you’re so treacherous
when it comes to tenderness
— Ric Ocasek
Bars come to mind, an image seemingly out of nowhere like an ancient mariner finding an island in the middle of the sea when charts say there should be open water.
I’d been driving through older parts of St. Louis looking at all the gorgeous buildings that were exquisite in the 19th century before the twins abuse and neglect, better known here as the 20th and 21st century, ravaged these wonders. These stunning facades with dusky windows, turrets, intricate masonry, beautifully recessed doors, all of them now public houses, aged sentinels, soot-smudged saints.
So up surfaced the bars I’d haunted when I was a drunk.
The Albion — For me, the prototype scuz-hole below a dirtbag Skid house. Dank and dark things grew in the corners where we smashed our beer glasses. Here fisticuffs ruled, and no one danced that well. All beer, all rye. The door was guarded by a big affable Indian named Chocolate Bar who rode around town on a ten-speed bike. When the place fell to fire we stood out on the concrete and cried.
The Gordon — With the Albion in ruin, another hotel bar, this one with a dance floor used for mixed-martial arts dancing, was theater in my town. First drink as a minor, with the ID of a dead teen, was here, and later when I sank to a snowbank, heaving, and heaving I wished I’d died.
Club West — A dance bar, with pool tables, fashioned from a warehouse. Cold, with the video screens and sometimes, even in the dead of winter, a line down the hall and outside on a Saturday night on the prairies when there was no other place to go.
Dalton’s — On a major city block. Formerly a women’s clothing department store. Multiple levels of shot glass-bars and private corners. Here Monica D, an East Indian beauty queen I knew from school who later became a Much Music VJ, played Madonna for the first time and cashed in her street cred’ having slept with Mick Jaggar.
Union Center — A place for ditching class or licking university wounds on a Friday afternoon where pints of watery draft was drunk amongst the sisters and brothers of the trade unions, hard workers all, watching us as if we were exotic plants. Here plans were made and we laughed until we cried.
Jelly Beans, Blue Jeans, The Jungle Club, ad infinitum — Ebullient theme clubs with too much light, too many people — Facebook with ashtrays, spirits and flesh. Every one was dying and lying to get in, and a scant few years later suffered with a rather recalcitrant bout of amnesia, thank God.
A Bar in Manly, Australia — Me and Fluffy, a Brit soon entering the seminary, danced in a vortex of white and spotlight, like time travel in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Dancing alone with Midnight Oil, thinking I’d never get away with this back home.
A Bar in Alice Springs, Australia— An Abbo’s full-grown kangaroo drank a beer for money. We chanted and drank and headed for the dry riverbed to race imaginary, mystical canoes with the Dream Walkabout People. My Japanese friend who spoke no English, and I no Japanese holding each other up in the rushing water. The South African with us said everything would be fine. “Fair Dinkum,” we all hollered until Ayers Rock summoned and we stuck out our thumbs.
Rugby Club, Scotland — Guinness and Tia Maria in, Guinness and Tia Maria out. Together. In the same glass, out into the same toilet bowl. Vomiting while a team, some kilted, warbled “The Flowers of Scotland.” Nearby the castle that loomed over the childhoods of my parents floated as if an island in a sea of piss.
The Ship and Anchor — Faux Irish pub in Cow Town. The new Preppy Ordinance requiring REM and Doc Martens. It served as the last call for me. Glass ring on the table wrote out His name. I pulled anchor here and rode currents sober every since…
Still the castaways, the drowned, Seven Seas’ monsters, Schylla, Charabadis and Sirens remain aboard this leaky boat, slipping past ruined saints singing “Since You’re Gone.”