Monday, December 28, 2020

In the End, It's Just Me

I could share my side
of the argument
with everyone in this bar
but instead I haul it before the judiciary
of my thoughts.

I could fight the battle
with all these drunken soldiers
but instead remain
this country of one
with its slumped in corner,
fingering the whiskey glass,

I could open up
the operating theater
of my pain and guilt
to these loud and laughing surgeons
but instead I begin
the process with my own trembling hands,
feel for where the incision
must be made,
call for a scalpel,
call for you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

My Fake I.D. - Thank You James Darren Lascot


n. pl. ser•en•dip•i•tus

1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.

2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.

3. An instance of making such a discovery.
There were only a few times in my life when I felt truly free. I think I can count them on one hand: learning to ride a bike without training wheels, going to summer camp for the first time, getting a driver’s license, moving out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment. The memories of each of those moments are so clear, I can easily play them back in my mind and relive every detail as if it was yesterday. Each of those events had a profound impact on my life, but none quite as grand as the day I received my fake I.D.

When I was in high school, I was envious of my friends with older siblings who would let them use their I.D.s for a night of drinking. In some cases, older friends who looked similar to my underage classmates would share their I.D.s from time to time. I only had an older sister, and couldn’t seem to find anyone who either looked like me or who was willing to hand over their ID. So I was stuck with having to wait outside the liquor store playing “hey mister” while my more fortunate friends enjoyed the inner sanctum of a bar; drinking, playing pool and eating free pretzels.

The summer after high school, a couple of buddies and I spent a week in Santa Cruz for one last adventure before we headed off to college. We spent our time wandering around the boardwalk, hanging out on the beach, and listening to street musicians.

That was when my life changed. Forever.

One particularly warm afternoon, my friends and I were sitting on a bench on Pacific Avenue listening to an old hippie play guitar and sing a pretty good rendition of Proud Mary, when a stranger approached us. He had an open wallet in his hand that he was inspecting. He kept looking at me, then back at the wallet. I really didn’t pay any mind to the guy. This was, after all, Santa Cruz. Weirdo capital of the world. It wasn't uncommon for lunatics to carry on a conversation with themselves, with nobody at all, or with anyone who would listen. What I didn't yet recognize was this guy wasn't a weird lunatic. He was a true good Samaritan, trying to do a true good Samaritan deed.

Finally, he spoke to me. “James?” The only word he said.

Being a little curious, I answered him. “Yes, but it’s pronounced Jaahms.” First of all, that's not my name. Second, to this day, I have no idea why I answered him in such a way.

“Err.. okay, Jaahms, I found your wallet.”

The stranger now had my full attention. "You did?" I asked with staged excitement. "I've been looking everywhere. Where did you find it?"

"Over there by that payphone," he replied as he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. He held the wallet out and I took it.

I swear to God, the clouds parted, I heard angels sing and a golden glow appeared as I opened the wallet to take a peek inside. The first thing I saw was a brand new one hundred dollar bill, a concert ticket for Bob Dylan and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and then, the Holy Grail: a valid California Driver's License.

Looking at the photo, I could understand why the stranger thought it belonged to me. I strongly resembled James Darren Lascot from Felton, California.

James was of drinking age. This will work, I thought. Fuck yes, this will work.

From that very moment, nothing was the same again.

My friends and I headed straight to the nearest grocery store to see what it felt like to buy $100 worth of booze, beer, and wine coolers without having to ask someone to buy it for us.
I remember feeling a little scared when the clerk asked to see my ID. What if she doesn’t believe it’s me? What if she calls the cops? What if she knows the real James Darren Lascot? But she casually glanced at it and continued placing the bottles in a paper bag. No questions asked.

For the next two and a half years while buying alcohol and drinking under my new assumed name, only one person questioned the validity of the ID. It happened very late at night at a 7-Eleven in Van Nuys, California. The clerk said loudly “THIS ISN’T YOU!” But the store manager quickly intervened, snatching the ID from her hand, looking at it, then at me, and saying: “It’s him,” as he placed it back in my unsteady hand.

I quickly became a valuable friend to many people. I was the guy who could supply a party with a case of cheap beer. I was the guy who could buy Absolut Vodka to replace the bottle from Jenny Smitcamp’s father’s liquor cabinet after she and her friends took it to the drive-in movie theater; I was the guy who could purchase a bottle of Rootbeer Schnapps for Robbie Greenwood, so he could take it with him to his older sister’s wedding; and I was the guy who could buy a four-pack of wine coolers for Danny Adams so he could impress his date as he lured her to the 16th fairway of a local country club at 3:00 AM.

I was the guy to know.

Within a couple of months, however, I felt as though I wasn’t using my new I.D. to its fullest potential. I had grown bored with my peers and knew it was time to move on. That little card was more than James Darren Lascot’s California Driver’s license. It was a passport to a different world. A beautifully dark and dank underworld with distinct, almost edible smells. That’s when I became a student of bars. I began to learn about drinks, studied the dusty bottles sitting on the dimly-lit back bar, and discovered people with colorful nicknames like “Lefty,” “Slick,” “Big Rick,” and “Bird.”

I stayed away from popular nightclubs because of the bouncers. I always felt that they were better trained to examine an ID. I favored dive bars and neighborhood pubs. Sure, the salty old bartenders would look at my I.D., but these places were always dark and smoky, so I stood a better chance. Plus, I doubted if they truly gave a shit as long as I behaved myself and tipped well.

I selected a quiet, unassuming neighborhood bar as my home base. This would become the place where I could start the night, end the night, or even spend the afternoon. The Stardust Room was a logical choice for several reasons. First, it opened at 6:00 AM and closed at 2:00 AM, so I could show up at any time the law allowed bars to be open in California. Second, it was a simple blue collar dive bar. There were never any bouncers, door men, or cover charges. Finally, once the bartenders remembered my face, I wouldn’t have to show my I.D. again. This greatly reduced the chance of somebody figuring out my game.

I began to spend most of my free time playing a variety of dice games with a group of old codgers as I listened to their stories. Their words were poetic and prophetic. I felt as though I gained an education every time they spoke, imbibing their wisdom. In print, their words would be red.

At first, I answered only to the name Jimmy. But a few months after becoming a regular at The Stardust Room, some friends from one of my college classes showed up and called me by my real name. After that, the other regulars and the bartenders started calling me by my real name too. I was a little disappointed I never got one of those cool nicknames.

I studied for midterms and finals at that bar, forged long-term friendships with other customers, charmed girls by taking them there and introducing them to the seedy side of life, solved all my problems and created many more. All at the Stardust Room.

Then, I turned 21-years-old. I became the age to legally buy and consume booze. And I celebrated at the Stardust Room.

The bartender, Kingfish, even gave me a special shot glass to commemorate the milestone. As I had long suspected, he knew what I was up to all along.

It’s been many years since that afternoon in Santa Cruz, but I can still remember every detail as if it was yesterday. I’m still a faithful drinker. I still love a dark bar. I drink to old friends, and always drink to James Darren Lascot.

Colin Deal spends his free time exploring the bar culture of cities throughout North America and believes the unique culture of any region in the world can be discovered over a few drinks with the locals. His drunken musings can be found on Twitter here.

Monday, November 23, 2020


As a kid

I would go to the bars with my Dad, and get bored.

Sure, in Wisconsin you could drink with your parents when you were sixteen,

but the beer just made me realize all the more how boring life in the country can be.

Everyone’s eyes glossed over while yelling at the Packers Game.

Drinking was more fun when it wasn’t allowed, when

I was off under bridges with the boys.

My Dad and I

would play darts or pool.

He would play well and I wouldn’t really try.

But we liked to play the jukebox and talk music.

What I really liked was when they had Karaoke.

I never picked the party songs.

You know what I mean: Journey, Bon Jovi, or “Sweet Home Alabama.”

I liked to pick the odd songs, the freaky songs, the ones that rang true when I was off smoking and drinking in the graveyard with the boys.

Imagine a group of nice middle-aged Baby Boomers drinking suds, when

a shaggy teenager starts singing “When The Music’s Over” by The Doors.

My voice was never in tune, just wailing, the adolescent voice cracking.

I was shrieking the drug-soaked songs from their own generation.

Rubbing their faces in their old music was more shocking than singing Marilyn Manson.

They would get anxious and feel all the horror their parents felt.

One time after singing “White Rabbit,” which ends with the line “Feed your head!” an old fisherman told me, “ That means read more books.”

“I read plenty, sir.”

Afterwards, even though I was being a smartass punk,

I would feel very old and very young at once,

and that was a good feeling

Westley Heine
 is a writer and multimedia artist. He is known for his documentaries Poetry in Action and Trail of Quetzalcoatl, the latter of which has a companion book of poetry. Publications of his work have been in The Chicago Reader, Gravitas, Beatdom, Verse of Silence, Bleached Butterfly, and Wellington Street Review. His writing examines love, death, street life, class oppression, madness, and everything from the disturbing to metaphysical revelation. He grew up in Wisconsin, was educated in Chicago, and bummed from New York to Mexico to California. He now resides with his wife in Los Angeles.
Instagram: @westleyheine

Friday, November 20, 2020

Good Time Girl

It was during my sophomore year at Ohio University when I first met her. Her name was Gay.

We were in the same sociology class and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She was a cute blond with a smile that lit up the room. When she laughed, she laughed hard. It was infectious. Everyone in her orbit laughed with her. She wasn’t a typical beauty, more like the girl next door who never realized how naturally pretty she really was. This, I think, made her that much more attractive. Back in my hometown of Brooklyn, she would be referred to as “Bubbly, bubbly like a bottle of recently uncorked Champagne. Not quite Dom Perignon, mind you, but a drinkable vintage nonetheless.”

For several weeks, I went out of my way to make small talk with her. I worked my way into study groups with her and even got to know her schedule so I could “accidentally” bump into her. To be honest, I was inexperienced with girls and really didn’t have the swagger and self confidence that afforded an average guy like me the ability to just ask her out. I quietly hoped for the perfect moment when I would be certain the feeling was mutual. That moment never came. Instead, it was Gay who made the first move. We were both invited to a party at another classmate’s apartment when she chose to sit next to me on the floor, next to the stereo. She was carrying two unopened cans of Stroh’s, handed me one and then plopped down, Indian style.

We talked for hours and were the last party guests to leave. But the night wasn’t over yet. We spent another couple of hours sharing a basket of french fries at an all-night diner, and then another hour standing between our cars in the parking lot. She was funny, smart, and the absolute coolest girl I had ever met. As the sun was coming up, we made plans to go out again.

“Let’s go on a proper date,” is what she said.

“Give me your number and I’ll give you a proper call,” was my answer.

Within just a few days, we were inseparable. I really liked her. And I liked the way she made me feel. The connection I felt with her was something I had never experienced with any other girl before.

She was spontaneous and bold and exciting. At any moment, without any planning, we would find ourselves at a movie theater, or on the way to Columbus to see a concert, or at a random friend’s house party. It was at one of these parties that I met an old high school friend of hers. We were casually chatting when he referred to Gay as a “good time girl.” I knew what he meant, but didn’t ask questions. It didn’t matter to me. I liked her and wanted to do everything I could to show her a good time.

Apparently, I was not good enough. One night about two or three months into our relationship she let me know we were done. Finished. Broken up. As I look back, I always wonder if we ever started at all.

I was only 20-years-old. And up until that point, that short little relationship with Gay was the biggest and most important thing that had happened to me. I had no idea how to act or react. Was I supposed to simply chalk it up to a life experience? Tell myself there’s plenty more fish in the sea? Or, maybe dredge up another cliché designed to treat the wounds of the heart?

Nope. I decided to get drunk. Crippling drunk. Not off the 3.2 percent swill that Schlitz and Pabst called beer. I was going to get falling down drunk in a real bar. The only problem was that I was one year under the legal drinking age in the State of Ohio, and I didn’t have a phony ID. I knew the college bars wouldn’t serve me. There was no way they’d risk having their license suspended by serving a skinny underage kid like me. But I was determined. I suppose it wasn’t just about getting drunk. I needed this for me; I needed to prove to myself that I was as bold and exciting and spontaneous as Gay.

I remembered hearing about a townie bar that didn’t ask questions or check IDs. It was called the Union Bar, named for both its location and its blue-collar clientele.

I gathered up the mettle and walked through the big wooden door and into the dimly lit, smokey wonderland. What a beautiful place. The centerpiece was a beat-up bar lined with a half dozen empty stools. Hidden further in the darkness were four or five ratty booths occupied by hard looking men and harder looking women. I knew right away that I need to mind my own business and be respectful. I was the visiting team and didn’t yet know the field.

I swung a leg over a stool, planted my ass on the surprisingly soft cushion, and waited for the bartender.

“Waddya have?” he asked.

In my snarkiest Brooklyn voice, I replied “A shot of gin. Gordon’s if you got it.”

I held my breath, one leg nervously twitching in anticipation of the barkeep’s request for an ID. But the request never came. Instead, he turned his back, reached for the Gordon’s, plunked a glass on the bar and filled it with a shot of that clear, juniper-flavored nectar which I immediately downed.

“Wanna run a tab or what?” He asked.

I screwed up my courage. “Leave the bottle, okay?” I had seen that in movies and always dreamed of saying it myself.

I detected a slight upward arch of his eyebrows and a rolling of his eyes. When I assured him I had enough cash, he shrugged his shoulders and that was that.

Somewhere after six or seven shots I stopped. I asked him – actually slurred, – how much I owed. He told me, I fished a wad of bills from my pocket and tossed them onto the counter. Apparently, enough.

I staggered to my dorm, catapulted into bed, and awoke the next morning clear headed and remembering everything. A miracle, I thought, but one I won’t try again.

Years later when the internet arrived, I looked her up. I found several women with the same name and almost gave up the search until one of the hits pierced my eyes like a pair of daggers. Her obituary.

Gay had passed a few years back, succumbing to cancer. The short listing mentioned two grown children but no husband. She had hurt me decades earlier. That didn’t matter now. Knowing she had died saddened me and generated a wave of nostalgia.

I opened the cupboard, found a fifth of gin – Gordon’s naturally – drank a shot in memory of the Good Time Girl and then put the bottle away.

A resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mark Fleisher has published three books of poetry – with some prose and photographs added. His work has appeared in numerous online and print anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, India, and Kenya. He earned a journalism degree from Ohio University and held reporting and editing positions with upstate New York newspapers. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Fleisher served in Vietnam as a combat news reporter and received a Bronze Star for Meritorious Service.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


Don’t worry, Tommy, she’ll be back. Look out the window. Rain. See, she left her umbrella.

You’re doing fine. Being a dermatologist is great, but get off the technical stuff about Botox. She may have no interest. And even if she does, she doesn’t want you to know about it. Watch her. Did you see her lean back, look around, sip her drink?

Talk about her, about Kendra.

Whatever you do, don’t mention the funeral. I know this is awkward for you, but it’s been more than a year. You can do this.

Did you see her Lexus key chain? The ASPCA tag? Look, here she comes, just like I said. She’s looking at you right now. Don’t look at me! Pay attention to her. Let her set the pace.

I gotta go now. Taking my Gracie to dinner for our 26th. She said to give you a good luck smooch. How about a hug instead? Why don’t you call me when you can. Whenever is fine. Just call me.

You can loosen your tie, you know.


Jeff Santosuosso is a business consultant and award-winning poet living in Pensacola, FL. His chap book, “Body of Water,” is available through Clare Songbirds Publishing House. He is Editor-in-Chief of, an online journal of poetry and short prose. Jeff’s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Comstock Review, San Pedro River Review, South Florida Poetry Journal, Mojave River Review, The Lake (UK), The Blue Nib, Red Fez, Texas Poetry Calendar, Avocet, and other online and print publications.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Harvest Day

Every Wednesday is

harvest day on our block.

After fighting through traffic

in the over populated streets,

parking by my building gets scarce

on Wednesday

because the garbage cans

are out on the curb

taking up the spots.

Once the sun goes down,

I can hear it: the squeak of the grocery-cart,

my recycle bin being opened,

and the bottles collected for scrap.

Clink, clink, smash!

Sometimes the glass and cans wake me.

I get up and look out the window.

I see the streetlights glow on the huddled flesh,

or the police lights down the block strobe that

sick glow on my walls.

It’s harvest time.

I think of all the bottles of beer from the week before

that have helped me get over my hard work, and helped me

live with myself as I pay for this room.

Toasts of joy, and hits of sorrow,

to feel something, or feel nothing at all.

Yet this is the best feeling: knowing that I am giving something back,

even if it’s just recycling bottles for a few bucks per pound.

Now some shadow person can get a meal, or just as likely more bottles,

or some powder stronger than what I know.

I’ve been a bum, well hipster-homeless.

I’ve played guitar on the corner for change.

I’ve slept in warehouses, and on scaffoldings in the rain.

But that was a long time ago.

Now I work at an office where no one has any idea who I was.

Sure, I live in a cheap room just above the curb, but

I play the game to stay in it… and I no longer need to bother

to recycle my own bottles for change anymore.

I can let them go

to the army in LA who rules the streets.

Every Wednesday is

harvest day on

our block.

Westley Heine is a writer and multimedia artist. He is known for his documentaries Poetry in Action and Trail of Quetzalcoatl, the latter of which has a companion book of poetry. Publications of his work have been in The Chicago Reader, Gravitas, Beatdom, Verse of Silence, Bleached Butterfly, and Wellington Street Review. His writing examines love, death, street life, class oppression, madness, and everything from the disturbing to metaphysical revelation. He grew up in Wisconsin, was educated in Chicago, and bummed from New York to Mexico to California. He now resides with his wife in Los Angeles.
Instagram: @westleyheine

Friday, October 30, 2020


The man sits on a barstool in his local bar, where the bartender

lets him pay for his drinks with food stamps.  He’s on the dole,

although sometimes at night when the bar is closing he thinks

of getting a job on the town road crew – rolling gravel and tar

and dirt into holes that reappear every year in some other place

or flagging motorists to stop and go, stop and go, stop and go.


But this is work enough, this drinking into oblivion every night

only to wake with the sun and have to start all over again.


Sometimes on his weary way from his sleep place to barstool,

he sees children in the schoolyard.  He thinks he could teach

– pouring appropriate knowledge into small heads, new faces

each year, faces replaced by other faces, all vaguely familiar.


But his is work enough, rolling along the same street from sobriety

to oblivion, the monthly welfare burning holes in his clothes. 

His needs are one.  His responsibility looms large before him.


On particularly sunny, sweet mornings, while he’s waiting

for his bar to open, he sees his employment opportunities

as numerous as the blades of grass of the manicured lawns, as cars

that pass him with disapproving looks, as dogs he knows well,

as the shuffled steps it takes to reach this gate to another world.


But as the bartender unlatches the door, this man knows his rock;

he knows the half-empty bottle on the shelf inside is his to roll;

he knows the shot glass must be slid repeatedly from the edge of the bar

to the bartender as may times as it takes each day to get a berth.


He feels the weight of the whole community on his shoulders. 

All that ambition, hope, desire, he wears on his collarbone

and cannot put down.  Without his hard work, who would people

have not to be?  Who would children have not to become?


Douglas K Currier has published work in the Café Review and many magazines both in the United States and in South America.  He lives with his wife in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Dumas, pere

Cognac brown, soft, consoling.
I tilt the decanter to the glass,
the heavy one with the scene
of downtown Baltimore
etched in black and real gold,
probably 24 carat.
Not to be put into the dishwasher,
though I do.

A golden bourbon in an exquisite glass.
And behind glass, leather-bound books,
a special occasion to touch.
Before I even know the title
I open, smell and riffle the pages,
A sound like bourbon, poured from the decanter.
Alexander Dumas, one of my dad’s favorites,
The Three Musketeers,
Athos, Porthos, not D’Artagnan.
Who is the third?
He would be disappointed
that I could name
only two.

I return to my chair,
book and bourbon in hand,
to find the third musketeer’s

And remember Fa sitting in our library,
bourbon in hand, reading,
perhaps The Three Musketeers.


Cynthia Strauff Schaub
is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards for her poetry and prose. She is the author of
Another Sunday, a story of historic Baltimore. Her second novel, Echoes from the Alum Chine, is also set in early 20th Century Baltimore. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, as well as The O.Henry Magazine and its sister publications. She muses about life and such in her blog, UpwindoftheStable.

A native of Baltimore, she holds graduate degrees from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Just a Bar

These days,

it’s hard to find a bar that’s just a bar.

Now all the bars have a theme: sports bars, foodie bars, live music, DJs,

and they serve sugary drinks, or craft beers that taste like wood.


In East Hollywood there are still a few places

where the only sign is a neon that says: Cocktails.

The windows are bricked up and the walls are painted black.

Where we can sit in the darkness.

Where we can sit in the silence.

Where we can sit alone, together.

Where we can sit and drink,

no excuses,

no shame,

in peace.

It’s just a bar.

Westley Heine is a writer and multimedia artist. He is known for his documentaries Poetry in Action and Trail of Quetzalcoatl, the latter of which has a companion book of poetry. Publications of his work have appeared The Chicago Reader, Gravitas, Beatdom, Verse of Silence, Bleached Butterfly, and Wellington Street Review. His writing examines love, death, street life, class oppression, madness, and everything from the disturbing to metaphysical revelation. He grew up in Wisconsin, was educated in Chicago, and bummed from New York to Mexico to California. He now resides with his wife in Los Angeles.
Instagram: @westleyheine and facebook/westley.heine

Thursday, October 22, 2020

On Top of the World

It’s about five a.m. and we’ve finally stopped dancing. I’m standing at the bar arm in arm with the big chic and the little dude, and Guy walks in. Fuck! It’s a bit of a shock! I’ve been expecting him to rock up in town, but I definitely didn’t anticipate him coming here to The Bar so shit faced; not now. I’m so not ready for him.

He says that he’s been to the flat and they’re in a terrible state rambling on over me not coming back for a couple of days, but more he thinks over me hanging around with the big chic and the little dude, and of course they saw it all from the window overlooking the park (but I have no idea why that gets to them).

I take a break, knock back a tequila shot, buy a pint, and jot some of this drama down (so I don’t forget any of it). I’m again not thinking too clearly. I can’t make out what Guy is saying from here; I have no idea what he’s feeling; but I get an inkling when he pushes the little dude down to the floor. I rush over. “What the fuck are you doing man? Are you Ok dude?” He nods. Me and the big chic help him up, put our arms around him, and block Guy. “Jesus man, just don’t do anything else. See what your stupid temper did again!”

Millie the dancer comes back and helps us all outside. The little dude isn’t angry at Guy; he thinks it’s all about jealousy over something between them, and says that he understands that stuff very well. Guy says that he’s really sorry… and adds that it all got tricky at the flat before, as the crew there had no money and needed to pay the rent, and he thinks that’s why they caused all the fuss about me disappearing when I did. Millie and the big chic get in a cab with a drug- dealer pimp Millie use to go out with; and I’m not sure what’s happening there.

And I’m thinking… one of the things I like about my new mate, the little dude, and Millie, who I’ve known for years, and crazy Guy, who seems to show up every time we’re anywhere, and the big chic, who seriously must go out seven nights a week… is our wonderful, fucking outrageous ability to party to the absolute max; and all of us do party to the max, often.

I leave the dude and Guy sitting in the gutter laughing and rolling a joint, and nip down an alley to make my way to the twenty four hour gay bar with drink specials and drag shows. I have a great laugh to myself as I pace along feeling on top of the world. What a great night!

Stephen House is an award winning Australian playwright, poet and actor. He’s won two Awgie Awards (Australian Writer’s Guild) , Adelaide Fringe Award, Rhonda Jancovich Poetry Award for Social Justice, Goolwa Poetry Cup, Feast Short Story Prize and more. He’s been shortlisted for Lane Cove Literary Award, Overland’s Fair Australia Fiction Prize, Patrick White Playwright and Queensland Premier Drama Awards, Greenroom best actor Award and more. He’s received Australia Council literature residencies to Ireland and Canada, and an India Asialink. His chapbook “real and unreal” was published by ICOE Press Australia. He is published often and performs his work widely.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Art of Solo Drinking

The world loves to save the lost and there's nobody more lost than the solitary drinker, alone in his tiny room, seated at a table under a dim yellow light with a bottle of whiskey and a highball glass. Those saviors see solitary drinking as a sign that something's gone wrong—the only type of people who would drink alone must be hopelessly addicted, the mail bomb builders, the chronic compulsive masturbators.

But then there are those of us who've discovered the joy of drinking alone; a pure, unalloyed form of imbibing that chucks the crowd and gets down to the business of getting loaded—just you and the booze. 

Just like marriage is the enemy of love, crowds are the enemy of joyful inebriation. Of course, that seems counterintuitive. Booze applies grease to the gears of societal gatherings. Touchdowns are cheered, ref's calls are booed. You sure don't go to the sports bar to share green tea with the gang. But what happens when everybody gets into their fourth tall glass of Bud? The dynamic changes. Things get a little awkward as each guy in the gang tries to restate what he has already said five times about what a stupid trade the Chargers made at the beginning of the year. It soon becomes drudgery that not even the shots of Cuervo can save. The hangover and regret you have the next morning force you to swear you'll never do it again—until you do it again. (By the way, the Finns have a word for the combination of hangover and regret: It's called morkkis.) 

"I've never been lonely. I like myself.

I'm the best form of entertainment I have." - Charles Bukowski. 

Booze opens up lines of communication between people, certainly, but few people know it also facilitates communication with yourself. It lets you get to know the real you, the one you always knew existed, the one deep down in your subconscious, but never had the chance to let out. But you're never going to get to know the real you while your sitting in a crowd of people and inane chit chat and blasting jukeboxes. The inner you is the one that knows you best, someone you can sit with in comfortable silence without straining under the labor of small talk. Close the door, grab a bottle, and get to know you. 

"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads him to himself," the poet Hermann Hesse once said, and he was right. To most people, their inner self is some sort of dark and hairy fanged monster that you flee from in fear. Which is exactly why you need to go and have a drink with him. Plan ahead. Stock up on your favorite booze. You don't want to be getting up for another beer run just when things are getting good. Turn the goddam television off. (I dropped mine off in the alley behind my apartment long ago, even duct taping the remote to the screen to increase its value to the crackhead who would later find it and sell it at the swap meet.)

 "If god had intended me to drink with other people

he wouldn't have made me such an asshole." - Hugh Blanton

Recumbent on the sofa with a whiskey bottle is good for the solitary drinker, maybe a dim light from a corner lamp to create ambiance. Sipping straight from the bottle, cap off/cap on between sips, avoids spillage. Some solitary drinkers like to have music on, and I used to listen to tunes late into the night with headphones. However, that stopped after a neighbor came over at three in the morning wondering if Mariah Carey was in here, caught in a bear trap. Silence is best. But whatever drink you prefer—wine, beer, cocktails—you'll soon discover that the annoyances of bars and crowds are gone. No jabbering from the blighter on the stool next to you and going through the "I buy/you buy do-si-do" before he hands over his band's demo CD. Last call is whenever you decide; it could even be the light from a rising sun. No bartender to ignore your empty glass as he chats up the fresh-from-the-salon hotties at the end of the bar.

The submerged you rises to the top like an angel from bondage when you drink alone. Social norms and the dissembling that goes along with it is banished within the four walls of solitude and a bottle. While it's pretty much impossible to achieve ideological purity (even the bearded guy on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel had a wart or two), the lone drinker is as close as you'll get, a person truly in love with booze. Even before George Thorogood's 1985 anthem "I Drink Alone" I was stealing away to secluded spots along the banks of the Cumberland River with my shoplifted bottle of Beam to enjoy the cold starry night with my thoughts and my inebriation. Loners have the advantage of picking up little bits of wisdom here and there that the crowd never will (self analysis is impossible while immersed in the crowd) and the best thing I ever learned along the way was solo drinking.

If one were to total up the number of faux pas made while drinking with the crowd, the number would be somewhere in the vicinity of a million and one. Some of my own involve grabbing unwilling bar patrons for dancing, breaking wine glasses, whispering too loud. But the worst came about after I went to my favorite dive bar at opening time, 7 in the morning. From time to time throughout the morning, various people would stop in for a pre-work shot of their favorite liquor before starting their workday. Some time later I noticed that I had been asked a couple of times by different people, "You're still here?" I looked up at most recent person who'd asked me that and recognized him as one of the people who'd had a pre-work shot. It was 5:30 PM and I was still on my barstool. I could overhear their conversations at the other end of the bar on my lack of a useful life. No such humiliations occur when one drinks behind the locked door of their own room.

Of course, complete avoidance of the crowd is impossible. People will beseech you to meet them at the bar and they'll assert that it's important, i.e., it's been too long, a favorite celebrity has died, etc. As the jabber progresses and becomes more inane, steal a glance over at the mirror behind the bartender and think, "Next time it's just you and me, buddy."

Hugh Blanton is a truck loader who combs poems out of his hair during those times he can steal away from his employer's loading dock. He has appeared in Bottom Shelf Whiskey, The Dope Fiend Daily, Terror House Magazine and other places.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Seventeen Miles to Mannington

The meeting was coming to an end. A panel of a half-dozen academics were arranged around a long oblong table and I stood at the end, behind a portable podium. They had asked me all the usual questions and there I was, uncomfortably waiting the official end of the interview.

“Say,” asked a pudgy guy who was trying to hide his bald head with an impressive comb-over, “what is that thing there that’s attached to your shirt pocket?

I looked down to find the only things there were a pen and pencil set, so I pulled them out to display, saying “uh, well, it’s a pen and pencil set, Lamay brand. To use, uh, for writing?” The room went loudly silent. It was an odd moment.

“Well, do you have any questions for us?” asked Search Committee Chair, a bald guy wearing a bow-tie.

“No, thanks, I think you’ve answered all of my questions.”

The group started to gather their papers and stood to leave. A burly guy at the end of the table then said, in words that would become emblematic of a tortured situation: “And Mannington is just seventeen miles to the South.” Another odd moment, but this one with reverberations.

It was 1988. I was offered and took the job at Madisonville Community College, not knowing that my workplace was situated in what was called a “dry county,” a place where no alcoholic beverages could be sold or purchased. There were no stores where citizens could purchase beer, wine or spirits and restaurants did not sell alcoholic drinks by the bottle or the glass. No matter what the local leaders mandated, I did not plan on being forced into sobriety. As I contemplated spending the next thirty years there, I took a little solace in knowing that Mannington, where booze and brews could be purchased, was only twenty-minutes to the south.

I quickly learned about a thriving business in bootlegged booze—that some of the locals picked up refreshments outside the County and resold them, at an inflated price. I was not fully moved to town yet, so back home in Lexington KY I loaded up on what I was drinking at the time, scotch, and beer, and stocked my abode. I also made it a habit to keep my home fully stocked with scotch and beer; I learned my lesson the hard way that it was an extreme pain to have to drive any distance when the liquor larder was bare.

With a few years after I settled in to my new job and the quirky community where I lived, the temperance issue came up for a vote. It had arisen twice before over the previous twenty years, and each time the preachers gave sermons about the evils of ‘demon rum,’ and cowed the community into leaving things zealously thirsty as was. This time there was a bit more approval from the economic development crowd, the restaurant owners and entrepreneurs who argued that it was difficult to attract new money in our town of under twenty thousand souls because most business people liked the idea of wining and dining clients, and felt they would lose to other ‘wetter’ places.

I thought their arguments were good, but that something different was needed, as the same arguments had been in play before to no avail. I decided to write a letter to the editor, and instead of depending on moral or financial reasoning, I aimed to praise the wonderfulness of drink.

Dear Madisonville Neighbors:

I write this to simply explain why I am in favor of making alcohol legal in our community. I understand the moral and religious objections, though I also recall that Jesus did not turn water into water—but that he gave his followers wine. Nobody wants drunkenness as a constant feature in our society, but an occasional drink does not cause inebriation and is not a ticket to Hell and eternal damnation. I also understand the economic arguments. We can’t attract business. Many people want to be able to have a beer with their burger, and going ‘wet’ would add to the tax coffers. If so, I imagine I will be paying instead of profiting, and I’m okay with that.

No, my argument is that beer is a tasty beverage, and that there is a great and enjoyable variety to sample. There is the nutty-brown ale that remind us of yeasty bread, the more sour pale ale called “bitter” at English pubs, the thick dark beer that is redolent of coffee and molasses, the light effervescent lager so airy and clean, the sweet Belgian style dessert beer, the airy-white wheat ale, the piney Scotch beer, sigh, the list goes on and within each category, exists a range of flavors and finishes to be admired. A good beer can be an aesthetic experience, like visiting a museum or listening to a symphony.

When I was young (too young to legally drink), a friend had managed to score a case of beer. He hid it in the woods that winter, covered with snow at the base of a tree, and when we opened a cold one, it was so freezing that it burned our throats a little, the icy liquid slowly warming our bellies, our ears turning red in the December breeze. When our Physics teacher learned of our transgression, he was only upset that we might have “bruised the beer” by letting it get too cold.

Our Commonwealth of Kentucky is culturally tied to our alcohol. We are world famous for our bourbon. Visit Louisville and one waiter will tell you that if you want to taste what the locals like, you need to tipple a little Old Pogue. If you visit William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak mansion in Oxford, Mississippi, you will see an empty bottle of Kentucky distilled Four Roses on display, one that had been rescued from the few dozen that littered the backyard. In central Kentucky there are a host of distilleries that provide tours. The Woodford Reserve folks hold delicious dinners with bourbon pairings. We are not being good citizens if we do not celebrate what our own people produce.

We have a wealth of wineries dotting the land, producing sweet wonderfulness from locally grown grapes. And of course there are the wines from California’s Napa Valley, as well as imports of Piesporter Michelsberg Qwalatäteswine mit Prädikat. There is Cabernet, both red and white, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, oaked and unoaked Chardonnay, Vouvray, Sherry, and Merlot, Zinfandel, and Sangria. Champaign. I want a glass of wine with dinner. Some say that a glass of wine can be good for our health, due to the vitamins and tannins and other fermented chemicals of joy. And moreover, they can taste amazing.

Some people eat (and drink) to live—no more and no less. Seems a sad waste of an opportunity to enjoy life. Maybe they don’t want or need any form of alcohol. For them, there is no great need to pass law making alcohol legal in our city. Do it for me then, because I live to eat, and drink, and can do so much better, can enjoy what God has provided, including wine or beer, if I can get it locally. You can enjoy these beverages, too, if they are more readily available than at present. Vote wet!

I don’t know how most of the newspaper’s readers reacted to my letter, but one of my colleagues took me aside and told me “oh, man, that letter made me thirsty!” Surprisingly, nobody hinted that I was a bad influence and was destined for Hell.

That year, 1992, the city voted to go ‘wet.’ I’m certain my letter did not make all the difference, but I like to think it influenced a few to see beer-wine-and-liquor in a more positive light. The ensuing regulations stipulated that alcohol couldn’t be sold within a hundred yards of a church or school, which severely limited where a store could be located. Initially, the local Police were hot on the lookout for drunk drivers, but that faded pretty quickly when it became clear that the problem was worse before the law had change. Back when desperately thirsty people got brewskies out of County, and drained them while driving home. Yep, making booze available locally actually reduced the problem of drunk driving. Moreover, it made life a little more tolerable for those of us who enjoy the array of flavors from fermented and distilled thirst-quenchers.

Like the rest of the state, we still contend with ‘blue laws’ which prohibit sale of all alcoholic beverages on Sundays. On the Sabbath He rested, but forgot to pour Himself a stiff one? The city recently began to loosen these restrictions, too.

I had a pretty good history of sampling single-malt scotches, having graduated from the peaty varieties to more subtle and balanced options, but since I was living in Kentucky it seemed fated that I would become more familiar with bourbons, and so have developed a very boozy habit of discriminating among them. I'm enjoying a new one right now. It’s infused with a subtle espresso-coffee flavor. I purchased it our local liquor store.

Scott D. Vander Ploeg, Ph. D., is an early-retired professor of English/Humanities, who was named Kentucky College Teacher-Of-The-Year in 2009.  He recorded 120 essays for a regional NPR affiliate in one decade, and later wrote a 100-article column about the arts and letters for a small-town newspaper.  He has published scholarly articles on Donne (dissertation subject), Milton, Shakespeare, Stoker, Mason, and the physics of fantasy magic, et al.  He was the Executive Director of the Kentucky Philological Association.  In his spare-time he is an amateur thespian, a jazz drummer, and a Sifu in Tai Chi.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Seduction: Mae West Style

Be honest: you want to belly up to the bar

straddling the stool, heels tucked onto the lower rung.


Be honest: the more expensive the scotch, the fewer rocks you order.

But here, at this honkeytonk in Southwestern Kentucky,

they have only bottom shelf Dewars. The bartender, always in black,

always strapped into a push up bra, thuds your cloudy poison

on the bar with a nod and a wink. The ice jiggles,

like her, and she reminds you she will be back

to check on you. Your toes curl around the bar stool rung. You lean in.


Upstairs, I have a bottle of 21 year old Ardmore.

One cube, two at most. This is loamy liquid, peaty,

oozing of earth raw and wrenched open with naked fingers. Nervous

worms grapple around my palms as I pour you a glass. I am waiting for you.


I left clues for you to find. Miniature mysteries, really.

While you were rattling the cubes in your Dewars, I secreted

up behind you, draped my red feather boa over your shoulders,

slid it across the width of your back, pulling it slowly around your neck.

One red feather lodged in your beard.  Another lingered

at the corner of your mouth, remnants of the scotch soaking into it.


I left a trail of red feathers across the barroom floor,

slopped with the grease from spilled fried pickles.

They decoupage the floor with mosaics of a fragmented boa.


I wait at the top of the stairs. I lean and loiter along the bannister

where I sprawl and stretch. I pull off white buttoned gloves. 

I crook my finger at you, signal you to rise and climb,

to ascend this circular staircase suspended

between alcoholic brawls and lace doilies.


Come on up and see me some time, I whisper,

hoping my words will echo down the spiral staircase,

crawl into your glass, take root

in the bottom of your scotch.

After having taught middle and high school English for 32 years, Marianne is now nurturing her own creative spirit.  She has spent three summers in Guizhou Province, teaching best practices to teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal (2003) and Turkey (2009). Marianne participated in Marge Piercy’s Juried Intensive Poetry Workshop (2016).  Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Poetry Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Jelly Bucket Journal, Gyroscope Review, among others.  She has a collection of poetry forthcoming in 2021 from Shadelandhouse Modern Press.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Old Man in a Straw Hat

'Humidity?' he asked. 'Were you talking about humidity?'

'Yes' - I answered and knew I was in for it.

Oh - nothing to do with humidity -
but it was another lonely old man
in a bar - getting drunk - wanting to talk.

'I'm from Miami - I know humidity!'
Although he looked 80 -
he laughed like a giddy thirteen-year-old.
He told me about the Miami humidity -
I listened as long as I could - waiting for pause.
When I got my pause - I averted my eyes up
to the close captioned TV above the liquor bottles.

He took the hint and swiveled upon his barstool -
away from me.

'Is that Sordovsky?' - he asked -
pointing at a vodka bottle on the shelf behind the bartender.

'Yes - yes it is' - the bartender answered.
Her mistake. He launched into a fifteen minute lesson
on proper vodka distilling procedures.

He finished his third tall glass of beer and left
without saying goodbye - probably feeling defeated
in his quest to defeat loneliness.

The old should be wise enough to know
that loneliness can not be eradicated
through talking.

Originally published by The Rye Whiskey Review, March 7, 2020

Hugh Blanton is a truck loader who combs poems out of his hair during those times he can steal away from his employer's loading dock. He has appeared in Bottom Shelf Whiskey, The Dope Fiend Daily, Terror House Magazine and other places.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Amtrak for Dummies

This past weekend was a bit of a vacation for me. I had Friday off, and Monday also, which gave me a spectacular 4-day weekend. So, I decided the most productive use of this mini-vacation would be to get out of town, and visit some of my favorite drinking spots in Sacramento. For those who have never experienced Sacramento through the bottom of a bucket glass, you are missing out. There is a whole booze culture up there. Remember, the place has been around since the gold rush and was founded on saloons and brothels. Plus, it’s the state capital and I found that most capital cities are great drinking destinations. Don’t know why, it just seems to be so.

But the real story here is not a warm-hearted tale of a personal mecca to boozing nirvana. Not exactly.

On Wednesday, I logged on to Amtrak’s website and purchased round trip tickets between Fresno and Sacramento. On Thursday, evening, I arrived at the newly remodelled Santa Fe station in marvellous downtown Fresno. I had about 40 minutes to kill, so I stopped in at the Sheepherder's Inn for a few pints of Guinness. And yes, those fuckers hit the spot!

I went back to the Amtrak station, and proceeded to wait on the bench for my train, 713. I was informed the 713 would be about 20 minutes late by a courteous Amtrak employee. Fuck it. I didn’t mind the wait. After all, I was on vacation.

Within five minutes, my train came in. I proceeded to ask the same Amtrak guy what the story was with this train. Again, he stressed – in no uncertain terms - that MY train was to be 20 minutes late. The gentleman informed me that THIS train was bound for Bakersfield, and he would let me know when the Sacramento train arrived. Feeling quite comforted about this information from a qualified professional, I sat back down, and continued to wait.

Sure enough, 20 minutes later came a train, oddly from the north. The Amtrak employee scurried out from his office and let me know that my train had arrived. I boarded, sat down, and the train departed.

“JESUS H. CHRIST, MARY AND JOSEPH HANGING OFF A CROSS, GOD DAMNED SHIT. MOTHERFUCKER!” was the only thing I could think of to say at that point as the train slowly began to roll south.

The conductor came by to collect my ticket, and smirked at me a bit as I shamefully turned it over to him.

"Next stop, Hanford." He chuckled.

The next 20 minutes were stretched out infinitely. I knew the train I was supposed to be on was the last northbound train in the Central Valley, but Hanford isn’t far from Fresno. It was getting late on Thursday, and I could have probably had someone just drive down, and pick me up. Alas, a vicious combination of stubbornness and pride prevented me from doing so. Besides, I was on vacation, and had no intention of going home.

When I finally arrived in Hanford, I thought I might still have a chance of getting to Sacramento somehow, or perhaps Fresno at the very least. I didn't think Hanford really held anything for me that evening, and I was anxious to depart as soon as possible. I went into the train station to rustle up some alternatives, still hoping perhaps a late night train would still be coming through.

A freight train passed the station before I reached the counter, and for a brief moment, I considered jumping on it like a depression-era hobo.

The Hanford station attendant found my situation to be pretty funny and told me he was getting ready to close up and that I should come back at 6:30 AM, 15-minutes before the first train north. He would not refund or exchange my ticket, and kept saying just to come back tomorrow, the station was closed. I couldn't help but notice the hours of operation listed on the window that separated my and the attendant. They were supposed to be open for another half hour. He was clearly sick of my questions.

I asked him about other transportation alternatives. I was shit out of luck. Where there any cabs? Nope. Busses? Nope. Thinking about hitching or walking, I finally asked how far it was from Hanford to Fresno.

"78 Miles" He replied.

Now, I took some advanced math in high school, and a little in college. I was never any Will Hunting, but I could figure out the area of a parabola. I was tired and annoyed with the whole situation and asked the attendant how in the fuck a 20-minute train ride from Fresno could cover 78 miles? Well, I learned. Hanford east to Goshen, east to Visalia, west back to Goshen and then north to Fresno is 78 miles. I asked again, recognizing that I was dealing with a retard.

Any guesses?

"78 Miles."

Ahhh fuck it! I gave up. I decided to stay in Hanford for the night.

I set out on foot and discovered an amazing little town. I saw the Fox Theatre, and saw Willie Nelson is playing there next month. I saw a permanent outdoor carousel and a real town square. The place reminded me of the town in Back to the Future.

I checked into a Comfort Suites, showered, and decided to make the most of my stay.

Heading out, I stopped at the front desk and asked if there were any decent bars within walking distance. I was directed to Simon's.

It turned out to be a place I never would have expected in small town Hanford. Simon's was a surf-themed bar with about 20 beers on draft, and Surf videos playing on large screen TV's. They had a pool table and Guinness. What more could you ask for? Well, since I was a stranger in a strange town, I decided to veer off course and sample some of the other beers on tap. Then, I decided to make it my mission to try them all. I succeeded.

By 10:00 I was shit-faced and ready for a change of scenery. So I walked down the street and ended up at a cool bar called The Bastille. Great place with a great bartender and fun regulars. I ended up playing dice with a guy that couldn't win a roll and walked away with about twenty extra dollars.

On my way back to the Comfort Suites, I found another little bar and decided to have a few more "nightcaps." At this point, I can't remember the name of the place or what I drank, or how many I had. As a matter of fact, I can't even remember if I even paid for my drinks. I do, however, remember walking the half block between the bar and the hotel, because a local cop pulled up to me and started asking questions. Apparently, I was so drunk, that anyone driving by would say "that guy is so drunk!"

I explained to the cop that I was not planning to drive and that I was a visitor staying in the Comfort Suites and dug around in my pocket until I was able to find my room key. Then, the strangest thing happened. The cop walked me to my room, opened the door for me, and told me to enjoy my stay in Hanford. Stranger yet, about ten minutes later, there was a knock at my door. I opened it to find the cop with a Taco Bell bag in his hand. He handed it to me and said "you should probably eat something." I think I tried to give him a tip but he didn't accept it. I ate and passed out within a few minutes.

I know I got a little long winded on this one. Thanks for hanging in there if you have gotten this far. I guess the whole point of the story is this: Make do with what you have. I turned a miserable night into a whole mess of fun by realizing my glass was half full. I was on vacation after all. And, if you ever plan on getting super-loaded in a small town. Choose Hanford. They know how to treat their drunks.

Colin Deal spends his free time exploring the bar culture of cities throughout North America and believes the unique culture of any region in the world can be discovered over a few drinks with the locals. His drunken musings can be found on Twitter here.