By Timothy Herrick
Copyright 1998, held by author
The last bar on beer can alley, the name the town gave to the outskirt road where all the bars were located, was The One, Two, Three—a flat-red box of a tavern in between an old Episcopalian church, and a tattered, slash of woods, beyond which was the highway. I was broke, living at home with a liberal arts degree, working as a reporter at night, with memories of a girlfriend who broke my heart, and a European trip where I didn’t find myself, and writing poetry and fiction when I could.
The One, Two, Three was where I learned to drink alone. I would go there, at midnight, drink until two, which was last call. It was a dingy, dusty, dive—dark wood walls, bar in the middle, and a jukebox where I played music from the 50s, then and now, one of my favorite periods of rock and roll. I’d usually go on Saturday night—I had nothing better to do and nowhere else to be. Saturday night was prime time for everyone—The One, Two, Three was never crowded—bars on a weekday afternoon in the summer would be more crowded than the One, Two, Three on a Saturday night. And the other people there, they were all in their 40s, forgotten, forlorn, New Jersey souls, listening to the same jukebox sounds I admired, but for them it was a nostalgia of time long past. But we still shared disappointment.
The last time I went there, I let myself be picked up by a woman twice my age, some bar fly in her forties. When I told her I was twenty two, she said, I have a daughter older than you. It was a very odd night. My father had told me that he was retiring. I had to get a better job. Nothing was working out. I was stuck, depressed, and dad’s news just made things worse. So, I drove around the land where I grew up—I left there to go to college full of hope and returned to realize that whatever dreams I had that didn’t die, had decayed. Eventually, tired of brooding behind the steering wheel, I drove down beer can alley and into the gravel parking lot of The One Two Three.
She sat on the stool next to mine. She didn’t look too bad. She bought me drinks. It wasn’t that she had a lot of make up on; just enough to soften her hardness, accentuate her remaining appeal. I forget what we talked about, but we talked until closing and walked out into the unpaved parking lot together. I remember saying something about following her to her place, but she said no, just come into my car. It was a nice car. Nicer than mine, a 1974 Impala that I never cleaned, outside or in. Cigarette butts, note books, soda cans, paperbacks, magazines and newspapers were strewn on the floor and seats of that clunker.
I was pretty drunk, to say the least. That was during the bourbon days. Jack Daniels. Jack—I was on a first name basis with the pride of Tennessee. Marlboros and Jack—my life was so much different then, in fact, in just a few months, things would change: a better job, new girlfriend, lots of stuff. It was the end of an era that night, and I ended it with a real whimper of a bang . We made out in her car, and she was about to give me a blow job, but the spins kept coming. The bourbon was taking its toll. I felt sick; distant from my body. She was unbuckling my pants as heavy streams of sweat flowed from every pore in my head and face. Gradually her face, unbuttoned blouse, and the dash board of her car looked like a movie shot through a cracked lens.
“I’m sorry, I just need some air,” I said, opening the door suddenly. I lurched out into the parking lot. I stumbled towards my car fixing my pants, opened the door and fell onto the seat. I don’t know how much time passed before she came in my car, and said, “are you all right?”
I groaned some sort of slurred apology, then she looked around the mess inside of the Impala, called me a pig and punched me few times before departing. She drove out from the lot pretty fast. She was pissed. I ruined her fantasy of picking up some young stud. She had as much as I did to drink, but she could handle it, she could handle drinking in a bar alone and letting fate unfold. I had lots left to learn.
I woke up around dawn. The sky was getting lighter. There were no cars anywhere. I opened the door; puked out the liquid smoke all over the gravel. I drove home very slowly, suddenly very sober. Beer can alley was deserted. It was a Sunday morning and I felt old and useless. Like I said, things would change. They could only get better.