America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
Fridays at “The Blind Pig’s Pub”
One Friday evening after “Jeopardy” I become fascinated by my complete lack of romantic prospects, and the reality that, though only 25, I just might die alone. The utter hopelessness of my situation seems confirmed as I remember that my plans for the evening involve reading, writing, and trying to forget I have a whole 12 pack of Old Milwaukee’s Best in the refrigerator.
I turn on the computer for a while, in order to pretend I am a writer. This mainly involves looking over things I have written, and nodding with satisfaction. Sometimes I stroke my chin. But usually I will remember the beer, or the TV, or some other personal prescription for loneliness, and so will accomplish nothing. After enough beers, I may even begin to sing along to classic rock favorites. But I force myself to continue browsing through my old writings; because I am also pretending I am a writer.
It’s raining loudly now. I hear it splattering on the metal roof of my remote mobile home, the roof I am sure will cave in one day soon. I put a pot under a leak. I look out my window into Florida’s Ocala National Forest. Under a lone streetlight, I can see the dirt road dissolving into pools of mud. Ah, to be safe at sound at home. I have beer, Marlboros, and my cold, dead, unpublished manuscripts. What more do I need?
I stare intently at the computer monitor, resolving to avoid the bar scene at all costs.
As I speed through the muddy dirt roads, my dashboard lights flicker, signifying a brief loss of power. I am conscious of my car as an electric island of civilization in the night’s wilderness. If I break down, I am far more likely to meet a bear than a vehicle with jumper cables. I would most likely be saved by one of the neighboring senior citizens to whom I have taught Sunday school—though I am no believer. The thought of this makes me lean on the gas pedal, plunging my 1977 Cadillac into mudholes with greater impact.
I imagine my car’s complete loss of power and the subsequent rescue scene vividly: the 80 year old Church Secretary, the towtruck, the headlights shining on the “Fuck You, Whore!” graffiti that someone (perhaps my father or one of his proxies) spray-painted on the Cadillac back when it belonged to my mother during their divorce.
I finally take the big left turn onto Florida State Rte 42, a paved road, and accelerate to unknown speeds. The Cadillac’s speedometer is broken. But it is only ten miles into the town of Deland, the county seat of Volusia County, Florida, also home to Daytona Beach. But I’m forty miles from there, and no one else is on the road.
I creep into Deland, park behind the police station, and walk in the rain toward “The Blind Pig’s Pub.” It’s hangout for local Stetson University students, an island of bohemia in Deland. Folk musicians play there. It smells like patchouli inside. “The Blind Pig’s Pub” is named after a Prohibition-era speak-easy, the blindness referring to the policemen’s bribe-induced blindness to its activities.
I am very self-conscious, and sort of clench my body as I enter, hoping the place is already full and I won’t be noticed. The object of my desire is a ravishing young barmaid named Jeannie. Jeannie has long, straight sandy hair, Siamese green eyes, and a knowing smile. She usually dresses all in white: a white blouse and short white shorts and white sneakers without socks. She is short, tan, full-figured and friendly. She serves beer energetically, and walks rhythmically, as if some happy tune is ever playing in her head. Jeannie’s song. She seems confident her fate will not be that of a lifer barmaid.
It is only 8:30 when I enter, and “The Blind Pig’s Pub” is nearly empty. Aside from a few patrons sitting at the bar, there is the insolent bartender and Jeannie, who from afar offers me a sweeping wave of a hand as a greeting. She remembers me. I nod back weakly. Although I will sit and lust after her for the next several hours, I don’t like the fact that she knows me, and can sense my loneliness.
I sit at a table in the corner, and open the book I brought. I also take out the notebook I bring to signal to people that I am a writer. Somehow I think that the “right” kind of woman will be impressed by this, rather than find it totally fucking pathetic that I carry a book and notebook out with me on a Friday night.
Jeannie approaches my table.
“Hey there. How you doing? What are you reading?” she asks me good-naturedly.
“It’s called American Tabloid. It’s a novel about the Kennedy assassination.” I had deliberately brought a book I thought might interest Jeannie. “It’s great.”
“It sounds like it. You should let me borrow it when you’re done. I’m almost done with my book.”
“OK.” I say hesitantly. I left a weird pause in the air. It didn’t quite occur to me that lending her a book was an “in” that could be exploited to strengthen our relationship. Nor did I think to ask her what she liked to read. Basically, I was nervous, and excited by her and without a clue as to what to say.
“So what would you like?” she asks.
I order cheap beer. But when she smiles her full, lop-sided smile, I don’t feel so bad about my obvious poverty. She walks to the bar, and my eyes follow her movements. As she fills a beer-glass at the bar, I begin scribbling gibberish in my notebook so she’ll catch me writing when she returns.
Jeannie’s back in no time.
“What are you writing?” she asks.
“Oh, I’m just taking notes for my novel.” I let the last word hang in the air impressively. “It’s not very good though.”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” she says.
“No. I’m not very good yet. I’ve got a lot to learn.”
“Awwww….you’ll get there,” Jeannie says sympathetically, leaning down and hugging my head against her chest. I am electrified by this gesture, but cynical. I assume she is angling for a good tip. She will certainly get one, despite my poverty. But I really don’t know what to make of it; perhaps a vestigial Southern hospitality?
She lets me go, and stands facing me, and smiles. I can smell her freshly showered body. I feel waves of my desire flowing toward her, and I cannot speak.
She smiles, a little wanly I imagine, and attends to another table that has just filled up.
I am hesitant to approach the young women in this bar, most of whom appear to be college age. I am 24, but have been out of college for three years, and feel worthless for not yet being a Contributing Member of Society. I feel like a dirty old man ogling younger women. Everyone else around me seems improbably hip.
I drink beers and pretend to read and write. Before I know it, I have drank five beers, and the room has grown crowded. I feel I cannot monopolize one of Jeannie’s tables anymore. I collect my things, and find a lone barstool to squeeze into.
The guy on the barstool to my right strikes up a conversation with me. I take him for a friendly Good Old Country Boy sort. He’s drunk as a Pope. But apparently I am rude, because after I fix my gaze straight ahead to end our exchange, he says:
“What’s your problem?”
“Don’t you like country folk?”
“Sure. I live in the country myself.”
“Uh huh. All your life, right?” he says sarcastically. “Where’re you really from? Chicago?”
“Cleveland,” I say.
“How about you?”
“Why?” he says suspiciously.
“I’m just talking, man.”
“Southern Florida,” he says grudgingly. “But that don’t mean I’m stupid, you understand.”
“Because I’m a writer. I write movies.”
“Really?” I say in disbelief. “What have you written?”
“Well, most of the scripts haven’t been made, you see. —And I’m working on one now. But one that got made was called Red Dawn.”
“Red Dawn! You wrote Red Dawn?”
The moment has become surreal: I’m looking at a gaunt, somewhat angry-looking country boy, who claims to have written Red Dawn. Of all the movies to claim to have written! It’s a really bad movie.
“Red Dawn? The one where the Russians invade America? And those high school kids become guerillas, and blow up all those tanks? What’d they call themselves?”
“Right. Wolverines. Wow.”
We talk a little about movies. I tell him that I too am a writer, but don’t think I can write for the screen just yet, because I’m not familiar enough with the medium. Camera angles, closeups, panning, low shots; lighting; blocking. There’s too much to know.
“That’s all there is to it,” he says. “What are you? A cinematographer?” he says sarcastically.
He tells me about the new screenplay he’s been working on. It’s called Glades. It’s about a woman who lives in Florida’s Everglades. She teaches a man how to live in the wilderness. There’s a child. That’s about it.
“Glades. Glades,” he repeats his screenplay’s title lovingly.
I may well be smirking.
“You got a problem?” he asks me, staring into my eyes unnervingly. His eyes are twitching, and his jaws are working.
“No. Hey, man, just relax.” I stare back at him, full of liquid courage.
“I’ve seen a lot of things a man ought not to see,” he says ruefully, his voice now drained of any bellicose tone. My beer-bought courage surprised him, and he suddenly seems gentle.
He is cracking up before my eyes. I am somewhat relieved, because I had forgotten that there are probably at least a few concealed firearms in this Florida bar, and that I do not have one.
The writer of Red Dawn is fighting back tears.
“My wife died some years back. There was this accident…” He stares into my eyes so intensely that the sanctity of my thoughts feels violated. He has the eyes of a murderer. Rage is convulsing him. I do not understand what he is saying. The noise of the crowded bar drowns him out. I sense he is confessing everything to me. I nod feebly, vapidly, as though I understand. I sense he feels responsible for his wife’s death. Perhaps he is confessing murdering her to me.
“It’s OK. Everything’s fine,” he tells me when he’s finished, shaking my fear-frozen hand.
“Yes, it is,” I say, stepping off the barstool to escape. “Good luck with Glades,” I say, and walk away.
“Glades,” he says.
I find another open barstool at the other end of the bar. I am a little shaken by my conversation with the screenwriter, and only want to collect myself. Jeannie smiles at me, and brings another beer. I am revived by the sight of her, and my eyes followed her greedily, but after watching her serve others with a comparable friendliness I decide she isn’t interested in me particularly.
An older man in the barstool to my left nods to me in the way of a greeting. Floridians are very friendly.
We get to talking. I probably sound as though I am interrogating him, ascertaining his motives for visiting a college bar. Perhaps he is a dirty old man, or a professor. Or both.
He is Arthur: a large man in a sport jacket and cowboy boots, and a silver-gray pony-tail, in his fifties.
“So what do you do, Arthur?” I ask, expecting to hear a tale of failure.
“I’m an artist,” says Arthur. He tries to say it dryly, but pride drips off his last word like hot fat off a meat spit.
“So you make good money at that?” I ask, still fishing for a tale of woe.
“Actually. Yes.” And Arthur smiles a shit-eating grin, and takes a long swallow from his beer mug.
“What kind of artist?”
“A sculptor,” he says. My face betrays my ignorance as to how one sculpts lucratively. So Arthur describes for me in detail some of the jobs he has done recently. He designs sets for theaters, and “dabbles” in graphic art for advertisers. And yes, he had once suffered—as only artists do—for years before finally making good.
When he starts talking about his boat I feel justified in cutting him off—
“—So you don’t feel that you’ve shamelessly sold out?” I ask.
“No, no.” He went through all that.
I tell him I’m a writer. He is kind enough not to ask whether I make money at it.
“I knew that,” he says. “I’m kind of psychic.”
“Psychic?!” I say incredulously. I look pointedly at my book and notebook on the bar, as if they might be the subtle clues supporting his paranormal impression that I write.
I order another beer. I am now in a dangerous drunken state in which I feel that everything I say is interesting. Now I am telling Arthur about God. How there isn’t one. I am constructing elaborate verbal catapults with which to assail the fortress of religion.
Arthur shakes his head like this is all unnecessary.
“We’re all gods in a way,” he intones.
I glare at him dubiously.
“No, I mean it,” he says. “You can’t tell me that the universe is an accident. Things happen for a reason. And if you open yourself up to certain…psychic channels, good things can happen to you.” Arthur segues to first person, and spins me a yarn.
Many years ago Arthur was completely broke, and needed $500 to pay the rent, or else he would be evicted. He had no friends or family to turn to. But then, like a flash, he hears in his mind:
“5314237,” he says prophetically to me, impressed he still remembers the very numbers.
And so Arthur knew what he must do.
Arthur immediately bought a Pick 3 Florida Lottery ticket, picking the numbers 531. He won $500. The next day, he decides to go for the Pick 4, $10,000 jackpot. He plays 4237, but the number is 4236.
“Why did the powers-within let you down?” I ask, underlining the spirit-world’s less than 100% success rate.
“I got too greedy about it,” he says factually. “The point is I got the money I needed at a critical juncture in my life.” I can feel my eyebrows straining for maximum arch.
“So your belief in higher powers is based on a winning lottery number? Lots of people think they hear numbers, you know. And most of them lose. It’s the fallacy of the positive instance. You got lucky,” I say brightly, lifting my glass to his fortune.
“You don’t understand, ” he says sadly, and takes another drink. He talks a little about Carlos Casteneda, and obtaining spiritual allies to aid one’s endeavors. I smile dubiously, imagining a fictitious business management volume entitled “Don Carlos: Shaman, CEO.” Arthur can tell he’s lost me. My eyes wander about for something more interesting, and land temporarily on a young woman standing behind Arthur.
I probably gawked at her too long, because she says:
But she said it more like she had known me her whole life and I was just someone who always stared at her too long. I stepped off my barstool, nodding good-bye to Arthur.
She still looked at me as if I’d better explain myself. She touched her face self-consciously, as if I were staring at some wart she thought she had.
“Hi, I’m Dan,” I say drunkenly. I extend my hand, trying not to seem like a rapist.
She didn’t really notice this gesture because she was already relating the events of her day to me, with ample digressions about her life story. She spoke in a rapid, drunken fashion that I wasn’t sure how to handle.
I learned things about her gradually: She was a special education teacher, indeed, the head of the department though she appears to be only 25.
“You want a job?” she asks me absurdly. “Because I can get you a job.”
I shrug. I don’t want to think about work right now.
Susanna, as I learn her name to be, claims to love her job, but speaks grandiloquently about the utter laziness and worthlessness of her students. I arch my eyebrows, wondering whether special ed students should be judged by such harsh standards. She is bombed, and talking freely—so freely that I entertain ideas about her being an easy conquest—just the sort of thing to brighten up my mood, I think drunkenly.
But I soon notice that a man is standing behind her, and rubbing and earnestly pawing her all over her body. His touches elicit no acknowledgement, nor exert any effect on Susanna’s conversation with me. I find it disquieting to watch a woman being molested—a man rubbing his hands up and down her legs, stomach, shoulder, flirting with the tabooed boundary where the breast grows out of the torso—and the woman too drunk or jaded to care.
I nearly burst out laughing as she related some trivial incident while the man’s hands begged for her attention all the while. I was expecting to see the hands cup her breasts.
“Are you guys married?” I ask.
“To him?” she asks contemptuously. “I just met him like twenty minutes ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say, putting up my hands, wondering how he managed to acquire such pawing privileges within twenty minutes. Susanna has a nice body. And she is attractive in a dark, Southern Mediterranean way, but her face bears a coarse, unhappy expression that somewhat spoils the overall effect of her appearance.
“No, but I’m married,” interjects the man, sneering cavalierly about his attempted infidelity. He steps out from behind Susanna and extends his hand to me.
He says his name is Dylan. He is tall and thin, and wears an open Hawaiian shirt. He claims to be the manager of the Cafe D’Vinci, another recently opened night spot in Deland. Three short months ago there was “nothing” in Deland, but now there is the Blind Pig’s Pub, the Cafe D’Vinci, and a third place I had termed “the sports bar where the fascists go,” and which also served good wings.
Dylan begins plugging the Cafe D’Vinci: the “alternative” bands, the poetry readings, the general aura of rebelliousness. He is glowing with pride over the supposed anarchy of his little bohemian hangout, situated around the block, less than a stone’s throw from the Deland Police Station.
“Wow. You must be quite a libertine,” I tell him sarcastically.
Bored with Dylan, I see three young women close by. They sometimes lean over to talk to Susanna, and are obviously her friends.
I begin talking to them.
“You talk just like a lawyer,” says one to me, as if I would take that as a compliment.
I assure them I’m not a lawyer. I lie about having “inherited a house and some money”; when the truth is I inherited a rusty mobile home and $400 in savings bonds.
They want me to guess what they do.
The short blonde with fragile blue eyes encased in her glasses, I take for a teacher.
“Right!” She titters with the joy of recognition.
The other, unhappy looking: “You’re medical, right? A nurse?”
Correct again. They look at each other impressed. How did I know? I mumble that I’m a writer, but my guesses were just blind luck.
Seeing Susanna occupied, I turn my attention to Laura, the blonde algebra teacher. She is blue-eyed, red-lipped fresh, and laughs at all the right places. I am grateful that she appreciates my sense of humor.
“Laura! What about that great guy from the other place?” interjects Joy at one point, who has the air of an English witch in the Stevie Nicks tradition.
Joy introduces herself as an “entrepreneur.” She runs Merlin’s Place, a New Agey shop full of crystals, dubious literature, and whatnot. I tell her I’ll pay her a visit.
Dylan has been working his way around, managing to stop and give each of the women some shallow bar cheer, and a brief shoulder massage. They all shrug him off as an obvious pest. Except for Susanna who doesn’t protest his advances.
“He’s too grabby,” Winny, the nurse, tells Susanna, the teacher, when Dylan goes to the bathroom. “You should like this guy better,” she says, pointing at me. Susanna nods, dubiously stuffing three mozzarella sticks in her mouth This is flattering, but I drunkenly confess to being “as much a pig as any man.”
And just like that they must leave. It is late. Laura tells me she hopes to see me here again, but I’m too slow-witted or scared to ask for her phone number. I am crestfallen.
Susanna, however, refuses to leave with her friends. She leaves with Dylan five minutes later.
I stay to finish my beer . I watch Jeannie, barmaid of my dreams, being ogled and pawed by patrons at another table. I leave The Blind Pig’s Pub at 2:00 a.m, having ordered a final beer that I smuggle out behind my notebook. I am outside walking empty streets, absurdly carrying a beer, a notebook, and American Tabloid. I feel alone, convinced that everyone else at the Blind Pig will effortlessly mate with someone that night, while I am comparatively defective. I am trying to find the Café D’Vinci, where I had never been. When I find it, it looks like a refurbished furniture store.
I go inside. The bar is dark and empty; closing time. Dylan, Susanna and—to my great surprise— Arthur the psychic sculptor, are sitting at a round table with red drinks before them. Each man has his hands on her, pursuing separate conversations with her.
I stand at the bar and am served by a young lady with blonde dreadlocks. She slides a beer to me, and looks at me. Then she writes Not Interested in a steno notebook laying open on the bar.
“Who’s not interested?” I ask.
She scratches it out without looking up.
“I don’t want to talk about it. That’s why I crossed it out,” she challenges.
I begin wondering whether she was not interested in me, or whether she thought I was not interested in her, or whether she was writing about something else entirely. I glance at her notebook. There are no other such observations written, so she isn’t in the habit of recording her observations of each patron, or evaluating the potential of every man in her path.
I look at her now, wondering whether I am interested in her. With her dreadlocks and dark skin, she is indeed interesting looking, but very remote. She slouches on a stool behind the bar; her body language bespeaks low self-esteem. I am very drunk and stare at a wall.
From her table, Susanna catches my attention, and waves me over, like an old friend.
“Thank you, Barmaid Who Writes Things Down,” I say to dreadlocked barmaid.
I join the others at table. I put down the beer I just ordered. I do not want it; I am dry and drunk and sluggish, but I drink the beer anyway, because I do not want the night to end.
Susanna is talking to me. She is absolutely rambling on and on, and she is either drunker than me, on drugs, on both. She is becoming confessional. I can sense her gearing up to tell me some tragic story. When I she says the word “step-father” dripping with hatred, I fear the worst and I interject:
“—I don’t know you that well. Are you sure you want to tell me this?” I am swaying in my chair, and gripping the table’s edge for support.
“What? We’ve just been talking for an hour!” she says, affirming the longevity of our friendship.
I mumble about not knowing her “in a Biblical sense.” But that I would like to.
I don’t think she hears or understands me in any way. Dylan The Manager is now describing his glorious establishment for us, pointing at memorabilia on the walls, recounting the dubious ‘history’ of the Cafe D’Vinci, now open for three months.
Now only the four of us are left in the room. Susanna rises in the middle of Dylan’s story, and goes up to the bar. As she stands at the bar, waiting for the now-vanished barmaid to serve her, Dylan approaches her. He stands behind her and begins rubbing her shoulders, her back, her ass, her legs, her breasts, first slowly, and then with abandon. Arthur watches this philosophically.
Then Dylan reaches between her legs and rubs her without protest, and I sneak out of the bar feeling like a unclean voyeur.
Red Dawn was made in 1983, during the Reagan Paranoia phase of the Cold War, and tells the story of six young high school boys in Colorado. One day Russian paratroopers invade Colorado. Indeed, the Russians have also invaded Alaska and cut the pipeline. Marxist proxies have invaded from Mexico. All of America west of the Mississippi has been overrun by Communist forces.
Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell form a guerilla outfit of high school kids called "The Wolverines," who camp out, drink deer blood, and blow up an astonishing number of Russian tanks. By the end of the film the Russians are more focused on destroying those pesky "Wolverines" than in defeating the U.S. Army, which is intact but supine along the eastern bank of the Mississippi.
Red Dawn was a critical and financial failure, but apparently has since become a cult favorite among some militias.