THE CAT’S MEOW
This old time music. I’ve heard it before, but not on any radio. At my grandfather’s, and now from 1959 black and white world juke box, with actual vinyl nuggets slap changing in slow anticipation as the hidden mechanics of the thing click and hum; the needle popping and hissing, finally settling into worn time travel grooves; the sound like some south city Jack is crunching out his cigarette. The voice lives inside the old grimy box, speaks directly to solitary damaged hearts through a blue curtain of smoke, and everything recedes gently into darkness. Darkness like a drug injected into the fat pupils of lonely men- a soft warmth of shared ruin as Jim Reeves melts away the last membrane of connection to the outside world, his voice a living thing, a tender dose. There is no awareness of listening. He has us.
The barely lit room is a tacky casket of oblivion. Slow, day after day, drag upon drag oblivion, surrounded by porcelain cats, brown paneling thick as a dime and burgundy carpet worn down to a sticky black at the bar’s edge, near the rattling entrance, and before the broken Men’s bathroom door slammed by a heavy rusting spring. Sagging at the hinges, it cannot close, such that the music never leaves you inside the long drooping belly of The Cat.
At night, the room is blue and hot and clogged with amateurs. Kids from the neighborhood with loud talk and force of nature power, hungry to get in the mix; to get laid, to throw hard in a Saturday night brawl, talk shit, let the power of sun and wind and hormone burgeoning fauna loose on our static world, a world of has-beens disintegrating in voluntary exile. They don’t even see us.
The long day smothered by darkness is ours. The music and beer, again and again. Yes I’ll have another. Intertwined, sloshing, stumbling, skip a beat hearts, greedy fingers in salt. A long row of babe’s mouths nursing discount nectar in a warm winding river, unsteady all the way to perfect 3pm haze, the sweet forget your troubles hour, the sacred space, the high realization moment of forgetting, the supreme dose forever beckoning a lost soul back to the worn altar of holy ruin, the brief moment of aligned and lubricated acceptance of what is, of embracing the darkness, becoming the darkness, a kind of mystical convergence leaving you enthralled with the yellow beer and bald ugliness because it is your goddamn ugliness, an honest ugliness well earned on the outside, a soft purchase to pause and feel the blind animal of your slowed heart still fighting, still at it before the sadness and the sickness that follows wrecks the made up universe all over again.
"I Can't Stop Wanting You,” swoons old Don Gibson. His high swing and low drone carve out a weeping ulcer in the hardest heart. The words trail off as the song climaxes. Vanishes. A sonic gopher down a hole- then another hiss, pop and cigarette crunch of needle against gnawed vinyl.
We share plastic pitchers and bourbon. Eat salty peanuts to keep spinning- there you go- wash it down. Go on now, keep telling your story. Jim Reeves sings “An Eye For An Eye.”
The daylight is an old yellowing stamp through the solitary window’s filth and metal bars, painted decades ago. The stark white paint bleeds orange rust. Light splashes in from the street when the door opens, has a thrilling and novel appeal, an artifact of the forsaken world of work; of families lost, and of the terrible wide open loneliness shared by the daily gathered room. The harsh realness of the day slides by, traffic and rote tasks of life on the outside gushing close, but in a separate universe, the noble playing field of driven men leaking in, in weird shafts of too bright light, climbing the walls, slamming against us, the cowardly and crushed brethren, would be somethings, each resolute only in pitiful surrender, all else is optional. Each blast of fresh air clears your head just enough to kill the conversation. Constricting pupils can make a guy sneeze. We hold up slow vampire sleeves to block out Monday, Tuesday…any day intrusion. You are not welcome here, work a day week, screaming banshee of street.
The closing door slams wood on wood and rattling thin chain, squeezes out the cared and worn on world. Pupils go slack, and the music grows around us again. Men hunched in a line at the bar in kept on coats and hats, or solitary in little red chairs, elbows on tables, or squared off in two’s, muttering recollections, accusations, confessions, small talk and peppery lies. The dreadful end is as near as closing time, sweetens each narcotic minute held against oblivion’s perfect breast. I surrender, and yes, another. What day is it?
Mitch tells his story from behind the obsessively clean bar, between hard drags from his cigarette that make him squint like a person beginning to weep. All those years ago, may as well have been yesterday according to his nervous system- he was ordered to shoot some drug crazed kid to save his hostage. But he just couldn’t do it. Something about a gut feeling he had. The other cops; his commander, even the pretty little hostage, wondered why he didn’t take the shot when he had the clear and legally defensible right to squeeze one off, to kill.
Mitch’s balding head glides and reroutes like a flesh colored cue ball as he pours, wipes, smokes, gathers tips, empties ashtrays, places rogue mugs on fresh coasters, orating to dark shoulders, a long line of rising and falling wet mugs of beer. Everyone knows the story. There is a kind of tobacco respiration between Mitch and the men hunched at the bar, blue puffs emitting, diffusing, mingling radiated cilia fog. They nod, pull and release, half listening. The smoke blooms and lingers. The golden beer is drained and replaced. Men spin from stools to take long hard pisses. There are no clocks, no women.
We are sad men in full glowing submission. In here, Mitch can tell his story. He doesn’t even have to hide his broken heart. We all know he is a better man for choosing not to kill, and that he can’t quite see it himself, not yet, probably never will. We truly love him for his bug eyed sadness, the repetition of his twenty year old trauma, his nervous sweeping and whisking away of trash linking Mitch to the shared dark aquifer that bouyees us all; keeps us planted in these stools and chairs. There’s nothing to be done about it, not today, and anyway, Twitty is chewing off that last gutshot note; “It’s Only…Ma’aake Believe.”
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