Thursday, August 21, 2008
Seduction Of The Ancients
It ain't easy landing a bartending gig in this town. I've been sulking through dimly lit tap rooms all over Chicago, from dives to trendy hipster joints, downtown to Bucktown. I never expected this to be easy, and it isn't. My paltry experience does me little credit, but even were I a master, the only way to get behind the rail is networking. Schmoozing is a requirement, and, let's face it, a talent needed to be a top mixologist in the big city.
I discovered Marie's Rip Tide Lounge the very week I moved to Bucktown. I was instantly charmed by the canned Pabst, the Christmas lights in June, the 4am closing time, the ancient jukebox, and Marie, the 86 year old owner. Marie came in every night around 1AM and drank Jagermeister, which she chased with warm Pepsi. She constantly surveyed her youthful patrons, her sharply gleaming eyes darting back and forth with suspicion and disdain. I often heard her snap at her bartenders in her dry lizardlike croak, accusing them of undercharging for drinks to pocket the difference. Their reactions ranged from exasperation to amusement. I was somewhat intimidated and gave her a wide berth.
The day my father died, on Father's Day, I went there stunned and grieving. I stared at the Christmas lights for a while, aggressively consuming Pabst and Jim Beam. When I began to cry, Marie noticed despite the throngs of merry hipsters jamming the place from stem to stern. She elbowed her way across the lounge and evicted the dude on the stool beside me, claiming it for herself. She signaled her bartender, Leo, indicated that he should set her up with Jager and Pepsi, and me with another round of my choosing.
She asked what my trouble was. I had a hard time hearing her warbling raspy voice over the cacophony of voices and Patsy Cline, but her query was obvious nonetheless. I spilled. Marie hugged me, held my hand, and offered wisdom she'd gathered over her long days on this earth. I drank free for the remainder of the evening.
As weeks progressed, I frequented the Rip Tide more and more. It felt like home. I often sat with Marie, sometimes silent, sometimes placating her when she was cranky and accusatory towards her staff. Friendship blossomed. I began to wonder whether there might be a place for me among the staff, but I was afraid to ask. It may be presumptuous, perhaps offensive. Asking would certainly inspire hostility among the very protective current staff, if they knew. Even so, I constantly updated Marie on my bartending career in the suburbs.
Marie is old. No, she's fucking ancient. She's not senile, and she's no dummy. She certainly perceived my hopes and intentions. One night she put her hand on my leg and asked me about my availability. (for work, not for love, or so I thought) I tried to say yes delicately, unsure if I had heard a job offer, or just weird mumbly croaking from an elderly woman. I was underestimating Marie severely.
I had very little time to cement this. Here, the time between last call and get the fuck out is a couple minutes.
I looked her square in the eyes, desperately trying to discern what exactly was happening. Once again: Marie is 86 years old, rail thin, decorated with plentiful liver spots, sunken cheeks, wrinkled skin, and dry colorless thin little lips, which she frequently moistened by licking them. Her hand moved up my leg toward my crotch. She leaned in towards me and closed her eyes. My eyes widened in shock and horror. I was about to be kissed.
What game was this? Was she offering a trade of employment for sex? Did she know my motives, and was trying to test my character? Attempting to freak me out? If so, she'd succeeded.
In that moment, I imagined fucking a woman that old. The vaginal dryness. Accidentally tearing her thin white hair out as I ran my fingers through it in the throes of passion. Heavily salted beef jerky. Romantic breakfasts in bed comprised of Jello and Metamucil. An accidental broken hip via osteoporosis and forceful thrusting.
As my mind hurtled through this bizarre and frightening scenario, Marie's face met mine, and suddenly, I was being kissed by the driest tongue I'd ever tasted. (flavored by Jagermeister and Pepsi, a little bit, but mostly by Marlboro Menthol Ultra Lights)
As her shaky geriatric hand grabbed at my junk but was unable to manipulate my zipper, the bartender yelled out.
"Time's up! Chug 'em or drop 'em, but get out now! Adios! Goodnight! Much love, now fuck off home!"
Thank fucking Christ. I gave Marie a quick platonic peck on her wrinkly spotted old cheek, stood up, and bolted.
I haven't been back since. 3:41 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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