August in Denver

Rainy afternoon coffee on the shitty end of Larimer Street-

The kind of day that always pulled me to brown liquor as a young buck;

Drinking on the boat as we ran the lines-

Slaves to currents and tides then, not weather.

Now, as the rest of the party has repaired elsewhere to

Toast with THC gummies and loaded lollipops,

I sip harsh black coffee less than a mile from

Neal Cassady’s childhood home.

 

Should I have gotten the cream?

Her question threw me.

Still can, but not sure.

Do I usually take cream?

 

The surface of the coffee waves and crests with the

Vibrations of my hand; so I clatter it back down,

Again wiping at the new crescent moon between my

Thumb and forefinger.

My first tattoo-still fresh enough to feel foreign.

 

My dad had an uncle who died on a bar stool.

That meant a lot to him-he told the story often.

He’d also killed five men

But three were in the war so they didn’t count.

The old man never disowned him until his own deathbed;

Far too late.

 

The fucking stories we choose-

The characters we become.

 

I’m getting the cream.

It’s right there-just get it.

Maybe the next one.

Might as well,

This rain will not let up.

 

“…Nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”

-Jack Kerouac, On The Road

© TDR 2017

 

Advertisements

The New Girl

Andy-Someone's gonna get it.jpg

It wasn’t a race but Steve got there first by just long enough to order a martini. Not actually order it; the bartender saw him and started the process. Bombay Blue Sapphire-tiniest touch of white Lillet and olives. Cold, dry, clean and neat. He was halfway through when Dan slid onto the stool next to him. “Hey” Steve nodded, looking away from his gin for only the tiniest instant as if afraid it would run off.

Danny ordered double Dewar’s, rocks. Or rock is more like it. The only bitch he had with this bar was its hipster ice-a single huge block almost the size of the glass. He didn’t used to drink doubles but had to start here just to float the fucking ice.

As protocol dictated, Steve had nothing to say until his friend had caught up with him drink-wise. He sat in silence reading the condensation on his glass while Danny sucked Scotch around the frozen abomination. Finally he was close enough to half way through that Steve felt comfortable in opening today’s line of discussion.

“I really can’t stand that new girl in HR”, he said.

“Karen?” asked Danny swallowing off the rest of his drink. He knew his only hope of conquering the ice berg was to keep pouring whiskey on it. He raised the empty glass and Kyle-the ever attentive-grabbed it from him. “Same thing-same ice”, he told him.

“She’s not so bad…” he continued to Steve.

“Maybe not for you. But wait until you’re late with an expense report.”

“I was late last week.”

“You were….Wait! You cheap bastard, you’re never late with expenses.”

“I am now….every Friday.”

Steve drained his glass and set it on the bar. “You dog”…

“Ruff!” said Danny, surrounding the glass that Kyle slid in front of him. The ice cube was noticeably smaller.

Braising

img_7475

 

The hard work was done.
Hidden by the night's blanket-
Drowned out by barking dogs and passing coal trains
That shook the building.

The Osso Buco was my idea.
It was his favorite-
Something his family wouldn't have known.
Expecting fried chicken and hot sausage
They looked at me like I was crazy.

So I braised all night, 
Reliving old conversations to file away-
For later.
I could have been with him that night.
Doesn't mean I should have. 
He wouldn't begrudge me still being here. 
As long as I cooked.

I braised long enough to be sober by dawn.
Nothing to do but stir the sauce and wait
For the set-up crew.

His stool at the end of the bar looked less empty,
Washed by the golden glow leaking through the curtains.
Nobody would begrudge me a beer
After a long night's work. 



King Ragnar

vikings_season4_cast_ragnar_16_9

My queen was otherwise engaged so I kicked around a few local watering holes unattached.

Usually content with silent rumination I was pulled gently into conversation with a comely drinker on the next stool. “Describe yourself to me” she said “As a TV character.” Easy enough; insomnia and on-demand keep me current.

“King Ragnar”, I said. “From Vikings.”

“Huh. Really? How so?” she asked, then quickly added “in five words or less.”

A deliberate, if not particularly effective, editor I chewed for a moment before saying, “Aging alpha. Going mad.”

The crooked half smile would have been enough. Would have sufficed. But then she reached over and tousled what’s left of my hair. Get it? She tousled my hair! What was I to do with that? By her hands, I figured her a decade my junior. At least. She wore no ring but neither did I. She patted my hand and slid off the stool for the ladies room. I was careful not to watch her walk away.

Leaving a twenty on the bar I followed my hard-on out the door where the chill December night hit me like a splash. Little Tommy led me down the street to a place where the drinks were cheaper and women were scarce.

Maybe…

img_2932

Maybe pouring vodka over ice wasn’t the best choice on the day he decided to quit drinking. Maybe the fumes would help, he didn’t know. And if she came home early she would see it and know nothing was amiss.

Maybe he should have tried yesterday. That was a quiet day-might have been easier. Or tomorrow-things would smooth by then. Today is just not the best for this.

Maybe it would help if he didn’t have a loaded gun in every room. Maybe if there was no moon it would be better.

Maybe he should turn on a light.

The Weight

bar2

It was everybody’s bad luck that Danny had started drinking at noon that day. His regular shift was 11 a.m. to 6:00. He would open for the oldsters who needed a shot and a beer between Mass and Sunday dinner then manage his regulars through two football games, turning it over to Nick for the evening and late night. Nick was away this weekend, though, so the day was his. Clean through till 2:00.

They called Benny Pace, Hats, even though he had only one-a tortured fedora that was as sweat-stained as his rolled up trousers were piss-stained. A yellowed white shirt completed his motley ensemble; a shabby connection in his mind to when he was a snappy dresser.

His sons, Elmer and Frank inherited his gambling territory but it wasn’t much anymore. They ran poker machines and illegal pinball always scrambling one step ahead of the law. They carried the air of two “connected guys” but weren’t really. Big fish in a very small pond-but it was their pond.

Two guys at the bar that night had caught sight of the roll of cash Benny was holding. The regulars were used to it-always picked up bills that he’d let flutter to the floor and put them back in front of him. “Did you see that old guy’s wad?” one of them had asked him. Danny didn’t know him-short and wiry. Dark-with a pinched face. “He was lucky at the track yesterday. When Benny hits, everyone hits.” Danny chuckled and tapped his knuckles on the bar in front of the two signaling that their next drink was on the house.

Had he been a little less drunk he might have caught the gist of the conversation. He might have caught their eyes as they were casing the old man and felt what was happening. But he didn’t. The next morning, when he heard about old Benny being beaten and robbed he knew who did it and also knew that nobody could ever know how he knew. This place that he’d inherited from his uncle was a safe place. People came in here to be protected from “out there”. Danny had let the outside in.

But today, in the light of day, drinking coffee instead of Canadian Club he was not thinking about making something right. Some things can’t be made right. Some things just have to be worn.

If old Benny ever got out of the hospital-was ever back in here drinking wine from the jug that nobody else touched-whistling at the girls and babbling in his ridiculous way he would always have to look at him and know that the shit that he got plunged into was on him.

When sunlight slashed through the bar he knew even before squinting at their silhouettes that it was Elmer and Frank. Elmer was Danny’s age, short and round. Frank, older and smaller, did all the talking.

“Sorry about your Dad. How’s he doing?”

“Looks like he’ll make it. Fucked him up pretty good though.”

“Damn shame…” said Danny.

“They were in here? They guys did this?”

“There was more than one?” Danny asked.

“Looks like two. Cops got one. The other…” he shrugged.

“There was a lot of people in here last night Frank. Don’t know…I probably saw them. Hell, I probably served them. I’m sorry.”

“For what? You didn’t do nothin’.”

“Still….”

“No, that’s the motherfucker gonna be sorry. They won’t hold him till the old man can ID him, and he can’t see now so….”

“Shit…”

“He’s getting out this afternoon. We know where he lives. He’ll wished he stayed in jail.”

Danny rubbed at the faux woodgrain on the bar. And rubbed. His eyes were somewhere in the middle distance. And rubbed. Just as Elmer gave his brother his “what-the-fuck?” face, Danny spoke.

“Don’t do nothing. It will be too obvious.”

“What?”

“It will be obvious.”

The Pace brothers looked at one another, then back to Danny. Elmer stuck out his hand. “You know we’re not going to forget this.” Which is why he was doing it. He wouldn’t forget it either.

“I just wish there was something I coulda done.”

“These animals. There’s nothing you could do.”

“Go someplace tonight. Be seen and don’t worry about it.”

Danny had taken out the street light next to the apartments where the guy was staying. Just a few blocks up-not far. Hell, if he was standing up on the roof right now, Danny could see the house he grew up in. This was his alley, his bar and the street above, his street. Deep truth be known, he didn’t even like Benny or his sons-two entitled fucks who never worked a day. But this wasn’t about them at all. Not at this point.

He skulked behind the dumpster and pulled the bandana up to his eyes when the scuffling tread came up the asphalt. He recognized him even in the shadows. Stupid bastard didn’t know enough to stay away.

He gripped the bat tightly and strode up behind. The guy never knew what hit him. Danny tried to be surgical-no need to go overboard. Kidneys to bend him backward-stomach so he’d fold. The most obvious joints and bones next-bust the knee cap, ankle, stomp the hand and teeth for good measure. Left him writhing and moaning. Slipped between two buildings and out to the main street. The bat down the sewer. Done and done.

The next morning he was reading the paper when Kevin Bannon, his most regular of regulars came in for his first beer to wash down his first aspirins.

“You hear about that guy? The one robbed old Benny?”

“No. What?”

“Dead.”

“Dead?”

Somebody put a beatin’ on him. Ruptured his spleen or his kidney…something. Bled out. Right up the alley there.”

“Benny’s sons maybe? Elmer and Frank?”

“Naw, they were at the casino all night playing blackjack and winning like fucks. Everybody saw them.”

A single droplet of sweat trailed from Danny’s collar, down his spine and spread at his belt line. “Well. Fuck him”, he said. “They should give whoever did it a medal.”

“Absolutely!” Kevin agreed.

Danny popped his knuckles on the bar. Beer was on him.

Too Fast For Conditions

img_6399

“Why are you driving like this?”

“Like what?”

Outside the window other cars-those respecting the conditions-flash by as they passed them. “You don’t drive this fast when it’s NOT raining…”

“Tires are good”, he grunted as they weaved into the right lane to pass someone whose tires evidently weren’t up to snuff.

“Would you slow down please!” She wasn’t asking now.

“I know this road. Driven this road dead drunk in the middle of the night. Rain, snow. Doesn’t matter.”

He was clenching the wheel too tightly and glaring too intently through the windshield. Her fists were clenched as well and she exhaled slowly to loosen them. Her sensei was teaching her to punch the heavy bag while holding a banana. His blows were lethal but the banana remained intact. Easy for him, she thought, but she needed to switch gears.

“How many drinks did you have?” she asked trying for concerned.

“Not enough to worry about.” They flew through a puddle with a wild, thundering splash that blinded them for an instant. She felt the car float just then and her heart fluttered. He didn’t change his expression. Maybe his jaw tensed a bit more.

“That’s the thing though…” she said slowly trying to sound calm-which never worked and only made her sound harsh and hectoring. She heard it too and tried to regroup-lighter with more sweetness. …”The more you have, the less you worry about it. You leave the worrying to us.”

“Then don’t worry”, he grumbled from his chest.

She ticked off the things she might have done to set him off like this but came up empty. Then she tried to remember how many drinks he did have. Did she miss something? Was this partially on her? The car fishtailed slightly as he slammed the brakes the avoid someone who came up short in front of them. “Fucker!” He screamed to the closed window as he whipped into the other lane to pass.

No, she wasn’t going to own any of this. This was his, she decided. She saw the red lights ahead through the rain. He tapped the pedal hard-jolting them once, the twice slowing for the red light. Stay red, she thought…just stay red. It did and as the car stopped she unsnapped her seat belt and stepped out into the rain.

“Hey! What are you doing?”

“Not riding with you anymore. That’s what I’m doing!” Or not doing? Which should she have said? Didn’t matter. Point made. She slammed the door and stepped up onto the sidewalk as the light turned green. Cars stopped behind began to honk as he wouldn’t move. She was conscious of being part of a “scene” so she turned and stalked up the sidewalk toward the intersection.

Her jean jacket afforded little protection against the cool rain which had let up a tad, but was still soaking. She pulled the collar up. Behind her the cacophony of horns ceased as he saw where she was headed and pulled out of traffic into the side street just ahead of her.

He reached over and opened the passenger side door to her.

“Get in!”

Her auburn ringlets were already matted down onto her head. She bypassed the open door and walked around the front of the car and kept going, not acknowledging him.

“Come on, Karrie….Hey! Where you going?”

“Home!” she yelled over her shoulder.

“It’s four miles….”

She was marching out of shouting range so he slammed the car in gear and pulled through the closed gas station and back out on the road until he caught up with her. He slowed to her pace and the cars behind started blaring again. He rolled down the window.

“Just get in!”

“Put your hazards on!”

He did as she ordered and asked again. “Just get in. You’re soaked already and this isn’t the safest…”

“Safe! You’re going to tell me about safe!?” She had stopped and even in the spattered streetlights and passing headlights he could see her green eyes flashing.

“Come on….” He said suddenly nervous seeing her rage.

“I’m driving!” She yelled-water dripping off the end of her nose.

He struck the steering wheel with the heel of his hand. “Fine! Fuck! I don’t care. Drive.”

He stepped out of the car and walked around the back to get into the passenger side. The chill rain didn’t register. She went around the front and got in behind the wheel before he reached the door.

When he finally got in and settled into the seat she turned and lifted herself onto her hip and punched him, hard, but glancing high off his cheekbone. His head spun forward and spittle washed the inside of the windshield. Her green painted fingernails dug into her palm-she would have mashed that fucking banana. He pivoted in his seat and she relaxed-ready to evade his blow. He balled his fist and delivered a left hook to the dashboard and glared back at her. She hadn’t winced, hadn’t twitched.

“You know what’s going to happen when we get home don’t you?”

He punched the dashboard again with the side of his fist. She could feel the vibration through the steering wheel.

“Hey!” she yelled at him now, cajoling over. “Stop that!” He was going to break his fool hand, or worse, the car. “Look here!” He turned to her just in time to absorb another slap, this time open handed and from her left as she rose up in the seat. He grunted in surprise and lifted the back of his hand to his mouth. There was a spat of blood. She had caught his lip.

“Don’t make this worse than it already is…”

After a beat he threw himself back into the seat like a 220 pound eight year old and glared sullenly out the window. She calmly, precisely, put the car in gear and merged gently into the flow of traffic.

Tomorrow they would discuss this, work through this. But now, she let the anger rise in her chest and boil there. It would serve her well over the next couple of hours.