When black holes collide
I know all the faces here.
The bartender with his perpetually knowing look
The barfly at the table with her fresh glass of brandy and new guy each night
For twenty dollars rent on a motel room any guy might keep her company for the whole night.
But no more than that.
I even know the faces of the people who stagger in here after work, all with the deer-in-the-headlights look they shed over a few beers until rush hour ends.
Tonight, the guy next to me is named Joe, yesterday, Bill, the day before Dick, or Rick or Harry, all needing to hide out here not just from the bumper to bumper madness on the street, but from something darker and more secret.
All of them seem scared, teeth-chattering scared men get from life fixed with terrible headlines.
In my time, it was Reagan and Haig that made me that scared.
Now itís Bush and planes flying into buildings.
Tonight, Joe pretends heís not scared, gripping his beer glass tight to keep his hand from shaking each time he takes a sip.
He buys a second when his last sip turns to foam at the bottom.
This Joe is filled with theories about the world, about why we got attacked, why electric companies canít keep lights on, why he has to work two-and-a-half jobs a week to pay for what he used to get for one job.
Iíve heard all these theories before, but like hearing each new voice like harmony to some old song I used to hear on the radio.
All the Joes and Jacks, Bobs and Robs, complain about wives, taxes and dreams they had.
All have opinions on the war.
Whoís to blame for what and why we canít win, some saying weíve gone to far, others saying weíve not gone far enough, all believing deep down we did the right thing in starting it, but unable to agree on what point we went wrong.
Me, I hang out here for reasons none of these guys could understand.
I stop trying to explain how empty life feels at home, after my wife and kids moved out, and how on some nights I go from barstool to toilet to bed without saying a word to anybody except to say good night to the bartender when I leave.
Some nights I look in the mirror at all the lonely faces and canít tell which one is mine.
Most nights, I just listen, hoping to hear something Iíve never heard before, though the longer I listen the less new there is to hear, only repeated agonies of other men telling me about bosses and wives, as if they like me had a hard time telling one from the other.
On good nights, I donít notice the time passing until the slumming young Turks barge in, that moment when shifts here change and anyone remotely interesting steps out.
On bad nights, time drags, and I see every detail of this dime world, from the bag lady taking her sips of whiskey before seeking a place to sleep to the yawning bored dart players, missing the bulls eye more than they hit.
On really bad nights, I meet Beth Ė a barfly who flutters around six or seven bars, who likes me, who tells me how sorry she is for me, and drives me out of the place early so I donít have to hear about it any more.
The bartender tells me we are two of ďa type,Ē hangers-on who suck up other peopleís misery so we donít have to think of our own.
He thinks me and Beth ought to get married, and ponders what might happen if we did.
ďWhat happens when two black holes collide?Ē he asks.
I tell him to go fuck himself.
He buys me another beer.