There is a new bar in my neighborhood. I watched with interest as the place was installed, with a big fancy sign proclaimiing “Non-Stop”. From the outside it looked pretty slick and glitzy, and I wondered how it would do in my blue-collar neighborhood. Last night I noticed that it was open, and when I glanced through the glass door it looked pretty full.
Tonight I walked in, and found myself in a small room with six slot machines, a snazzy glass bar with three stools, and nothing else. At the back was a metallic door. There was no one in the place save a bored, young, top-heavy girl behind the bar. I proceeded to prove myself a moron. In my head, I was in the foyer to the real bar, and the girl was a gatekeeper. This is one of the few times I’m glad my czech is not very good, because if she had actually understood my questions (which seem stupid now in any context – “How can I go back there?”) she would have thrown things at me. I was so completely convinced that there was more to the bar that it took her a while to figure out what was going on. Finally she said (in Czech), “This is everything. The door is to the toilet.” I looked and there on the metallic door were the letters WC.
As some have noted in the past, I’m an idiot.
So I sat at the bar, ordered a beer (no beer on tap), and contemplated the place. Mirrors everywhere except behind the bar. Six gambling machines, all that would fit in that space. Directly behind me a television. Directly in front of me, the bartender, watching the television over my shoulder. It was… awkward. “I am Jerry,” I said, holding out my hand. She told me her name and and awkward conversation ensued, in Czech.
“How long have you been here?” she asked. “A year,” I said. That was a lie. My proficiency with the local tongue is at about the one-year-here level, but I’ve been here quite a bit longer. That’s a discussion for another day. I don’t feel good about it, but there was no point digging all that stuff up with my bartender. “How long are you going to be here?” was her next question. “A long time,” I said. Another lie. I already have a foot out the door. “What is your job?” she asked. “Writer,” was my answer, and sometimes I don’t feel like that’s a lie.
“Why are you here?” she asked. I was struggling through my explanation that it was in fact easy for me to come here, that my brother lived here and there were people he knew that became my friends as well. I didn’t get far when the new bartender arrived. Her English was pretty good, but that had to wait as the two discussed business. She was older than the previous bartender, and profane enough even I understood. (At one point she apologized for a particularly coarse word, I said it was no problem.) Once business discussions were concluded, the new woman came over to my side of the bar to smoke and (I assume) wait for her shift to officially start.
I sat, mirrors to the left of me, mirrors to the right of me, a full display of me in all my oopma-loompa physique. I wondered as I sat there if the people who will be pumping their money into the slot machines really want to see that much of themselves.
After a while the new bartender (the manager, I believe) struck up conversation with me. We talked about the neighborhood for a bit, but that didn’t interest her. (To be honest, I not sure any of the conversation interested her.) “What do you write?” she asked. “Mostly science fiction,” I said. “That’s all I’ve sold.” While that was technically true, it gave the exact wrong impression I was trying to give, that I write science fiction to pay the bills but really I write literature. These days I save this deception for people I just want to deal with easily for a few minutes until I will never see them again.
“Do you have books here I can read?” “No books, but magazines. English or Russian. Nothing in Czech.” “I can read the English.” “Okay,” I said, “I’ll bring a magazine next time I come in.” Another lie. She smiled, and seemed pleased, but I wonder if she believed me even just a little bit. Because, by then, it was pretty obvious that Tsunami and I were incompatible. She must have known.
Things got difficult when she asked, “Are you going to stay here forever?” Forever? C’mon, even if I believed I was going to stay forever, she wouldn’t. “Not forever,” I said. “What do you like about here?” she asked. I tried to give her an honest answer, about how the dominant art form here is the written word, how that challenges me every day. I talked about the czech tendency to outlast obstacles rather than overcome. Somewhere in my speech she lost interest. Just another outsider spewing shit without really understanding.
“Another?” the new bartender asked as my beer neared empty. “No,” I said. “I have to go home.” My penultimate lie; I already planned to visit Little Café Near Home. She nodded, expecting my response, and looked up the cost of beer. I paid, wrapped up for the cold weather outside, and said, “See you later.”