A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Where the condom machine in the men’s room is rusty and the stall door is busted off and leaning against the wall.
Where the guy in a business suit at a back table sitting at an appropriate masculine distance from
Sweet Steve leaves before him because he hopes no one thinks he’s leaving with him even though he is before he rushes to catch the last suburban train home after calling his wife to complain that, again, he has to work late. His left hand is braced casually against his face hoping that somehow this will at least partially obscure him not realizing that no one here really cares, that Sweet Steve is a regular, and Mr Suburb is just one of many and only special to him if he’s got $20 to spare.
Where the cop on the beat asks for a ginger ale and hopes no one noticed that the bartender put vodka in it and he lays no money on the table because, after all, ginger ale is cheap. Where at least two people quickly leave when the cop walks in because they haven’t figured out yet that he doesn’t give a shit about anything except getting thru this night and every other night hoping he can make it to a pension without drawing his gun.
Where the bartender with bouffant bleached blond hair, big boobs and a red satin bowling jacket with “Boom-Boom” embossed in gold right where it should be storms out of the women’s bathroom demanding to know which guy used it, insisting she’s going to cut his balls off when she finds him.
Where back in the corner, there’s always some guy in a Pirates ballcap with skin like an old leather shoe who’s nursing the cheapest beer on tap. He gave 43 years to some non-union factory that closed down, gave him 4 weeks of severance pay, a retirement party scheduled on his unpaid lunch time on his last day, and a lifetime 20% discount on all of their products they now make somewhere in Bangladesh but which is only good if he orders online and he doesn’t own a computer so what the fuck good is that. But he owns his small wood frame house with a leaking roof where his wife died sucking on an oxygen tank and his kids were raised until one went off to college and moved to some distant place he’s never gone and never will go and the other got sent to prison too far away to visit but he’s here every night roaming around in the memories that he remembers….or creates. And as long as the bastards (that’s what he calls everyone in government) don’t steal it, he’ll have a small social security pension that might keep the wolf from the door and keeps him in cigarettes and beer.
Where there’s at least one neon sign in the window for a beer that went out of business long ago. Where there’s another neon sign outside that’s had at least one letter missing for years from the word “Lou’s Grill” so it reads “Lou’s G ill” and some punk kid graffitied a fish on the wall under it. But nobody cares because everybody calls it “Angie’s Place” after the owner/sometimes bartender because Lou was just the guy sold it to her 27 years ago before Angie’s arthritis got so bad she can barely lift a bottle to pour a drink but somehow gets by but it almost hurts to watch her climb the stairs to her apartment upstairs and we all figure someday she’ll come crashing down those stairs and some hipster will buy the bar, repair the goddam sign, put up signs that every Thursday is ”Vegan Night”, buy darts for the dart board that hasn’t had them for years, and we won’t be welcome anymore.
Where you know goddam well that if you went around to everyone in the bar and asked them if they ever got pissed off because the stuff they ordered from Amazon came really late, you’d mostly be met with a look like you’re speaking in tongues because they’re more worried about whether they’ll have work tomorrow and getting shit from Amazon is about as far removed from their lives as the chance of being on “Dancing With the Stars”.
Where most of the regulars are white, but there’s a few Black semi-regulars who know some of the white regulars and when some new guy wanders in drunk and starts harassing one of the Black guys, some of the white regulars tell him to “shut the fuck up, you asshole, he’s our friend” and when he insists on being racist, he gets jumped by the same white folks who also throw him out the door while the bartender pretends not to see. And nobody speaks of it again because it’s over and it was just the right thing to do.
Where, after your 4th beer and buying a round for some buddies, you ask Angie for one on the house and she tells you to “Oh sure, anytime” then laughs and tells you to “Go fuck yourself” and you don’t take it personal because you and she have been doing this for years.
Where it’s the only place you can think of to go to when your own walls seem closer but you know you’re always welcome to hear new stories at Angie’s Place even if you have to pretend you’ve not heard them before.
Copyright 2021 Mel Packer
Mel Packer is a longtime union organizer and activist who’s still raising hell in Pittsburgh.