Spending night at the bar. At this point it wasn't even part of the plot, something to be noted, it was the routine, the sort of stuff that goes on behind the scenes in series work. But I was no PI with a drinking problem, I was no James Bond with commitment issues. I was simply just another guy spending another night getting drunk so I could sleep better. And it didn't bother me that I was slowly leaving the house for the bar a little earlier each day, because it just seemed like the right thing to do. No longer arriving for a nightcap at 11, no longer ogling the last of the women as they cleared out at 9, in fact in this way this day was special, because I had come straight from work to here, since I saw no point in staring at the television not really caring whether it was off or on for an hour and a half.
My problem, of course, was that the regular bartender's an old bud from college who'll generally take me home or at least call me a cab, so I don't have to drunkenly think of my address. Tonight he appears to have forgotten me. Must be his night off because the girl who hands me my first drink with a smile is definitely not him. No offense to Larry, but he was never this much to look at. Which is really where my attention goes, throughout the night--I mean, I'm trying to be subtle about it, face facing the television, eyes turned back to the bar, and, if I got my angles right, she can't tell I'm watching her pour another round for the regulars but I was never much good at trigonometry, so she probably knows I'm looking. Which is fine, I guess, since I'm tipping--I must remember the tipping, I think to myself as another drink brings me past tipsy. Tipsy tipping, I think, and then turn back to the television.
There's a man sitting two stools down who I didn't see come in. "Harold," he calls over, so I get up and see what he wants. "You know me?" I don't. "I'm a friend of Larry's. He sent me to drive you out of here. I think maybe we've been at the same parties before. You know, here, in the bar, back in the day." This man looks homeless, smells worse, I'm surprised he even knows Larry's name, much less mine. "Anyway, you remember that cruse Larry didn't want to go on?" I shake my head. "Well, he was thinking he could weasel out until the last minute when the wife put 'er foot down. Hard. In a sensitive place, if you know what I mean. So's anyway, he calls up me, Bobby McGoo, and sends me down to pick you up from the bar. Just remembered actually. Had to find a phone that worked out in those waters. They're already far, far away from here by this time." This man is confusing me, but I don't really dislike that. What has liquor been, other than a means to confuse myself.
"Well, they surely could have hired in worse to pick up the shifts," I say just loudly enough so that she can hear me but can't know that I wanted her to hear me. Bobby, whoever the hell he is, agrees with me. And we drink, oh yes, do we drink.
It's three hours later when he tells it, the story I've been trying to relate. "There's this guy Lumber who jacks...wait...I'm telling it wrong," he says, "there's this guy Jack who's a lumberjack and he cuts down trees because of passion not pension. And one day he kills a gecko or a lizard of some kind and karma's out to get him..."
"A karma chameleon?" I ask, dumbfounded. Bobby either doesn't get it, doesn't hear me, or is playing drunk.
"So's yeah, he kills the lizard and he ends up dying in a tragic mudslide or something. Maybe a hear attack. Or an ax murderer..." he pauses and I think about the irony. "And you know what? He wakes up as a tree in a forest, forever afraid of being cut down!" Bobby explodes. I don't see this cliché as being overly funny, but the night wears on.
Eventually I lose him. He seems to vanish. I ask the girl for another drink for my friend and she says, "You mean the ficus? You've been talking to that tree all night." And sure enough there's a ficus in the corner. I tell her I've never seen that before. Ask what the hell a tree is doing in a bar. "It's decoration," she says, "my name's Karma, by the way, it's on the name tag. You don't have to keep screaming out 'lady' when you need a new drink." I look around the bar. This doesn't surprise me. It's just my luck...looks like I'm going to need to figure out where I'm getting my ride home from.
"But karma's a bitch," I say, "it brings back lumberjacks as..." I point to the corner, "as ficus, I guess."
"What are you talking about, old man?" I'm not that old and she's not that young so I can't tell if she's flirting. The fact that anything a woman does when I'm drunk appears to be flirting complicates the issue. "Are you telling tales?"
And it's not until I'm up and pissing in the urinal, reading the tabloid cut-outs taped up above, or at least checking the headlines--time traveler runs for governor, cereal killer drowns victims in milk, internet virus kills husband, time traveler begins campaign for 2050 election, lumberjack finds trees that bleed, washed-up writer drinks his life away--that I finally understand what I meant when I replied, "Aren't we all?"
under the hood
Not much. Very trivial really. First paragraph initially ended as the following (I've struck through what I've eliminated or changed):
because I had come straight from work"must be his night off" in the second paragraph was originally tacked into the sentence before it, which ended there, causing the next sentence to start "Because" which is ew, I think you'll agree. Closer to the end of this paragraph I added a comma to "and if I've got my angles right" after the "and." My professor suggested the change of "geometry" to "trigonometry" in the same sentence. Some formatting changes end this paragraph, "I must remember the tipping" was not at first italicized and I had placed a comma after "myself" in the same sentence. Later on "a way of confusing myself" was changed to "a means to confuse myself." Bobby was in the original "playing dumb," whereas now he's "playing drunk." And closing it out, I had written "nametag" as one word.
until 6:30to here, because I thought I might as well not stareat the television not really caring whether it was off or on for an hour and a half.
behind the scenes
This is one of my favorite of all the stories written for this class. The assignment was to write around a tabloid headline. We came up with a list in class, some of which appear at the end of the story here. I don't remember which ones I used and which I made up, but I'll take credit for the last two which are parts of my story and give the rest to the class. I had fun with it. The idea of a lumberjack coming back as a tree is written in a very old (four-seven years?) notebook of ideas and is actually a lot older than that. Or I should specify, my version of it is a lot older than that (a few months...probably not "a lot older"), because the idea itself is not horribly original, which my dad would agree to (back when I first came up with it, I was sweet on it; he wasn't), something I parodied in the story itself, take a look-see and try to figure out where. There's an actual story to be written. The actual lumberjack as a tree. I'm not joking. I do want to write that someday. Not sure if the narrator is the same as a few other things I've written (some for the class, some not), but I am sure I could write more in that voice, and the story isn't a shut door. I dunno. Retyping this story I realize it's pretty guilty of everything I dislike about the story of Black Swan in that it's all cool David Lynch-like uncertainty but it doesn't go anywhere. But neither does Eraserhead. I like to think of this as an uncanny valley of sorts, where my story, I like to think, as well as a Lynch film like Eraserhead (which is a million times better and something I'm by no ways comparing to my story) is dependent on mystery, does not tell you anything with certainty (and if you don't believe me I could list a good many questions on my story to get you thinking about what you've actually been told that isn't an enigma), while a movie like Black Swan falls into the Fight Club world until it never reveals, explicates, it's like a truncated film. And now after that unnecessary swipe at a film that is no worse for the wear because I didn't think it was perfect, I'll stop.