Excerpt from Date With Death

I would tell you the name of the bar but it isn’t important. I would tell you that a lot of people called it a dive, and it was one of the last bars in the neighborhood where you could see black folks and white folks and Mexicans and hookers making a buck and mothers and young lovers and people who are punk for life, or whatever that means these days, because no one says “punk” anymore…People just wear black and have their hair shaved into mohawks and they hold down jobs but in other ways they’ve dropped out because this is the great migration away from America.

News Flash: A lot of America no longer believes in America, and they, great numbers, in hundreds and thousands in each city have encampments and broadcast to each other and they serve food and tend bar and cut hair and answer phones and with sleeves of tattoos that arch toward their ribs as if their pale flesh has captured souls and been dyed by them, these people call each other family in ways I have tasted, but I am a lone one who senses, even when they hold me in last call’s embrace, that I am outside their reality. I no longer mourn this as much as I recognize it is truth.

These are men who practice Wicca and listen to the Clash and do stand-up comedy and some of them are bouncers, and the women have pay-for-view websites, and there are men who have lost and regained their children, and fry cooks, and a Mexican man who may be younger than me and he works long hours and always falls asleep at the bar, and the bartender who has eyes like a portrait of Jesus, so gentle, he wears a baseball cap that reminds me of anarchy, and he always has to poke this man who is nodding off, over and over again, call his name, because if no one calls his name, he is breaking the law by being unconscious in a bar.

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And there is the girl who someone hurt when she was a kid. A man who was older than her did things to her and she became obsessed with the young adult novels about a girl named Anne of Green Gables, in fact she had long passages of these novels memorized and she would try to recite these and a poem by Dorothy Parker and another one from Chaucer to almost everyone who would look at her but no one wanted to look at her coz she’d show up with no money and creep up like a mouse with her round white face and her round white eyes and her hair that is sometimes black and sometimes blue like a Betty Boop without Bimbo, meekly squeezing our shoulders and speaking with a honey voice:

“Heyyyy…I remember you!” and asking in an even more polite way if you could just possibly buy her a two-dollar PBR because she is a little short and she has done this to all the regulars, and if you’re a woman she has offered blow jobs for small cash reimbursements to your men, and she has no luck with anyone unless they just buy her the beer to make her go away because once you buy her the beer, she has two more sentences with you and then she does go away, to find the next person who might buy a beer and listen on top of it all, and she is the kind of person another person grows to love and hate at the same time, because you see what is broken in her, but you see she burned away other circuits to deal with the broken parts, like circuits of shame.

I watch as a pool game unfolds and the guy named Bobby is playing, he looks like a wise old turtle, and Marvin Gaye is on the jukebox and a nervous middle-aged white guy in denim who was once a redhead but now the fern-like growth on his head and the stubble on his chin has turned another color, and he has wire-framed glasses and who knows what he does in the daytime, but he gets too excited when he plays pool and the other guys in here are lean, and non-white and when they play pool they glide through the air like paintings of herons, and meanwhile this white guy he is nervous, he is jumping up and down and cheering his own shots as if he is watching a football game, and he punches the air with “awwwws” and “damns” when he misses his shots and he reminds me of the cartoon character Barney Google, with his goo-goo-goo-guh-lee eyes, they are searching for a mark, a mama, a friend, and the regulars instead are smooth, closed surfaces, and I can see it happening before it happens!

Of course, this girl, who calls herself an insect name, this nickname that is sweet and full of longing, she is going to find him, AND SHE DOES! She will not just have a beer now, she will have a bed to lie in…why not take it all the way, for another night?

An hour of drinking later and the two of them are huddled together at a wooden picnic table on the smoking patio out back, and I can feel the way she is gazing at his shoulder and he probably can’t believe his luck, a girl so young, who looks so clean and eager, why is she in here, he doesn’t entirely know but he cannot say no to the moment.


(Read the rest of Date With Death in Death Confetti: Pickers, Punks, and Transit Ghosts in Portland, Oregon, published by Feral House.)


Book Montage by T. R. Hoard