One drink, One song, One tear
By Seth Eibmos
Bitch, why is she bustin’ my boulders today?
She knows my Valentine’s Day routine; it’s been the same since we met five years ago: same day, same place, same time, same thing. What’s so freakin’ complicated?
“What time do you want me to pick you up?” she asks. But she knows, she knows, it’s one hour… tops!
“Don’t worry, I’ll take a taxi home,” I reply as I exit her car.
“I can call Uber for you too, you know.”
“Uber? Who in da’ question is that? What kind of name is that anyhow?”
“Uber!” she snaps back, now slightly irritated. “Uber is that new ride app that replaces taxis.”
“Whatever, you know what’s up,” I yell back at her as I open the front door of that hole-in-the-wall.
I look around; the place is empty — perfect! This dive bar ain’t too shabby. Plus, it’s the only one around here with a jukebox that plays the first song, not off the playlist, but by an advanced search—
From the bartender’s curious glare I could tell he doesn’t remember me, not that I care anywho. All year I’ve worked my fingers down to the marrow and this is “my time”. I place my order and tip him handsomely: an unspoken, compensated, request, command, demand, favor, to be let be — in that universal bartender’s language. Already, as I head to that booth under the neon sign, the fellow is but a distant blur in the past; oh how, even so, I hope I see him again next year.
Table for two, I want to tell him. But it’ll just be me… and maybe her.
And now, in front of me, on the table, lay my three large shots of Jack Daniels, each on top of its own napkin, and each with its own crisp dollar bill. Each set, side by side.
I need to zone in; the loathsome flip-phone is turned off, wallet in my front pocket, watch marks 2:24 pm, and I’m all set. Here we go—
I kill the first shot with anticipation, and yet, it does not pass the gullet comfortably as I am not a huge fan of JD… ‘so gut, shoot me’.
Dollar bill # 1 in hand, I punch “Payolas” into the keypad of the fancy jukebox and the search result shows only one song — I play it. “Downloading,” it says, and I head back to my booth, under the neon sign, to my corner, just as the song plays. And instantly, it all comes back to me, opening, as a page a few flips into a book that only I read.
I admit it — forgive it, regret it and forget it — forgive you and forgive myself. And yet, still can’t get you out of my head, you were the first great thing that happened to me—my first true love. I was a young, broke man (at that time and unbeknownst to me, an unemployment crisis) content to conform with the menial subtleties given to him.
I still see you walking as I drive now and then by the house you lived in. That spot at the curb just out of view from any window, the doorless garage, also out of view whence your parents pried. I see your slight pigeon-toed, hurried half-step walk, your long streak-dyed red hair, short over the ears, and bangs up in front, rebel’ ish-like; an unsure, timid gait. And I loved it.
I feel the warmth of the JD and I hear my walk-up-song playing just as clear as when I approached you that night at the club where I met you. You and your sister greeted me with smiles, boosting me, a sheepish seventeen-year-old, to his first dance request. Was it my walk-up-song or your smile? I never asked you, I’ll never know.
What I know, now that I think about it, is that I had a walk-up-song when you came into my life and a walk-off-song on that night when I, struggling to get on my feet after spending most of the night on my alcohol-induced vomit out the club’s rear door, got a blurred last glimpse of you leaving in his arms… forever. I hear the song every so often and then. And it haunts me. And it hurts me. So I null it out. But today, it’s for you.
No tear, as I glance towards the door.
I look around the stanky bar. More patrons have come to the watering hole; but unlike the jittery wildebeest, impala, zebra, baboons, they lack caution—they lack the instinct for life. The un-weary, with honed survival senses imperviously drowned in alcohol, becoming easy prey for the contemptible urban vultures, for the moral equilibrates; police officers, for the distracted, apathetic, selfish and entitled, stampeding masses.
At the bar, there is either a dude with a wig or a lady with a bad weave intently watching the ballgame on the tube. He, I conclude, is the only one that notices me, as I agitatedly poke at the jukebox’s complicated screen, muddled, if I may. Finally, the second song plays.
Nada-thing at the door.
And I gulp the second shot.
They say that one drink washes heartache away, so here is your drink – to the one they can’t catch, to the one no one’s gotten to yet; always quicker, colder, and hasty to flee, as Bob Seger sings.
A socialite’s charm — a beauty’s glee — burlesquing from a cold, impenetrable conscience, and unto my simplistic passion.
I saw you a couple of months ago. And after long since seeing you, in me awoke, with an immense obsession, a sentiment to love once again. I almost did. I can admit that now—now that the torment is gone. Up to that one day they had seen me asking what had become of you. Have you asked about me? But I saw, I saw that you’re still the same. And so I knew. All the men’s attention on you as you sat there and I walked away.
No tear, as I cast another hopeful glance at the door. How I wish that you—
Now, I pick the last dollar bill up, take a sip of whiskey (I want to savor this last one) and walk to the evil machine. I’m tempted to just type in some Judas Priest, some Stones, some Zeppelin… gawd, even some Eminem for Christ’s sake.
Then the door opens and daylight blasts me, blinding me, as I could only make out a woman’s shape; a similar, petite, shape of a figure as yours. I freeze! Only when the door shuts and my vision re-adjusts that I see the strange woman standing there. She is wearing tight yoga pants and is busy recording herself with her cell phone.
I continue my approach on the devil’s box. My heart is still beating hard and fast from that close call. But then, a pain, not a pain of the body, but a pain of the soul, punches me and I choke up; though, only for a second, because I regain my composure and type in “Bukis” followed by the search button. The song appears on the screen and I know—I just know—this will be a difficult nutcracker to my steel-sculptured heart, or so I thought.
Funny thing though, this song, a Spanish song sung back then in Tagalog by a muganda pinay to a potato-growing white guy from the Oki panhandle. How I ponder still.
Never occurred to me that night exactly five years ago when I met you here that I’d be adding a third drink, a third song… let alone, a third tear to my annual ceremony—yet, here I am. Makes one wonder—made me wonder then too—makes me wonder still, were you here as I am now? Waiting for that one? And was this your song then?… To him?
My foe is now stalling; stalling as if intentionally prolonging its cruel intent, its sole purpose, its opportunity to inflict emotion upon tangible form… upon me. It knows—it just knows—why I’m here and has come alive just for me.
Impatiently, I search for the bartender, prepared to complain. The spandex queen has joined three guys at the bar; three guys that somehow went unnoticed by my ever-vigilant defense. They all look the same to me; all four are dressed in black and grey—two of the guys have Raiders caps on—the other a Dodgers cap; all are sporting magnificent, long, dark beards, except the woman, of course. The spectacle makes me chuckle just as I spot the bartender. I make a half-hearted effort to raise my hand when the song plays—
“Si me recuerdas amor, si algun dia me recuerdas—“
I sing along devotedly in my broken Spanish. I know exactly what is being versed, having translated it long ago, and memorized it. The slow build-up is also tearing me apart inside; an agonizingly slow build that engulfs my existence, nilling me to the booth, the bar, the jukebox… the world.
“… look for me… where it’s most desolate… where nobody will know.”
And I see you, in front of me, across the table, smiling at me with your dark eyes. I place my left elbow on the table and on my cupped hand I rest the left side of my face. I just look at you and smile back. My face feels warm, almost hot. My eyes become watery as they behold such a beautiful sight.
I reach out to touch you.
“Look for me in that place… that you know… was a complete world to us.”
During the following verses I sort of “phase” out. An overwhelming withdrawal of emotion surges from a place deep within—from a heavily armored vault—of hope and joy; of happiness and fulfillment. I allow the tear to cool off on my burning cheek; a tear, something that I swear, will never happen again. Ever!
“If you don’t see here don’t think that I’m absent… it’s just that maybe I got lost when I knew nothing more about you.”
I look around unfocused, detached, and inadvertently fixate on the bearded Raiders group. As I refocus I realize they are all sitting there just staring at me. What a spectacle I must be to them as well, this old loco gringo, wallowing in whiskey and despair. I raise my drink at them to let them know I’m okay. They raise their drinks in acknowledgment and carry on with their vaping, with their cell-phoning, and with whatever these “millionails” entertain themselves nowadays.
Marco Antonio is now repeating the second verse. Oh how I’ve become a fan of this most talented Mexican singer and composer.
The song fades out and, in inverse cadence, my composure fades in. I grab the third napkin and wipe the tear. My chest releases a deep breath, and a soft chuckle, which I abandon in mid-emittance. But it’s over now—and just in time. I celebrate the relief by downing the rest of the whiskey.
The door opens and a tall, scruffy old man walks in. He adjusts his eyes to the dim interior. He just stands there, scanning the bar left-to-right, slowly, deliberately, pausing to seek, to make eye contact, with each patron in expectant earnestness. Once satisfied with the result of each challenge he moves on to the next. He also steals in-between glimpses of the place; it seems he is looking for or meeting someone here, yet at the same time scouting the joint. I am to his right, so I, in turn, am stealing this candid, amusing observation.
He stops at the linoleum patch that surrounds the patron’s side of the bar and continues to search about. I can see now that he is wearing a New York Mets baseball cap with the visor extremely folded in. He turns to me and we lock eyes. He grins and walks towards me picking up the pace now. He looms over me and asks, “Josh?”
“Yeah?” I answer without surprise.
She didn’t get me that Eber whatchamacallit ride. She knows me well.
I drop a five-spot on the table and follow him.
Goodbye my loves. Till’ next year.
As the seatbelt latch clicks—
“Where to sir?” asks the taxi driver.
“Fifth and Mission,” I answer him and point in the direction. “But first, could you stop at the supermarket? I need to get some flowers for my wife.”