Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The strip-mall bar

The ceiling fans whirr furiously, humming, rattling, buzzing, their pull-chains quivering, dancing nervously in the artificial wind. The blades could detach from the ceiling at any moment, decapitating swathes of luckless punters in a beer-soaked bloodbath.
A forest of taps bristles behind the bar. Bartenders dart like bees.
Pastel clumps of polo-shirted men in golf visors cluster around low tables, their smart phones on the table. Lone, puce businessmen loosen their ties, lowering themselves onto bar stools, exhaling. Car keys on the counter. A woman sitting at the bar has lost a flip flop; it slumps, forgotten, on the floor.
A doctor orders a beer. His scrubs are branded with ‘Hermann’ on the back of the neck. There is a barcode on the seat of his pants.
Flat, stucco ceiling, wood paneled walls festooned with vintage drink advertisements. Glenmorangie Single Malt. Guinness Is Good For You. Cabinets full of old beer bottles. A nod to the old country, some old country, any will do.
Outside, shoppers pull up to the strip mall in glinting trucks, air conditioning roaring.
A meaty man, neckless in a black shirt, a silver chain glinting on his swarthy chest, faces two women sitting across the table from him. His hands are big, splayed on the table. They lean towards him.
‘Yeah, I was a boy scout. This one time, we were handed a rabbit and told, this is your dinner.’
Exclamations.  ‘Did you have to kill it?’
‘Sure did.’ Dee-id. ‘They gave us a hammer. Had to look it right in the eye, and boom!’
Gasps from the women.
He nods slowly. ‘Uh-huh. Ate it, too. Skinned it, cooked it, whole nine yards.’ He pushes back from the table, shirt buttons straining. Leans back on his low stool. It squeaks in protest.
He shakes his head, looks out the window.
‘Yeah, my buddy couldn’t do it. We were, what, twelve years old, right? So I says to the scout leader, I says, give me a rifle. Give me a rifle and I’ll shoot it from twenty feet away. You know? Be easier that way.’
Murmurs of assent.
He takes aim with an imaginary gun, squeezes his trigger finger. ‘Easy.’ Shakes his head again.
‘But I guess they didn’t have guns at camp, so I had to do it with the hammer.’
He slaps his meaty paws together. ‘Boom!’ His eyes shine. ‘Boom,’ he says again. ‘Right between the eyes.’
The woman sitting at the bar is wearing a sheer shirt, which veils a tattoo of Chinese symbols in a row all down her right side. They disappear behind a black bra strap, emerge again further down.
Two men arrive together, carrying bicycle helmets. They are both texting furiously as they navigate unseeingly, silently, to the bar.
A pear-shaped man, grey hair sitting lank on his collar, waddles in behind them, sandals slapping on the floor. Pigeon-toed. He wears a check shirt and check shorts, a pair of sunglasses hooked into the open collar. The shirt is the same colour as the shorts, but the pattern is slightly smaller, giving him the air of an optical illusion. He tilts his head back to squint at the beer menu over the counter, wrinkles his nose, open-mouthed.
At the table behind me, the conversation has moved from boy scouts to the military. It would appear that there is a career path from one to the other.

‘Well, I didn’t have the GPA to be in the back room of a ship. Taking care of the engines, you know. I mean, I was like, oh okay’ – arms wide, elbows bent, a booming Messiah – ‘it’s not like I spent my entire career trying to get to this point or anything, man.’ Pulls his chin back into his neck, wouldja believe those guys.
One of the women makes a cluck of sympathy. ‘That sucks.’
‘I know, right? But hey,’ he plants his pint glass down on the table for emphasis, ‘it turns out I do have the GPA to sit in the back of an F14 fighter plane.’
‘Right.’ The women look at each other, eyes wide. ‘Go figure.’


  1. "A nod to the old country, some old country, any will do."

    Gold! Pure gold.

  2. I always enjoy your words; they transport me right to your scene. I mean, the details you caught; you must have caught them in split seconds.
    Your writing style always reminds me of TIMES cover story report.
    Keep writing, Jenny. It's always been an entertainment for me :)

    1. What a great compliment to receive! Thanks, Qushay; I really appreciate it.