Scene of the write: The last bar on the crawl

By the time we get to the final bar on our list of dives to visit on a clear but cold Saturday afternoon, none of us remember what it’s actually called. Partially this is due to four other bars that gleefully poured us shots and beers, called out the owner to give us a history of the joint, and allowed us access into their digital jukebox so we could play Celine Dionne’s “My Heart Will Go On” and all the Lizzo our liquor-loosened lips could name.

This bar is different. It’s the kind of place where, if walking in with a couple friends, you’d turn right around and leave.

The place wasn’t always a dive: The bar itself serves as the entrance to what was once a restaurant, and clearly a popular one in its heyday. Tables for two, four, six sit either in the middle of the floor or stacked on top of each other in the corner, half of them still draped in red-and-white checkered tablecloths that can be wiped down with a washcloth.

Before you can intrude on this museum, a mannequin — draped in a blanket for modesty, with a blond plastic wig and vacant, store-rejected eyes — stops you in your path. Her arms splay out like a priest’s at an alter, and before her is a brown couch that has played host to so many overnight patrons that this place might also be a B&B: Beer and bedtime.

Next to the sleep setup, you’ll notice a high top with a bag of tortilla chips and plastic tub of off-brand salsa, sitting out all day for anyone (anyone?) to munch on while they drink $3 whiskey-and-cokes and try not to think of how dirty the couch is right behind them. It’s easy to forget when you look up and see that a Svengoolie-hosted B-horror film from the 1950s is playing above the bar on a TV the size of a compact car trunk.

The date I brought with is starting to get deep in his questions for me, as if the beer and shots have made him more introspective. They’ve only made me need to pee. Again.

“So your last relationship — were you in love?” He asks.

“It was complicated,” I say, wondering if I have enough cash in my bag for another whiskey-Coke.

“Do you want to be in love again?”

The mannequin and I lock eyes.

“I don’t know,” I say. “The last time I was, it didn’t end well for either person. I learned I could be in love. He learned he couldn’t.”

Vignette: The Return of Calvin

From the sidewalk Calvin saw them all sitting at the bar, nursing pink martinis in precarious glasses and golden beers as tall as chihuahuas. Outside it had begun to snow, making the glowing yellowish interior lighting even more warm and welcoming. The laughing patrons in their thick Irish knit sweaters, with their sharp haircuts and soft smiles, only added to the effect.

He had been standing outside long enough to lose track of his nose, fingers and toes, all carried off by the cold. A couple snowflakes slipped down the back of his jacket with perfect aim, and he took it as the universe’s signal to either muscle up and walk in, or keep going in search of somewhere else to thaw with a glass of Scotch or port, or any of the other pricy potables he had suddenly begun to crave.

But before Calvin could turn to go anywhere — the door, the crosswalk — Tyler looked up from where he had nestled his nose into Melissa’s neck and gazed straight through the window. Their eyes locked.

Tyler’s expression was the same as everyone’s that day when Calvin turned up. The internal dialog was broadcasted through the twinges and tweaks of his facial muscles, which morphed like a grotesque time lapse feed:

“That guy looks just like that weird dude, Calvin. Wait — is that Calvin? No, it can’t be Calvin. I know what that guy looked like and that is not him. But he’s got those weird amber eyes that Calvin had. It’s definitely him. But how could that possibly be him? It’s not him. Well, maybe?”

And, as he had all afternoon since coming back to his hometown, Calvin put the man out of his mental misery by giving his signature floppy wave, a trademark that earned him the popular kids’ ridicule in high school, much more than his baggy thrift store jeans and obscure graphic t-shirts ringed with sweat stains.

The bell above the bar door rang, and suddenly there were six open seats at the bar as the entire group rose to repeat what Tyler had done, gawping at Calvin in his sleek leather coat, bright cashmere scarf and dark designer jeans that framed his toned legs. He shrugged as he pulled his Burberry wallet from his back pocket to pass a gold American Express card to bartender before asking for a Glenmorangie 18-year scotch on the rocks and asking to keep the tab open.

“Been a while, Melissa,” he smirked as he pulled the glass toward him. Flanked three on each side, he felt them watch as he took a sip without the hint of a wince. “Looks like Tyler’s keeping you warm.”

“C-Calvin,” Melissa stuttered. “You— How—?”

“It was a good trip, thanks,” he said, tipping the glass in salute. “Did a lot of thinking. Some personal growth. I tell you, though. It’s great to be back.”

Calvin sipped his scotch victoriously as the onlookers gaped. Resurrection was a lot more fun than he thought it would be.

Poem: “Perfectly Imperfect with a Bottle of Singapore Lager”

During one of our imaginary conversations
She called me “perfect”
And I laughed so hard that the Singapore lager
(which I ordered because it had a tiger on the bottle)
Foamed up in the back of my throat
And made me choke on the joke.

Perfect? I suppose I am.
Perfectly imperfect.
Perfect in the way pi is perfect
Because it makes no sense
On purpose
But still has a purpose.

I’m a manic pixie dream girl
Who is mentally stable,
Weighs 150 pounds,
Can’t fly,
Doesn’t like The Smiths,
Zonks out in the backseat during your road trip to find yourself,
Finds nightmares more worth her time than dreams,
And despises that after earning a degree and two promotions
Is still called “girl” in common colloquialism.

As I pass by good opportunities
I wave at them
With the same lolling wrist-roll
As royalty regarding subjects out a foggy car window
Just before the cavalcade careens off a cliff.

I choreograph zombie chases
To Stevie Wonder hits
While I walk to work.

I wait for text messages that never come
But refuse to make the first move
Because I’m stubborn
(but not really),
Because I like being chased
(but only by people I want chasing me),
And mostly because I’m terrified of appearing too aggressive
(even though I am).

My neighbors know my real-time reactions
To reruns of Designing Women
Not because the walls are that thin
But because I’m that loud
In my passion for Annie Potts.

It took me an inexcusable amount of time
To learn that Britney Spears wasn’t the original artist
Behind “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
And I felt betrayed by my elders
When I finally found out.

I expect too much and not enough all at once.

(I stole that last line from a Fall Out Boy song.)

I write poems that suck
Paragraphs that suck
Short stories that suck
And then post them online
And anxiously await comments that say they suck,
That say they don’t,
And that try to sell me all-natural male enhancement hormones.

The smell of Jack Daniels makes me gag
Because it reminds me of fumbling hands, slippery tongues and blurry faces
Encountered during dim nights in college,
And also the death of Janis Joplin.

I fall in love too fast
Because I imagine conversations with people
That make our relationship seem stronger than it is,
That make them seem more interested in me than they are,
That make me seem more perfectly imperfect than I am.
Like this one, right now.