The Loser: Part 1
January 3, 2013 4 Comments
Today was not different than any other. Except for that moment when someone realized there was something wrong. I was at this bar called The Loser, in South Philly- where I’m from. I’m “under-age”.
I would get served there because Pops was a bartender back in the 80′s. Pops was the father of four. Three of them drug addicts, one still living, and Arnie, my uncle, who is now The Loser’s lone bartender.
Arnie not only worked, but wrote with a half-blinded lazy eye. One day, a beer bottle randomly broke while he was working and a piece of glass got him in his right one. It was random to me because that was the only way to explain it from my point of view. Maybe it was all planned. Maybe it was put there on purpose by someone who had something against my uncle. Maybe they had a long-term feud because Arnie fucked this anonymous attacker’s wife. This wouldn’t be surprising, seeing that my uncle got around.
He would get around in spite of his eye.
Tis’ the season, what they now call “the holidays”- when all the damn tourists are out and about. Sometimes an unknowing family ventured into The Loser. They’d think it’s quaint or something: strutting into a dive bar with a twenty-something kid “on break” from fucking around at college. They ruin the very atmosphere that they are attracted towards.
So they sat next to me of course. And I felt tainted by their presence. Uncle Arnie was just ignoring it. A father and son calling out for attention at eleven in the morning. The suburban-brat-child tried ordering an “abortion”. The cheeky father heartily laughed and asked for the same. Uncle Arnie finally turned around from his imaginary business, he wasn’t humored.
Get the fuck out.
Arnie never let me down. But that was when he realized that there was something wrong with me, because I did not laugh. As the duo shuffled out the door yelping about how “no one on the internet” will ever see a good review of this place, I started getting an awful headache. This one was really bad, probably because the cause was external. That wannabe edgy middle-aged father mentioning the internet in such an unfamiliar way, with the kind of tone that implied a successful wielding of power, made my eardrums explode.
Uncle Arnie knew the antidote to my ailment. A pint of lager in a glass which has never been washed. A special glass saved just for me. The dirt minerals or the unknown whatever stained within did something to dull the pain.
It still was not enough. I sat there, at the edge of my stool, waiting for nothing. Arnie and I were the only ones in the bar that whole time. Well, except for that brief moment that felt like a lifetime when the serenity was broken. It was noon, as I could hear those church bells chime their extra tolls only a block away.
My uncle and I would get along because we both don’t talk much. We never really needed to communicate with words. I lied when I said that the only thing different about today was that someone knew there was something wrong. Arnie would always know, he just never really acknowledged it. Well, except for his antidotes. Although he would give them with the same expressionless face.
I often lie to myself. The only one I never lied to was the only one I could trust: a stuffed animal in the form of a bear, stuffed under a broken floorboard beneath my unmade mattress back at home. I had to hide Mister from Arnie’s pill-head sister who gave birth to me eighteen years ago. I thought of how she must have been a major subject of Arnie’s writing as I started to drink another Yuengling. Well, besides the stuff about his flings with married women. He never tried to get published, and yet he was constantly writing. At times he slipped into the back room in order to work- or get away from work, depends on how one looks at it.
And so he did just that for about a half hour and I lit up a cigarette. I looked around inside The Loser and realized that life could be worse. At least I have had that job at my cousin Mike’s hoagie shop, an empty bar to empty my worries into on days off, along with Uncle Arnie of course, and best of all little Mister waiting for me back at home. I could picture him with his crooked, soft brown eyes, his pudgy belly, and his stubby arms. Even though my relationship with him was a secret, it wasn’t because I was ashamed. I kept him secret in order to protect him from this grimy world. And he protected me from myself.
As I took my final drag, Arnie came back with a foreboding look. I thought he was angry about me smoking in the bar. Sometimes he would get upset about it and blame it on the boss noticing the smell. Although I knew he was not mad because it was against the rules, but because he was worried about my habits. One time when he was really drunk, he told me that drinking had a purpose, but that tobacco was a pointless, overly addictive drug. I knew it was really the smoke I exhaled that was bothering him. The sight of smoke inhaled by a relative reminded him of the 80′s, when he witnessed his brothers succumb to the crack epidemic.
Although he said nothing that time about me smoking a cigarette. I looked at him inquisitively as he stood there silently. As soon as I opened my mouth he spoke.
Your mom called.
He didn’t have to say anything else. Arnie took two double-shots of whiskey almost simultaneously. And so I knew she sounded fucked up over the phone. Without a word, I left my money on the dusty bar and apprehensively walked out the door.