The faces in the mirror
It was between a screw driver and a slow gin fizz that March of the war when the place was packed with people screaming at the TV, ďTake that Saddam!Ē
Someone yelled every time the Pentagon showed another film clip of its high tech air attack Ė a half drunk bunch of hard hat heroes celebrating the war like a game show, each strike another point for the winning contestant.
Iíd been bartending for rover twenty years, taking up the bottle when selling pot became a dirty thing, and Iíve seen some pretty strange characters. But here Ė half way between one drink and the next, it hit me that people in general had changed.
†Iím not sure of all the details even now, but it struck me that Iíd somehow traded a few weirdoes now and then for a whole bar full of kill-crazy fiends Ė all of them foaming at the mouth and only constant drinking could keep them tranquil.
The worst part was: I was one of them.
Although my tavern sat within eyesight of the space vacated by the Twin Towers, I never saw myself as particularly patriotic: I was an old hippie in disguise, trying to keep my cliental from finding out who I really was with a free drink for every two they bought and a friendly ear when they got down.
I thought in some deep place that I was still the same long haired hippie freak who had gone cross country in a VW van in 1967 to spend my summer in San Francisco dancing naked in a park and getting high.
Back then, I assumed thatís all there would ever be to life and looked forward to growing old like that.
Then the oil shortage came, and the beef shortage, and finally inflation, after which I actually had to get a job.
I never forgave those fools whoíd sold me on the idea of dropping out. Yet I never thought I would be the one waving a flag.
I felt a little like Arlo Guthrie in the Army induction center earning my mettle by how vicious I could sound.
My tavern catered to an odd mixture of characters. In the morning, we got the World War Two crowd, mostly old veterans coming in for their daily eye openers, wandering off just before the noon time collection of office workers came to get their liquid lunch. By afternoon, the hard hats came bellowing like horny bulls until the night time yuppie bunch took their place.
Before 9/11 you couldnít get one crowd out fast enough without risking a fight. After 9/11, these odd types mingled in a patriotic glee that left me stunned.
This didnít happen right away, of course. For a few weeks after the attack, everybody looked a little stunned, as if they could still taste the dust and some kept brunching off their shoulders even though no dust had settled there.
The winos and the hard hats got to flag waving first, mumbling over their drinks about how we ought to kick somebodyís ass. Then the clerks and yuppies started.
The trouble started when someone noticed that I hadnít put up a flag or any commemoration to the fallen heroes.
I hadnít thought about it a lot. Seeing the Twin Towers fall had sent me to the bottle, adding a few extra night caps after I closed the place at night.
I wanted to forget, not wave a flag.
Then I noticed a lot of familiar faces missing. I didnít know names, but knew them by the drinks they drank: Screw Driver, Bloody Mary or Slow Gin Fizz. When I asked others about them, each studied their drinks and mumbled a floor and tower.
After a while, my place started turning into a morgue so I stopped asking.
But I couldnít forget the missing faces and I got mad.
Yet it wasnít until I shouted at the TV with the rest of the lugs that I realized something had changed in me, too.
I kept seeing faces in the bar mirror that werenít there, and I didnít like the look on my own face or the sound of my voice screaming out hate.
Thatís when I decided to sell the bar and get a real job, where I didnít have to remember which drink wasnít going to be in tonight.