I like to sit in the Cellar Bar after my shift and drink a beer. Sometimes it’s quiet. Sometimes it’s busy. Tonight it’s in-between.
Big Tony comes in with his girlfriend Darlene. Big Tony has a bushy beard, a head shaped like a pineapple with fat cheeks and hairy arms as strong as timber prongs. I heard Big Tony challenged Hawley Martin to a pissing contest back when Hawley owned the place. Hawley’s a big guy too. Not as big as Tony, but big. They both stood on Lansing Street late one night and pissed downhill. Afterword they both passed out. They’ve been arguing ever since about who won. It’s the only time Big Tony was known to pass out. He drinks Southern Comfort and Coke. Darlene drinks Kahlua and cream. I’ve seen them down ten or twelve drinks without even going to the bathroom then come back the next night and do the same.
Big Tony is what’s known as a roadie. He sets up the gear for a local band called Crazy Legs. The musicians here, they change groups all the time. They can be intimidating when they come into the bar but they don’t cause trouble. They’re just a bunch of skinny longhaired kids who like to play rock ‘n’ roll.
Daryl and Eileen sit at the other end of the bar. They are old time locals. CC and soda, CC and Seven. She works at Mendosas, the grocery store up the street. He works at the mill. On the wall above them by the back door is a lamp made out of a puffer fish with all the spines sticking out. The customers love it.
People sit at the bar to talk. The bartenders know the regulars and how to deal with them. Everybody’s different. They usually get along unless someone gets too drunk. Then the bartender has to step in and set things right. The boss is bartending tonight.
Across from the barstools there are two large oil paintings of the Pied Piper and Cinderella. That’s where the writers hangout. Blake something-or-other is there now. He’s the senior member of the writer group and the younger aspiring writers look up to him in awe. His first book was a big hit but he hasn’t done much since. Right now he’s going on and on about making Northern California a separate state. I don’t have any opinion on that. He’s for it.
The boss looks at me.
“Hey, Mac. Go upstairs and get me some more half & half. Darlene’s run through a whole quart already. And, while you’re at it, bring down another gallon of red wine.”
I say: “Sure boss.” That’s what I always say when he asks me something.
I go out the back door and up the stairs. The bar is really a cellar. It’s underground. Outside the back door there is an ice machine. There is also a sump pump that pumps the waste water from the bar up to the sewer line. Sometimes it doesn’t work and I have to fix it.
Micah uses a grill brick to clean the grill. He looks up when I walk into the kitchen. We don’t talk. He’s very focused on the job.
When I go back to the bar, I see the boss’s girlfriend sitting alone at a table. Her name is Brin. She’s a local. She worked at The Frolic when she was going to college. She’s a teacher now up in Fort Bragg. She’s friendly but I remember what Rafan told me so I’m careful what I say and how I act with her. She drinks Vodka Collins.
I’m done with my beer.
“I’m going up to my room boss,” I say. The bar will get busy later and I’d rather be alone.
There’s a wood-burning fireplace in the bar surrounded by a couch and two overstuffed chairs. There are six fancy wooden swivel chairs around the bar. All the rest of the seating is on benches along the walls. The benches are covered with oriental carpets and round brass cocktail tables are spaced along the benches. When the bar gets full, as it often does, most people stand in the open spaces between the benches and the fireplace. It’s hard to believe but that bar is sometimes packed with fifty people or more.
The bar is almost always filled with locals but there are plenty of tourists too waiting for dinner or just checking out the scene. I’ve seen famous musicians hang out there. Most of the time I like to stay in my upstairs room away from all the noise and smoke but sometimes I get drug into it. Tonight is one of those nights.
I am relaxing when I get a call from the boss.
“It’s crazy busy down here Mac. People are lined up three deep. D.C. has been drinking for a while and he’s getting drunk and abusive. I cut him off but he won’t leave and he’s threatening to fight. I need some help with this. Get down here quick.”
The boss knows I’m pretty good at defusing situations like this.
I hurry down the stairs from my room and on down to the Cellar Bar. I can hear the noisy crowd inside. There are so many people inside that when I open the door, a man falls out and almost knocks me down.
It sure is busy, but everyone is having a good time. Everyone except D.C. I push my way through sweaty bodies toward him. He’s standing behind the row of barstools with a look of anger, frustration, and bewilderment. When he sees me he smiles like I’m his best friend.
“Hey, Mac,” he says. “Your boss won’t give me a drink. I been drink’in here, having a good time, and I’m not done yet. I spend a lot a money in this place. What the hell’s goin’ on?”
“Good to see you D.C. The boss is busy. You know, it’s so damn loud in here I can’t hear a thing you’re saying,” I say hoping he will settle down.
“I said,” he yells, “YOUR GOD DAMN BOSS WON’T GIVE ME A DRINK!”
“What are you drinking?” I ask.
The boss is busy making drinks, but his eyes and ears are focused on me. I lean over the customers on the barstools and yell to the boss.
“Hey boss, give me a bottle of Jack and two glasses.”
“He’s drunk,” says the boss.
“I know, just give me the bottle,” I say with a look that tells him I know what I’m doing.
“I ain’t drunk!” says D.C. “Your boss just doesn’t like me. He’s embarrassing me in front of all my friends.”
D.C. was leaning on me and staring at the boss. The boss hands over a bottle of Jack and two glasses with an angry look on his face.
“Don’t worry boss, I got it,” I say softly so D.C. can’t hear me.
“You know, I can’t even hear myself think in here D.C. This is crazy. Come with me. Let’s have a drink together and talk this over.”
The sight of the bottle and two glasses cools D.C. down. He follows me like a little dog. I take him upstairs to my room. We sit on the bed. I pour us each a glass.
“You okay D.C.?”
“Yea, I’m good. But I wasn’t drunk though.”
“I know you weren’t. My boss has a big job to do. It’s a hard job especially when the bar is full like it is tonight. He didn’t mean no disrespect.”
“Yea, I know. Hey, this is a neat little spot. You live here?”
D.C.’s wife sometimes plays music at the Frolic and at other places around the area. She is going to play at the Frolic next weekend.
“So, is M. ready for her gig next week? She’s really good.”
“Oh yea, she’s always ready. How do you sleep up here? It must be noisy with the restaurant and all.”
“The restaurant’s not the half of it. You should be here when the fire siren goes off.”
“Sheit, I bet that’s a loud MoFo.”
“You bet right. First time I heard it, I fell outta bed. You want another drink D.C.?”
I pour two more. It’s getting late. I’m tired, but I need to see this through to the end.
“So, how’s life in Comptche?” I say.
“Hell, just like life anywhere. It’s tough. Working in the woods is tough. It’s beautiful out there though. Up on the hills you can see every star in the sky, other galaxies, everything.”
“Why do you drink so much D.C.?”
“I dunno. Why not? It’s fun it’n it?”
“What about all the stars in the sky? Who cares about stars if you’re too drunk to see them?”
“I ain’t drunk.”
“I didn’t say you were.”
He swills the rest of his drink and stands up.
“Sheit! I gotta drive home. I gotta big day tomorrow.”
“Are you okay to drive?”
“Hell yes I’m okay!”
We walk downstairs back into the bar. It’s now empty. D.C. walks through the bar looking all around. There’s no one to see him, to see he’s still there, to see he hasn’t been kicked out.
“Thanks for the drinks, Mac. Tell your boss I’ll let it go this time but it better not happen again.”
He walks up the front stairs and across the street to his truck at a steady gait. I heard he was back in the bar a few days later and again after that. There was never another problem, or if there was I didn’t hear about it.