Infinite City: Barker’s Pub on 67th and Underground (2016)

by iaians

In that corner sits this guy, Vic or whatever, there every night, old dude, sixty-something, maybe worse, sits there in that beat-up wooden booth, the one with the mermaid carved into its face now stained black from the years of collected dirt, spilt drinks, greasy fingers, and panoply of other unknowns and forgottens, alongside her (Esmerelda some call her. Why? Who knows.) are dozens of different names of gals who apparently give great this or that, who have arrows that connect them to crude qualifiers: “slags” or “tarts” or whatever a “Hure” is, which are in the vicinity of other sordids: “fuck” “shit” “cocksucker””cunt” but surprisingly low on minority epithets (apparently in Barker’s the drunks and no-goods are rather disparaging, but maintain a general level of civility and order when considering the issues of race, religion, and orientation–or at least at that particular table), countless games of tic-tac-toe one scratched over the other, a couple swirling symbols, a yin-yang, and myriad indiscriminate etchings that criss-cross all over. Anyway, Vic sits there–no, Marv, it’s Marv–Marv usually sits there alone and remains silent. Goes to the bar, orders his drink: some kind of Mule or Twirler, Flip or Dog: and sits back down in his corner booth. Barely speaks to anyone. The most he says anything to is Paulie, the bartender, which is a surprise given Paulie is about as cordial as a bucket of piss, but it’s usually “How’s it going?” Paulie’ll grunt “Thanks,” he’ll say lifting the drink. Without fail. Every time you’re in here you’ll notice it.

Some say he was tortured in ‘Nam. Some say his wife literally castrated poor Marv before leaving him for good. Others think he’s just another ne’er-do-well. Most don’t think much of him at all.

Deloris thinks this is bullshit. She says so: “This is bullshit.” She’s pointing towards the television. Two anchors sit behind a plywood dais, the words: “Channel 5 Evening News” sprawled out across. Their mouths are moving, but the television is muted. Captions roll below: “…are 13, 25, 26, 40, 69… … … and 12 and we are already being informed that the winning numbers were purchased… … … at a local liquor store in Toppers’ Hill so someone is already having a very good night…” “Bullshit!” Deloris pounds the lacquered bar. “Aye!” Paulie shouts. Deloris tosses her tickets at him. “There’s your tip, Paulie. Goddamn waste.” Vic (this time it is Vic) pats her on the back. “Don’t worry, Lori. Take it easy.” Everyone calls her Lori. “I don’t even know why I try. Goddamned thing is rigged.” Vic nods his head. “Don’t worry about it. What can you do anyway?”

A few more drinks get ordered. The room starts to thin. The place is already pretty bare considering it is a Tuesday night.

Lori leans on Vic. A guy sits nearby and gets his glass filled by Paulie. Marv sits alone. A few other stragglers are about the bar or booths. Lori is still talking about the news of the lucky bastard who won in Toppers’ Hill. “It’s just not fair, you know. Damned thing is rigged.” “We know,” Vic consoles. “We know, you told us.” “It’s just not fair. Some pricks get it all.” “Hey now,” Vic says, “it’s good for that guy. We should be happy for him. Regardless. We still got our healths. That’s all that matters.” “Yeah… but $827 million dollars wouldn’t have hurt at all.” “I hear you.” “We all do,” Paulie bites. “Cram it,” Lori tells him. “I can kick you out.” “Oh shut it, Paulie, would ya?” Vic says. Feeling attitudes on the verge on mutiny, Paulie goes back to cleaning his steins. “Christ. Can you imagine winning that?” “I know, Lori. I know.” “I read somewhere about if someone were to win and split the money, everyone in the country could get something like six million.” “Oh wow. Is that true?” The guy sitting nearby, “That’s actually mathematically impossible.” Lori and Vic give him a glance. Then ignore him. “That’s a lot of money.” “That’s what I would do. I’d give a lot of it away.” “That’s nice.” “Well, because it’d help with the taxes, you see. Plus I’m not greedy.” “That’s very good of you, Lori. Very good.” “I betcha that scumbag in Posh Town won’t be givin’ it away. Goddamn unfair that some rich asshole gets all that money.” “That’s the way it goes, huh?” “If I had all that money. Man, if I had all that money,” Lori stares at the decades-old television perched above the shelves of liquor. The pale glow of the screen reflects off the glass bottles and casts the bar in faint sterilized day light. “Just think of it,” Vic agrees. Both start to picture their new selves experiencing all the beauty their affluence would garner. They now ascend the ranks, floating above the brick and mortars of their current dwellings, transcending all previous barriers (both real and feigned) to the steel and glass mile-highs of Posh Town in Toppers’ Hill. Oh the lives they would have! “Actually, you were right earlier,” the guy interjects again, crashing their reveries to the bar floor. “The odds are so stacked. Did you know more money was spent last year on tickets than all winnings combined since the invention in ’85? It’s such lies, man. They’re just trying to get us to believe we are partaking in the same system. But we’re not.” He quiets for a moment, stares at his drink. “It’s all a ruse.”

Vic looks at Lori. She back at him. “Who is this guy? Hey guy, who are you?”

“I have to take a leak,” the guy says.

Taking a piss out back because the one toilet is still broken, guy comes out from the back door, careful to make sure the chunk of brick keeps it wedged open. The alley smells rancid, days worth of human fluids hanging out back there. Apparently the street cleaners only get to this area every other week (or was it month–or never?). Best to just hold the breath for as long as possible, breath under the shirt, all the other techniques, try to focus the senses on something else. The guy is trying one of these when another blows through the door and slams into the opposite wall. The door shuts hard on both of them. “Shit.” The other wanders over to the guy, unzips, hauls it out, and pours. Exhales in relief as if he hadn’t done it in years. He turns his head to the guy, staring at him with this glazed indifference. The guy is trying to wrap it up as quickly and get back in. It’s cold out. The wind is blowing. The other one leans in and says sotto voce: “The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men.” The guy looks. It’s Marv. “Huh?” he says, stunned at the context of the moment. Marv stares at him, confused and saddened. Then he looks down. “Never mind. I pissed on my leg.” And he walks away. The guy is still standing there with his dick in his hand.