Baby, baby blue eyes,
Stay with me by my side;
‘Til the mornin’, through the night. (can’t get you out of my mind)
– Rocket to the Moon
Jolene Wilson was her name. Boy she had a pair of knocker’s on her I could’ve used for batting practice, instead of wasting my time sitting here with the ball dummy. Of course that’d been soft ball without the ball (if you know what I mean). I met her at Charley Devlin’s place out by Tipper Mill. He’d had a BBQ that Sunday week. Dam she had the prettiest baby blue eyes, and that smile of hers with those split front-ends was like watching a good Hollywood flick on a Friday night down at the Chief Drive-in.
Hard to remember how we hooked up. I think she was working Taggart’s Burgers down on Pastoria Ave., skating with those trays, whizzing round those cars and trucks in and out like a bandit with her black hair pinned up in a knot and pony. She’d wear those short mini’s they used to have as uniforms, purple and white if I ‘member correctly. Oh she was charming all right. She’d come up to the truck smiling with that big tray of burgers and shakes: “What you boys doing tonight?” So sweet, she was. Me and the boys be sitting feasting our eyes like idiots till Luper’s girlfriend kicked him and we’d all stumble and mumble, hemming and hawing. Dang blasted I always seemed like such a klutz it was hard to get the words out.
“We’s a going cruising, Jolene…” I’d grin at her trying to make my dimples stand out real big. “Why don’t you come with us?”
She’d tease: “Now if I did that who’d take care of all these little ole people, Johnny?”
Oh, how I loved her saying my name. It was like she was talking to a Hollywood Star when she said it that way; all sweetness. Made me feel real special. Too bad those moments don’t last. Now as I look over at her playing with the brats I keep thinking to myself that smiles are more trouble than their worth. Look what it got me into. Looking at her ten years on all fat and baby ridden I wonder just what I did to deserve this. Of course I’m no prize either. Hell living in this trailer out on Bolten Hwy., back behind the Romeo Lounge Honky Tonk is not exactly Hollywood.
Bartending keeps the snots fed and primed. But that’s about all. And, Jolene, she still has those baby blue eyes and that smile, but the rest… better left unsaid. She’s always complaining about my beard and my tattoos, but I tell her I need them for my work. Just got a Black Dragon with big read eyes and jutting flames wrapping its long tail around my upper arm like chains round a oil rig pipe. I’d worked roughnecking when I was younger. Always liked the biker look and mean ways of the oil workers. People expect you to have to be tough and honest as a Barkeep. It’s like a badge or something. Anyway if I didn’t have it those ugly scars I got from that wreck she got us into would frighten people, and I have enough problems as it is.
I shouldn’t complain about it that much. I know it wasn’t her fault, but it left me unable to finish school. And when I was going to join the Marines like my old man they said I was unfit cause of a groin problem. Well there was that… My old man wasn’t too happy about it either; said I’d never be complete man, told me one day while we were working on my old truck: “You ain’t shit, you know? Look at you, nineteen and no schooling. What you going to do in life, huh?” I didn’t have much of an answer. I worked the pits on weekends on the race track, did odd jobs here and there. Mowed lawns on the sly, trimmed trees, and did a little hunting and fishing to bring in some extra food. But I had no vision, no direction in my life. Hell, I couldn’t even read proper, and that bothered me.
So that by the time I got with Jolene who’d already been married, two kids, and divorced I was twenty-six. She took up with me like a fly to ointment. I knew it was just to help her with the kids. We’d never have any of our own. But that didn’t seem to bother her none since she’d had to get fixed with the second child, Misty due to complications.
Things just seem to have a way of working themselves out in their own way, and in their own time.
But now I’m forty-five and wonder where it all went. My life ain’t nothing and never will be, and problem is I want it to be. It’s like I’m in a muddle. Jolene says I’m going through male menopause. Bah! No such thing; thats’ for women, not guys I tell her. We argue all the time now. Seems like nothing I say pleases her anymore. Even my jokes seem stale and sour like she’s heard them so much they’ve become expected to the point she rolls her eyes and finishes the punch line before I’m half finished in the tellin’. She’s right of course, but what’s a guy to do?
I feel like Old Man Parker who comes in everyday sits down at the far end of the bar in the dark corner around the bend by the washing area and just orders a beer and sits in silence. I used to try to get him to talk. But he’d nod, wink, say “yep” or “nope,” but couldn’t get a rise out of him about nothing. He wouldn’t even laugh at my best jokes, and I always had people laughing at those. It was like he was impervious to people. Then one day he just wasn’t there. Bothered me. Day after day waiting for him to show up, sit down, order his beer, which I had ready and primed for him if he did. Then I asked around about him. Most of the regulars didn’t even know who he was, much less care. So on my own I checked the hospitals and local sheriffs office but didn’t get much information from them either because I didn’t know his last name. Just Parker… I didn’t even know if that was his first or last name. Dam. One of those mysteries of life that leaves a trail of loss on you, things that just stay with you and keep disturbing you. Couldn’t get the blame fool out of my mind either. Bothered me bad.
Then one day out of the blue I saw him. I was riding down Jenkins St., and there he was sitting on a bench feeding some pigeons. I couldn’t believe it. I turned back and stopped my truck. Walked up cautiously and said, “Is that you, Parker.” The Old Man looked up at me quizzically like he was trying to remember my face, and I saw the light in his eyes and a grin: “That you, Johnny Bodeen?” He jumped up shook my hands, said he was a new man, got married and was off the beer and despair. Despair? “What were you despairing about?” He looked at me and talked about his son. Guess he’d lost his son in the Middle-East and it’d driven him over the edge for a few years. His wife left him with the daughter. He was in a deep funk and just couldn’t get out of it. Tried therapy and everything he could but nothing worked. But he said coming in the bar helped him a lot, just sitting and listening to people talk about their problems with me. Me? Hell, I never thought about how I listen to people. I just figured it came with the territory. He laughed. “No, you have knack. Not everyone does, but you do.” Well, I’d never thought of it that way before.
For whatever reason that clicked. Now I’m in business again. Jolene is even smiling and laughing at my jokes again. And we go to the zoo and places with the kids more often. It’s as if knowing that I know I’m listening and helping in just listening and that that’s a knack has given me a new lease on life. “A knack,” I thought, who would’ve ever known. I’m even getting a new tattoo this week, a little devil with a pitchfork chasing that black dragon around the pole. Funny really, although Jolene kicked me when I mentioned it; says it makes me look like some kind of walking carny hawker or zoo keeper. Well maybe I am a little of both at that. What else does a barkeep do but attend to a bunch of sorry ass losers who want nothing more than to dump their misery, pain, and suffering on in yours truly. Funny how that turns out. Knack, maybe it’s more like a curse, or having a fool for a partner.
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