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Thursday, 14 September
Bar None

Some of my tens of readers who might also happen to be drinkers--I'm going to just go ahead and assume that translates to "all of you"--will appreciate the concept of the favorite dive. Most of us have one.

There's a few bars close to me, and we visit them regularly: the regular-Joe bar, with pool table and daily chalkboard specials advertising things like "$4 Jack and Pabst"; the upscaled new place with the high-toned liquor selections and freshly-squeezed fruity drinks; and occasionally, the delightfully atmosphere-free place that does nothing but serve Belgian beers. All great places, to be sure. But none of them are "our place."

No, "our place," somehow, is a recently-added bar adjunct to a laughably average Chinese food joint. A couple of years ago, the ailing restaurant insanely rented out the abandoned next-door space, knocked out a door in the intervening wall, and set up a bar space, whose layout also happens to be comically inept. It is wholly charmless and utterly without character, except for the large latch-hook thing that hangs on the wall and features a startlingly enormous panda, whose looming presence and penetrating latch-hook gaze stifles rational thought and murders casual conversation. This is the place that, for no earthly reason I can even think of, that we have adopted as our own.

I'm sure it's a lot of intangible things. There are, of course, the regulars, some of whom were rendered barless when the legendary Ileen's (formerly Ernie Steele's) went under: there's R., the ancient would-be raconteur, who nurses beers while telling halting, incomprehensible stories that feature sentences like, "I was, I was . . . (his mouth works stabbingly while making wet noises) . . . there was the boat! This was an admiral, you see? So I'm with this admiral, and he's got this bottle of scotch! And his wife is . . . (wet mouth noises) . . . she's scratching the hell out of his hardwood floors. With her heels! He just gets so pissed off, but he's the admiral! So I don't know." Then he roars with laughter.

Or there's G., a lovely woman who looks to be in her late forties or maybe early fifties. She's delightful and lucid, and tends to nurse what I think are vodka tonics and is just pretty great, and boy were we stunned when we found out that she is actually 73 years old. I hope I look that good when I'm 73, but that's all going to depend on whether or not I draw a quality embalmer.

There are the sisters, both in their sixties somewhere, who always sit next to each other and laugh their whiskey-smoked laughs and look like they're training for the 2008 Olympic Hip-Shattering team. In fact, just last weekend, one of the sisters fainted right in the bar and knocked her noggin a really good one; the noise was shocking and horrible. EMTs were summoned, and while we waited for them, clucking over her prone form, she moaned, "I don't want to see those guys! Oh, I don't want any ambulance!" The EMTs did their best when they got there--her blood pressure was low, and they really wanted to take her to the hospital--but she waved them off magnificently. "I'm fine! You boys are lovely, but I'm fine." They reluctantly left (I think they made her sign a form), and soon she was esconced in a booth (the stool she usually occupies was out for obvious reasons), smiling beatifically as she nipped at her water. I assume it was water. She grinned as she held up gauze on her nasty forehead wound. "I'm not as good looking as those firemen, but if you wanted attention, all you had to do was say so," I said. "AH HA HA HA," she cackled at me, and slapped my wrist.

There's some other weird cats, of course, like the guy whose name I do not know who solemnly grips my shoulder as he passes to go outside to smoke; the signal means, "We're going to smoke." It feels oddly conspiratorial, like "Join us outside for information about the rebels," but not creepy, like, "It's time for your alley blowjob." There's also the blown-out disaster drunk, who is there every single afternoon until six or so, and then slants his way over to the corner store where he buys more beer and his nightly provision of corn dogs or Hot Pockets.

And of course--of course--there is the tall blonde woman who is also seemingly always there, the one who could drink Rasputin under the table. She invariably wears things like alarmingly unflattering halter tops and denim skirts; her voice sounds like tectonic disagreement. She frankly terrifies me. I suspect that at some point in her life, she fucked some guy named Manny to death, and then chopped off his hands and head and threw them into Puget Sound.

It sounds seedy, and it kind of is, but in a harmless way (Ileen's was the definition of seedy). I mean, the place is clean, but it's also not-clean. It's sort of like how Pixar would depict a seedy bar, but with more profanity. And there is this feeling of . . . I don't know. Comeraderie? Last Christmastime, we would be in the place, and all of a sudden, here's our waiter, placing upside-down shot glasses next to each of our drinks. "G. over there just bought you guys a round. Merry Christmas." Things like that. R. is frequently fond of clipping out filthy cartoons from . . . well, I don't like to think of where . . . and gleefully sharing them with us. The last thing he showed me was some awful thing involving a guy getting his ass eaten out by a whore. I don't even remember what the hell the joke was; he watched me searchingly, waiting for my reaction. I stared for a while, and then manufactured a laugh. He clapped me on the back happily and said, "I knew you'd love that!" "That's awesome!" I yelped, and handed it back without showing the thing to the wife. And somehow, to me, this is charming? Lord.

And then there's the owners, D. and his wife S. The wife and I frequently have a friend join us at the place--in fact, he eats a lot of meals there, prompting D., a Chinese immigrant, to declare him, at shattering volume, "THE CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD!" D. has a horrible limp and spectacular arthritis, so watching him walk is sort of like watching some horrible, endless Noh theater performance. And S., whose English would verge on racist parody were it not of course completely genuine, is a tiny, energetic spitfire, given to shrieking things like, "YOUWANNABILLOKAYIGOGETFORYOU!" S. also does things like, if she's tending bar and wants to go home, will, at 11:00, simply dim the lights down to black hole levels and sit placidly, waiting for the remaining customers time to realize that they can't even find their drinks any more, and hey, I guess it's time to leave.

I used to play the horribly addictive MegaTouch games at this place, but then they were suddenly removed. I asked D., the owner, "Hey, are you getting new ones?" D. waved his arms as much as he could in obvious disgust. "Those things," he sneered. "Assholes, they sit around forever. They drink coffee!" He was spitting mad. "I tell them to fuck you," he continued, and then added a pricelessly spot-on Moe Szyslak moment, "People sit there and they don't drink so much."

D. would also invite us in for special events. "You here on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving? You come up here for free food! We're going to have our friends here! You bring any friends you want! It's a big feed!" And sure enough, D. would prepare massive quantities of fried rice, barbecued pork, etc. Very Thanksgivingy! A couple years ago, when I invited a bunch of friends, one couple unfortunately showed up before we had gotten there, and D. attacked them like a Doberman. "Private party! I'm sorry! You must leave!" My friends stammered, "But--but Skot said to come over . . ." D. instantly transformed. "You friends of Skot? Sorry, sorry!" Then he shooed some people out of an occupied booth for them while my friends skittishly wondered what the hell I had gotten them into, and were occasionally terrorized by D., exhorting them to "EAT! EAT! WE HAVE SO MUCH FOOD!"

D. died of a massive stroke last weekend. I doubt if he was in his sixties, and his arthritis was so advanced, so crippling . . . it was awful to watch him try and move. My wife saw him last when she was shopping at an Asian food store; she said his knuckles had swollen to the size of overripe grapes. He must have been in agony. His wife is still tending bar; his daughter quietly invited us to the funeral. Some people are going; some, like proud G., the ageless grandmother, are not: "I'm not going. That's for family. I'll be right here." Dive bar as church. We worship in the ways we know how.

I didn't say what I thought at the time when she said that, which was, "But that is being family."

So long, D. I don't know if I'll go to the ceremony or not. I might just join G. at the bar and sit and talk to her for a while, and then maybe pay for poor D.'s too-late last drink, an upside-down shot glass in front of the empty stool next to me to represent. And I'll leave it there until I go home, and maybe it can stay there until S. dims down the lights, saying without words that it's time for everyone to go home.

Summary | Skot | 14 Sep, 2006 |

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Comments

Wow. That reminds me of my place when I was dating a fireman. (It was actually referred to as the North Annex of the Firehouse.) Of course now that I'm not dating him I can't go there. But I feel for you. Interesting how someone on your periphery can be such a vital part of your life. Interesting how broad the definition of family can be.

Comment number: 008337   Posted by: Pocket Dragon on September 15, 2006 05:55 AM from IP: 65.202.161.219

Go to the service. Please.

Comment number: 008350   Posted by: Kate on September 15, 2006 07:44 AM from IP: 70.231.242.148

is this the jade pagoda??? or the one on the same side of broadway south of there? the wok & something?

Comment number: 008351   Posted by: on September 15, 2006 10:34 AM from IP: 67.160.101.150

"We worship in the ways we know how." I tell you now, I must steal this great line. Another memorable post, so thanks again.
Jane

Comment number: 008354   Posted by: Jane on September 15, 2006 11:42 AM from IP: 66.11.80.229

I've never been a regular there, but I remember him well, and he was always great to me.

I'll quaff one later on in his honor.

Comment number: 008358   Posted by: beige on September 15, 2006 02:59 PM from IP: 128.95.169.36

I hope someone like you writes my eulogy, when it's time. If you don't go to the service, make sure you tell S. a story or two, if she'll hold still for them. I know she's appreciate it.

Comment number: 008359   Posted by: Linda on September 15, 2006 03:17 PM from IP: 69.211.99.49

Great piece, Skot. Touching and horrifying in equal measure. I too love that l'il place.

Comment number: 008362   Posted by: mike on September 15, 2006 06:58 PM from IP: 70.58.65.69

Great piece, man. I know exactly the place you're talking about, though I know nothing of that specific place.

Comment number: 008363   Posted by: chris on September 15, 2006 08:54 PM from IP: 70.230.155.204

I have a "watering hole" We frequent after work. Same type of characters. Same familiarity. We had a regular that was always there. Always had a small pitcher of beer and read the newspapers and loved "The Price Is Right". One day We showed up and there was a picture and a donation cup. It was him. They found him dead down the street.
We also did it our way and said good bye to a nice man. Turns out he was a navy vet...no family.

Comment number: 008364   Posted by: papa on September 15, 2006 11:59 PM from IP: 68.2.47.77

I have a "watering hole" We frequent after work. Same type of characters. Same familiarity. We had a regular that was always there. Always had a small pitcher of beer and read the newspapers and loved "The Price Is Right". One day We showed up and there was a picture and a donation cup. It was him. They found him dead down the street.
We also did it our way and said good bye to a nice man. Turns out he was a navy vet...no family.

Comment number: 008365   Posted by: papa on September 16, 2006 12:03 AM from IP: 68.2.47.77

Yet another awesome piece, Skot. Thank you.

Comment number: 008380   Posted by: Robin on September 17, 2006 05:36 PM from IP: 24.11.249.7

My co-workers/friends & I just found out that our watering hole has been sold... to Starfucks. Just what the world needs another one of, right? So we're in a state of mourning, as well.

I would say, if the daughter invited you, then go to the service (if you want). If they wanted it blood-family only, they wouldn't have invited you.

A beautifully written piece, Skot. I'm sure D would be pleased.

Comment number: 008383   Posted by: Khate on September 18, 2006 09:47 AM from IP: 209.96.177.50

Those aren't tears in my eyes. Really. I just have uh, something in my eye.

A little hint of Bukowski throughout that.

Comment number: 008393   Posted by: Johnny on September 20, 2006 03:10 PM from IP: 199.244.171.116

Dude, you are so not going to Hell.

Comment number: 008407   Posted by: Squidley on September 22, 2006 01:44 AM from IP: 206.55.252.146

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