I don’t even drink but go to a bar. Can’t think of anyplace else to go. Beer makes me sick but what else can I do? I sit at the bar and ask for a beer, something natural, one of those new beers without all the chemicals because I figure maybe that’s what makes me sick. “We got Lily’s Pink Rosepetal on tap,” the bar guy says. Hell of a beer name but I say make it a pint. I try to make myself look even more miserable than I feel, hoping he asks what’s wrong but bar guys know better, I guess. He puts the glass in front of me and walks down to the end of the bar for a pull on his smoking butt. Picks up the sports section and continues where he must have left off.
Guy comes in sits three stools down. Says, “Hey Harry gimme a pint” and Harry shows up with the pint. No brand names, must be a regular. I look over, maybe this guy’s a prospect for some talk. I turn away just as he looks back but try to see out of the corner of my eye what he’s thinking but his glance is over quick. I turn to look again and turn back just in time. I’m making this guy uptight, no doubt about it. He picks up his glass and moves to a booth, gets out his smokes, and lights up.
Two girls come in and sit at the other end of the bar from where that guy sat, near Harry. “What’ll it be, girls?” What’ll it be girls, I can’t believe it. What’ll it be girls. They gonna let him get away with that? They do.
“A glass of Dubonnet with ice.”
“I’ll have a B&B over,” the other one says.
They both light up. I search my pockets and come up with some smokes and light one, too. I’m trying not to look over, just try to figure from the corner of my eye how they look, whether there might be some talk possibilities there. My beer’s untouched.
One of the girls, the Dubonnet, gets up and walks to the jukebox, the cigarette in her mouth, her hips already moving to the tune she hasn’t even picked yet. She drops in her quarter and pokes the buttons. “You’re Killing My Feet” comes on, I can’t believe it.
I say, “I can’t believe it!”
“You got a problem, mister?” asks B&B, looking at me sideways, ready to fight by the sound of it.
This morning the sound of mail woke me. Sounded like a phone book or else a whole lot of mail came through the slot and plopped on the floor. I’d been asleep less than two or three hours. Awake all or most of the night in a sweat and my stomach hurting like I’d eaten nothing but straw the day before. My mind hurt, if that’s possible. Things had been going bad for a long time. Delores left me a year ago. A month later I lost my job. If I’d had a dog he’d of died. The day I lost my job I ran out of money, the little I had, and now I was up to every limit possible, credit cards, overdrafts, loans from friends. Every day I found something I could sell, enough for smokes, something to eat, not nearly enough for rent which put me three months behind. Lies to the landlord kept me off the street, but that limit was just around the corner, too. The end was near.
I hadn’t talked to anyone, it seemed, for most of the past year. Just the used book store, record store, pawnshop, all the places I got the few dollars for my worldy possesions, piece by ever dwindling piece. And lying to the landlord which, feeling as bad as I already did, made me feel worse. A nice guy, he was cool about the rent but getting less cool as the weeks went by.
I had to talk to someone sooner or later or my mind’d go for sure. I was already doubting my own sanity. No kidding. I had no idea any more what normal people did, how they stayed out of this situation or, if in, how they got out. Only my own nightmares for company, it wasn’t doing me any good. The only place I could think to go, the bar down near the corner of my block. Not much of a drinker, I’d never been in the place before.
“You got a problem, mister?”
‘That song, ‘You’re Killing My Feet’, that’s my song, I wrote it.”
“Whaddya — kidding me?”
“I wrote it.”
This was wrong. This was not how to get a conversation with these gals going. I don’t know how, let’s face it. This wasn’t gonna work. She walked back to her friend, Dubonnet. “What a jerk!”
What a lousy story this is. I thought I’d give it a shot, a short piece of fictional makebelieve just like a real writer might come up with and that could possibly even make it into some small-time magazine or other. But just like the guy in the bar I can’t think of anything to say. Barbara called and I told her I was writing a story, just an exercise, I said, to see if I could do it. Set up a situation and see where it goes but already, right off the bat, the situation was too hackneyed. A lonely guy in a bar? Give me a break! It wasn’t about me, I said, like most things I write or try to write. Theres nothing autobiographical about it, just a guy loses his wife and his job and . . . well, I lost no wife but maybe there are certain autobigraphical elements. The no money no job part, at least. I’m thinking it’s time to face the fact of not being a writer at all, really, when the Dubonnet girl moves over three barstools, lands on the one next to me and asks for a light. She asks what I’m thinking while I search for my Zippo. “You’re lost in thought looks like. Problems?” I noticed then her great tits, almost spilling out of her low cut dress. Ah, shit! I can’t believe I wrote that. “Ah, nothin,” I say. “Just thinking about a story I’m trying to write.” “You’re a writer? My friend said you told her you wrote You’re Killing My Feet. Is that true?” “Of course not. I’m hardly a writer at all. I’m sitting here trying to think up a good story, just out of boredom if you want the truth. I came in here thinking I could get a conversation going with someone, seems like I haven’t spoken to another human in months, maybe a year, and I just felt like I needed or wanted to talk to someone besides the clerks in the stores where I sell stuff or where I get my groceries or smokes, I mean they’re very nice, all of them, but that’s not real human conversation like you could really get to know someone, you know what I mean? Then I thought I should go home and write a story. I always thought I should write stories, be a writer. It’s just something I always thought I’d like to do, don’t ask me why. But all I can think of is this, me here, you and your friend and the bar guy and there was even another guy but I forgot all about him. I just thought something would come to me, an interesting story, maybe one I could sell to a magazine, just a small magazine that needs stories, not like the New Yorker or anything like that. Maybe I’m too depressed, I just can’t think of anything. It’s not like I had or have anything to say, like an idea or my philosophy of life or anything I think about on a regular basis. Just want to write a story I don’t care what, particularly.”
The problem is this is an extremely banal and pointless situation. Without a terrific imagination on the writer’s part nothing of any interest or the least bit unusual could happen. A gang of hoodlums could arrive and wreak havoc, the bar could catch fire, the characters could tell strange and wonderful true stories to each other, nothing can help this story.
Nan is dancing by herself to Your Killing my Feet. It’s the third or fourth time she’s played it and, honestly, I’m getting a little tired of it. What possessed me to invite her out for a drink after work? She’s a dope and I’ve known that for a long time. It’s just that getting out of the office after my worst day ever, I didn’t want to go straight home. But this is worse than home, the place is dead, except for that moron dancing by herself. Only two guys here beside the bartender. Well, there was another guy sitting in a booth, funny he looked like he was fading away, like a ghost, disappearing. Funny, he’s gone. And another guy at the bar who at first was of absolutely no interest to me but, god, I’m so bored I might try striking up a conversation with him.
“Got a light?”
“Oh . . . yeah . . . sorry. Lost in thought.”
“Kind of. I’m trying to write this story. I had no idea what it would be, just opened with myself going into this bar and tried to make things up as I went along but, tell you the truth, this situation shows no promise whatsoever, nothing about it inspires me. I even tried letting you take over back there for one paragraph but even that bored me.”
“Forget it. I’m older than your grandfather.”
“Wanna go somewhere else?”
“Sure. But, please, no hotel or not even your place or my place because all I can see happening is more trite shit or disappointments. I mean it might be fun to get into some sexy stuff but, y’know, it wouldn’t be me even though I might get off with some great fantasy or other.”
“So what’s keeping you?”
What time is it? I have to be up early because at 7 AM I’m going to put my teeth in a cab. Work needs to be done on these false uppers and lowers and my actual jaw doesn’t have to be there. I’ll send my teeth in a cab I told the dentist. Fine, he said, Be here by five PM to get them fit back into your mouth. Great, I thought. A day without teeth.