Steven Storrie has worked as a cable T.V repair man, dishwasher, choreographer, ice cream vendor and junk yard attendant. Tired of this he is currently locked in his basement working on his first full collection of poetry, bickering with his neighbours over nothing and storing the baseballs he keeps when they are hit into his yard. His first collection of short stories, We Are Not The Kids We Used To Be, will be released in November by DevilHouse Press. You can find him at the website he runs, ‘Black Coffee For Breakfast’, at http://renegadepriest11.wix.com/blackcoffeebreakfast
WHERE NOBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME
Norm: “Hey, Frasier, you’re a doctor. What happens to old, dead skin?”
Frasier: “Apparently it sits on barstools and drinks beer all day.”
The funeral was set for 10am. He always had a runny nose, I remember that. Always ate his own boogers. Was one of those kinds of kids. Apparently he had a stint as a chef some place in Australia. Hmm. It’s always the ones you’d least expect.
The table in the corner was filled with food. Sad little sandwiches, chips and three types of dip. When I die I hope they roll me in a Hessian bag and feed me to the sharks. Just dump me in the Pacific Ocean. Somewhere deep and warm. Music and a few beers beneath the open blue skies for friends who want to say goodbye. Maybe have a swim. Just not this. Anything but this.
The mourners began to stream into the bar. The room itself was dingy and smelt like the war. Rotten peaches and Southern hospitality. The traffic in downtown Alabama is hot as a bitch this time of the day. They were all dressed in black. Which is the last colour you want to wear in this heat, my Grandma would probably say. It didn’t matter to me what colour I was wearing. My shirt was already soaked right through.
Woody: “What’s shakin’, Mr. Peterson?”
Norm: “All four cheeks and a couple of chins.”
His stool was symbolically empty, flowers placed at its wonky wooden legs. Whenever a tourist or other stranger had came into the bar in his absence and tried to sit on that stool, they would be roundly shouted down. “That’s Bruce’s seat” someone would invariably mutter. When it was pointed out Bruce was not in, was working tonight, would not be in, the statement was met with furrowed brows made of compost and oak. “That’s Bruce’s seat” someone would reiterate in tones dark as December nights, teeth gritted like a front grille. They were big on loyalty around here. Real big.
The walls were adorned with his favourite sports teams. God walks on Southern streets. Something in the air made me think of watching ‘Cheers’ as a child and wondering what could be worse than everybody knowing your name. Then, as I got older and without friends, I thought there could be nothing better than having everybody know your name. I took comfort in it. I diligently sought out bars around the local scene, looking for my new safe haven, the warm arms of an understanding crowd. What I actually found was disgruntled bar folk with hands like sledgehammers and heads twice as hard. There were fights. Lots of fights.
Sam, on seeing Norm enter the bar: “What’s new, Normie?”
Norm, settling onto his favourite stool: “Terrorists, Sam. They’ve taken over my stomach and they’re demanding beer.”
The primary cast of Cheers, when you really look at it, were a has-been, a moron, a never gonna be know it all, a pretentious asshole and a raging alcoholic. Not on any night of the week would you let these people in to your home. After no sporting event would you want to be in their company while they slung back the suds and railed against the horrors of outside life. But somehow it worked. They understood you. Were you. Who didn’t want to be Norm? Who didn’t want to beat a retreat to the corner of some Boston bar? Where everything was warm and fuzzy and even the worst of times passed over in thirty minutes or less?
Who didn’t want that?
I scooped up a handful of nuts. That kid would get the shit beat out of him. Nose bleeds. He would act manic all the time and do impressions just to stave off a pounding. It was just after 9.30 and there was still just three of us here. Me, an old woman drinking Mint Juleps, and a rotund bartender with big arms and a barrel for a chest. Our very own Sam Malone, I guessed.
Sam Malone was the ex-baseball player for the Boston Red Sox and now owner of ‘Cheers’, the bar where everybody, apparently, knew your name. He was a smooth talking raconteur, a used car salesman and hopeless flirt. There was seemingly nothing seedy about a 45 year old bachelor hitting on young college girls three at a time while spending all of his spare hours in a dimly lit hole surrounded by depressed alcoholics. What about that time Norm went nuts, smashing his bottle on the table and threatening to glass anybody who mentioned his wife, Vera, to him ever again? You didn’t see that episode because it didn’t happen. Come on now, Norm was a teddy bear. Sam was a ring conductor and incorrigible enabler. If you ask me, anyway.
This kid, flipping off teachers. Spit on the floor, melted ice creams. Dry river bed. Too late. Hope some. Graphite. Freebase. Solemn. His sister was a goer, they said. Anyone in town. Jackals. His poor mother. Adopted. Insides. Soft bellied. Chin like cherry blossom. Roll over. Trucks jam the freeway. Honk that horn. How’s my driving? Call 1-800 Eat My Shit. Ballast. Ballast. Ruminating on second period English. I had known him since kindergarten. He had rolled down that green hill we had there and come to a sticky, jarring sort of end. There were rocks in the autumn leaves. Haywire. Frazzled. Jabbering and a little bit sore. Collect your coats. Mom said, mom said. Early end to the day. A Rambo lunchbox. Juice spilled on my food. Everything soiled. Grazed knees and elbows and the sense that something had changed. Fast forward. Play. Stop. Start. He was there with me that first morning at our new High School. Just me and him on the edges of this huge metropolis, clinging to the outer reaches of this brave new world. I had been alone. Then there was him. The first two people to arrive.
I’ll never forget that as long as I live.
Sam; “What are you up to, Norm?”
Norm; “My ideal weight, if I was 11 feet tall.”
It still makes me smile, that hazy repartee. That classic banter. There were Norm’s all over the world. That’s why he was called Norm, right? Normal? He was the everyman. The regular Joe. The Eddie Punch Clock. We all had one of those. Time my father came across the local Norm in our town protesting that the bank machine had swallowed his card. It was with some mild confusion that my father looked around. Then, the true nature of the events and the reason for the drunk’s consternation dawning on him, my father eased out a soft, warm smile. “Buddy” he said, putting a gentle arm around our Normie’s fat and hunched over shoulders. “That’s a post box.
Let’s get you home.”
Woody: “Pour you a beer, Mr. Peterson?”
Norm: “Alright, but stop me at one. Make that one-thirty.”
A small trickle of people enter the room. They make for the vol-au-vents and the cocktail sausages and order beer at the bar. Sombre expressions. Empty stomachs. Sweating on the 509 to get some free food. Make it count. Fill your boots. Which ones are his relatives, again? I dunno, do I? Why do you think I should know? Mourning is worse on an empty stomach. Sadness makes you twice as hungry. Load up. It’s what he would have wanted.
Sam; “How’s life treating you, Norm?”
Norm; “Like it found me in bed with its wife.”
Justification. Fish suppers. A Ouija board in Friday night cemeteries where somebodies hand always makes it move. No I didn’t no I didn’t. The town still has its smokestacks. Oh New York, eh? Well, well. Big city boy, living high on the hog. Yeah, I think maliciously, better than being right behind it. What do they know? Spent their whole lives here. Same newspaper for 37 years. Dated perfume. Jaundice in a thousand cans.
Norm: “Morning, everybody!”
Woody: “Beer, Mr. Peterson?”
Norm: “Little early in the day isn’t it, Woody?”
Woody: “Little early for a beer?”
Norm: “No, for stupid questions”
Nothing in town was ever the same. Each time I came home something had been knocked down. Something else built in its place. Someone was born, someone had died, someone had gotten married and left. Whatever happened to French class and looking up Maria Siddall’s skirt? Whatever happened to Miss Drum who talked with her mouth closed and asked Judith to stand in the bin? Whatever happened to football on a Friday night, all day Saturday, then again on Sunday? A little more for afters and good measure on a balmy Monday night? When had we aged? When had he gotten sick? Oh, came in real fast, don’t you know. Sure, sure. Here one minute, gone the next. Say, what do you think about the SEC this year, kid? How do you like our chances? Say, I drank with Henry Miller in a Paris bar once. Not a man’s town, Paris. Not a man’s town.
Woody: “Hey Mr. Peterson, there’s a cold one waiting for you.”
Norm: “I know. If she calls, I’m not here.”
Someone is yawning. Yawn. Yawn. Yawn. Their mouth is as cavernous as the space in here. Whole tables are empty, huge gaps between them and the next. Footsteps echo on the floor. This is not much to say for a man’s entire life. Well 33 years, at least. Windows open in the depths of summer, heat like teenage hormones, English during the month of June.
I drain my beer and get to my feet. It isn’t yet 10am. The service is due to start any minute now. When you’re a kid you grow up wanting to be a sportsman, a spaceman, a star. Nobody grows up wanting to be the town drunk.
I leave a tip. A New York tip. I put my glass on the bar.
Then I quietly leave.