The Corner Bar

I sat at the bar. The dark, dank, smoke stained and saturated wood panel walls, create an atmosphere of comfort, and I languish in its embrace. Over the old, poly’d bar-top, hang three stained glass lamps, Schlitz mosaically emblazoned in blood red, against a field of green and yellow glass, held together by poorly soldered lead–small streaks of the poisonous metal trailing down shards of glistening colored glass. Encased by these hemispheres, dull, forty watt, yellowish bulbs, strain to brighten the room, but it is as if the lost hopes and damaged dreams of the patrons, swallow the light, which struggles against the stygian gloom. In the corner, an old, outdated, cigarette vending machine still occupies a space lost in time, as if a temporal vortex has opened up a conduit, a wormhole, transporting this bar space to the 1970s. The only update, that makes this machine modern, is the dollar changer, which is affixed to the wood veneered machine. The handle’s clear, molded plastic pull knobs, are no longer transparent, but yellowed with age, as if the  nicotine, which stains so many white mustaches of habitual smokers tawny, has jumped from their tobacco stained fingers, to the knobs themselves.

This bar, which lives in two times, torn between the old and the ever changing present–the quickening technology of this age–has a digital jukebox attached to a wall, down and across from the bar. Its blue digital light, simulating neon, encircles the device which spits out heavy metal, 80’s rock, hair bands, and the occasional indie rock song. The small confine of the bar space echoes the music louder, as there is one volume, excessive. The patrons, all lined up on stools at the bar, sitting along the wall, and standing in any open space, don’t seem to notice the deafening sound, and instead their stentorian voices commingle with the music, creating a cacophony of revolting conversation and death metal.

A ‘Gansett in hand, and cheap shot of Old Crow sitting next to it, my writing ambitions wane away. Like an hour glass, my zeal for literary pursuits are grains of sand, slowly sifting, dropping into oblivion, one astringent sip at a time. Pen in hand, and composition book open, I spill a drop of amber colored liquid, of what passes for whisky, onto the clean, virginal, white page, lined by a pale, cornflower blue. No words to spare, I tap my pen against the empty space, the void of memory, the dearth of prose, which builds a frustration inside me.

Tipping back the tallboy ‘Gansett, the bartender comes over. Her wrinkled hand touches mine as she seeks my attention.

“Nother, hun.”

“Sure thing.”

I turn my attention back to the bar. The couple sitting in the dark corner practically fucking, the hipster picking music off the jukebox, the older woman sitting next to me, her flaxen dry hair cut to a bob, they are all rich characters. These are my people, my characters, they inhabit the pages of my notebook, and find their way into my stories. They may never know it, but they will be immortalized in words, and their essence, even if it is a small, superficial bit, transferred to some literary persona. Their actions are fodder for my work, and farmed like potatoes plucked from the field, but that is for later. Tonight, I drink.

As I tip back the can, I converse with the woman next to me. We drink, we commiserate, and I find a character, the lonely barfly, the empty vessel, the lost soul, and then I wonder, what character will she play?

Observations

Sit and ponder. Contemplate, it is a lost art. Take the time to think, quietly, about nothing, if need be. Analyze things and just wonder. Try and figure out for yourself how things work, even if the internet can tell you. Enjoy your surroundings, take in conversations, basque in the light. Observe the light. Just be cognizant of your surroundings, of the world, and enjoy it.

You learn a lot from eavesdropping, and learn more from sitting quietly. I learned, that when doing ethnographic research, that if your informant answers your question, sit quietly, and do not say a word. The silence that develops between the two of you will make them feel uncomfortable. They will feel the need to fill that void, and elaborate more on the answer they just gave. Trust me, the best skill a writer can have is observation and the patience to listen.

Bars are great character development locations. Coffee shops are great spots to watch first dates. No character is too insane–trust me on this one, I am qualified to make this assessment. The best characters, have, well, character. Townie bars are great places to observe.

Above all else, remember, a story best told is one experienced.

The Catch-22 of Big Brother

 

How great a writer one must be, to have their work become part of a society’s vernacular, and its usage remain relevant decades later? I imagine George Orwell penning Nineteen Eighty-Four–yes originally the title was spelled out–and never even fathoming that the term he coined, “big brother,” would become so synonymous with government; especially in a society that deems itself “democratic” as America does. Although I am sure this term is used more frequently on Fox News than on any other network, this phrase has become the epitome of overreaching government which takes away freedoms from its own citizens. Orwell was a great man who strove for social change and the betterment of society, and this is obvious in his writings, but I digress, I am straying far from the point. I am sure George never imagined, that today, in 2015, we would still be using this phrase he made popular, in his ever famous novel.

Catch-22, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I recall borrowing Catch-22, from the Cutchogue Library, when I was thirteen years old. I can still feel the dust jacket under my fingers as, on a whim, I picked this book off the shelf and brought it home. I poured through the pages with a furious speed as each page enthralled me to keep reading more and more. Under the covers by flashlight I learned “catch-22,” a phrase that I had heard before, but never attempted to discover its meaning.  I remember reading this book and empathizing with Yosarian, feeling his frustrations, nervous for his life. The ridiculousness of it all, somehow made it more realistic, and I yearned for more and more.

But, catch-22, the phrase is cringeworthy. I love it, but hate it. I use it quite a bit, but so do so many others I know, and I have to say, just a ballpark guess, seventy percent of people I know use it incorrectly. I sit there, and listen to them ramble on saying “well its a catch-22” and I think to myself, actually no its not. I don’t want to be the know-it-all, so I keep my mouth shut. I could explain to them that in the novel “catch-22” was a military rule, which said to get out of flying missions, you would have to say you are crazy and apply for a dispensation from flying, but to acknowledge you are crazy and applying for this dispensation, makes you sane, its “catch-22.” So, essentially, there was no way to get out of flying missions. If I explained this I would be met with empty stares, so I just keep my mouth shut.

I wonder, what would I contribute to the vocabulary of America through my writing? I hope that someday, when I publish novels, that one of my phrases becomes a popular saying, and remains part of the language. The downside is, you don’t get to pick what is chosen. It could be some trashy little innuendo that is slapped into the book to emphasize the sleaziness of a character, or, with my luck, some childish phrase which is remembered forever. I guess the worst of it all, would be who appropriates the phrase and work. I really don’t want a piece of my literature to be adopted by Fox News, or some ridiculous group like the KKK. But of course that is all left up to chance, and that is, if it even happens. Maybe while I am alive I will  start something. start whispering those two luscious words into people’s ears at bars. I’ll imbue it into my thesis, and every chapter will contain some perfect two word phrase which could spread like wild fire through the minds of this generation.

It will probably come to me in some drunken haze, and I will stumble around, grasping for a pen and paper, jotting down these two words of genius, shoving the crumpled receipt back in my pocket. Finding it the next day I will open it up, and read the phrase, thinking to myself, what the hell does that mean, and toss it into the basket, forever throwing out my chances at literary fame.

To be immortalized in American vernacular, oh what better way can one die.