05/18/2015 04:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Notes From a Dive Bar III


NO EXIT -- Years ago, at night's end, I locked a drunk French tourist in the bar, by mistake. He awakened under a table on the balcony, perfumed with vomit, a fragrance found in bars. Only the bar's ghosts were with him. Panicked, he ran for the exit. The motion alarm triggered. Lights flashing, sirens blaring, he couldn't get out. The police found him banging on the wooden door begging for release, trapped in an existential hell. Aide-moi, aide-moi! The police did not speak French. They imagined him a thief in the night. I released the French prisoner from gaol on my arrival with the keys, But I couldn't bring myself to apologize. He had gotten drunk and passed out and puked. I had to clean that up. Talk about Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre.

A Hot Day -- The cheap lager in the tap is off. It looks cloudy and smells sour like a venereal disease. Stick to bottles, I tell customers. They don't mess around at the bottling plant. The beer is virgin. Five Heineken bottles later, this guy perks up. He talks to girls, excitedly. I pop another cap for him. A whooshing sound as the gas escapes, some froth dribbling over the rim. He licks his lips and smiles. But his teeth are a bit yellow. And the girls leave.

The Key to It -- Mc Crainey is my pal who helps sweep at closing time. He lives in the shabby hotel on the corner. Someone has been entering his room when he goes out. They reset my alarm clock, he says. Now he doesn't know what time of day or night it is. He thinks the management is involved. Only they have a spare key. I have nothing worth stealing, he says, unless they want a VHS tape of Bruce Willis in 'Die Hard'. I ask, what are you going to do? Lay in wait, he says.

The Return -- Milton appears, as if by magic, on his orbital flight. He comes and goes from the block. When he comes, he is spruced up, hair cut, glasses fixed, clothes fitting for a man on a mission. A few weeks later, he will leave, shattered, wrecked and worn. Crack is not good for the emotional wardrobe.

Getting to know him requires trips around the rings of rage and burning fury. He tries to steal tips. He scares customers. Confrontation runs up the flag of violence. All he needs is a five spot to ascend the rock face. The choice: help him get his fix or engage in argument for twenty minutes, perhaps blows, losing tips, customers leave, I suffer. Call the cops. It's not a police priority in this part of town, a madman raving in a bar. And not my priority demanding those at the border of existence be cuffed.

Milton and I have a relationship now. It took a while. By the time we reach the bar door, we are friends. Last night, he spoke the poetry of Milton, quoting the Bible. Tears rivered when speaking of his recently departed brother. The words AIDS and herpes mixed up in a mumbled curse about penis sizes. The cruelest language blown at men and women, his enemies. We all have to live, I told him. An embrace, then he was off at pace, above the high, beneath the low. And I thought how money screws everything.