Yet another cigarette and Leona returns. Max is buying. Do we want to drink with him? She pours a soda and opens another beer. We raise our glasses in salute to Max and Casper, a pair of pleasant-looking gentlemen in their sixties, seated at the other end of the bar. Home
I nurse my drink, wondering to myself if I'd overlooked Wheeler Morgan when I came in. If he was here and had been asked, he would have turned their offer down, even though they've been regulars as far back as anyone can remember. They're also gay, which doesn't sit too well with Wheeler - something I'd seen for myself not that long ago. He had started on a homophobic rant, quietly at first, an abrupt remark punctuated with invectives, followed by silence and then the same thing again, spitting the words out at the bar-length mirror. Max and Casper, sitting at a side table, had continued in their own drink and conversation, ignoring him even as the words grew louder and more insistent.
I'd heard bigoted remarks and bad jokes about gays in here before, some of the most cutting coming from the bar's owner, Polo, himself. But that night, Polo came up to Wheeler once, then twice, asking him to put a lid on it. The third time Polo came out from behind the bar, jerking him from his stool so hard his pack of cigarettes flew out of his rolled-up sleeve. Polo suggested they go outside together. After they returned, faces reddened and both tight-lipped, he finished his beer, ordered and downed a shot, and quietly walked out. When I had asked you what you thought about it, you said it was the beer talking. "Maybe so," I had replied, "but it was Wheeler's mouth moving."
"How about one for the road?" you ask, your voice bringing me back to the present, and you call Leona over before I can answer. "We'll have two more and bring some quarters too." She returns and you push the quarters my way. "Let's have some music. Your choice, my treat."
It's so inevitable it almost takes away from the pleasure. I count eight quarters. One selection a quarter. It's obvious "one for the road" won't be enough. I dutifully head for Polo's pride and joy, a genuine antique Player Jukebox, full of chrome and stained glass and sloping curves, and the music to go with it. Skipping over "Contemporary Sounds", I browse though "The 60's", "Motown", "Beatles", "50's Romance", and "Jazz Classics". Starting with two by the Temptations and ending with Elvis Presley's "Kentucky Rain", I punch in my choices. The satiny smooth strains of "Just My 'Magination" are ending as I return to my stool. You nod your head slightly, acknowledging my return, approving the music I've chosen.
The evening and the music flow along with the beer. Off-and-on conversation catches up with the silences. We talk at length about a song's lyrics, about the past it came from. We touch on our plans for the future. I balance uncomfortably between regret at being in this place and pleasure in finding some part of you. Smoke and music, pleasure and regret mingle together and I find myself wishing I had not come in, wishing I could get up and leave. I have become almost as caught as you in the seduction of this place.
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