so relieved when that day hit. Now when the old lady wants to have sex I’m like, ‘Damn baby, is it your birthday already?’”
Lutz threw his dollar down, “Shit, I’d be happy enough just to get some on my birthday.”
I took the dollar and stuck it in the till, “You’re not getting some rotting away on that stool.”
He waved me off, “Shit. I’ve had my share of pussy. Now I sit and reflect. You’ll get to be my age one day and you’ll resort to reflection, too.”
“Way ahead of you.”
They laughed. Sam raised his beer to me, “Just send her on this way.”
I poured a coke and slammed it, “I respect human life too much to do something like that.”
Lutz smiled. I refilled the glass and lit a smoke across from them. Sam rubbed his head, “I can’t believe I’ve been sitting here and neither one of you have said anything about my haircut.”
Lutz rubbed the haircut, “Awww, it looks nice, honey.”
“Just got a trim. I like it. Barbara says it makes me look younger. The way she cut it hides my receding hairline. Eight bucks.”
Lutz had long hair. He braided it back into a pony tail. They both had mustaches. Sam smiled at me, “You ought to get a shave and gel your hair down. You’re looking like a car thief.”
“Miami Vice,” Lutz said.
“Too cold to shave. I walk to work.”
“You live seven blocks away.”
I nodded to his mustache, “I could grow a dick-duster.”
Lutz laughed. Sam looked at him, “What the fuck are you laughing at? You got a mustache.”
“No, I have a handlebar. You have a mustache. Or, as your fair accuser behind the bar calls it, a dick-duster.”
Sam looked at me, “Shit. He has room to talk. Looks like he just woke up.”
I poured him another beer, “You look like a gay cop, Sam. You need to come to grips with your alter ego.”
“What alter ego?”
“Think about it.”
Lutz sipped his beer, “Another Wednesday. I see you’re wearing your finest.”
I set Sam’s empty glass in the dishwasher, “You use what you have. Wednesday night covers a lot of stress for me.”
“Rhonda and Cindy’ll cover you. More than once, too.”
“I know. Two more hours until the gates open.”
My girlfriend’s uncle walked in and sat down a few seats from Sam. Her uncle was a good man. He was consciously drinking himself away. He’d been through most of the painful sickness. Now he was gliding evenly into death. He looked like hell, but he was upbeat lately. He spent 21 days in treatment. Some fucked up family intervention. He was almost 40. The whole family consisted of 12-steppers and ex-things. They invited Jack over for some bullshit dinner and they surrounded him. Parts of the family had broken off and become rich, whether it was in insurance or children’s clothing. Jack was living off the money he’d made from selling his ranch after his divorce. His ex-wife turned to speed. But he stuck with the liquor. I’d never seen him sober. Everybody liked him. He did his 21 days and took the Antabuse and convinced the heads he wanted to turn over a new leaf. He even gained a few pounds back. After his 21 days he walked out and went to the bar. He hit the Vodka hard in the morning. In the afternoon he napped, and at dusk he awoke and had a few beers to warm up.
I set the glass in front of him, “Here’s another nail for your lid.”
“Thanks.”
Sam nodded at him, “Where you been keeping yourself?”
“I’m around.”
I wiped the bar down and emptied the ashtrays.
Jack smiled at me, “Heard you’ve been being a horse’s ass.”
“Yeah. I’m an inhuman monster.”
“She called me from work today.”
“I’m sure.”
“I don’t know why you two had to move into that big house.”
“Because she’s a fucking idiot.”
“Things been that bad?”
“I don’t like her.”
“I can’t say anything about that. She’s always been crazy.”
“If you see it that way. I don’t think she’s crazy at all. She’s a control freak. I can’t remember the last time I was attracted to her soberly.”
The Love brothers walked in. They worked light construction around town. I worked for them when we first moved into town. They paid seven dollars per hour. The job was long and pointless. I showed up for work my last day and they were three hours late. And they didn’t have the money to pay me. But they had money for the bar. I refused them service until they paid me off. They bitched to Buck about it. Buck told them when they paid me they could drink. Wednesday night was a big deal for the men in town. It was a Wednesday last month when I wouldn’t serve them. They walked back in the office and talked to Buck about me. I was 27 and they were in their forties but I wasn’t worried about them. They were famous in town for not paying their debts to their workers. They sat at the bar after Buck had backed me up. Sam was there with Lutz. Sam smiled to them, “Carl and Dale Love. How’s tricks?”
Carl was the older one. But they were both graceless. He nodded at me:
“He won’t serve us.”
Sam smiled, “Come on, kid. Forgive and forget. They need a beer.”
“And I need my money.”
Dale eyed me, “You’re gonna look awful funny trying to pour drinks with two broken arms.”
I called Buck out of the back. He walked behind the bar.
“Can I have fifteen minutes off right now?” I said.
“Sure. What’s wrong?”
I took off my apron and set it on the bar. I pointed at them, “Both you cocksuckers. Out back, now.”
Nothing happened. I put it back on, “Get the fuck out of here.”
Buck smiled and looked at them. Carl dug into his pocket and tossed a fist of twenties over the bar and on the floor. I picked them up and tossed them back. The bills hit them and scattered. I poured Sam another one and took away his glass. I stood back in front of them, “Now, hand me that money like men. One more little tantrum like that and you guys are 86’d for good.”
They looked at Buck. He put his hands up, “He’s the bartender. I just own the place.”
Carl looked at Dale, “Give him the money.”
I shook my head at him, “No, you give me the money. You’re the boss, right?”
He gathered the money and handed it to me. I put it in my pocket and poured them a beer. I set them down on the bar and knocked on the wood. I put their beer money in the till. Lutz smiled. I leaned on the bar and stared at them, “Honor feels good, doesn’t it? You can only burn so many people. I could have been a psychopath. I could have burned your fucking houses down.”
They gave each other a dumb look and drank their beers. Every Wednesday since then they were good tippers and respectful. This Wednesday was no different. They sat down next to Jack and ordered a pitcher. I set it down with the glasses and poured their glasses, “You guys here for some action?”
Dale laughed, “Hell yes. I even took a bath.”
I smiled at Carl, “What about you?”
“Shit, I’m not wasting my time in the shower.”
The phone rang.
“City Folks.”
“It’s me. How’s work going?”
“It’s just fine.”
“Listen, I’m sorry about this morning. I want to come in tonight and drink a little.”
“We’ll be open.”
“Alright. I love you.”
“Alright.”
I hung up. It rang back.
“City Folks.”
“I told you I loved you.”
“I heard you.”
Jack shook his head. She paused for a second. The first wave walked in.
“I have to go. The first team just walked in.”
“Maybe I won’t come down tonight. Maybe I should just move on.”
“Take care.”
I hung up.


Wednesday was ladies’ pool league night. The largest and most wretched women in the county filled the bar with their fat asses and sexual repression. Once in awhile they had a thin one in the herd, but my girlfriend showed up around seven at night and she stayed until closing, drove me home and bitched at me until she had to go to work. Once in awhile we had sex, but not too often. She was paranoid about me taking off with a girl after work, or she would try to get herself worked up for home when we got there. I preferred masturbation over either. One of her biggest problems with the bar job was Wednesday. Once in awhile a cow would run her hand down my lower back or touch my hair. But I always walked out of the bar with at least a hundred dollars. Buck smiled at me, “Trouble in Paradise?”
“She says she’s moving on.”
“Moving on to what?”
“I don’t care.”
The girls pulled out their sticks and rolled them on the table. They were the team from Madras. I walked over.
“Hello, ladies. The usual?”
They cackled and elbowed each other:
“We’ll take three pitchers of Coors light and a few pizzas.”
“Will you ladies be running a tab again tonight?”
“Only if there’s a lap dance involved.”
They cackled again. I smiled, “You couldn’t afford it.”
I walked away and poured the pitchers. I nodded to Buck, “Three pizzas.”
“Cheese or meat combos?”
“What do you think?”
He walked back in the kitchen and threw them in the oven. I walked the pitchers over and came back with the glasses. Tammy walked in and waved to me. I set the glasses down and poured their first beers. Little things like that fattened the tip jar. The pool games went on until eleven or so, then the mating ritual began. I walked behind the bar. Tammy looked at me and smiled. I fixed her a Bloody Mary. She lit up, “My girlfriend’s daughter’s coming in tonight with them. You’d like her. I told her about you.”
“That’s nice, Tammy. But I can’t do anything about it, being how I live with Satan and all.”
“Maybe she won’t come in tonight.”
“And maybe I’m a Swedish doctor.”
“I don’t know why you don’t kick her to the curb. You should be with a nice girl.”
I looked at her. Jack was right beside her. She saw him, “Oh, hey Jack. Shit.”
He laughed, “I didn’t hear a word. But you’re probably right.”
She laughed with him and nodded to me, “You’ll like Tina. She’s funny.”
Jack had another, then walked out and toward the next place.
I did like Tina. She was a healthy farm girl. She took her vitamins. The bar was in full swing. I hustled my ass off. Rhonda and Cindy didn’t play pool. They ate pizza at the bar and smiled at me over their Chablis. It was just after eight. Tina walked to the bar.
“What can I get for you?”
“A shot of Maker’s and a Newcastle.”
“Nice.”
I set her up. She tipped heavily.
“How long have you worked here?”
“Two months.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Don’t say that out loud. She’ll appear.”
She laughed, “Tammy said you should dump her.”
“Tammy’s right.”
The door opened and she walked in. I looked at Tina, “Great. Thanks a lot.”
She laughed and walked past her. They eyed each other. It was good. She sat a few stools away from Rhonda and Cindy.
“Who was that?”
“A customer.”
“I’ll bet. Give me a drink.”
“Goat’s blood or the soul of a child?”
Sam and Lutz broke out laughing. She got up and walked out. I ran some pitchers over to a pool table. I looked outside. It was snowing. Carl and Dale had found a group of bison and blended in. I poured Lutz another. He took the glass and moved his eyes to the door. I nodded.
She sat back down, “Let’s try this again. Can I have a whiskey sour, please, bartender?”
I fixed the drink and set it down. She smiled, “I don’t have any money.”
I reached into the tip jar. Lutz nudged her, “Must be nice.”
She took a drink, “He has a good ass on him, but his brain is evil.”
Sam looked over and smiled at me, “Oh, I think he’s a big sweetheart. You’re lucky.”
Cindy glanced at her, “Damned right.”
I looked around the bar. Everything was covered. I poured a coke and opened a pack of smokes. Tina sat down and held her lighter out. She lit me up, “You work hard. Do you work that hard in bed?”
“Hell, no.”
My girlfriend was in flames. I set Tina up with another shot and a beer. She tipped me five dollars.
“Thanks, Tina.”
She winked at me and walked off. I walked over and poured Sam another beer. He looked at my girlfriend, “How’s work going down at the bathroom joint?”
“It’s not just a bathroom joint. I sell ceiling fans and lighting, too.”
“Oh. Sorry.”
He rolled his eyes at me. She nodded for another drink. I made her one in a big water glass. It was full of whiskey. I put a ten in the till. Buck smiled at me through the opening between the kitchen and the bar. I walked back. He was pulling some pizzas from the oven, “You don’t have to do that. I’ll buy her drinks.”
“It’s not about the money.”
He shook his head, “They always gotta make it a fucking war.”
She was a fast drunk. It only took her two or three shots before it set in. For somebody who once lived in Manhattan and hung around her great and godly circles she had no composure. And she was totally transposed as a drinker. Everything turned opposite. It wasn’t any better than normal, but it was almost entertaining to watch her mind try to adjust or function. But she drank the whiskey and went to the bathroom, battled the truth in the mirror, came out and drank the whiskey. Tammy sat at the other end of the bar. I made her a Black Opal and set it down. She looked at my girlfriend and smiled at me, “You asshole.”
“If she wants to come in here and put on that skin she’s going to wear it.”
She watched me talk to Tammy. I walked over and handed Lutz his beer. She was drunk and she leaned into Lutz and motioned to me, “See that man right there? I’m going to fuck that man.”
Sam raised his eyebrows at me. Lutz put his arm around her, “If you’re going to do that you need to slow down. I don’t think our bartender’s quite seasoned for hardcore sex.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head, “No. I’m going to fuck him. He treats me like shit but I’m going to fuck him.”
She laughed suddenly and loudly, “Where’s my uncle!”
I walked over, “He’s around. Probably down at Goodwater’s. He said he was coming back. Here, let me give you a refill.”
Buck walked out of the kitchen and smiled at me. He looked to the phone. I tossed it to him and poured another pitcher for the players. He talked for a minute and hung up. He sat down on the other side of my girlfriend and nodded. I poured him a draft and set it down. He patted his shirt pocket. His pack was empty. I tossed him a pack from the bar. He smoked straights. I wrote a receipt for it and shoved it under the drawer in the till. Tammy walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him, “Hi, Papa. You tired?”
My girlfriend drank and looked at them, “See that? You two are in love. Why can’t it be like that with the man I love?”
Sam looked over at her, “Jesus, woman. Show some class.”
Her eyes widened and glared at him. She pointed, “You. You shut up.”
Rhonda and Cindy looked at me. I lit up and took away their drinks, “You ladies still thirsty?”
“Two more then we’re good, baby.”
My girlfriend stared into the glass, “She calls him baby and he doesn’t even care.”
Buck stood up and Tammy took his place on the stool. She put her arm around her and talked into her ear. I liked Tammy. She was older with high blonde hair. She was thick and strong-minded but she wasn’t garish. My girlfriend slammed the drink and asked me for another. Tammy looked at me, “It’s your call.”
I poured her another and set it down, “It’s fine. Buck called Goodwater’s a minute ago. Jack’s on his way over.”
I put her keys in my pocket. She made a delayed and sloppy swipe for them, “Hey!”
Tammy rubbed her arm, “Don’t worry, honey. Jack’s going to get you home whenever you want to leave. Just sit here and drink and relax a little. You know, if you just loosened up once in awhile things might be better with you two.”
She stared at me. Her eyes were half shut, “Do you think I need to loosen up once in awhile?”
“I think you should keep drinking and forget about everything for an hour or two.”
Tina showed up at the other end of the bar: “Hey, bartender!” She was drunk: “Why don’t you walk over here and give me some more?”
Sam rubbed his forehead. My girlfriend started crying. She looked at me, “Do you love me?”
Tammy nodded yes at me quickly. I set a new whiskey sour down in front of her, “Here, drink this.”
I put her old glass in the dishwasher and set Tina up. I set the drinks down. She gave me a ten and two ones, “Keep it.”
“Thanks, Tina.”
She leaned over the bar and wrote her number down on the back of a coaster. She slid it over and shook her head, “Call me when you can get away for a few hours.”
She walked off. I looked at the number and threw it in the trash. My girlfriend smiled at the other end of the bar. I raised an eyebrow at her and poured Sam another. I watched the beer fill the glass and repeated the number over in my head. I associated the number with her auburn hair and her hips. It was locked in. The bitch of it would be timing. I couldn’t do anything with her while I was still with Satan. I wiped down the bar and calculated the perfect escape plan. I had a whiteboard in my mind and I stood there with a pointer and showed myself, in detailed steps, how I could pull it off. I could get the times of departing buses for Portland. I could quit the bar and have one day at the house to pack a duffel bag. I could take an early morning bus. The previous afternoon I could leave the house and go to Tina’s place, fuck her all night and have her drop me off at the station, jump on a bus and head into the city and get a place. There I could live alone and write another novel. There I could meet a nice girl who had a real soul and a real life. I could get a cheap car and take road trips. I could sit awake until four in the morning and write and drink and smoke and look out my window. I could walk Chinatown when I couldn’t sleep. I could live on the east side if I wanted to. Maybe rent a room out of a house with some decent people and walk to the cafes in the early mornings and drink real coffee. I could get a dog and teach him to catch a frisbee. Maybe I could be a waiter or a writer for some stupid little magazine up there to pay the bills. One thing was for sure, I was dead in this town.
Jack walked in and sat next to her. She hugged him and laughed, “Here’s my boy!”
He nodded at me, “Vodka soda.”
I set him up. He tossed a twenty on the bar. I handed him his change and walked over to clear one of the tables. The women were leaving. They almost emptied out at once. Tina blew me a kiss and walked out. They were laughing. Rhonda and Cindy left me a ten spot each on the bar and took off. I hustled the bus tub behind the bar. I set up Sam and Lutz with two on the house and started the pre-close. It was just before midnight but I liked to get the place ready to vacuum right at one. Buck and Tammy stood by the kitchen in their coats. Buck looked at Jack, “You gonna get her home alright?”
“I’ll take care of her.”
She looked at me and slurred, “At least somebody gives a shit.”
Tammy walked over and kissed me on the cheek. She scrubbed the back of my head and smiled, “See you tomorrow night. Thanks a lot for all your work.”
“Any time, Tammy.”
My girlfriend looked into her glass and repeated my words bitterly. Tammy walked over and squeezed her shoulder, “You behave yourself tonight, sweetie. We’ll see you.”
Buck waved and they left. Jack stood up and gripped her shoulders, “Come on. He’ll get the car home. You need to get your head down for awhile. You’re going to be feeling like shit tomorrow.”
She looked at her glass and tipped it over on the bar, “Whatever.”
I glanced at the whiskey dripping off the corner of the bar from the lip of the glass. It was a perfect snapshot of the last year I’d been with her. He walked her to the door. She kept turning and saying hostile things to me. He waved and they were gone. Back at the bar I poured Lutz and Sam two more. Sam smiled at me, “You got your hands full with that one.”
“Hardly.”
Lutz watched me drain the beer tray from under the taps, “Well, hell. Time I got my drunk ass to sleep. Thanks a lot.”
“See you tomorrow, Lutz.”
Sam slammed his beer and stood up, “Same here. I have to work at five sharp. Supposed to snow hard in a few hours.”
“You two be careful. Thanks for the company.”
They left. They always left at the same time. Nobody bothered to wonder. I walked over to the juke box, put a dollar in and played some Don Williams. I vacuumed the rugs and did the dishes. It was almost one in the morning. I had another hour to wait. I couldn’t total out until I locked the door, so I counted my tips. A hundred and forty-seven dollars clear. A few more weeks like this and I could be alright. I made myself a large Jack Coke and sat at the corner of the bar. I lit up and unbuttoned my long-sleeve. It was hot in the bar. I set my shirt on the bar and zoned out. I finished the drink and set the garbage bags by the back door. The front door opened and the cold air shot in.
“You closed?”
“Not yet. You still have a good hour.”
His name was Blanks. I never knew his first name. I knew he lived south between the bar and Bend with his wife and two boys. I hadn’t seen him in over a month. He was addicted to the machines. He played poker constantly. The last time he was in he blew his whole two week’s pay. He was a famous loser in the county. He had big sorry eyes and a droopy mustache. He sat at the bar, “Walked here from Goodwater’s. Old lady took the car back. We had a fight.”
“I hear you.”
“Bottle of Bud.”
I opened the bottle for him. He walked over and sat behind the poker machine. He held up a roll of bills, “You see this? Nine hundred dollars. I’m going to turn this into a small fortune. Right here, right now.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Fuck it. I’m due.”
I went back to the walk-in and hauled out some bottles and rotated the beer case behind the bar. I wheeled out a replacement keg and set it under the taps in the cooler for the morning bartender. It had been a heavy night for house drafts and she was old and weak. I set the clean glasses back and wiped down the bar one more time.
“Another bottle of Bud.”
I walked it over. He handed me a twenty, “Keep it.”
“Blanks, you need to hold onto this.”
“Ah, fuck it. I’m already up three hundred.”
“Walk away now. Twelve hundred dollars is a lot of money.”
His eyes were sick with fever, “No. I have unfinished business with this fucking machine. Remember the last time I was in here? This motherfucker took six hundred away from the table.”
“These machines are designed to win. Once in awhile somebody gets lucky, but that’s all it is.”
“Bullshit. This thing is MINE.”
“Alright.”
I stood behind the bar and drank my drink.
He yelled: “Ha! Sixteen hundred! Here we fucking go! Bring it on, you motherfucker!”
I totaled out the till. It was a good night for Buck and Tammy. I rolled the receipt and wrapped a rubber band around it. I walked back into the office and set the deposit bag in the safe. I walked out and picked up my drink, “How’s it going, Blanks?”
“Fucker has me down to five hundred. I’m not worried, though. It’s just fucking with me.”
By a quarter to close he was dead broke. He walked over to the bar and plopped down, “Son of a bitch. That was my rent and bills.”
I didn’t say anything. He dropped his head on the bar and started crying. He sobbed about how his wife was going to be pissed at him and how his kids had no food. He was pathetic there. He sat up and looked at me, “Hey, about that twenty. I might need that for a cab.”
“I put it under the ashtray.”
He looked over and swiped it up. I walked in the back and grabbed my coat and gloves. I watched him from the kitchen window. He went to the machine and fed it the twenty. It was gone instantly. He screamed and hit the machine. I walked around and lit up. Five minutes to close.
“Blanks, I have to shut it down. I’m sorry.”
“How am I getting home?”
“I don’t know.”
He leaned over the bar, “Listen, loan me a hundred dollars. That machine is just waiting to pay out. I’ll give you half of what I win.”
“No fucking way. I have bills and rent. I can’t afford to piss my money away on the fucking lottery.”
He sobbed and wiped his face, “What am I going to do?”
I called a cab. I had gotten to know Jerry over the phone but I only saw his face through the opened door of the bar.
“Burris cab.”
“Hello, Jerry. Blanks needs a ride home.”
“Does he have money?”
“I’ll get the fare. Can you hurry?”
“I’m turning the corner now.”
I hung up, “I’ll get the cab ride. I have to close up. Jerry’s almost here. I’m sorry, Blanks.”
He downed his beer and slid the bottle over to me. I trashed it. Jerry stuck his head in the door, “Let’s go, Blanks.”
I handed him a twenty and five ones, “He has twenty five bucks, Jerry. Is five dollars good enough for a tip?”
“It’s fine. Talk to you later.”
Blanks walked to the door with the money. There was a machine by the pool table near the front door. He hesitated and looked at me. I reached over and flipped off the lights over the pool tables. He walked out. I turned them back on and locked the front door. I took out the trash and set the alarm. I started the car and let it warm up for awhile. I lit up and watched the snow. She hated it when I smoked in her car. I blew a cloud against the windshield and drove off. Seven blocks to the house. I looked up the street and set it into low. She didn’t have snow chains. I already knew she wasn’t going to work. They were calling for a big storm. I listened to the wind and drove through the small and dormant streets. I didn’t want to go home but I had no choice. I parked in the driveway. All the lights were on.