Sunday, December 24, 2017

One down, two to go

What a day. This begins a three-day marathon. I really, truly cannot wait until the evening of the 25th.

The good news is I finished shopping this morning. I even found a little sofa table for my brother that he may not like but that I liked so much I bought one for myself. I'd been looking for one. Who knew Menards would have everything. I even found a toy for the beloved little white dog's stocking. The final shopping stop was Sam’s Club to buy three roasted chickens (two for Mica, one for me).

Mica’s mom had to change her plans due to doctor’s orders, so Mica is going to her brother’s on Christmas day and they requested she bring rum balls, cracker toffee (“Christmas crack”) and a cheese tray. Since I need the first two, we made them together at her house.

The baking was first delayed by the need to remove the meat from three chickens. It was delayed a second time when I suggested we take the little white dog to the dog park that just opened in the area. It seemed like the least we could do for him after he endured an hour of watching -- and smelling -- the chicken activity. He got to play with a goldendoodle, and our cheeks got windburned.

We worked as fast as we could, but Mica still had to make a second batch of the cracker toffee on her own. I had to leave because my brother was expecting me by 6:00. He took me out to dinner, then back to his house to open presents and hang out awhile. Just after we returned to his house, I received a text from Eve asking if I was still going to the bar, then another one that said I may have company. If it hadn’t been for those texts, I probably wouldn’t have gone. When I left my brother's, it was snowing and the streets were slick. I don't like to mess with slick streets if I don't have to.

At least traffic downtown was light. I thought the bar may not be as crowded as usual. Boy, was that wrong. It was shoulder to shoulder all they back to the door. It’s a long, narrow space with tables near the front by a small dance area. The bar runs along one side at the back. The rest of the space is for people to crowd into as best they can.

The band was on stage getting ready to start. I spotted a space where I could squeeze between people seated at the bar to order a glass of beer. Beer in hand, I ducked elbows and weaved between bodies to get to my preferred standing spot beside the old piano that sits against the wall near the door to the cellar. I don’t mind standing, which is good considering I can only remember three times when I managed to get a seat. The downside to standing is I’m short. Not only are elbows of the tall dangerous, I can only see the stage part of the time. I’m there for the music so it doesn’t matter . . . but the guy who plays the bongos is awfully easy on the eyes.

The band’s sound is a mix of rock with a strong south-of-the border sound and a bit of blues and country tossed around for flavor. They couple it with high energy that’s infectious. Back when Mica and I first discovered them, they were just getting started and played a lot. We came to hear them most of the weekends they played this particular bar. Mica grew tired of having to stand all night, and I think she grew tired of the music in a way I never have. Now they only book a handful of weekends a year, with occasional last-minute gigs added. If I see them once a year, I’m lucky.

The bar itself draws a laid back crowd. Age ranges vary although it skews older. If you like music, you’re welcome there. If you like beer, tequila or anything else, you’re welcome there. If you like bars that are about image and picking up people, you’re welcome there but you’ll be disappointed and likely won’t stay long.

Among all the evenings I’ve spent there, I’ve only been approached with “can I buy you a drink” once. That was by a one-eyed, just jilted guy.

No, not kidding.

Tonight when a voice close to my ear said, “Can I buy you another one?” I was understandably hesitant to turn and acknowledge that I’d heard. I stepped aside as best I could given I was standing against a piano, because there was a good chance I’d heard something meant for someone else. Then I did that quick glance you do when you think you’ve heard something meant for someone else but need to be sure. Standing at my shoulder, bent down to the level of my ear was Blaine.

He has blue eyes. (Two of them.)

I noticed because of the proximity of our faces at that moment, forced close by the crowd and the need to be heard over the music.

I said sure. While he was gone getting drinks, a slow process on a busy night, I looked for Eve and Paul and, not seeing them, tried to tamp down a intensifying flight response. It’s looking like something is afoot.

I neither saw them nor the emergency exit before Blaine made it back with two glasses of beer. The beer is always extraordinarily cold, and that first sip is amazing, particularly when one is feeling warm.

It’s hard to talk over the music. At best, you can manage a sentence here or there. Once, he leaned down to ask the name of the band. He wears cologne. It’s a clean scent. I’d have preferred Polo. I hate Polo. I answered a couple more questions--yes, they write their own music; no, I don’t know any of the band members.

“You have a favorite song?” I nodded, told him the name when he asked. “Tell me when they play it,” Blaine said. I haven’t heard it in ages. Their song list is long enough now that they never make it through everything.

What I didn’t tell Blaine is the song is about a guy who catches his wife cheating, tracks her and her lover down, kills them with a .45, and laments the resulting prison sentence. It’s my favorite because the unexpected lyrics blew me away the first time I’d heard the song. Between all the fun, flirty, borderline suggestive songs was this one that made everyone turn to who they were with and ask, “Did he just say he killed her.” In the early days they sometimes added that the shots “missed 'em by a mile” if it looked like the audience wasn’t into it. I loved that, too. They stopped softening it a long time ago, though.

When the band took a break, I didn’t know what to do with the conversation. I asked if this was his kind of music. He drew in a breath, tilted his head and acknowledged they’re a fun band, but his musical tastes tend toward blues and jazz. The bar’s reputation was built on attracting big name blues artists so I asked if he’d ever caught any of the nationally known artists there. He said he and his wife used to go to shows several times a year, but he hasn’t been for a long time. “When you said you were coming here tonight it reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve been here. Thought I’d check it out. Knew I’d know at least one person here.”

So, OK. That’s OK.

He took our empty glasses back to the bar. It was a long time before he made it back with two more. I was at my limit. I drank enough to lower the level to a point where it wouldn’t slosh onto my hand whenever I got bumped, and let the rest go warm.

The band started playing the final set. A couple songs in, they paused. “We have a request from Blaine -- thanks for the tequila.” The band members raised shot glasses. “And happy birthday, Marcia.”

Damn. That was nice.

I watched Blaine to see if he reacted to the song. He did. A small laugh.

We stayed until the lights came up. Blaine insisted on walking me to my car, which was in a parking garage across the street. He said he was parked there too so I didn’t fuss. It was nice of him but not necessary. This isn’t a dangerous city and it wasn’t that late or deserted.

The snow was still falling, a couple of inches on the ground, and it was cold on my neck. I hadn’t worn a coat into the bar because it’s a bother to keep track of. The leather jacket I did wear doesn't have buttons and was covering a camisole, so I was eager to get out of the cold. I thanked him quickly, especially for the song request, and said goodnight.

I gotta say, that request was one of the best birthday occurrences ever.


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