Ashtray On The Bar

The stale smell of tobacco makes its way down the bar. It isn’t pleasant, but tolerable. So I light a cigarette. The guy at the end of the bar doesn’t know it yet, but we are now partners in crime. I can only tell you this second hand.

“Hey buddy, do you have a light? I ask.

He responds, “Sure do, but only if you drink Jack,” I answer yes.

He slides over a glass and says, “Son, you’re alright.”

I pour a shot for myself and go to take it, but I see in his eyes that he expects more. He is looking for a drinking partner. I oblige and put my glass back on the table, pour him a shot, hand it over and say, “To common interests.” We slam back the shots, and I pour another. “To the shrinking middle class.” We slam back the shots, and I pour another. “To, to…you got one, old-timer?”

“Um, yeah. How about, to wishing you could kill your boss, but not havin’ the balls to do it.”

He slams back the shot and pours himself another. I stare is disbelief and eventually take my shot. That warm relief making my insides as numb as my throat. I pour another shot and try to change the topic. Or try to at least move on.

“So one of those days, huh?” I say, trying to sound compassionate.

“Try twenty-three fuckin’ years,” he said with much contempt. “Twenty-three fucking years, at that fuckin’ shit hole and they throw me on my ass. And I ask myself why. I wasn’t a bad worker, showed up on time, did my job. I did my job while others fucked around, while they sat and toyed with their dicks. I worked my fuckin’ ass off and this happens. So yeah, how about one of those lives instead of one of those days.”

“What did you do for a living?” I asked, he looked over at me and I wasn’t sure if I was asking too much from him because of his vulnerable state of mind. He smiled though, it looked like more of a smirk, but he smiled. I assumed he was looking for this after that moment. He wanted to vent, and he was looking for the right person to vent to. I was that person.

“Thanks, I guess all of your generation ain’t so bad,” he said.

“Yeah, but I guess all generations have their flaws,” I said, and he laughed. I was relieved for that.

“You’re funny, kid,” he said sounding relieved, “Pour another shot.”

The next couple of hours went like this: Pour a shot and make a toast. Drink the shot and slam it down. Pour another shot and make a toast. Drink the shot and slam it down.

Do you know when you get to the point of having too much to drink? The point where you get “the stare.” The point where you focus on one item in the room to keep the room from spinning. The point where you can’t think straight, where you start to sweat, and you burp, you think you might vomit, and finally you pass out from exhaustion. I wasn’t over my limit quite yet, but after a half bottle of Jack Daniels I was slowly approaching that point.

The old man, whose name I found out to be Harry, was surprisingly alert and carrying the conversation. It was just unbelievable that this man was still standing. He was here when I walked in the bar, and that was two hours ago. I couldn’t believe how much this guy could take down. He put college frat boys to shame. And that night, he chose me to be his drinking partner. I took his offer, but I had no idea that the night would have many twists and turns. The first twist came right after I conjured up the notion of having “the stare.”

“You okay, kid? You’re startin’ to look a little shitty,” Harry said, as he took yet another shot. He sounded like he was joking, but he also sounded a little annoyed. As if he needed me to stay awake and alert. ” Yeah, just looking to catch my second wind,” I said. And that was the truth, I was looking to feel rejuvenated and continue the night. I knew that I needed a little break, just about half an hour, and I’d be ready to start drinking again. The only problem was trying to persuade Harry to drink alone for a little bit, and I had a feeling it would take a lot of charm to convince him. I tried to formulate the right words, but the only sounds that came out were in the form of a burp. They weren’t the pre-burp burps you get before you vomit, but they could of been easily confused. “I’ll be back, gotta go drop the kids off at the pool,” I said, trying to be funny. “Kids at the pool?” Harry said sounding confused. “Oh, it’s a joke, like…a poop joke,” I said feeling embarrassed. “Ain’t that some shit,” Harry said with a wink and a grin.

Do you know that feeling of complete helplessness? When you are in a bathroom and feel sweaty. You feel vulnerable and childlike. If you had enough strength to yell, you’d yell Mommy. Well, that was the point I was now at.  I stood by the sink and stared at myself. My reflection was moving. The room was spinning and I was staring at myself through a mirror. Yes, I had “the stare” and it was winning. I ran the water, waiting for it to get cold, and splashed my face with it. It was refreshing, but in a needed way. As if I needed to be refreshed, which I did. I cannot make fabricated lies about my alcohol intake at the bar, nor can I lie about having too much. I take full responsibility for being careless. Only now do I wish I didn’t have as many drinks as I did.

I dried my face off and loosened myself up. I knew the night wasn’t done; couldn’t be done. Harry knew it couldn’t be, so it wasn’t. I opened the bathroom door and made my way back to Harry.

“I know what I’m doing, Tom. Mind your fuckin’ business and fetch me another drink,” Harry yelled at the bartender. I decided to wait for Harry to stop yelling at the barkeep before I entered the room. I was just around the corner with my back against the wall. I wasn’t being intrusive, but I felt I had the right to listen in. I mean, in all reality, I had just spent about three hours with this man. It made sense that he was yelling too. Whiskey has a tendency to strain vocal chords. And considering Harry’s situation, which is his lack of employment, it made all the more sense that he would be bitter and livid.

“Jerry, think about it. He is perfect,” Harry said to the bartender. “He looks competent enough, and I’m guessing he can be persuaded easily.” I wasn’t sure what Harry was talking about specifically, but I stood still. I would wait until I had a better idea of what he was speaking of. My reasoning: I knew who “he” was. The “he” he was referring to was me. “So what are you going to do? Get him drunk and have him do your bidding? Real smart, Harry,” Jerry said,” Think about it. You are about to persaude a messy drunk to involve himself in a messy situation. You don’t have this all thought out. I mean really, think, he is probably in the john right now throwin’ his guts up.”

“See, but that is where you’re wrong. It’s perfect, Jerry.” Harry said, and I could hear the excitement in his voice. You could hear his vocal cords itching to fill Jerry in. “When someone is that drunk they will most likely black out. So he doesn’t really have to do anything. He just needs to be a suspect.” Harry paused and waited for Jerry to make his argument. I was also waiting, hoping, praying for the barkeep Jerry to make sense out of all of this. It felt like hours were going by. I was waiting for Jerry to speak up. He eventually did, but I can’t be certain that he wasn’t speaking the whole time. Nonetheless Jerry was making his argument.

“Okay, so maybe you have a thought out plan. Now what about you?” Jerry said. “What do you mean?” Harry replied. “Well you’ve been drinking a lot as well. How do you expect to be more functional than he is?” Jerry asked. Then suddenly Harry erupted in laughter. He had such a menacing laugh. “That’s the most brilliant part. I haven’t been drinking like you thought. Do you honestly think I’d still be standing if I was?” Harry said, and I was shocked. That at least clarified one thing. Now I knew he hadn’t been drinking the whole time.  I wasn’t sure if that was going to help me, but I knew something he thought i wasn’t aware of. As I was standing against the wall weighing my options I heard a chair move out. I froze and listened intentively. “I’m gonna go check on him, he sure is takin’  his damn old time. Make sure he ain’t puking,” Harry said. As soon as Harry finished his sentence I was making my way back into the bathroom. I went straight for the sink and started to wash my hands. I figured that was plausable. It is a bathroom, and I’d look like I was making my way back too. As soon as I turned the water off Harry walked in. He looked at me for a good two seconds before I spoke. I tried to look like I wasn’t aware that he had a motive. “Hey, Harry,” I said while purposely slurring my words. Now it was my time to act. I figured I would pretend to be more intoxicated than I already was. “You okay, kid?” Harry said, “You’ve been in here for quite awhile.”

“Yeah, I told you I needed to catch my second wind,” I said inbetween improvised slurs.” Let’s go get a drink.” I walked over to Harry, put my arm around his shoulder, and walked out of the bathroom and back to the bar.

As the night goes on you have those moments (as a smoker) where you constantly check your cigarette pack. Many will try to regulate their smoking and drinks. One might smoke a cigarette with every drink, others will have their drinks and binge smoke outside of the bar. Either way you do it makes no difference, because by the end of the night you will see the inevitable: one cigarette left. At that point you have two options, which are never fun. You can save your last cigarette for the next morning, which I have come to find is very convenient, although you have to find other smokers to provide you with a smoke when needed. The other option is to risk driving to a store while drunk. This is the point where you wonder if cancer will kill you before a car accident. It seems that bad habits go hand in hand.

Harry was watching me attentively. He was watching me drink, watching me smoke, watching every move I made. I was still going for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Harry was enjoying the show, so I knew I was doing a good job. I was giving the role of “Drunken Idiot” my best shot, and I was doing an exceptional job. He believed every drunken slur that came out of my mouth. Every so often I would throw in a burp for good measure. A burp is always good in my book, seeing as how a burp usually dictates the rest of the night. Little burps spaced out in a timely manner always meant my head would be meeting a toilet bowl. Big burps meant I was ready to drink more. I was giving Harry big burbs, and I was also blowing smoke in his face. He just wasn’t aware of the smoke I was blowing up his ass. His vision was clouded and I was safe for now.

“Harry, let me look at your face,” I said in a funny voice. “Come here, let me look at your face.” I was trying to be annoying, and I think it was working. He didn’t smile so I assumed that I was on the right track. “Your face, let me see your face.” Still no reaction. “Harry’s face, I’m looking for Harry’s face.” He smirked at me. Harry finally made a reaction, and it was a smirk. I looked deep into that smirk and tried to understand his motive. I knew he had one, and now I was convinced that the smirk he gave me was all apart of his facade.

“Kid, you’re somethin’ else,” Harry said, “I don’t think whiskey agrees with you.”

“Whiskey loves me, we are the best of friends,” I said while pouring a shot.

“Oh yeah, you had me fooled.”

“I’m not even drunk, Harry”

“You sure about that?”

“Sure am. Oh, can you pass me my cigarettes?”

“Yeah, kid.” Harry said with a slight laugh.

I open my pack. One cigarette left. I’m fucked.

“I’ll be right back. Gotta go out to my car and grab another pack,” I said. And as those words came out of my mouth I knew I had just come up with my plan of escape. I was going to my car to get cigarettes, but I was also going to my car to leave. I never test my fate, that being driving drunk, but I wasn’t at the point to have Harry manipulate me.

I parked on the side of the building. I like the privacy, and I can handle a potentially harmful situation if needed even though my current situation had irony written all over it.

I opened my car door and started the engine. I opened my center console to get out a fresh pack of cigarettes, and as soon as I slammed the console lid down I was staring at Harry. He was standing in front of my car. I rolled down my car window and he walked over. “You need to start your car to grab a pack of smokes?” Harry questioned. “I thought I had a pack, but I don’t. I have to go run to the store,” I replied. “Well I’ll go for the ride, I need something too.”

Harry got in the car and I drove off.

This was my second mistake of the night.

I would only make three.

The sweat on your forehead becomes too much, and your stomach tightens; you might be sick, or have to take a piss, maybe a shit, or something as simple as throwing up. Throwing up. Yes, maybe puking. Can’t think straight, and the room is spinning, it started thirty minutes ago and you were aware of it, but what’s the point of getting shit faced if you’re not going to be stubborn. Walking becomes holding onto anything in near sight, and the two steps left were actually three, so you trip, and not quite fall, but you almost fall down, and the momentum to stand up straight makes you feel worse. Your stomach has shifted spots and is slowly rising up. Forehead is still sweating, and your hands are now clammy, but your body is cold. But in the end, and you have to know this by now, it is something repetitive, and simple: This was your choice. You chose to get drunk, and you didn’t stop drinking.

The all too familiar feelings of being too intoxicated. I’ve felt like this on many occasions, but now I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, and I know I shouldn’t be driving, but I was trying to evade Harry. It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. Harry is now beside me while I try to navigate myself to a convenience store and buy cigarettes I don’t need. The only thing I need right now is to drink a glass of water, and go home and sleep, and get away from Harry. My mind is racing with thoughts, but I am mainly focused on the road. I have one eye shut and I’m focusing on the yellow lines painted on the asphalt. Closing one eye seems to help, I think it does, although it’s strange to think (or believe) I can focus with more accuracy using only one eye.

After what seems like hours of driving I reach a Seven-Eleven and cautiously park my car. Harry sits patiently, waiting for me to either speak or get out of my car, but I don’t move. Now that I’m parked I can somewhat think straight. My thoughts: How the fuck do I get away from Harry?

“Forget what you wanted?” Harry asks.

I burp. “No, just catching my breath,” I reply.

“Your breath? You weren’t running laps, kid. You were driving.” Harry said, looking at his reflection in the visor, the dim glow making me nauseous.

“I know. I know. I’m just a little drunk right now. I’m trying to, I don’t know, settle myself.” I say, but it sounds like more of a question than a statement.

“Gotcha.”

“Yeah, but I need these cigarettes,” I say, and open the car door. I notice Harry doesn’t move. I become worried. “You’re not getting out?” I ask.

“Nah, I’m good.”

“But you said you needed something?” I question him.

“Yeah, I just wanted some fresh air. Figured I’d take a ride with ya,” he replied seamlessly.

My throat seized and I couldn’t breathe. I was speechless and could only reply with an “Okay.”

Inside the store, the fluorescent lights suddenly wake me, as if I’m sober, but I’m a long way from it. I glance over at the check-out counter and stare at the hot dogs rolling around their carousel, the stale cookies in the wicker basket, the nachos next to the nacho cheese machine that is encrusted with globs of cheddar; all food that is only appealing to someone as drunk as myself. I salivate, but I’m not sure if it’s the food or my stomach trying to expel itself. I decide against it (for the time being) and head for the beverages to grab a water. I know that I should at least hydrate if nothing else. I make my way up to the cashier, glancing at the food once more, but decide against it. I buy a pack of cigarettes and my water (refusing a plastic bag) and make my way out to my car. I make my way back to Harry.

I stand outside and glance over at my car. Harry smiles. I start to pack my cigarettes and make my way over to the trash can to throw out the cellophane and tin-foil. I pull out a cigarette, light it, and exhale. I take another drag before I walk to my car.

When I open my car door the music coming from my speakers is too loud; Harry is listening to soft rock, and I almost laugh. It amuses me that this wolf in sheep’s clothing could have such a sensitive side. The drinking didn’t fool me (although it did at first) and this music doesn’t fool me either. I know he has an ulterior motive. As soon as he told me I was “all right” he knew that he was going to use me. Sometimes you’re better off drinking alone.

“Water. Good idea,” Harry said, watching me take a sip.

“Yeah, I need fluids if I’m gonna be okay to drive home later.” I concentrate on my water; not looking at Harry.

“How far is home?” He asks me making conversation.

“Definitely further than here,” I say to avoid the question.

“Yeah,” he said. Yeah…fucking yeah.

“Yeah,” I said. It was my idea to kill the questions. It made it seem like the conversation was coming to an end.

I glance in my rear view mirror and see a police cruiser pulling into the parking lot. I feel panicked at first, but immediately my nerves aren’t as on edge. This might be the out I needed. The police officers might be of some help. I hope.

Harry sees my eyes focused on the rear view mirror and turns around. I don’t know if his next action was in a panicked state or just quick movements to calm me before I panicked, but he puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

I take a breath and lean my head forward. I don’t move and try to speak. No words come out. I lean back up and take a sip, a gulp, a chug from my water. I keep drinking until my throat feels like it’s on fire. I gasp for air and turn to Harry.

“What do you want from me?” I ask.

“What?” Harry questions with a quizzical look.

“I heard you at the bar,” I say, my eyes focused on Harry’s eyes, hoping for him to show signs of panic or at least recognition. He doesn’t falter.

“You heard what? What are you talkin’ about, kid.”

“I’m not your fucking kid. You know what I’m talking about,” I say, my voice sounding intimidating.

Two police officers walk inside. My eyes remain on Harry.

“Listen, I don’t know what you think you heard, but–”

I cut him off. “I know exactly what I heard. What do you have planned? Huh? What the fuck do you think I’m going to do for you?”

“Kid, you got it all wrong. Maybe you should–”

“Shut up, Harry” I yell. “Quit trying to bullshit me.”

“You sure you want to do this here?” He asks, as if he is threatening me. “I told you not to do anything stupid.”

“What are you going to do about it? Do you really think I’m going to listen to you,” I take a breath. “Try something, go ahead.”

“I’m going to get a drink. Let you cool down,” Harry says, keeping his attention on me. “I’ll be right back.”

Harry gets out of my car and makes his way inside the store. I watch him enter and when he disappears from sight I put my car in reverse. I back out and pull out of the parking lot. My plan worked. When I saw the cops I decided to confront Harry. I knew he wouldn’t pull anything with the police so close by. I keep driving, focused on the road, one eye shut, driving far away from Harry.

After five minutes I regain composure and I catch my breath. My adrenaline is still running high, but not how it was initially. I pass only a few cars as I’m on the road. It’s late. I take a sip from my water and continue my way home.

Each minute that passes is another minute closer to home and another minute further away from Harry. I glance in my rear view mirror and see a couple cars behind me. I wonder where they are heading to this late. I wonder if they are trying to evade someone as well.

I’m nearing the bar I met Harry at and smirk. He thought he had me. I got away. I glance back in my rear view and see lights.

The red and blue lights are making me sick. They light up the night sky. I become sick to my stomach. I can’t believe I’m getting pulled over. This is just the icing on the cake.

I pull over and wait for the officer to approach my window. I look to my left and see the bar. I look at the place where my whole night started. The police officer puts on his spotlight and it is shining in my side mirror, nearly blinding me. I take another sip of water and wait.

I didn’t see the officer walk up to my window because my side mirror was flooded with his spotlight. He knocks on my window. I roll it down.

“License and registration, please,” the officer says.

“Did I do something wrong, Officer?” I ask. A usual common question I assume.

“Just your license and registration, sir.”

I hand him my information and sit still. He shines his flashlight on my license and looks over it before shining his light on me.

“Have you had anything to drink tonight, sir?” He asks.

“I’ve had a couple. Why do you ask?” I thought I was driving fine. “I don’t believe I was swerving.”

“You weren’t,” he said. He grabs his walkie and runs my license number. “You were at the seven-eleven, correct?”

“Yes, I was. But how is that relevant?” I ask.

“My partner and I were there when you were parked. You were with a friend?” He asks in his monotone voice, the way a cop can only ask a question.

“Not a friend, but yes,” I respond. My mind is now racing. What does that have to do with anything.

“Well, the guy you were with, your acquaintance, stopped us after you drove off. He told us you had a little too much to drink.”

My heart stops.

“Could you step out of the car please?” The officer asks.

I can’t breathe.

“We’re going to need you to take a breathalyzer.”

I feel ill.

I get out of my car and look over at the police cruiser. The other officer is speaking to a man and they shake hands. The man walks across the street to the bar. The man is Harry.

“Just breathe into this tube and don’t stop until I tell you, sir.”

I blow a .10 BAC.

As I am being handcuffed I look over at Harry, who is watching me closely, and I almost throw up. He watches me get into the police cruiser before walking back inside the bar. A minute after he enters the bar, the lights turn off, and the Open sign blinks before going dead.

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