East Las Vegas, Nevada 2008
When the swing bartender, Tara–a single mother of two–leaves for the night I’m left to fend for myself with the few remaining regulars still sitting lurched over their drinks and gambling machines. There’s very little eye contact made. When someone wants another drink they raise their hand a few inches from the bar and call out what they’re having. No please’s or thank you’s. Only an unspoken understanding that our interaction is purely for me to keep supplying them with liquor.
Larry is the first to introduce himself. I’m greeted with his big smile and eyes that carry the weight of decades filled with alcohol. The silverish-grey hair and deep creases across his forehead only add to the chalky orangish hue that surrounds him as he places his cigarette down to shake my hand. He reminds me of the grandfather that I never had, happy and smiling and sharing stories. I search for the father figure in him as we exchange pleasantries, but don’t find it. I see more of myself sitting in front of me than anyone else. Taking sip after sip of whiskey until the glass is empty, raising his hand for another. His whole life leading up until this moment, here in this bar where he makes an appearance every single day.
He’s been coming as long as this place has been open, ten years he thinks. Before this place it was another, and another before that. For over thirty years he’s made a habit of visiting bars every single day. I can see myself falling into a similar routine, finding comfort and family in the dis-function of places like this. When I look at Larry, I see my life plan set plainly out in front of me—never leaving the service industry, never leaving this city, drinking until I can no longer sit on a stool, reminiscing over my good-old-days when I used to play football.
Larry is my anchor through most of the night until he and everyone else leaves about half way through the shift and I’m left alone, in the silence. Only the humming of the coolers and ice machines to keep me company, the lights of the strip still twinkling in the background outside the bay windows. The lights bring with them a sense of hope. I’m inspired. I begin to write: The lights so far out of reach I could spend the rest of my life chasing them…
The door buzzes loudly.
Somebody wants to come in. I check the scribbly black and white monitor and see a man dressed in a black trench coat and a dark hat that shadows the majority of his face. He steps nervously to and then away from the door, the whole time peering over his shoulder as if to see if anyone else is coming. Just before Tara left she warned me about letting people in at this hour. She told me that if I didn’t feel comfortable with the person just by looking at them through a monitor, chances were it wouldn’t get any better once they were in. She told me it was my life and that I was in control of who came into this place.
He buzzes again. And again.
He tells me with booming voice.
-Open the fucking door!
His movements become erratic and now he clutches something underneath his trench coat. This can’t be happening, not my first night. The adrenaline kicks in and my body tingles all over. I know this feeling.
It was like this when my teammates and I would be standing in a dark tunnel waiting to run onto another teams home field. Thoughts of life and death used to race through my mind standing in those hollow dark tubes of hopes and dreams. Flashes of running down football fields at full speed, wearing twenty extra pounds of padding, and smashing into another human being who wanted nothing more than to rip my head clean off my shoulders. There would be silence in those tunnels. Then screams of what I imagined warriors sounded like before charging into battle, releasing any fear or negative emotion. There was the pulse of the tens of thousands of fans sitting above and around us, never seeing them only feeling their presence. I remember the tightness that would creep it’s way across my chest and the fear that would tingle down into my fingers. Those tunnels were the loneliest places. There, I didn’t have a friend in the world. Behind this bar, in this moment, I don’t either.
But this will end in death if handled poorly, not just broken bones or concussions like those of my memories.
The stranger gives it one more long ring, followed quickly by a loud fuck you. He moves away from the door and out of the monitors view. I watch him walk down the street, still clutching whatever is inside his trench coat.