Friday, June 1, 2018

Drinking in a Suburban Bar the Night After my Father Died

The prospect of getting any rest was not looking good even if a feeling of exhaustion had settled over me, i had spent the day cleaning out my dad's little apartment at the assisted living place. Earlier in the day i bagged and donated his clothes and after a quick trip to my mom's (the house i grew up in) for dinner i was back with a bin to remove any food that might be able to be donated. It had been just over 24 hours since he passed. Going through his clothes i had found his money clip, thirty some odd dollars. I put it in my pocket and continued to look for the dugout i had bought him, a little wooden box filled with grass and a pipe that looked like a cigarette. He had wanted to get his medical marijuana card and until he did i told him i'd keep him sorted. It wasn't in the inner coat pocket where i'd hid it originally and now i was wondering if one of the staff hadn't found it and pocketed it. I had just about cleared out his closet when i found it. It was hidden away on a back shelf, up high and in a plastic bag with a thin foam packing around it so you couldn't tell what it was. He hid it like i did when i was 16. I smiled and wiped the tears from my eyes. He never used it.

Thursday night i sat in his room alone, i sat in the lift chair we had bought him and turned on his television, i watched ESPN and MSNBC like he would have. I wandered around the place as the sun turned his room from bright orange to a lovely gray-blue. I didn't want to leave. I sat on his bed and clutched his pillow and tried to wrap my head around what i'd been preparing myself to wrap my head around. I cried. I drove the streets of my youth smoking the one-hitter i bought for my dad and listening to music. I pulled in the driveway to my old house and took in the bin of food. I needed to get out. My mom was sorting through her own feelings at the demise of the father of her children, there was a guilt that this had fallen on my sister and me, earlier in the day she went with me as i met with the funeral people to make arrangements for my father's cremation. Her new husband (of 20? years) doesn't own a shirt that doesn't have some slogan about Jesus on it, the bumpers of his cars plastered with stickers trumpeting the same, a lover of NASCAR, Fox News, and the NRA he despised the last president because of his skin color though he'll make every excuse to say it was his policies, of which he can't name one, he is the polar opposite of my father. We don't have much in common. The thought of hanging about was not an option and so i pulled up the local pubs on the phone and looked for a close one that might serve a decent pint. One of the things my father said while he was in the hospital back in February was that he would've liked one more pint of Guinness. He rarely drank but as we know you always crave what you shouldn't have. I was set on taking that money clip to the pub and getting that pint. For him and me. So i set off.

North Royalton is not the most happening place on a Thursday night particularly without any of the local teams playing, an off night for the Cavs and the Tribe and the locals are all staying in. The place was the typical suburban roadside shack, a bar and grille, most likely an old diner back in the day, you walked in to a large square bar with a seating area and tables to the right, if you walk past the bar and hang a left there is the dart board and a pool table, another door leads to the outdoor smoking section behind which is the parking lot which i'm sure occasionally sees the odd bit of powder zooted off the dashboard of a pick-up truck. Though i grew up maybe three miles from here i rarely ventured this way in my wasted youth, back then it was open space and hicks to those cultured youths of Parma who thought the end all be-all was Lakewood and Coventry. About the closest i came to this direction was an old bar, now long gone, at the corner of Ridge and Pleasant Valley where they weren't all that concerned about how old you were, if you could lay the money down you could get served.

Walking in the place i could tell it was a local hangout, a few curious glances, drunks trying to place a face they haven't seen. It was a all men except for a few wives, a table of Serbian chaps all celebrating a birthday, a middle-aged father bemoaning college tuition to a childless sixty-something man, and of course a buxom and over-friendly bartender whose tits where spilling out of her sleeveless shirt. She poured my pint of Guinness and asked to many questions, i could tell she was the bar superstar by the deferential treatment she was given by every male who approached her for another round. It was hard not to look at her breasts when not watching the hockey game, mainly because there was nothing else interesting to look at.

Of course i was in a contemplative mood mainly to distract me from the last 24 hours. Some new patrons had come in and taken up seats around the bar, the big square gave one ample room yet some short Italian man named Angelo (of course) somehow decided to sit right next to me while he picked out NASCAR numbers, some form of local boozer gambling because apparently the legal Keno wasn't enough, he drank swiftly and liked to repeat himself and often lost his train of thought, i spent 20 or 30 minutes feigning attention and watching a tight hockey game between the Bolts and Caps, i wasn't exactly sad when he made his way to the exit. Across from me an aging Biff from Back to the Future pulled up a stool with his wife and third wheel. Biff had a spray on tan and was wearing a salmon colored muscle shirt, worn i'm guessing to show-off his rather horrible tattoos on each shoulder. I think his wife was using her phone to play the jukebox, a development in technology which annoys me to no fucking end for some reason, the web-enabled jukebox may be a major reason i avoid bars these days. It used to be what was on a bar's jukebox defined it, gave the place it's character, but in the name of instant gratification we can now dial up any song ever created, fucking rubbish. I sat there listening to the theme from Smokey and the Bandit and wondering just what alternative universe i had tumbled into...

Suburban Al Jourgensen and his lady friend had pulled up stools to my left. Suburban Al Jourgensen was sporting his lengthy salt and pepper soul patch to match the Euro trash football do that is all the rage these days, his shaved sides along with a wavy graying main up top, a bevy of tattoos adorned his arms replete with elbow spider web ink, his lady friend was wearing one of those expensive 70's one piece pant suit things that if i had to guess was bought at a "vintage boutique", or in more simple parlance, expensive thrift store swag. Lady Friend looked rather non-plussed while Suburban Al laughed a little too loud and easily while Lady Friend barely spoke, they too were regulars and i'm sure Suburban Al has taken some schtick in the joint for not exactly conforming to the norms of North Royalton. My professional opinion is that he's a nightmare on the few occasions he does blow. Just a hunch. The rest of the bar was littered with the typical West Side suburb array of lonely souls. Lonely men with greasy hands and their names sewn on their shirts. A table of co-workers all trying to find something to converse about. I don't think anyone really liked one another but the alcohol made them tolerate each other.

For some reason the lyrics to Cemetry Gates got stuck in my head. So we go inside and we bravely read the stones/ all those people/ all those lives/ where are they now/ with loves and hates and passions just like mine/ they were born/ and then the lived and then they died/ seems so unfair/ i want to cry... if i was more tech savvy i would have played it clandestinely from my bar stool.  I took it all in while the Bolts hung on and beat the Caps, it didn't matter, it was all just a distraction to keep my mind off what was directly in front of me, looking around as a brief wave of nihilism washed over me i wanted to stand up and explain that everyone in this room would someday be dead, that there was no meaning to any of this shit and that most of us were wasting our lives in pursuit of complete and utter non-sense, that modern life was bullshit. That maybe we should all just attempt to be kind to one another and that if we were lucky enough to have someone to love or who loved us that we should make sure to tell them... and not by fucking text message. I finished my pint and walked out the back, my shoes making a lovely noise against the gravel.

As i drove back through the crickets of a suburban Thursday night, the suburb of my youth, i kept my eyes on the road and my hands upon the wheel, i drove past the old concrete wall that once sported the scrawled graffiti that said, Rapscallion was here!, a stunt pulled by some long defunct and forgotten suburban band. Rapscallion was no longer there, the wall painted over many times in the last thirty-some years? My father was no longer here either. Someday i'll no longer be here, nor will all the people i love or my cats or everyone i don't know, we'll all be gone somewhere or nowhere. I drove into my old neighborhood and spent 15 minutes or so just driving up and down the streets, windows down, music playing low, smoking weed. I felt lost. I pulled into the driveway and just like i did when i was a teenage delinquent opened the door and crept into the house. A house i grew up in that was vaguely familiar and extremely alien. I grabbed some water and a bag of popcorn my mom had left out. I tiptoed down the hall and into my sister's old room, my old room having been converted into an office. The house my father bought. Everything felt different. He wasn't here either.


Exile on Pain Street said...

I was one of those cultured youths who thought Lakewood and, especially, Coventry was the shit. We were sold an image. Wasn't there a Santo's Pizza around Ridge/PV? My sister was a waitress there for a bit. Hombre, I remember Rapscallion.

You can't go home. He's not there and neither are you.

savannah said...

I read this a couple of times, walked away without come, and knew I'd have to come back. The last time I saw my daddy, I was 28. I found out he had died a few months before I turned 40. He made his choice and by default, I made mine. I can never be in San Francisco without thinking of him or feeling his presence. I envy you that last drink on his dime.

Exile's last line is right.


Exile on Pain Street said...

btw, I got an email from Looby. His computer/network got a virus. He's trying to get things back up and running.

daisyfae said...

i know this bar. i've seen these people. i have to say that your words paint it all so clearly. i can almost smell the grease trap from the kitchen - that hasn't been cleaned in forever.

for me? it was a Red Lobster. Mom died the day before, and i had to kill some time before meeting with her attorney, so i stopped there for lunch. And by 'lunch', i just ordered a beer. Server brought it to me, then two minutes later, brought me a second one "Oh, I don't remember bringing that! Here! Have a second." i left it across the table from me, and had a long conversation with my dead mom. i have no idea if anyone else noticed. i didn't drink her beer.

looby said...

Oh Jeez, that makes my own problems fade to a speck of sand. That's a most evocatuive picture of the bar you paint, and an excellent demonstration of the way that the ordinary and everyday can suddenly assume such great importance and almost psychedelic detail when it's viewed through the frame of the loss of a close one.

Best wishes kono, and I will, honestly, raise the next one (which will happen in about 10 minutes) to you, and say "to kono" sotto voce. Every good wish fellah.