Cofrin Park

Cofrin Park
Cofrin Nature Park

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Tavern

     The following post describes a popular hang-out, packed nightly with crowds of students from all over the world, during the school year. Not so with daytime clientele. Frank, the tavern owner, called it a "dirty rotten tavern," when business was slow. I asked Frank to "update" the decor, and get better bar stools. He replied, "Asses on the seats before velvet, Ann Marie!" Can't argue with that.

     There is no circulation here. Stale air, smelling of the previous night's overflowing ash trays, keeps customers from breathing in too deeply. It really stinks in here. The stench of unwashed, sweaty manual laborers, toothless drunks, urine-soaked urinal cakes, but no one seems to care. Least of all, the five men who find meaning shuffled within a deck of cards.
     Hazy rings of smoke hover in perfect ovals around a tiny lamp dangling from a long black cord over the front corner of the bar. It's lit only during the game. A welcome acrid odor of lighter fluid emits from a flipped Zippo and another cigarette begins to burn for an eternity. The card shuffling queues up the next hand of “Dirty Clubs.”

     A rotation of five players, with names like Turk, Syl, Worm, Gib, Jack, Ralph, Joey, Tony the Lap, and Wazoo, perch along the antique, rosewood bar. The players' stubbly faces show stifled looks of anticipation. Drinks are neatly kept discreetly off to the side; a cardinal rule, to assure a sterile playing surface free from sticky spillage, and leaving open space for the flying cards. Hours drift by as cards and money rotate from each man's hands in this private circle. Dirty Clubs or poker gnaw away at each player's constitution, sedating them into a trance. The card game fatefully prompts a twinge of life, breaking silence with rote relief.
     “Who dealt this piece of shit?”
     “You did.”
     “It figures.”
     A draft of chilled air blows in as a new customer enters, momentarily disrupting the card circle. The barkeep, Frank, strides the full length of the 24-stool bar, dank and dimly lit; all stools empty except for one. An attractive, middle-aged woman sips from a glass of Chablis and puffs lightly on an English cigarette, while seated on the next-to-last stool. The newcomer lowers himself slowly onto the square stool beside her, removing his gloves, but keeping on his navy ski jacket. He lights a Camel and waits for Frank to reach the end of the bar. The woman continues to observe the card players, pretending to ignore the young man now seated beside her.
     Frank approaches, “Hi there. What'll it be?”
     “Happy Hour. Fifty cents. Thank you.” Frank's lips part with a brief, painful smile.
     Frank rings the sale on the antique iron cash register. He then walks stiffly over the loose floorboards that creak and moan with each step, determined to get back in the game as quickly as possible. Players sip their drinks as they wait for Frank to pick up his hand and lead the bidding. No idle chatter.
     Frank gulps down a shot of Korbel brandy and arranges his hand.
     “Three hearts.”
    “I’m out.”
     The Jack of Hearts flies from Frank’s hand, landing, perfectly centered on the rosewood playing field. Trump card number one.
     Five -o’clock traffic begins its steady stream along University Avenue. The massive front picture window allows headlights to scan the rectangular room casting shadows, peeking in the vacant booths, finally leaving.
     The young man downs his beer before helping the woman with her coat as they prepare to leave. The woman finishes her drink and they both move heavily toward the back door. A clear pathway to the back door, the man embraces the woman, holding her by the shoulder, guiding her steps with a friendly confidence. No one to pass. They're out.
     The door slams shut with an ear-splitting bang, broken springs failing to relax the force.
     The tavern and its contents do not flinch.

No comments:

Post a Comment