The High Country Saloon

It is a little more than fifteen miles from here to the High Country Saloon. I went, and I wrote. The value of my writing has yet to be determined. But today was reinforced the most important way to measure a bar.

It’s all about the regulars.

It was quiet when I first got there; no one was at the bar and the only occupied table held a group of yuppie bikers. The tables and chairs were dark-stained wood, the bar also. The floor was littered with peanut shells. There were about ten taps with a reasonably wide selection of beers. I settled into a chair and started to write. My beer arrived, the bikers left, and I ordered a green chile cheeseburger. It was deeeeelicious.

Before long the regulars began to arrive. Eventually there was quite a crowd at the table abandoned by the yuppie bikers. One chair remained empty, however, even as the table became very crowded. It was the King’s chair. No one knew when of even if the king was coming in, but his chair was waiting for him. It’s a good thing that I hadn’t selected that table for my writing; it would have thrown the whole bar out of alignment.

After I had finished writing, I went over and sat at the bar for one more beer. I was probably the only non-fixture among those lined up across from Gail, our bartender. The guy next to me got up and said, “Keep my tab open. I’ll be back later. You can have my fries.” There is a generally recognized definition of regular there—when Gail eats off your plate without asking first that means you’re a regular.

Your typical regular or fixture is a bar’s best marketing machine. The people I talked to really sold the bar; I’ll be going back.

1

High Desert Retreat

Location: Laguna Vista (map – updated for much greater accuracy)
Miles 10339.0

Now I find myself holed up alone with the pups, high in the mountains. The closest town of any size is Chama (pop. 1,199), which has a couple of stores, a few restaurants, a couple of bars, and no traffic lights. I’m sure I’ll be reporting from the bars later, but I’ll have to be careful, it’s about 15 miles back home. I have no cell phone signal and only dialup Internet access, which still may prove to be too much.

This is a test for me. I have plenty of food, plenty of drink, and no obligations whatsoever except those I impose upon myself. My one and only goal: get The Monster Within to puberty. I think I can do it in four days or so if I work hard.

Last night, however, was not a good start. I did some farting around on the Internet and then I watched TV. TV! I’ve mentioned before what television does to me; I’m even stupider than most people when the box is glowing. I never built up the immunity that so many of my peers seem to have. So today, no boob tube, and only enough time online to care for and feed my Media Empire ™. And check out my favorite sites. And maybe try a link or two. Gaah! Bad Writer! Probably in the next few days the entertainment level here (if there ever was one) will be lower.

Time to take the dogs on a walk.

Back in the day, I had a very good routine going: work on Jer’s Novel Writer in the morning, take a break and go to a bar and write in the early afternoon, and come home and tend to the hut in the evening. Naturally my travels have disrupted this pattern, and it is very important for me to prove I still have what it takes to be what is called a “self-starter” in the business world. I’m not going to put much effort into the software this week, but the novel must be in good shape by October 31st, since of course I will be writing a different story in November.

Then I’ve got to figure out how to get published. That can’t be too hard, right?

En Fuego!

I discovered quite by accident while looking at where my visitors come from that my brother has started a blog called Fuego’s Place. I put its link over there in the “fun things” section. I’m not sure he wants anyone to know about it yet, because he hasn’t actually told anyone about it, but too bad. Go take a look. If you like it, send him some bourbon.

The Aspen Lounge

Location: Aspen Lounge, Hilltop House, Los Alamos, NM
Miles: 10236.0

At the prompting of Jojo, I have made my way to the other bar in town. They have three beers on tap: Moosehead, Fat Tire, and Sam Adams. Right there I knew that things were going my way. It’s not that I’m particularly orgasmic over any of those beers, but they have those instead of Bud and Bud Light.

Aspen Lounge is a small place, and there are quite a few people here getting an early start on their weekends. The place feels recently remodeled with the obligatory southwestern color scheme and architectural touches, but for all the newness and shininess Sally keeps it fairly dim so it feels cozy. There is a solarium area connected to the lounge that appears to be popular as well.

I knew it was Sally when she called me “hon”, true to Jojo’s words. Sally stands in the four-foot range only because she has fairly tall hair. Her voice has been abused by 40 years of cigarettes and she’s still working on compounding the damage. She doesn’t move fast but she doesn’t stop moving; everything is clean and everyone has their drinks. The bowls of snack food are always topped off. We discussed briefly the challenge of the first pour of the day from a tap. I bet she mixes ’em strong for her regulars. When she brought me my second drink, she made a point of using my name.

An interesting thing about accelerated regularization: Nobody wants you to succeed at your goal more than the bartender. Help them help you.

There are regulars here. That would usually go without saying in the “other bar” in a town of 16,000 plus, but this is Los Alamos and this is a hotel bar. People know Sally’s (not Sal’s) name, and when people walk in there are happy greetings from those already here. I can be comfortable here. Canyon Bar and Grill was larger, and had its own regulars, and had pool tables, so there could be times when that is the place to go (I missed karaoke last night—what a pity), but overall this is more my kind of place to come and hang.

Did I tell you about my visit to Canyon B&G the other day? No? Well, you didn’t miss much except warm beer. And speaking of small town, a woman just walked in who looks familiar. She is wearing a T-shirt from my college (My college is smaller than your college. My college is probably smaller than your high school.) So I could go over and ask her what year she graduated. I would, too, but her voice is really annoying. I’d remember someone like that.

Now she’s looking at me funny.

So anyway, on the way over here I passed the Inn and saw the sign for their coming bar with free high-speed Internet access, but there was no definition of “coming soon”. Not soon enough, that’s for sure.

So I sit here in a fairly contrived bar, which usually bothers me, but in this case it is made good by the power of the bartender. I can’t picture her ever vying for the oh-so-coveted Jer’s Favorite Bartender (which, oddly, actually is coveted by a few sorry souls), but it is definitely Sally that makes this place what it is. She doesn’t dominate the room the way Rose or Amy does, she just quietly makes it work.

Keep on doing the Lord’s work, Sally.

Episode 1: The Last Bottle

Note: This episode is really quite different than those that follow later. I was tempted to go back and edit this one to make it fit better (and to make the protagonist more appealing in general), but I decided that wouldn’t be true to the spontaneous nature of the story.

It was just after noon on a Tuesday that was muggier than most Tuesdays. It seemed like the city itself was sweating. The oscillating fan on my desk wasn’t; it was turned away from me with the haughty air of a woman pretending that she was above such foolishness. But I knew better. I could have reached out and turned her toward me, but that would have been a victory for her. I could wait. Sooner or later she’d turn back; I was willing to sweat it out.

My last bottle of rye lay empty on my desk, squeezed of its last drop, and not even Vishnu was going to fill it back up. Not with whiskey, anyway. I brushed the cobwebs off the phone and buzzed Alice. She sounded surprised to hear from me. “How much we got in petty cash?” I asked.

“You’re out of liquor already?” Alice never understood that it was the whiskey that helped me think; it was the cornerstone of my practice. Without the whiskey there would be no fourth-floor office on the corner of East 55th and 2nd, there’d be no phone, and there’d be no Alice in the front office getting paid to paint her toes.

“Just answer the question,” I grumbled.

“There’s twelve bucks, not counting what you owe me in back pay.” She kept bringing that up. There’s no satisfying some dames.

Twelve clams. Good thing I’d been drinking the cheap stuff. I hung up the phone and stood, my knee protesting. It had never been the same since Iron Hand Flannigan and his goons had introduced it to Mr. Lead Pipe. I have to agree with the doctors about heavy metal poisoning. I wasn’t sorry when they pulled Flannigan out of the river with assorted plumbing augmenting his own. I picked my hat up off the floor by the hat rack and mashed it onto my head.

By the time I opened the door Alice had the dough ready. She’s a good kid, really. I had rescued her from a pataphysics recovery group out in Portland and taken her under my wing, so to speak. She was wearing a nice little polka dot outfit that was very easy on the eye. She had nice gams, too. “Thanks, Doll,” I said.

“Boss…?”

“What is it, Sweetheart?”

It came out in a big blubbering gush. “I can’t go on this way, not getting paid with Ma in the hospital and they’re about to throw us out of our apartment and oh God I don’t know—”

Jesus, Sister, settle down.” Dames. They just can’t deal with their problems calmly and rationally. After that display, I couldn’t get to Jake’s for a highball fast enough. Fortunately she buttoned up before I had to slap her. “Listen,” I said, talking fast so I could get down to the bar, “everything will be OK. We’ve been through worse, you and me.”

“No, we haven’t.”

“That must have been one of my other secretaries then. But it still applies. Come on, Doll. Buck up.”

Of course she turned on the waterworks then. “I don’t know why I’ve stayed with you so long!”

Honestly, I couldn’t help her on that one. Secretaries for me are like bottles of whiskey; they never last as long as I want them to. It wouldn’t be long before Alice was gone; I could see the signs, I’d danced this number before. I’d already read this chapter, seen it in the tea leaves, gone round this block. It would be too bad; she smelled real nice.

It was getting stuffy in there. “We’ll talk about this more when I get back,” I lied. I beat it for the street and the cool secrets of Jake’s.

Tune in next time for: Encounter At Jake’s!

Googling for Goggles

For those of you new to this game, every once in a while I look back at the search phrases that have brought people to this place in the last couple of days. Occasionally in the list I will use pig latin to make sure that subsequent searches still go to the correct article, rather than coming here. On with the show!

  • regularization – found by the Korean Google; nestled among all the mathematics is my discussion of bars.
  • urinate in public pictures – ugh. I don’t really think they were looking for a description of me walking the dogs.
  • In the last day, people have found me while searching for three different bars. I won’t name them here to prevent future search confusion
  • beach girls – I was on the 27th page of the search results, but after going that far someone clicked me
  • beach bar – once again deep, deep in the results
  • beach pictures girls – the moral of the story here is to mention the word “beach” and the words “babes” and “girls” often
  • weblog babes – as of this writing, my place has been usurped by Dr. Pants
  • ocean beach happy hour – bar related but worth noting
  • a pair of brown eyes – using the title of a folk song for a blog episode has its advantages
  • serbian beers – links to my two beers episode
  • goodbye poem to coworker – really doubt they found what they were looking for here, unless the coworker likes Scotch.

It’s worth noting that all the “beach babe” searches came from different places. As usual, there have been in the last two days many people looking for cooking advice. No squirrel searches, though, and La Dolce Vida has vanished from the Google Consciousness. X-ray gogs brought two hits yesterday.

Feeding the Eels

Feeding the Eels started a long time ago (in blog years), just a little bit of silliness to help a vague acquaintance with a Google-bombing project. It was fun to write, though, and soon after I posted another episode, and another after that. As time passed the style of the story evolved from a parody of the noir genre to an homage. It’s still a cliché-fest, but an honest one.

Along the way new episodes have become rarer; sometimes it will be months between episodes. Partly that is due to the increasing complexity of the story, which makes it more difficult to spew out. The good news is that I have at last introduced all the factions I carelessly mentioned in the earlier episodes, and now we can start thinning them out.

Before you start you should be aware that writing stuff like this is what I do instead of watching television, and I use about as much of my brain to do it as you might use on a rerun of Gilligan’s Island. (Well, I suppose I use a little bit more than that, but you get my point.) The story is published here without the benefit of planning, serious proofreading, revision, or any of the other tools that lead to readable prose. There are bits I’m quite pleased with, but there are plenty of others that really could use a good edit. Mostly what I see when I look back over the old episodes are missed opportunities.

One part of the tradition is that when I finish one episode I invent a juicy title for the next, something to write to. It is the only planning I do; as I sit down to write I really have no idea what is going to happen next. A couple of titles have been particularly troublesome, and I have had to devote multiple episodes to get anywhere near something that fits. “Reunion by the River” has proven more troublesome than most. Continuity is also an issue; one of these days I’m going to have to read this thing myself.

If you like the voice you find in this bit of silliness, I encourage you to click the links over in the sidebar to read a few things that have had the benefit of considerably more review and polish. They’re all short stories, so there’s no commitment required on your part.

Note that the titles for these episodes will look extra-cool if you install the font Maszyna. It’s free for non-commercial use, so give it a try! I have been looking for a font that will give the story text itself a more typewritery feel, and some come pretty close but just aren’t quite flexible enough.

1

Jojo, bring me a beer!

Jojo Dynamite is my beer slave for life. If she is in the vicinity, I do not get myself a beer.

How did this happen? How did I subjugate this poor innocent lass? How shall I answer to the ACLU and Amnesty International? It’s simple. She did it to herself. Alcohol was involved.

It all goes back to a time, many years ago, when Jojo had quit the balmy climes of San Diego for a life in San Leandro, near Oakland, CA. There were several family members in the neighborhood, including one sister we will call Sally. Sally was prone to take “party naps”. When this would happen, the magic markers would come out, and hilarity was sure to ensue.

After a few parties, many of the markers were the worse for wear, and didn’t mark as magically as they once had. It was on one particularly crazy visit to the great white north that slavery happened. “Sally” was passed out, and out came the markers. We ran out of exposed skin on Sally, however, and by God the artistic muse was still unsated. Drawing upon one another ensued.

There was one marker, the blue marker, that was the king of all markers. The ink flowed free and rich from its fibrous tip, covering all it came in contact with. I, being the calm and sober soul that I am, took control of the blue marker. Hardly any time had passed when Jojo came crashing up to me: “Gimme the blue marker!”

“No.”

“You have to give me the marker! I need the blue marker!”

“If I give this to you, you’ll just use it to draw on me.”

“No, I won’t! I swear! If I draw on you with it I’ll be your beer slave for life!”

At this point I knew already that I had a beer slave for life. The rest was just formality. I gave her the marker. Sure enough, not ten minutes later, Jojo says, “Hold out your arm. I’m going to draw a whale on you.”

“All right.”

The black marker was still doing pretty well and soon I had a whale on my forearm. As a finishing touch, Jojo drew in a pretty blue spout of water coming from the whale’s blowhole. “Jojo, you’re my beer slave for life,” I said.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaa!” cried Jojo, running in circles. “No! No! No!”

But, yes. She was, and is, my beer slave, until death do us part. In the old days she would try to talk her way out of it, but on this visit, it was she that reminded me of her beer slave status. The fact that she now lives in my old home town is an incredible coincidence, but one to be appreciated. So today, for the first time in a long, long, time, I said, “Jojo, bring me a beer.” And a sweet, sweet beer it was.

The Monster Within – Feedback

I decided to put it over there for a few reasons. First, comments can be much longer over there, so you can go into much more detail. Second, the threading is much better so if you want to comment on someone else’s comment it’s easier to keep things straight. Third, I can control access if necessary. Finally, I can set up better polling to build a questionnaire.

The downside is that things will work best only if you go through the short sign-up process. In the end, though, I think if the discussion grows at all it will just plain be more fun over there.

Once again, here’s the link. To add your own review, click “New Topic”. You’ll get the hang of it.

If you would rather send your feedback another way, that’s fine too. Jesse did a major markup on a previous version and I can’t tell you how helpful it was. Please, though, be careful of spoilers if you comment here. Even if you saw through the surprises long before they happened (and I hope you tell me if you did), I don’t want to ruin it for people who aren’t as bright as you.

Finally, if you missed the boat last time around and would like to read the latest (somewhat improved) version, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you.

Oh, and thanks! I’m really looking forward to hearing both the good and the bad.

Rocky Mountain Low

Location: Starbucks, Los Alamos, NM
Miles: I’ll check later.

Had an episode all typed up, but it sucked. The only good thing was the title, which I kept, even though it doesn’t really match the content anymore. I had even posted it by accident before I was done with it and Amy commented. There was lots of green chile in it, which was good, but other than that it was the same wandering drivel that most blogs seem to specialize in and I find myself falling into more and more these days. I was just telling about my day rather than writing. I’ve had a couple of episodes I’m quite happy with recently, and I don’t want to put up a bunch of boring crap now to break my momentum. My other writing is not going well either. I’m more fiddling around with words than writing.

So. Interesting stories. Hum. tum-te-dum…

I think I know the problem. It’s been more than four days since I had a beer. There are a few in fridge right now, chilling out, waiting for their moment. The threshold of “cold enough” is getting warmer as I type this.

Socially, Los Alamos is the exact opposite of Pacific Beach. There is no student population to speak of here and only one bar. You’re not going to go out on the town and meet someone you don’t know. This is the kind of town you come to after you’ve met your soul mate and settled down. Really settled down. Of course if you’re one of those hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, going-to-opera-and-not-to-bars kind of wackos, this may be about as close to heaven as you can get.

As I mentioned before there is one bar remaining in this town, and it’s a beaut. This is an affluent town, but apparently all the wealthy alcoholics get plastered in the privacy of their own homes. The Canyon Grill is a dive if ever there was one. It’s a friendly place, however. Last time I was there I ended up staying way too long talking with people who seemed vaguely familiar. (“Your old man is the one who did the magic tricks, right?”) Everyone knew everyone else and I don’t want to know how many beers were bought for me.

I’ll be in there tomorrow afternoon, carefully monitoring my alcohol intake as I write. If you’re in the neighborhood stop by. The first round’s on me.

Ten Thousand Miles

0.0 Location: West of Grants, NM (map)
Miles: 10000.0

Nearly stopped in Gallup after filling the car up, but the cool night felt so good after the heat of the day with the top up and no air conditioning to speak of. We (the pups and I) walked around the truck stop for a little while, chatting with the security guard. Chicks really do dig the boys. I grabbed a Mountain Dew and mounted up. It was about 1:00 a.m., local time.

Out on the road traffic was getting sparse. I learned the language of the truckers, blinking lights to say “go ahead” and “thanks”. I put it to use when a truch started to pull out to pass then saw me coming. I blinked my lights and he pulled on out. After he was done and I passed him, he blinked me. I felt good, like I had passed a test and become a member of the night time road. Until this 14-hour blast across the desert I have driven almost entirely during the day. I want to see. This time I wanted to travel. Travel I did. We gobbled up more than 800 miles.

The first few hours had been, as I mentioned, hot, hot, hot. The dogs were panting and even Spike seemed uncomfortable. I began rubbing water into the fur on the backs of their necks to help keep them cool. (A thought I had: Since dogs don’t sweat much, do they lose electrolytes? I’m guessing not at the same rate as their best friends. That not withstanding, is there some canine version of Gatorade waiting to be marketed?) Finally we felt relief as the sun set and we climbed up from Needles into the Northern Arizona sky.

Now the night was blessedly cool. Windows up at last, I had been propelled for a distance listening to the Chargers crush the Cardinals. That can’t be good for Arizona, getting beaten so badly by a team as bad as San Diego. After a stop in Flagstaff for dinner I had decided to head back out onto the road and see how far I could get.

Now I was rolling, lightly caffeinated with just a hint of carbonation, watching the miles tick past. I was afraid I would get distracted and look down later to discover that I had missed the magic moment. To keep my head in the game I practiced taking pictures of the mileage gauge in the low light. When the time came, I was ready. I didn’t stop; there was no stopping then, I was a cruise missile on cruise control at 75 mph with my target locked and two canine warheads. I just shot the pic at speed and carried on. I haven’t checked, but I don’t think it came out well. I peered through the shimmering blackness for any landmark for the historic occasion. Antares was throbbing in the breast of Scorpio to my left. The Pleades (“Subaru” in Japanese) were more ahead of me.

The car, as oblivious to the significance of that mile as to all the others, rolled on.

Have Dogs, Will Travel

Location: Triska’s and Casey’s house
Miles: 9267.0

I’ve picked up the pups for a trial run in New Mexico. This won’t be a wandering time—It’s to be a straight shot through Arizona to New Mexico. We’ll see if the dogs can fine a place to call home there. If nothing works out I’ll bring them back when I come back for the rest of my luggage. That’s going to be a lot of extra time behind the wheel, but with the pups keeping me company It’ll be cool.

Of course, the real reason I’m criss-crossing the southwest is so I can get green chile cheeseburgers at all the important places.

Amy

Amy

Suddenly so tiny
wrapped in blue
on the long sofa
an explosion asleep

Annnnnd… Goodbye

Impressions of Pacific Beach:

Walking home from Tiki (funny how easy it is to think of this place as home, although I will probably never be here again), I turned at the blue-lit record store on the corner. A kid came out, coffee mug balanced on pizza box. He locked the glass doors, mounted his long skateboard, and began his commute home.

Trendily dressed kids too stupid to know better are lined up around the block to get into one particular bar.

Going down Fanuel between Garnet and Grand I meet a pack of Wednesday partiers. The girls stink of tobacco and factory watermelon.

At Tiki tonight I said goodbye to Tiki Dave, Bad Bobby, Bevins, and Connecticut Bill. “You’re not just going to Yo-Yo again are you?” asked Tiki Dave. He had me there. It is quite possible I will have to pass back through this town one more time before I am free of my former life. That is completely my fault; in the time I’ve been here I could have done all that shit. I just wanted to write instead.

Connecticut Bill probably won’t be here two years from now. I don’t expect Bevins will be here either. Bad Bobby, I’m not so sure. But I said goodbye to each, not knowing whether two weeks or death separated our next meeting. There are only a couple more goodbyes to go. Tom and Melinda I might see again, but we have already handled goodbye gracefully with the assistance of obscene amounts of alcohol and a little bit of karaoke. Any last meeting between us will be the last finger wiggle of a complex farewell handshake.

When I wrote earlier of Vegas, I said, “The ties from my past, reasserting themselves while I am in San Diego, will be burned away.” When I read that to Amy, she said, “You’re going to forget me!” She didn’t even wait until I finished the paragraph. I think she knew better than I did what I meant by those words. I am leaving people behind. I know I will never see some of these people again. But as correct as she was about the meaning, what she said was completely wrong. There will be no forgetting Amy.

I am still grappling for the right term for our relationship. During the booze-soaked karaoke fest I started to read the paragraph about how there was some deep spiritual force that had disabled the windows of her car. I was pretty proud of that paragraph. I had hardly gotten started when my audience drowned me out with “Ooo! Jerry loves Amy!” There was enough alcohol in the air that there was no point protesting; I simply put the computer away without finishing. And just what bothered me about that accusation? Do I love Amy? Absolutely. Do I love my big toe? You bet. The greeks came up with a bunch of words for love: agape, eros, and all that shit. If there is a word that combines my paternal, fraternal, self-destructive, and tingly feelings toward Amy, it’s probably in some obscure criminal code that has never been applied outside the ozarks.

I suppose I could make up a word, but it would take me the rest of my life to define it.

So: Goodbye, Amy. I move to a simpler life. A life where the words I used and feared as a child still apply. I hope I haven’t embarrassed you with all this, though I’m sure I have. But know that I am proud to be your friend, proud to know your secrets, and proud of you. That, more than anything else, defines my love for you. Damn I hope I don’t have to say goodbye again.

Thrusters

Barely worth it’s own episode, but yesterday while doing laundry I dropped by Thrusters (map), the bar next door. Occasionally I still get carded, but very rarely. When I do get carded they’ve usually changed their minds by the time I have my wallet out. It goes something like:

Bartender: Can I see your ID?
Jerry (reaching for wallet): Really?
Bartender: Uh, Never mind.

That’s what happened at Thrusters except for two things: I didn’t have my wallet and she didn’t say never mind.

Once I had my clothes unloaded and splashing around in the suds, I moseyed in to the bar with an empty backpack and a book. They have an atmosphere there I appreciate—small, somewhat dark, and somewhat divey. Quiet in the late afternoon. One other guy was perched on his stool and he had barfly written all over him. I was tempted by the Guinness, but in the end ordered Siarra Nevada, one of the better macro-microbrews.

The beerista asked for my ID. I had none. One other time I got caught with my identifical pants around my ankles, the bartender just looked at me more closely and then brought my beer. Not this young lady. “I don’t know…” she said, eying me carefully. “You look pretty young.” No beer for Jer, but you know what? I’m OK with that. I hope she’s working again today so I can go in and show her my ID. It’s a cheesy move, I know, but it could be the most accelerated regularization on record—making an impression before having a single beer.