Salutations are scribbled along the red brick and mortar. Old wooden railroad ties next to my seat line the framing of the wall and posts. The signatures, logos, shout outs, and slogans stack atop one another making the brick and wood one uneven historical canvas of drunken scatterbrained literature. I wonder how students of yesteryear were able to make such deep grooves in the wood. Inked in later with marker or nail polish, these claimed stake insignias seem pretty old. No, maybe it wasn’t old. Beer could have soaked into the pores of the brick. I’ve spilled plenty of beer here and by now my hiccups have become unfortunate tasty regurgitated cud.
Mmm, seconds [a belch].
My order of house nachos was placed an hour ago and within 10 minutes of their arrival I was through with it. The gooey cheese covered the grounded, compressed corn tortilla chips along with their chunks of tomato, chicken shreds, diced raw onion, and black olives. A couple yellow drips on my light grey NASA sweater, darn. I’ll have to suck that off before it settles in. Napkins are terrible for cleaning cheese stains. Frothy headed Stella Artois careened the mixture into a sloshed cold happiness within my belly. Pushing my now empty pitcher of beer to the side of the table, I wait to ask my server for a refill. Considerate. A dainty girl with a cropped haircut and a nose ring walks by. She’s cute to me. Wait, from behind she looks like a teenage boy, crap… I hate myself. I hate her for not thinking about that.
Oh God, she just picked her nose. Now she sits next to her friend in a red halter top who acted like she didn’t notice and they’re both singing to Journey. Journey sucks. I wanna stop believing she just didn’t pick her nose and look like Elijah Wood while doing it. Isn’t it funny how people judge others? I picked my nose earlier today but I was alone in my car. I only do it in the car. Matter of fact, Journey was on the radio. I also sang to it but I was alone in my car. That makes it ok.
Belching again, my body slowly reacts in a wave of a movement starting from my lower back up my spine and headed for my mouth. The lips catch the burp and hold it in, slowly releasing stench like an exhaust pipe downward and away from public senses. Courteous. Holding my keys, I try to engrave my name onto the table top. C-O-L-U-N—
“You can’t do that. Sir…? Sir, you can’t dig into the table.” Name tag. Luna.
She’s standing with her heels together in black leggings and a black v-neck shirt, her belly just a slight pot. Cute and not boyish, although she’s disgusted at me. Her look says it all. Her eyes are set stern. Lips flattened and sucked inward like they are hiding from the stale bar air. I remember cheese stains aren’t attractive. Does it help that the sweater is NASA?
Three tall cornfed guys all wearing various multicolored checkered shirts tucked into their jeans bump past her to take the table where another group just left. Luna holds her little pad and pen making a grimace as they pass. They have rolled sleeves and hats on with the bills bent like a horseshoe. The one who isn’t wearing a hat has a close cropped haircut with a comb over. He’s the leader; slapping overhead high fives to the group like she doesn’t exist, all the while they sit and shout,
“Where’s the waitress?”
“Dude we needed a server, like yesterday. This place blows. It’s always too packed,” says the leader. But they just got here.
“I’m just glad we got a table. You wanna order a pitcher?” Bent bill #1 asks the group.
“Man, can you spot me?” This bent bill #2 has an orange hat.
“What, you don’t got money? Well why’d you even come out.” Bent bill #1’s is green and white.
“Just spot me, shut up.” Bent bill #2 has a gap and a wad of dip in his bottom lip. Oh, he brought an empty bottle too. Convenient.
“Spot you? Hah, I spotted you last time. It’s Terry’s turn. Terry spot this dueche bag a pitcher.”
“No way…” Leader Man Terry.
“Aw Ter’, c’mon man!” Brown gloopy dip spit shoots into the clear bottle.
“Alright fine. I’ll spot you but next time don’t come.” Terry’s comb over is so authoritative next to their bent bills.
Laughs all around for Terry’s burn and another high five soars above the server girl’s head as I motion to her,
“Can I please have a refill? Please.” Like the cow who was too fat to jump over the moon, they bonk her in the head with their elbows. Rude.
Her red thick framed glasses tilt on her face and as she grabs at it the pen she’s holding marks her cheek.
“Ugh! Watch it,” she says.
“Hey there, sorry. Can we get some pitchers of PBR and a round of shots.” Bent bill #1 beckons.
“Jameson!” says the broke ass.
She jots it down and walks away wiping her cheek.
“Ma’am…” My call fades into hiccup, unheard.
She saunters past but there are so many people in this speakeasy of a bar, her black flats with white rubber souls are getting stepped on and her pathetic elbowed attempts to clear space are met by drunken and excited college students turning to ask her for more drinks and food. I recommend the house nachos, aloud this time, and again I go unnoticed.
Digging my key into the table hard enough to slightly bend it, I stop and realize I misspelled my name. C-O-L-U-N-A. She told me not to do it. Karma. Can As look like Gs? Aborting my efforts, I try bending my key back into place while watching the bent bill and comb over cowboys. They’re laughing and shuffling cards while talking about sex… with girls. Occasionally the one named Terry sends his eyes to my direction and I look away immediately. I’m acting as if I’m staring at picture frames behind him with athletes in old black and white photos. It’s better than having him think I was watching their empty convo. Terry’s got a decent build. Leaderly. I hiccup a slight belch and blow it downward to my left. Luna walks past me and the gust of stomach acid gas wafts around creating a 5 foot radius of stench.
Her nostril curls pulling up the side of her lip in disgust as she swings her tray of Jameson shots onto the table for the farmhand wannabes, I can tell she’s playing CLUE in her mind: Is it the fat man with NASA cheese stains sitting on the solo seater facing a bathroom door? The orange bent bill fool, sucking back dip, teetering on the stool? The combover alpha male, with the open mouth chewing gum method? Or is it the green and white bent bill, with the hand to mouth habit, sitting on the bench? Some explicit woos come from the bent billers and with Luna’s other hand she sets down their pitcher.
“Got cups?” Terry asks.
“Ya, just a sec’ fellas.” She turns and I grab for my pitcher pointing at it. Seeing me, her eyebrows raise like, yeah… I see you… aren’t you full? Standing up, I look around to see the jukebox mounted on the brick wall. Making my way over, I pass the red halter top and her cropped haired lady gal. I wonder if they’ll be impressed with my selection, maybe start a convo? Sliding dollar bills in the jukebox, my eyes are staring at the black digital screen with red block numbers. Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin, Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix, Sex Machine by James Brown, and House of the Rising Sun by the Animals. I’m smiling until the slow stench of fart comes to be. Turning back I see the two girls staring at me. Damn it. It wasn’t me. It was an ethnic fart. My diet doesn’t smell like that. I’m not racist, I just know my gas. That wasn’t my gas. Red halter top rolls her eyes and the boyish haired lady is covering her nose with a napkin. Looking to my table, I decide to head back arriving to the red framed waitress as Robert Plant wails.
“Thanks,” she says as she places down the bill and a full pitcher, “I’m gunna leave this here, you don’t have to leave though. My shift’s almost over.”
It says $39.86. Freaking $12 nachos and two pitchers. I leave two twenties and a five. Sucking a tomato skin from my incisor, I can’t help but wonder how long that was there.
“Bet you’re glad to get off huh?” I say this and try to look sincere but I feel a belch gurgling through my twisty intestine and up my throat. My eyebrow sort of raises. Fool.
“Yeah, it’s been a long day.” She’s being heckled by the broke ass for more shots.
I suppress my belch, feeling it wiz through my intestine, and pour another cup of Stella.
“How often do you work here,” I hiccup, “I’ve never seen you here before.” She’s nervously looking around seeing people flag her.
“Yeah, no I just started. I’ll be right back with your change.” I should’ve said keep it but that stinky belch would’ve made its way out and put her to sleep.
“Jameson shots!” Yells broke ass, “Please…love you.” The bent bills laugh but the leader they call Terry is shuffling cards. He looks my way and this time I’m caught staring.
“Can I help you, chunk?” An uproar from the bent bills. Did he just call me Chuck? Terry is now gripping his frosty glass and the could-be cow herders are all turned toward me.
“Huh?” I feel the gurgle again.
“You’ve been staring at us since we got here.” Terry says this as Jimi Hendrix sings.
“Maybe he wants to join us.” Bent bill #2 says, swallowing his beer.
“Join you? No, I was just…” I bump my pitcher and as I grab for it my foot slips off the uneven slates of the bar stool and I lose my balance. These stools always did suck. My gut catches my fall as I slide into the table top. A beer splash cools my face off. No worries, only the entire bar looking now. Broke ass is laughing and I swear he’s going to rock backward on his stool.
“Why don’t you come join us? We need a fourth.” Terry the Leader Man pats the bench against the wall and the fluorescent lighting glares on the wood. He’s got a look to him.
“Umm, I’m ok.” Standing up stretches my torso and the belch is at the back of my tongue. I swallow it as the cute blonde girl in the red halter top and short skirt squeezes past me to the rest room. Bent bill #1 stares at her.
“No, seriously. Come sit.” He’s the leader for a reason. His tone is authoritative. Why do I feel like I’ve done something wrong? Broke ass hops off his stool and grabs my pitcher putting it on their table then dramatically swings his arm and offers me his seat. It’s so crammed here but people have parted to allow me space and are staring at me with hints to hurry.
“Alright.” I make my way to their booth. I don’t know any card games.
“So what’s wit’ the sweater, chunk? You work fer NASA?” says the broke ass. Why do they keep calling me Chuck? Accents.
“No,” I sip my beer, “my friend gave me this. I think his father did though.” The belch is angry with me. My belly gurgles and I’m hoping James Brown can out shout it.
“The game’s called Ride the Bus, chunk. We set the cards up like this.” Terry starts forming a pyramid on the table making eight rows. He then deals out the remainder of the cards to the group. Bent bill #1 is mumbling Sex Machine. Good choice.
“Each row represents how many drinks we’re allowed to give out. But Terry’s gotta flip the first row of cards one by one. So long as we got the card he flips we can place it down and that’s how you give out drinks.” The broke ass tells me this while squeezing translucent liquid brown through his lips and into his bottle.
“Whoever’s got the most cards once we’re done rides the bus.” Terry flips the first card and it’s a Jack of clubs.
“You got this card, chunk?” Bent bill #1 asks.
“No. I have a lot of numbers and a few face cards.” I’m showing Terry my hand.
“No, chunk. You don’t gotta show ’em.” Bent bill #2 says while he slaps down two Jacks. “Now drink two drinks.”
I’m drunk. I’ve belched eight times and apologized at least 18. I’ve been riding the bus for what seems like hours. The pyramid only lasted a short time and for some reason the cornfed guys were real generous with their beer.
“So, what do you do that for?” I’m slurring and leaning toward Bent bill #2. My finger is pointing at his tobacco swell.
“Aw man, you never dipped? Well, I can give ya a pinch if ya wanna?” He’s slapping the top of the circular case with his index while holding it between his thumb and middle finger. Neat.
Luna’s long gone. Terry’s made conversation with Red halter top and bent bill #1 is keeping boy haircut entertained by trying to show her how the card game works. Meanwhile, bent bill #2 is holding the open case of grounded tobacco.
“Don’t take too much. You’ll get sick. Just smash it between where your gums and lip meet.” It smells of sweet menthol.
“Like this?” I’ve got it wedged in the front of my bottom lip.
Bent bill #2 nods, “You’ve got it, chunk. Now just suck spit to that part of your mouth and it’ll start tingling. If you suck to hard you might taste a little blood. Just don’t swallow this shit.”
“Blood?” I say and as I suck, the tingly feeling slowly seeps through my inner lip and the metallic blood taste is an immediate salty sweet sensation.
“Use this when you need to spit.” Bent bill #2 gives me his dip spit bottle. I sit in my stool slumped like a sweaty bag of leaves. My head is spinning. By this time, I’ve been sucking so hard that my entire mouth is full of menthol flavored blood and saliva. Wow, my head is really…oh boy.
A natural reaction to swallow kicks in because my cheeks are swollen with saliva. I’m so drunk…I guess I forgot I should be spitting. As I remember not to, some of it has already slipped down my throat. Quickly reaching for the dip bottle I bump the half empty pitcher of beer and it falls over wetting all the cards and soaking the bent bills laps. My throat and stomach hate the open invitation I gave to the toxic bloody spit in my mouth. My innards have staged a revolt against my drunken brain and are demanding an immediate eviction of the brown dip spit. The digested nachos are in agreement and have begun storming the gates of my throat. Upward and outward, the congregation of my last meal and bus ride booze has spewed open like a popped placenta. My teeth feel like they’re made of talc. I smell like sour menthol.
“What the hell, chunk?” Terry shouts as the Red halter top girl sits aghast.
“My names not Chuck. Colunga, it’s Colunga.” My arms are raking the puke toward my body as my sweater soaks it all up. “Sorry guys. I’m sorry. What are your…..what are your names??”
“Dude you’re wasted,” says bent bill #1.
“No, I’m sorry. Look it’s ok. I’m cleaning it.” I’m too drunk to comprehend what’s happening.
There’s puke and beer soaking into my arms and I can feel the wetness. Everyone is standing now and a big man in a black outfit is wiping down the table top. His quick movements are making me feel woozier. I hiccup another belch.
There’s a feeling of being lifted up and moved along. The girl with the boy haircut is picking her nose again as I pass her. There’s the jukebox again. Now I’m outside and it’s cold. I am holding on to a beer soaked playing card. It’s the Jack of clubs.
Why were they calling me Chuck?