I don't know why I still come into this place for lunch, this bar and restaurant on Seventh Street downtown. The service isn't good and it's always a little too warm in here to be comfortable, but I can smoke. Maybe that's the reason.
I brought a book with me to read: Ann Beattie's Follies. I'm writing a review of it in a few days, so it'd be nice to finish it up today.
Before heading toward a table in the back, I take an ashtray from the bar. When I sit down at the table and light my cigarette, I think of her — my friend who I would meet here. I never understood why this became "our place," but I didn't question it because her company was always engaging and intelligent.
The barmaid comes over. Today's special is a pulled pork sandwich with fries and coleslaw.
It's been years since I've eaten pork, so what the hell. I also order a diet Coke.
Beattie's new book is a collection of short stories, and the one I'm reading now is called "Apology for a Journey Not Taken: How to Write a Story." It's a piece about how she (I'm assuming it's Beattie) didn't show up somewhere and all the excuses she makes for not doing so.
It's quite funny, but I'm not in the mood right now. I'm sitting at a table for one and thinking of my friend who would meet me here and who hasn't returned my phone calls or e-mails in weeks. What's going to be her excuse for that?
I pretend to read, but I'm really listening to the conversation at the next table. They're two middle-aged ladies eating soup and salad. One of them has a cell phone. I think she's talking to her husband, who can't find the bags for the vacuum cleaner. She's very patiently trying to tell him where they are — in the pantry in the kitchen, top shelf.
I'm on my third cigarette. The food still hasn't arrived. Maybe there are seven people in the whole place. How long does it take to make a sandwich and toss some fries in the deep fryer?
I look over at the table where my friend and I used to sit. For whatever reason, I can't bring myself to eat over there. I feel sad about it.
Maybe she's not returning my calls because I wanted to move the relationship too fast. Or more likely too slow? Or maybe she didn't want one? Fuck it. I go back to reading the book.
A guy enters the place and walks up to the bar and asks the barmaid for a glass of water. I'm guessing he's been in before, because the barmaid quickly says no and asks him to leave. He asks for the water again and she tells him to get out.
"This is a good day to die, bitch," he says.
I look over at him. He's wearing an open plaid shirt and his arms and legs are shaking. He's either drunk or a little off in the head. The barmaid asks him again to leave, but he refuses. She calls the police.
I hear the lady's cell phone ring again at the table next to me. Her husband still can't find those bags.
The barmaid finally brings over my food. The bun on the pulled pork sandwich is so soggy I can't even pick the damn thing up. I eat it with a fork. The barmaid comes back again with my Coke. She doesn't ask how the food is.
When she goes back to the bar, she tells the guy with the open shirt to leave again. He just stands there shaking.
I taste the coleslaw. It's pretty good. The barmaid is back at the bar cleaning glasses. The two ladies sitting next to me throw money on their table and leave. I'm thinking of my friend and all the excitement she's missing.
The cops arrive and take away the shaking man. They ask the barmaid if she wants to press charges. She says no, just get him the hell out of the bar.
The fries on my plate aren't bad and I eat a few, wishing I had some catsup to go with them. I close Beattie's book and tell myself I'll finish it tonight. I take another sip of my Coke, then go up to the bar and pay my bill.
As I take money out of my wallet, I think of my soggy sandwich, no catsup for the fries and the terrible service.
I don't know why I still come into this place, but I'll be back in a couple of days. Maybe my friend will be here.
Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and once a month in the paper.