Saturday, August 20, 2011
The Corner Bar
I needed a reason to call my mother. I never called her just to say hello. What could I say to her that I had not already said last week when I called. It would not do for me to come right out and say I just needed to hear her voice. She would think that was odd. So I sat there for what seemed like hours trying to come up with something to ask her. You see, mom is always busy, and although she would never come right out and tell me she has no time to talk to me—which I would appreciate more for the honesty—she will have that hurried tone in her voice which conveys the message that I should just ‘spit it out’.
I wish my father were still alive. I was never afraid to approach him with anything. He had an open door and an open mind. As far as he was concerned if I had thought it, it was worth a discussion; if I had heard it on the streets it needed an explanation; and if I had done it and it was wrong, it needed an ear my voice could penetrate and a mind my short-sightedness could duel with. I had the benefit of my father’s wisdom—not for telling me what was wrong or right, but for allowing me, with his guidance, to draw my own conclusions. When my father died I was sixteen years old. Henceforth I was the son of my mother only. The son of a prominent business woman who never had time for her son. Did she ever wonder how I was doing? Did she ever worry about whether or not I was eating properly? Not once did she pry into my personal life the way all good mothers do.
The thought occurred to me that it would improve my relationship with her if I found a girlfriend. She may very well take an interest in that—if I should suddenly produce a possible spouse. I would be interested to witness her reaction. I thought I might try it very soon. I’d have to meet someone first. I sat a while longer at the kitchen table drinking my coffee. I liked the early morning silence and I could have stayed there for a while longer, but I had to get ready for work.
I worked all day without interruption and I was glad for the distraction. My boss did broach the subject of my absence the day before minus the customary call in. I apologized and was given a warning. When I look back over my ten years of employment I can see that I am shown some favoritism. Why is because I’m fast and accurate and always there—except for yesterday.
At five o’clock I left work and went straight to the Corner Bar. It’s a small bar and the beer on tap is cheap. The crowd isn’t bad; no bikers or degenerates; mostly blue collar workers, a few Vietnam war vets, and an even smaller number of WWII vets. Occasionally you would find a woman or two connected at the hip to a guy or two, but rarely a woman alone.
This place has always been a favorite. I can sit and contemplate for hours and no outside forces can bother me. Only my thoughts are permitted to accompany me into this haven of solitude, and if they get out of hand I will reproach them with a double shot of vodka. There are other bars and clubs I go to occasionally, but for a different reason. I was not looking for that type of companionship. It was a night for solitude. I sat at my usual stool near the juke box facing the door; making sure I was able to see every face coming in.
I like most of the guys who frequent the Corner Bar, especially Joey Pike. He’s a round sort of old man with a hearing aid. He’s almost totally bald, with just a bit of gray hair lining the top of each ear. He has a very refined English accent and is one of the few WWII vets I mentioned. He had met his wife during the war. They got married after the war and since she was from New York that’s were he wound up. Joey would talk on and on about his life and his feeling of pride at being an ally in WWII, fighting along-side Americans. I would listen as though my very next step in life would be taken by virtue of his wisdom alone. In every story Joey told there was a secret passage-way into the past, and if you listened intently you would find yourself living the past with him. You wouldn't even be aware that you had taken the trip until your journey was over.
Then Kenny wandered in. I use the word wander because Kenny is a wandering kind of guy. We just call him Professor. He’s about twenty-nine and has spent most of his life in school studying “this and that”, as he says. He says his goal in life is to learn as much as he can in the short amount of time he has left on the earth. I asked him once what he intended to do with all that knowledge. "Wouldn’t it be better” I said, “to specialize in one subject so you can master it?”.
Kenny was always vague with his replies that most often didn't even connect with the conversation at hand. This night he was mumbling something about not leaving the earth until he gets what he came for. "And what is that?" we all asked in unison. "An answer!" says he. "To what?" says we.
He sat gazing at his glass of seltzer and lime. He explained that at the moment of our birth we all ask a question. "Do you know what that question is?" says he. And I blurted out “Where am I?”, which prompted an uproar of laughter. "That's the question!" says he, "and your question wasn't answered because no one recognized it as a question."
Then he tells us that later on in life we all carry around another question subconsciously, that it will surface in each of us when we begin to feel a sense of awareness about life. "Perhaps when you feel closest to God." says he.
"So, what’s your question?” I asked mockingly.
“I have asked my question, but the answer hasn’t come to me yet, so I will not reveal it.”
Usually we dismiss any conversation with Kenny as having served very little purpose, yet in the days that followed I found that I couldn’t get this particular conversation out of my mind.
Leaving the bar was a major problem for me. I could only look forward to a three block walk to my apartment, whereby I would be thrust out of my blissful state of inebriation by the cold night. There was no activity on my street, with the exception of a small grubby looking dog scrounging in my landlord’s garbage. I wondered where he came from. Who owned him? Why was he out at three o’clock in the morning? That bothered me. If you’re going to have a dog, take care of it. I worked myself up into an aggravated state due to this little dog, and by the time I got up to my apartment I needed another beer, afterwhich I fell into a sound sleep.
I was with Martin again on the Island. We were standing in the middle of the beach and there were people all around me. Martin introduced me to his friends. First there was Suzanne. She was exceptionally tall for a woman, with very broad shoulders. She had a nice smile and I remember a sudden feeling of warmth just being near her. She looked like she could calm an angry sea with a wave of her hand. She said she was pleased to make my acquaintance and promised to have a long talk with me once I had settled in. Suzanne’s height and build had at first suggested a masculine image, but her soft facial features and pleasing voice expressed a gentle and womanly soul. I thought that it would be nice to talk with her for a while.
Next there was Lydia Rose. She was very young. Her dark, wavy hair fell nearly to her waist. She was not beautiful, but her deeply set, dark eyes drew me to her as if I were being drawn into a dark, mysterious cave; frightening but nevertheless enticing. She looked up at me without saying a word. I saw wisdom in her eyes, the likes of which you would expect to see only in the elderly. She touched my face softly with her fingertips as she stepped back to allow another introduction.
Christopher the boy was the way I had been at sixteen; tall and slender—almost wavering in the wind. I can remember all too well the anxiety of the age, when bullies pushed, challenged and, worse yet, ignored. I received his firm hand shake. His deep voice took me by surprise when he said hello. He had a lot on his mind and a lot he wanted to discuss with me, but Martin stepped in, explaining that his young friend was very sociable, and given the chance would not let me alone for a minute. Martin explained to the boy that I was probably tired and would welcome some sleep before dinner.
I was tired; not from physical exertion, but confusion. I was almost listless with it. There were more introductions to people that I can only vaguely remember right now, after which Martin showed me to my hut and I quickly fell into a sound, peaceful sleep.