Later that night, while walking back home from work, Dave decided to venture the extra four blocks to the beer store on the corner of 9th and Washington even though he was exhausted. He made up his mind that he would purchase a six pack of PBR pounders and a 32 ounce bottle of Yuengling Premium instead of what he would usually get, which was just a six pack of Yuengling Lager, which, as a native Philadelphian, he simply referred to as “lager”. His legs felt kind of numb but mostly a little weak from all of the standing and walking that he did that day.
Dave used to think that the young black guy in the white t-shirt and white do-rag in front of the beer store was actually a police officer, because he carried a badge and a gun, but eventually realized that he was just some kind of security guard. Although his badge still said “Officer Benjamin Davis.” Dave had figured out that the man’s getup was absolutely necessary fairly quickly after first becoming a regular at the beer store (while still a teenager) because it wasn’t actually just a beer store, but an elaborately organized, old-fashioned and notorious saloon. He had often heard other residents of the neighborhood, known as Bella Vista, call the beer store “The Stabbing Grounds”. This wasn’t an over-exaggeration either, as Dave had witnessed one stabbing at the saloon, and had heard talk about many more.
The inside was split between the walk-up beer store on the right side, and the sit-down, rowdy saloon on the left side with the two sectioned off by a four foot tall concrete wall topped with just-as-tall stained plexiglass. From Dave’s experience, the beer store was oftentimes filled with inner city punks, former suburban hipsters, and out-of-town crusties, while the left side was populated with moody-looking druggy white trash couples, groups of laughing and yelling Mexicans/Central Americans, and African American loner-con-men. When Dave opened the glass door half covered with Latino music advertisements he immediately smirked at the sound of a regular eccentric skillfully making music by slapping two spoons together. The security guard approached Dave with his hand out, using the universal sign to hold up.
“Yo, what’s up?” Said Dave.
“Oh, my bad man, we’ve been havin’ some trouble tonight. There was this punk-ass kid who looked kinda like you fuckin’ with customers.”
“Oh, word. How you been B, haven’t seen you in a minute.”
“Chillin’ man what’s good? Yo, that chick you was with the other night, she had a fat ass. I was like damn, you hittin’ that?” The security guard laughed, then amicably slapped Dave on the back.
Dave liked Officer Ben, whom he called “B”, especially because he reminded him of John Malkovich’s character in the play True West. B gave off a somewhat similar kind of wildcard vibe, except ironically being even more wildcard by being in a position of authority with a gun. B also had a significant gap in his tooth, the result of which was a slightly effeminate-sounding voice that foiled his tough-guy exterior. Dave had played that same character in an acting class once. His professor claimed to have worked with Sam Shepard. Thinking about John Malkovich momentarily made Dave depressed.
“Thanks. I know, right?” Dave said.
“She your girl?”
“Yeah, B, you knew that man.”
“Word. Ight man, I see you.”
“Take it easy.”
Dave waited in line behind two Mexicans and a white girl whose behavior and skin marks exhibited that she was addicted to meth. She was trying to convince the two men to come back with her to wherever she came from, but they just kept shaking their heads and laughing at how brazenly fucked up she was.
It was Dave’s turn to order, but he had forgotten what he wanted.
Out of habit Dave said “yeah” to the Asian guy behind the counter. The clerk started asking Dave this question whenever he came in after a couple of months of him ordering the same thing all of the time. He spontaneously ordered a shot of Jack Daniels as well. The Asian guy smirked.
“Shot of Jack?”
Dave informed the man of this phrase a few months before when he had ordered a shot of Jack and the guy didn’t understand what he meant. Dave swiftly placed a twenty on the counter underneath the shoddy bulletproof glass. He downed the whiskey, turned around, nodded at B, then headed out the door. He closed his eyes, tilted his chin upwards, and breathed through his nose while drowning out the sound of bums arguing with each other a few feet away.
“Young bull.” A homeless man with an idiosyncratic gait approached Dave from the cluster of bums.
Dave instinctively pulled a pack of cigarettes out and handed the bum one. The man looked like a tramp, but really the opposite was true. John was a salesman of grocery bags in the Italian Market. He was always either in front of the beer store or at his spot in between stalls across the street. Although he never really had customers, John would stand by two shopping carts overflowing with brown paper bags and plastic bags all relatively organized and fairly new-looking. If a person had the compulsion to purchase bags at 25 cents each in order to shop at the vegetable and other various stalls in the outdoor market, he would be the man to go to, but that was rarely the case. John had told Dave many times of the travails of being a shopping bag salesman. Perhaps back in the seventies selling used bags was a legitimate business, when John had began his life-long career, and when the Italian Market was in its prime.
“Buncha’ assholes claiming I owe them, I don’t owe them shit, I’m an artist baby. You know that, you seen my drawings right?”
“Yeah man, they’re pretty good.”
“I know. Young bulls aint givin’ respect no more round here, ‘cept you man, what’s your name again pal?” John had a smooth, soulful but soft-spoken voice as if he always had an ulterior motive, even though he was a genuinely honest man.
“Dave, remember, I gave you a beer last night.”
“Aye man, I don’t owe you shit.”
“Nah you’re good.”
“Ight man, yo I ever tell you I was in Rocky?
“You see me in it?”
“Yeah man, when he runs through the market. I’ve seen you.”
“Yeah man, yeah. Don’t get recognized no more man, shit.”
The long light on Washington turned green. There wasn’t much traffic on a Friday nearing midnight, but the cars that were on the street would speed at about forty to sixty miles per hour, making it difficult to cross without getting stuck precariously in the narrow median. Dave used this as a mental excuse for himself in order to get away from John the bag salesman, not because he felt uneasy around him, but because the bum somehow emitted melancholia without ever seeming unhappy himself.
“Alright John I gotta’ get going, take it easy.”
Dave hadn’t actually seen John in Rocky, but he liked humoring him, and also felt bad because some of the younger guys who worked at the butcher would mess with him. They’d steal his boom box, which was his prized possession, as he lived for listening to soul and Motown. One time Dave felt horrible because he’d seen those guys cajoling John since he couldn’t jump high enough to grab a ten dollar bill that one of them was holding in the air above him. When Dave would stumble home from the dive bar at two am he would sometimes stop and stare at John sleeping while sitting on a milk crate not far from 9th and Washington. Dave would watch the old man sleep, listen to his congested snore, and admire him for living such a difficult and lonely life without outwardly showing any shame and even spreading a bit of joy via sparing loose change for candy from a nearby stall for children here and there.
Even though Dave was only on slightly cordial terms with John the grocery bag salesman, he felt a peculiar, inexplicable sense of camaraderie with him. Dave was aware that this feeling was somewhat due to naivety on his part, but it made him feel good anyway. He lit a cigarette and enjoyed the rush of wind against his face. Then he started walking back up 9th street.
He felt dizzy, not because of the whiskey, but because of the lingering soapy aftertaste from the under-the-counter double shot glass. He had become familiar with that uncomfortable feeling and grew to like it because it quickened the disorientation process that was necessary for him after a closing shift.
Dave put his hand in his back pocket and realized that he had left his keys in his room, so when he got to the house he pressed the buzzer and waited for someone to come to the door. He stood there for a while drinking a beer and looking at the bourgie people strutting into the Italian restaurant a couple of doors down. Dave would sometimes have a cigarette with the VIP parking guys during the day, but at night he disliked them out of an odd sort of temporary envy of their servile purposefulness.
Dave sat down on the stoop and pulled another bottle of beer out of the black plastic bag. He thought that the women in red and black dresses were sneering at him, so he considered chugging the whole beer in one big swig and throwing the bottle in their general direction. He imagined the glass bottle shattering into hundreds of pieces and flying into the pack of middle-aged women, cutting into their exposed legs like shrapnel from a roadside IED. He just chugged the beer and placed the empty bottle on the stoop. Someone that Dave barely knew opened the door to his house. He realized that his roommates were throwing a party.
He brushed past the person at the door and ignored everyone while heading to his room. He was tired of everyone around him coming from privileged households. He couldn’t believe that he had used the word household while thinking to himself. He put Cupid Come by My Bloody Valentine on and fell asleep while horizontally drinking lager. It felt wet inside his chest.