Fair warning, there is a flashback within a flashback in this post. Ready yourself.
I love a good dive. And I’m not talking about the well lit kind that Guy “Sunglasses on Wrong Side of the Head” Blondemeister pretends are dives. I mean the creepy bars and restaurants hidden in the back of neglected strip malls, where sitting down next to the wrong person can get you into trouble. Or worse, get you into a long conversation.
When I first moved to Los Angeles with Dr. Wife, I had a lot of free time. I work freelance and hadn’t made many clients. Dr. Wife was busy doing something meaningful with her life, so I was left to entertain myself. About two months into living here I stumbled upon a rare gem known as Del’s Saloon. Del’s was the kind of joint frequented by true barflies, that rare breed of half-feral men who think water is a mixer and sunlight is poison. But they were family. I once witnessed the regulars form a bouncing committee to toss out someone the female bartender didn’t like.
One night, I wandered into the pit of dank to get a beer and watch baseball. There were two empty stools at the bar that didn’t have half full beers in front of them. I chose the one with a better view of the TV. Whoops.
I sat down and ordered a beer, I glanced at the guy I sat next to. I gave a casual “what’s up” to him and immediately regretted it. He looked at me and I read crazy in his eyes right out of the gate. Initial conversation was about the Dodger’s pitching staff. Then, when he felt safe, he began to include me in a long series of conspiracy theories, going so far as to teach me how to read about them on the internet without having the authorities (i.e. conspirators) track you.
My eyes glazed over and I pretended to pay attention as I drifted off to the memories of my favorite dive ever. This bar was tucked in back of a strip mall Italian joint that we used to go to with our mom. As a family MILK, mom, and I had been coming here since we were in middle school. Of course when we were underage, we stayed in the restaurant part. It was dark with plastic grapes on the trellaces and candles shoved into chianti bottles. But behind a mysterious fake ivy covered partition, lurked the bar.
After college I moved back in with mom because guess who graduated into the dot-com crash in Silicon Valley? On a whim, Mom and I decided to go hang out in the bar in the Italian joint, instead of sitting in the dining room.
When we walked into to bar it was clear that not many people took that option, at least not more than once. You could almost hear the needle scratch off the record as the room got dead silent for a second when everyone looked at us and registered us as strangers. The bar was a hangout for blue collar types after work, they slowly turned away, we shrugged and grabbed two empty seats at the bar. There was a lot of weird energy in the air, we were in someone’s regular seat apparently and it was upsetting the comfort zone of the terminal bar flies. A bar fly’s only anchor to this crazy world is a predictable enviornment in which to numb his tattered mind. We’d taken someone’s anchor.
We ordered two gin martinis and a calamari appetizer and tried to ignore the weird vibe and chat. That’s when the two guys whose seats we were occupying came in. You ever see a dog that wants to do something, but knows it can’t? That “well trained but there’s a steak on the table” look of pained confusion as it sort of shuffles around while its dog friends look on from their bar stools? It was like that. It kept getting increasingly awkward until a two seat table cleared and we decided to restore the room to its rightful balance and took the two-top. By unspoken agreement made that two-top ours.
Mom and I would go in once a week or so for gin and squid, until, eventually, we were accepted into the pack. I really enjoyed our conversations in that dive, and it lasted until I moved to New York with Dr. Wife. Then the place closed… sad. I guess our patronage was really keeping the place afloat.
The weirdo talking about black helicopters brought me back from my happy spot and I just stared at him. He continued on his rant, and I took a pen out and briefly sketched him on a bar napkin, then I started making weird notes on it. He looked at me, suddenly wondering if he’d been talking to the wrong person about this stuff. I carefully folded up the napkin.
“what was your name again? I’m sorry I’m terrible with names…” I said.
“Oh, hi, I’m uhhhhhhh Larry…” He said, offering me his hand. “Oh shit, somewhere I’ve got to be,” He said, and threw a twenty on the bar and grabbed a tattered backpack and headed out the door at a brisk pace.
I smirked and waved to the bartender to refill my beer.
“Man, Jeff sure took off in a hurry,” He said to me. “He didn’t bore you to death with the helicopter bullshit did he?”
“Nah,” I said. “what’s the score?”