Friday, October 30, 2020

Barstool

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
name.

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

Aramis.


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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A Lonely, Solitary Independence Day

At Sam Bond's Bar I was missing my nephew Tom's birthday party

while drinking double red Ninkasi Believers,

while listening to songs with drunk Josey and Valerie,

while watching traveling Michael on accordion and shells,

and doing the wave dance,

but nothing like the arm and torso dance we did with Maxine and Marta

before calling mom, Annette, who is

preparing to visit my Uncle Gerry in England, thus

ignoring my sad date, disadvantaged Randy,

and ignoring patriotic Katie's texts because

she's far too busy with Marion,

her elderly friend and apartment manager while my new friend Dave

ignored me about Ken's annual July 4th party.

 

All this happens before visiting new friends Shelly and Erik

at the Peer Club, a disability and mental health center

with Marsha and Sandra managing.


Nicole Taylor lives in Eugene, Oregon. She is an artist, a hiker, a poetry note taker, a sketcher, a volunteer and a dancer, formerly in Salem's DanceAbility group. Her poems have been accepted in Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac, Cirque Journal; Clackamas Literary Review; Just Another Art Movement Journal - New Zealand, West Wind Review and others. You can read and listen to more of her poems at oregonpoeticvoices.org/poet/312/, a collection of Oregon poets with written and audio poetry available online through Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Sir, I’m So Sorry

At the punk rock dive bar with the heavily graffitied men’s room where the wild-haired woman who reeked of patchouli whirled around from her studious hunch over the jukebox to face me eye-to-eye and lament it didn’t have The Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk To Fuck,” they told me I couldn’t order a pitcher of PBR if I were drinking alone.

At the comedy club, the harried, frazzled waitress who didn’t check in for 20 minutes or more told me I couldn’t order two IPAs at the same time if I were drinking alone.

At the white table-clothed restaurant I wandered into empty-bellied on a business junket in a distant city, they told me I couldn’t order a full bottle of wine if I were dining alone.

They told me I couldn’t pair the halibut with a whole bottle of white, or the ribeye with a whole bottle of red. I could order by the glass though.
 
They were sorry. They were so sorry.
 
Disappointment stings, but you learn tricks. I learned them anyway.
 
You go to the theater and buy a balcony ticket. That way you can hit the mezzanine bar, abscond to your seat through the first entrance past the stairwell, drop the stadium plastic cup down to mark your seat, pop out the other side, and hit up the balcony bar.
 
Viola! You’ve got enough liquid sustenance to fortify you through intermission.
 
No one is metering how much you’re drinking. No one is judging.
 
The meter—the tracking—is what you want to avoid.
 
You invest in a flask. You pre-game. You funnel cheap vodka into a water bottle to make the nature trail hike more bearable.
 
There’s the world—its grotesque warts, structural flaws, intractable crises and all. Then there’s you. Some insulation is required.


Craft beer aficionado Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, author of two books, an Iraq War veteran, an Indiana University graduate, a book reviewer, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio. He is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee who was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His literary work and photography have appeared in more than 150 journals, including Dogzplot, Stoneboat, The High Window, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Steep Street Journal, Beautiful Losers, New Pop Lit, The Grief Diaries, Gravel, The Offbeat, Oddball Magazine, The Perch Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, Chicago Literati, Bull Men's Fiction, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Prairie Winds, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen, The Rat's Ass Review, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Euphemism, Jenny Magazine, Vending Machine Press and elsewhere. Like Bartleby, he would prefer not to.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Winter Arrives

The bitter cold

keeping me indoors

as if it were a cop

and I a suspicious

person of

interest.

 

Alcohol makes me brave

it always does and

stupid too.

Yet I put on my coat to

buy some escape.

 

The three degree

weather slaps me

like Bogie did Lorrie

in The Maltese Falcon

and orders me to

like it the same way.

I just swear and get

inventive upon finding

the liquor store closed.

 

Six long blocks to the next

one or three to the next bar.

This is why some men

are always drunk

and others

never.

 

Me, I'm somewhere in between.


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Last Orders

The four friends sat round the table, stealing glances at the bar area. It was a gloomy February morning, frost lingered on the ground outside. Inside, there was a bitter chill, even with the heating on full blast.

“Right then, a few words from us all, I think. I will start” announced Douglas.

Frank rolled his eyes as Kat shook her head. He has to make it about him, she thought, pretending to entertain “Demanding Douglas”.

“Go on then Dougie” said Maggie, pulling her chair in closer and lifting her vodka, soda and lime up in the air.

“Ivor and I go way back, when we both started in the business in the 1980’s. It was a happening time as the young one’s would say”. Douglas looked up to witness Frank rolling his eyes again. He shot him a look, indicating they were all feeling the pain and knowing Frank still felt a little inferior to him, even after all these years.

He continued. “Granted, we were a bit competitive at first, you know, both of us being in the business. But the need to compete actually brought us together and we became the perfect business marriage. I was the husband of course, and we weren’t without our tiffs, but we had a good 15 years of partnership. I think the punters saw us as the Del Boy and Rodney of the pub trade, cheeky chaps who people wanted to be around. No dodgy dealings of course”, he sniggered, “but many an adventure did Ivor and I have. I will miss you son, the world is a darker place without you. To Ivor”.

Douglas raised his pint of Blue Moon and looked over at the bar.

The others raised their glasses. Kat saw a tear in Douglas’s eye and automatically felt guilty for her earlier thoughts. “Erm, I will say a few words if you all don’t mind?” she enquired.

Kat looked and saw Frank nodding.

“You go on pet, please do” said Maggie, giving Kat a comforting arm rub as she spoke.

“Well, I hadn’t known Ivor for very long, as you all know. But the little time he was in my life, he made more of an impact than most. Truth is, I would have been homeless without him. Probably even dead myself”.

Douglas gave a look of bad taste. Really, he thought, how crass.

“It’s true, Ivor kinda saved me. That day I came in, asking directions to the accommodation the council were sending me too. He made sure I had a lemonade only and a packet of cheese n onion before embarking on what felt like a bloody counselling session. But it worked and I must have looked like I needed it”.

Maggie gave a warm, maternal smile.

“And that afternoon, well he took a chance on me. He believed in me, like no one had before, not even me Ma. He gave me a job and a room in the pub. But he gave me more than that, he gave me hope and that’s the best gift I’ve ever had. I will miss you Ivor, I hope I will continue to make you proud”.

Kat lifted up her white wine, to the chorus of the others

“To Ivor”.

“Bloody hell Pet, not sure I can follow that” chuckled Maggie wiping her eyes.

“Ivor was a legend in the West End, everyone knew him for good or bad reasons. He was harmless, we know that but I think back in the day he wasn’t afraid to stand up for himself, shall we say! I remember the day I first met him, my interview day. A mate tipped me off that there was work going and since our Sonny had went to college, I needed a bit more income. I hadn’t been in the business for almost a decade, but you know what they say, it is like riding a bike. So, I got my best pencil skirt and blouse on and shoes that made my heels raw, and I walked into the pub like I was top dog on the prison wing”.

The other three laughed, nodding, imagining Maggie doing just that.

“It was all very pleasant and professional at first, then he asked me to pull a pint. I was nervous as anything so really concentrated. He gave nothing away until the very end when he turned to me, gave out a laugh more seedy than Sid James in the Carry On films. You’re too young love” she said looking at a confused Kat before continuing.

“And said ‘With tits like those I knew the job would be yours. Your pint pulling just makes you even better doll’. That was it, I was in, albeit possibly sexually harassed by today’s standards”

Frank put his hand to his mouth, stifling a laugh.

“To Ivor, the man would could get away with saying anything. Rest well my love” Maggie held up her wine spritzer and the rest joined in.

They all looked at Frank, knowing it was the hardest for him and hoping their stories brought comfort.

“You don’t have to say anything Frank” soothed Kat.

“No, no, it’s important and it’s nothing that hasn’t played on repeat in my head for the last ten days”.

The group looked at him, Maggie grabbed his hand and Frank felt the warmth that his body so desperately craved.

Don’t cry, he thought to himself. Ivor would want him to stay strong, to celebrate and not commiserate.

He could feel his voice cracking as the words started,

“My Ivor, my favourite person, my lobster, my soul mate. The future without you feels like watching static on the TV. It feels like music playing that I can never hear, eating a meal that I can’t taste. The future without you feels like waking up will always be painful as the realisation our mornings together have ended sinks in. The never agains feel crippling my beloved, and the emptiness feels so vast that I could drown with heartbreak. The future without you feels like a future I don’t want.”

Frank looked up from his seat at the table and saw his friend’s silent tears, cascading down their cheeks.

“You were my everything Ivor, my better half, my inspiration. You were the jam to my toast, my slippers on a cold night. You were the smile on my face. And I am scared Ivor, scared that I will never get over this and equally as scared to stop feeling like this, as I never want to forget how much you mean to me. Life seems impossible and only in my dreams do I feel relief. It is better to have loved and lost than never to love at all, they say. I remain uncertain. Some days I wish we had never met as the pain I hold every minute of the day feels like a weight around my neck, strangling me, pressing down on my windpipe. Then I have a fleeting memory of the most beautiful and simple act. Of true love. Of us walking in the park and seeing a squirrel, of sharing a piece of cake, of you reading me your favourite poem. A memory of the look that made my heart whole. And I wonder if it is in fact better to have loved and lost than never loved at all. I will keep wondering my love, as I go through this and I hope you will always be by my side, in some way. My wound will never heal and you will be etched in the scar in my broken heart. But I will remember what you said to me, that it isn’t hard dying when you know you have lived. I will carry your heart in mine and love you with all my being until we meet again.”.

There was silence for ten seconds as the group felt the weight of grief around them, pressing on their shoulders with great sadness. Eventually, after what felt an eternity in a vacuum of silent mourning, Frank spoke,

“To Ivor, my Ivor” Frank said, raising his gin and tonic into the air.

“To Ivor” said the others in unison, raising their glasses.

They all reached for the extra glass by their side, containing a measure of Ivor’s favourite whiskey. All four downed the shot, placing the glasses back down with a mixture of contorted faces and a little smile and chuckle.

It was time. There was a knock on the door. The calm funeral directors from Burrell and Sons came into The Yellow Rose Pub and took the coffin containing Ivor from the bar and out to his final journey and resting place.



Helen Aitchison is an Area Manager for a National Charity. Based in North-East England, she has two decades experience of working in health and social care. This inspired her to begin her writing journey in 2019.

Her writing is based on personal experience, voices of the unheard, simple human connections and circumstances we all face.

To date, she has had poems published in an anthology by Slice Of The Moon books and a short story published in Story Tyne 2019 anthology.

She writes in any spare time she can capture, alongside a healthy obsession with reading, travel and exercise.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Religious Experience at Joe's

It's a dark and quiet
smoky page
from the book
of martyrs.
Soft strains of hymn
float out of the jukebox,
bottles gleam behind the bar
like evening stars.
Faithful witness throats
guzzle brave beers,
celestial whiskeys.
Men walk on water
in the bathrooms.
With a little powder
on the cheeks,
red on the lips,
women change water
into wine.
Every drunken voice
delivers sermons.
Each besotted brain
rings bells.
Later, bars close,
streets empty,
apostles return home
to those of little faith.



John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review and Connecticut River Review. Latest book, “Leaves On Pages” is available through Amazon.


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Ode to Gin

Ah! Gracious elixir, good ally gin,

come sit beside me while I rest herein

from chaos and confusion that have been

imposed on me to my chagrin.


Your fragrance alone is an embrace,

of the redolent type (just in case

you’re not aware of your eminent grace

in providing solace from the human race.)


Oh blessed remedy from daytime slight,

with your angelica root you quite delight

and abandon my recent spirit’s blight:

help turn me mellow and pleasingly polite.


Oh divine coriander you do inspire

my better behavior when worldly ire

crushes all hope that we will acquire

once more principles we can admire.


Hurrah to your translucent skill to intox

with your anise flavor that smugly mocks

my penchant to tipsily crack each paradox

with the harebrained reasoning of Goldilocks.


Amen to you sweet silver gin

with crisp berries juniper I can begin

to mull how your taste spurs me to grin,

oh, just a second—did I mean sin?


B.A. Bittingham

Formerly of New York City and South Florida, Brittingham is currently a resident of Southwestern Michigan, as well as a writer who has published essays in the Hartford Courant; short stories in Florida Literary Foundation’s hardcover anthology, Paradise; with the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education; in the 1996 Florida First Coast Writers’ Festival and in Britain’s World Wide Writers.