Bar Moscow

Think of the shittiest dive bar you have ever been to. Ok, do you have that image in your mind. Or better yet, maybe you are sitting there right now, belly up to the polyurethaned bar-top with a cheap shot of whisky in hand and a tall-neck Miller High Life, the champagne of beers. If this is the case, turn around, look at the walls stained with the excessive years of cigarette smoke, smoke which saturated those dark, wood panels, giving them the perfect, antiquated look you see today. Those walls, those disgusting walls, which you have come to call home, are riddled with cancer from all the second hand smoke they have absorbed over the years, like a sponge left in the sink, sitting in the moisture left behind, a stink emanating from that yellow porous rectangle. They will probably be given only a few years to live, as the black tar and ammonia oozes from their cracks. Ok, so now do you have your image? If you don’t, then go find a corner bar, the darker, the smokier, the cheaper, the better, and then you’ll have an idea. But in the meantime, for those of you who know of what I speak, good. Think of that place, and then know, you can’t even come close to Bar Moscow.

Hidden down a street in plain sight, sits the single pane of glass which allows a dull smoked light into  this lovely shit-hole bar. Wedged between two bars, one a pool hall and the other a night club, the thick, heavy, solid door of this establishment is adorned with no sign, and no indication of opening or closing hours. To walk by, well, one would do just that, walk by. Our first night in Helsinki we looked for it, and using the directions given to us, walked by, oblivious to Bar Moscow. We stared right at the bar, the single glass window, but we shrugged our shoulders, thinking we had the wrong address. It wasn’t until New Years Eve that we found the bar was there, and oh, what a bar.

Think back to the dive bar you were reminiscing about. That bar with the smoke stained walls, wood paneling, and the salty–usually female–bartender that has been working the joint for the last forty years, and looks about as smoke-stained and leathered from the formaldehyde in those cigarettes as the walls do. Yeah, that bar. You know, the bar where you order comfort food, but nothing is comforting about it three hours later. The food that, for some unknown, god forsaken reason, you still order, after so many stints of upset bowels–even though you won’t admit to yourself it was food poisoning, deep down you know its true– which each time you blamed on the popcorn you had at the last bar; wink, wink. Well, still not Bar Moscow.

We didn’t know what we were walking into, Tom, Abby, and I. We had found the bar at the spot we had previously walked past. Squashed between the two bars we noticed the door, and saw it, a small paper sign at the bottom left hand corner of a plate glass window reading “MOKCBA bAP.” We opened the door with hesitance, and entered into the drunk maelstrom of Bar Moscow. It was New Year’s Eve, the Finn’s on the street were already shitty drunk at 8 p.m., and we would be well on our way soon, with a bunch of Russian’s, who, by the way, the Finnish are not so keen on.

I can only imagine it is how a Russian Bar would have looked in the sixties and seventies under the communist regime. The blood red painted walls added a certain level of hideousness to the aesthetic decor, which was lit by two bare fluorsecent lights angled toward each other vertically on the wall. The rest of the bar was low lit with random lamps, and a few low wattage, recessed, overhead lights, which shone down from the black painted ceiling. I felt like I was in a whorehouse. The red room, the low dim lighting, the cheap tacky decor. I was waiting for Mother Russia to come out in leather clad bikini, whip in one hand, cigarette in the other, speaking in broken english accent, asking me if I like pain. Instead I settled for the drunk men who seemed drawn to us like flies, we being the strangers in this bar where everyone knows each other, but doesn’t show it.

Back to the bar you were thinking about. Ok, we have the smoke stained walls, the old bartender with her ratty, hacking cough. We have the shitty decor. Old signage that has been affixed to the wall for fifty years. Programs still adorning the bathroom walls from a time when your great grandfather would have been drinking there. Now you think about the people. The rummies, the drunks, the boozehounds. The guys and gals that live there. That are there at opening, and help the bartender flip the stools at the end of the evening. You have other bartenders on their way to work, who suck down two screwdrivers before their shift starts–you bump into them at the next bar down the line as they pour your drink, their nose red as Rudolf’s and the blood vessels on their cheeks starting to turn purple, the tell tale sign of an alcoholic. Without these characters, these bars are nothing. They exist because these patrons exist. And, so does Bar Moscow.

The Finn’s loathe Russians, so, why have a bar named Bar Moscow in Helsinki? The drunk Russian, Nicholai, reminisced about home with us. Plying him with shots of Zubrokow vodka, he told us about his life and the life of the bar. Nicholai sipped the vodka, slowly savoring the ice cold clear liquid, even shared one shot with us, each of us taking a small sip of the beautifully crafted, vanilla liquor. The owner wanted a bar he could drink in, without being bothered by a crowd, and what better way to keep Finn’s away, than by opening a Russian themed bar. The bar had customers, it was not empty, it wasn’t want for patrons, but the room–and I stress that, it is only one room big–was not full up, especially for New Year’s Eve. So we drank with Russians, in the most hated bar in Helsinki, and the least advertised. Nicholai explained to us that it is meant to look closed all the time. If people do not think it is open, they will stay out.

Your dive bar probably does not have the drunks they do. In fact, I can guarantee your smoke stained bar with the leathery bartender, the shitty decorations, the diarrhea inducing food, and the barflies, does not have these drunks. There are drunks, swaying back and forth, falling asleep on their beer, hand quivering as they put the cheap shot to their lips, having scrounged together pennies to buy the rotgut well liquor that only cost two dollars, and then, well, there are the drunks of Bar Moscow.

The patrons of Bar Moscow were well on there way. The small tables, which were sporadically placed across the room with no specific pattern, were surrounded by metal chairs with bright red vinyl cushions, while drunk Russian’s swayed from side to side atop these seats. At one point in the evening a patron well over served collapsed leaving the bar, taking with him shelves of knick knacks crashing to the floor with a cacophony of disaster. His crumpled form was left on the floor, until he popped up minutes later, like a marionette being picked up by some invisible puppeteer. No effort was made by the bartender to yell at him, help him, or berate him, it was as if nothing happened. All others in the bar just sat there and watched, then turned back to their respective conversations. This dark haired man with a tousled look stumbled out into the night with an ataxic gate, wandering into the cold of December.

The shitty corner bar, the one you have locked in your mind now, it has a feel, an aura, an atmosphere that is just there. This ambience is the culmination of all aspects from the bartender to the decorations, the patrons to the food, the drinks to the prices they charge and advertise. Now to each their own, so I cannot say Bar Moscow has a shittier atmosphere, but I can say, it was the oddest experience I have had at a bar.

Behind the bar sat a plate of stale sandwiches. Made with white bread, thinly stacked with lunch meats, these unappealing triangles being the only food one could order at the bar. Next to this plate sat a record player the size of a small pony, and across the front of this wood veneered box, was a dull green light emanating from the display of radio stations, like a ruler with hash marks of music. The Russian music boomed with a scratchy, tinny, sound from old burlap covered speakers, while throngs of men sang in high tenors and low baritones, laying a strong solid foundation to their national chants. The music was dated, spinning from the scratched vinyl, which was stacked on shelves behind the bar, relics from a cold war and Stalinist Reds. The bartender herself was squat and stout, with greying hair pulled back, a Babushka in her own right. Her gruff demeanor was not broken by anyone that night. And even though she new many of the patrons, no smile broke her stony facade, it was as if she was one of the millions of faceless masses exiled to Siberia. She spoke with a limited vocabulary, her speech terse and curt, smothered by a thick Russian accent, the few words she spoke you thought she was commanding action, like a drill instructor barking orders. But that still wasn’t the oddest thing.

So in your shitty corner bar, the one you love to visit, the one you call home, you have probably been there on New Year’s Eve. You have probably been there with all the familiar faces, although you may not know them personally, or be friends with, you know them, and it is somehow comforting for you. You are there to ring the New Year. The ball drops on the television and you watched Dick Clark there, wishing you a Happy New Year, feeling as if he was a fixture in your life. People sing, pat each other on the back, hug, total strangers, yet familiar faces, you all feel a common bond. In Bar Moscow, well, there is none of that.

They all stood up as the record player came to an abrupt halt. The three of us stared at each other, as we surveyed the room, watching the men and women hold their drinks up, as if saluting in anticipation of some important patron. Reluctantly standing, we followed suit, and the silence was shattered by men chanting in unison that issued forth from the jangling speakers. It was midnight, and patrons stood for the Russian national anthem. People in the bar sang, belting out the words, as if in some hypnotic trance, like Catholics unconsciously reciting prayers and creeds  in their bewitched monotone voices. In Bar Moscow, we ushered in the New Year of 2013 with thirty or more drunk Russian’s, belting out their old communist anthem. And tucked away on a side street, in this dive bar of Helsinki, this pariah of the city’s bars, we felt at home.

 

 

Inhibitions

How can you write if you cannot imagine something in all its horrifying, gruesome, most intimate details. No matter how taboo the topic, the writer must write about it without hesitation or reservation. If we censor our writing, so it is only appealing to the masses, then we limit ourselves and our ability to tell intricate stories. Our ability to live inside our characters, to feel their emotions, to breath as they do, is what makes the tragic hero, the despicable villain, the cheating husband, the buoyant teen. Without our ability to see as they do, feel as they feel, emote as they emote, we just have soul-less avatars filling prolix pages between two artfully constructed covers.

If the writer is inhibited, then their writing will be the same, and if the writer is embarrassed and holds back, this will show. Do not be reticent, instead write as foul mouthed as your character wants to be, allow your character to be who they are supposed to be, how you envision them in your head. I for one think back to all the books that were banned, and, well, I wouldn’t mind my work being put on the shelf, nestled next to those authors.

Shock troops of Gentrification

While the hipster seems to be the unwilling and unknowing shock troops for gentrification, their intent is not malicious or deceptive. It is with great admiration that I begin to write about hipsters, and hopefully those reading this will understand that the media tends to stereotype groups with a banality that borders on neuroses. And what we know of the hipster stereotype is far from any truth imaginable.

In Portland, Maine we  see the current process of gentrification, as it has been and is occurring in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and how it is changing the city. Now what is occurring in Portland is what Sharon Zukin describes in her book Naked City , discussing the urban environment, and what Richard Lloyd discusses in Neo-Bohemia as he analyzed the culture of Wicker Park Chicago in the eighties to the late nineties. What they both notice in their work is that post-industrial areas seem to attract a bohemian crowd, a group of like minded individuals who want to come together, and form communities, neighborhoods, where they can be around people who share similar traits and qualities. To be honest I find this normal, and in no way out of the ordinary. If you are a liberal who is anti-gun, pro-choice, and pro- immigration rights you don’t choose to move to Texas thinking there will be a plethora of individuals who will share you passion for your beliefs. Instead you find an area that suits your needs better.

These artists, bohemians, hipsters, how about just plain people, see the attraction, appeal, and even beauty of these post-industrial complexes and in renovating them, create a community which brings mass appeal to others. In doing so, they begin to renovate neighborhoods that would be untouched before, and unaccessible to the general public out of fear of crime and lack of public services. By doing what all other people do, enhance their own surroundings and try and find affordable housing, they create an area that is livable again out of a wasteland that would otherwise have crumbled and disappeared into oblivion, as time seeped into the cracked mortar between bricks, slowing cleaving the old dilapidated structures in two. In creating a livable environment though, unfortunately the vultures begin to buzz overhead, unbeknownst to these homesteading urban pioneers.

As the bricks are mended and storefronts fill up with boutiques, coffee houses, yoga studios, used bookstores, bars, and restaurants, this creates an inevitability which is unfortunate and out of the hands of these initial entrepreneurs. Rents begin to rise, more new stores fill in, and older bodega’s, corner bars, and other small businesses which once filled these storefronts, begin to disappear. As Zukin notes, this isn’t a bad thing, it is the beginning of a cycle, the genesis of a neighborhood. But, this is where gentrification occurs. It is not at the hands of the initial urban pioneers who cleaned the neighborhood, bringing in art galleries and coffee shops, but at the developers and real estate investment firms, that we begin to see the neighborhood’s landscape altered.

Eventually rents raise so high that the boutiques and coffee shops catering to hipsters, bohemians, and artists begin to disappear, replaced by chain stores. Not chains like Wal-mart or Target, these still would have no market here, but chains that are regionally based, usually within the city, or specific stores that cater to that lifestyle. In Williamsburg, clothing stores from Manhattan have opened chains within the neighborhood limits, and in Portland, Maine hotels and restaurants seem to be the commodity of investors in the Old Port.

As the process of gentrification goes into full swing, housing begins to change the landscape, and older homes are bought up and torn down for development of luxury apartments and condominiums. In Portland this is happening on the East End and Munjoy Hill, while in Williamsburg this is happening right on the waterfront where the old factories have been torn down to make way for luxury riverfront apartments. This is an unfortunate matter of fact that was not anticipated by these urban pioneers who sought to create their own neighborhoods, and bask in their own created environment. What has occurred is the area is now desirable, and people from outside want to live amongst the hip, the cool, the tres Brooklyn. This is the unfortunate side effect of these bohemian hipster neighborhoods.

Eventually rents raises so high that the original bohemians, artists, hipsters, urban pioneers, can no longer afford to live there, and must move out of the neighborhoods they helped create and design. And this opens the door for super gentrification, as Zukin calls it. But that is another conversation all together.

 

No bet too far

As as firefighter, I tend to work with men, who, you could say, have twisted, sick, morbid, and dark senses of humors–and I, in no way, exclude myself from this. As a result, we tend to fill our down time at work swapping stories of crazy calls, reminiscing about calls that are memorable, and, also, placing bets–dares for a lack of better terms. For me it first started with a chiclet, forgotten, hidden behind a stocked supply shelf in a Burger King store room. This little square, candy-coated piece of gum rested on the dirty, greasy, reddish-brown tiled floor. A piece of rat shit stuck to it, poison pellets were sprinkled all along the floor around it. My lieutenant picked this piece up between his fingers, and holding it up so nonchalantly said “Eat it.” Five dollars later, I snatched that tainted piece of  gum so quickly from his fingertips, and popping it in my mouth, sealed my fate as the man who eagerly takes bets.

Over the years, bets became more and more excessive, and so too did the money which exchanged hands. I graduated from a chiclet to an onion. That horrid, disgusting onion. Like bitter poison, I chewed half that white, rotund, bulb, like an apple in fifteen seconds, and then vomited in my mouth. The bile mixed with that acidic vegetable, burned my throat and turned my stomach. The rest of the night I stank, reeking of B.O., as I sat cramped in the back of the ambulance, my poor patients subjected to my stink. I lost that bet, not having eaten the whole onion in forty-five seconds, one of the few bets I left incomplete.

Just so you know, if you eat a magazine, pieces of articles do not come out in your fences–I know that has been plaguing you for years. So, yeah, they spared me the grief of having to eat the glossy cover, but that was the only quarter I received. Each flimsy, thin, ink printed page of the Northern Tool Catalog was slowly ripped out and crinkled up into a little ball. Chewing slowly, it was like the most dense, thick, bubblegum, I had ever masticated, and with a large gulp, it was gone. One hundred and fifty pages later, only the covers remained.

We like to go out as a crew, drink together, commiserate, party hard. The rock music from the local band pounded the walls of the shit bar. Stale beer wafted in the air as our shoes stuck to the floor, each step walking in wet sand, as our soles pulled on the tacky wood. He wiped the wet table with the two napkins and unscrewed the cap on the salt shaker. Wet napkins become paper maché. They became two liquor soaked spitballs. It was like a slag shot in my mouth, all the liquors combined off the tabletop. It was horrendous, but it was nothing compared to the shaker of salt. My tongue was numb for days. Hell, that sixties dollars paid for my drinks that night.

The Worcestershire Sauce was the worst. It makes my stomach turn, to think about it now years later. The pint glass was dark and salty. It tasted horrible, it wasn’t even genuine, it was generic. Salt, garlic, onion, salt, and more salt. Eighty dollars was a steep price, one I could not avoid. The pint of liquid went down easily, but it tasted disgusting nonetheless. The few minutes after, my tastebuds left me. There was nothing left but a stinging in my mouth. My tongue seemed removed from my body, ripped from my mouth, a lifeless paralyzed appendage. This was not the worst part. An instant perspiration enveloped me, and like an open faucet, sweat soaked my clothing. I had never experienced something so erratic. I sweat like I had just run a marathon mid-July. Stripping, I lay on the tile floor of the bathroom, the cold small squares of ceramic cooling my bare skin. I lay in a puddle of my own salty moisture, while my body excreted thousands, upon thousands, of milligrams of sodium, instinctually protecting itself. But, hey, I made eighty bucks.

There were others, many other bets, some never completed due to the recession. There was the Bisquick, the fan, the matchbox car bus, the letter opener, and many others. Oh, yeah can’t forget about the chili peppers, snorting, not eating. No joke–some guys withdrew bets because of monetary hardship. You can’t make this shit up. I made some money over the years, but I guess, in the end, it wasn’t the money, but the stories that were created, and the pleasure I brought to those guys. And, hey, everyone loves a risk taker, right?

 

Occupations

The prostitute whistled back to her pimp, with every loud, echoing clap, of his cupped hands. Out the window I could see a dreary fog hanging in the sky, turning the streetlights into a twinkling luminescence. The neighborhood seemed quiet, an eery pall draped over the old, cobbled street. I could hear the click of her heels on the sidewalk with every step she took, like two wooden blocks being smacked together by a toddler at play. There was a slow rhythm to her gait, and the cadence seemed very methodical, very intentional, as if someone out for a slow, sauntering stroll. Her sundress swished in the moist night, as a cool, early autumn breeze, blew a few dry leaves in her direction. Her skin pimpled from the cold, she rubbed her arms for warmth, as each drop of moisture in the air floated listlessly, separated in the murky light.

A loud thunderous clap, thrice, came from around the corner of the street, and placing fingers to her lips, she whistled a shrill, ear piercing sound, twice, continuing her rounds. The hushed street, her office, and she strolled down the sidewalk, familiar with every crevice, every fissure, which frost had heaved in the concrete surface. Watching her, it was as if she floated down the street, with a subtle and hidden grace. Her feet moved deftly atop the concrete, her heels belying her height, and she moved as if on a fashion runway, toe to toe, head held high, yet she did not exude the confidence that models show. Her head, held high, her eyes gazed to the heavens with a wistful stare, as if she could somehow peer through the fog and twinkling lamplight, to see the celestial bodies above.

Her brunette tipped, blond hair, fluttered in the slight breeze, and bracing herself against the chill, she hugged her chest, rubbing her long bony fingers across her shoulders. She looked haggard, like a skeleton in a loose hanging skin suit, and in the tenebrous light, her eyes seemed to sink in her head, dark sockets void of any life. Jewelry hung from her spindly wrists, almost falling off her hands, the small bobbles and beads seeming to weigh down her spaghetti arms. Somewhere in the distance, masked by the fog, three booming claps reverberated through the mist. Her whole body heaved with an frustrated sigh, and she flung herself onto the concrete wall next to my apartment window. Cupping hands over her face, sobs broke their way through the glass, which separated the two of us. She did not whistle back, but instead, he did. This time a sharp, strident whistle came from the fog, one loud shrill blast. She uncupped her hands and clapped, thrice, and the night went silent.

She sat there for quite a while, the fog, a moist blanket embracing her body. Her hair hung straight and wet onto her shoulders, she sat there, still, in the cool brume of early autumn. Standing up, she slowly wiped her fingers under her eyes, wiping away the mascara, which smeared on her cheeks. With the same fastidious step as before, she moved down the block, a sharp click of each heel. As she moved away from the window, her figure began to dissipate into the fog, but before dissolving into the grey, she stopped under a streetlamp. The dull orange light basked a glow over her, and she seemed to take on a warm feature. From the abysmal night came three booming claps, and placing her fingers to her lips, she whistled to this unrevealed character, and wiping a tear away from her eye, she moved into the consuming darkness.

Her silhouette faded into the dark fume as she moved down the street. Eventually she faded into oblivion, her features all waning from my view. Occasionally, as I sat in that window seat, I could hear the loud, thunderous claps, followed by a shrill whistle. An empty, hollow, despondent whistle.

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.

A Grocery-Cart Stoplight

Realizing that this is my platform to capture people’s attentions, even for the most mundane, everyday occurrence, I will take full advantage of this. Since when has it become mandatory to have the plastic divider on the conveyor belt at the grocery store, before you put your items down. I have noticed in the past few years, with increasing curiosity, that using this has become an unwritten rule in our culture? When did the plastic divider become necessary?

Standing in line, I notice the stench of B.O. emanating from the large man in front of me. His Mossy Oak head to toe camouflage outfit seems to ooze this stink about the customer line, as if peeled onions are shoved into the pockets of his coat. If this isn’t enough, I could reach over and grab his hair, and probably wring out enough oil from his hair to deep fry a whole chicken, but hey, who am I to judge. We all have our bad hair days, all have those times when we have woken up, hungover, face peeling off the floor where we passed out the night before, stumbling to the commons on campus in our pajamas, the stink of whisky, cheap beer, and vomit lingering on our lips, so again, who the hell am I to judge. I’m older now, cleaned up, well-dressed, but hey, I was there once, and now I stand in line, waiting to check out.

My food lays on the conveyer belt, next to the bright foil bags filled with corn chips and triangular shaped nachos. And then I see it, the look, the look of death. As if somehow my food will infect his, I see it, the casual flick of the hand, sending the little plastic bar, the guardian of groceries, to land atop my pile. All I receive is a gruff, “use it.” Choking back any snarky comments that would fly from my mouth toward this man who has not seen a bar of soap in weeks, I casually take the divider, and place it between our foods. This bar somehow delineates food property, conveyer belt real estate. The six inches between our two piles, somehow is not enough of a demarcation between the differing purchases. The fact that my food is, well, much different than his, or maybe, just maybe, the fact that the cashier saw me place my items on the belt isn’t good enough, no, he has to make sure that it is known to all, those few piddly items of food are his.

So, ok, one time doesn’t make this a thing, but so many times I have noticed customers standing behind me, not placing their items on the belt, without that plastic bar up there. I will sometimes wait so long without placing that divider up there, just to see people’s reactions. I have almost had all my groceries in the express line rung up, before the person behind me grasped the divider with an annoyed look, placed it on the belt, even though almost all my items were gone, and then took their groceries out of their basket. This whole thing is puzzling to me, it is an enigma, an odd phenomenon.

Maybe people are afraid of food touching. I mean I wouldn’t want that cheap ass Natty Light touching my craft beer, it might instantly skunk it. Or maybe they are afraid of the devious ones in society. I think it would be great. You can let random items spill into other people’s groceries, stand there with Depends adult diapers, and just let them mix into the pile in front of mine, looking at the cashier with a face of pure innocence, “They’re not mine. No, I didn’t put them up here. It’s ok, it happens to the best of us. You’ll persevere.” Maybe, people are afraid, that for some reason we are going to sabotage them, placing high end foods in their pile, which the average, unsuspecting American, would never notice until they got home. You would never return it, because we all know it is tacky to return food to the grocery store. Yeah, I need to bring back these two bunches of grapes, they weren’t up to my standards–Can you return produce?

Anyway, when the hell did this little plastic divider, that people are so afraid of, become king of the conveyor belt. Since when did this divider become the absolute dictator of when to put your food down for checkout. Seriously, I wonder, if you drew a red line on the floor in the grocery, right before the checkout line, people would stand behind it, waiting to be waved on from the cashier, without ever being told what it was. Like a dog confused at the other canines on television, people would stare at this line, touching it with their toes, as if it would turn green, a grocery cart stoplight. I say screw the divider and go for broke. Throw your groceries on top of the other customers, and purchase the whole lot. It will be exciting when you get home, you won’t know what you bought, till unveiling the purchase in the safety of your own kitchen. Surprise, tampons. Surprise, capers. Surprise, coconut. Ah, what a great dinner this will be. So, next time you’re at the grocery store, don’t use the divider, and put your items as close to the other customer’s, just to watch the look of absolute concern wash over their face, as fear of grocery integration swirls around their imagination.