Pete swirls the last swallow of beer remaining in the bottle. He’s done with this place. Even though it’s got the same name, the bar isn’t the same under the new ownership. The Barn Tavern used to be a barn, but now the haystacks framing the doorway and the scarecrow painfully pinned to the wall, its legs straddling the dartboard, are more like offensive jokes at the expense of the building’s heritage. The new owners have also changed the sign outside, capitalizing the “N” in “barn” and setting it slightly askew so that it looks like Bar ‘N’ Tavern, which is redundant and stupid and leads Pete to think there’s no way this place is going to last more than a few months.
“This place really used to be a barn,” Pete informs the bartender whose shaggy beard doesn’t even begin to hide his youth.
“That’s what they say.” The bartender’s arms are shaved so that the Dylan verse tattooed on each forearm is clearly legible. His right arm says, “behind every beautiful thing there’s some kind of pain” while the left counters with “he not busy being born is busy dying.”
“No, really,” Pete insists. “I grew up around here. Me and Janie Whitlock used to make out back there where the restrooms are. She used to train Thoroughbreds.”
The bartender smiles and nods before quickly turning his attention to the pair of young women who are seated a couple stools down. Pete doesn’t like this new bartender. He’s too young and probably thinks the ink on his arms marks him as a deep thinker. And, to top it off, he’s effectively ended Pete’s night, having slid the totaled tab under Pete’s nose just a few minutes before.
The 10 p.m. crowd, consisting mostly of guests from the new hotel just down the road, has replaced the regulars. Pete’s ready to go. He pulls out his wallet and is stunned when he finds it empty, the forty dollars he withdrew from the bank last Friday, gone. He searches the slits and pockets of his wallet, pulling out receipts, coupons and free membership cards that clutter it. No cash. He panics.
In an extended moment of pathetic desperation, he totals the value of the coupons. A buy-one-get-one-free deal at IHOP. At least a seven dollar value. Five dollars off a full service car wash. Three dollars off a large bucket of golf balls at Shady Oaks Driving Range. A forty-cent-off coupon on a twelve-pack of toilet paper. Everyone needs toilet paper. A coupon for two free tacos, whose value is increased by the “no purchase necessary” clause advertised in bold letters. In total, his fifteen dollars and forty cents worth of coupons might be a fair exchange for his ten-dollar tab. He’s almost seriously considering offering this when he notices the bartender and the two women staring at him, sharing little giggles. Pete quickly folds the coupons and stuffs them back into the wallet. A stupid idea. And what the hell happened to his forty dollars?
He pulls out his phone and is in the middle of sending a pleading text message to his buddy Ray when a woman seats herself on the stool next to his. She wears glasses. Pete digs chicks with glasses. The woman is taking in the ambiance of the place, and he hopes her eyes will eventually settle on him.
When they do, he says, “Hey. I’m Pete.”
“Really? You’re the third Roxanne I’ve met today!” She’s only the first Roxanne he’s met in the past month, but he’s put a lot of thought into this line while toiling through boredom at the plant. The genius of it is that the woman is immediately grouped in with two other nondescript women, and motivated by the prideful desire to stand out above the unremarkable Roxannes, she’ll try to impress him. Eventually she’ll rationalize that she’s doing this because she likes him. This plan has worked a thousand times in his imagination.
She smiles. “I bet I’m the best Roxanne you’ll ever meet.”
He takes the last swig of his beer then smiles. “We’ll see.”
She scans the liquor bottles lining the shelves. “I don’t know what to get,” she says. “I’m not someone who usually comes to bars.”
“And I’m not someone who usually leaves bars.”
She laughs. “So what would you recommend for a novice like me?”
“Well, do you want something smooth and fruity or something strong and hard that will put you on your back?”
“Stop!” she says cutely. She touches his arm, which causes the hair on it to stand up and his body to tense.
He waves to the bartender. “Get this lady a Cape Cod,” he calls out.
The bartender comes over. “Sure thing. Same tab?” the bearded bartender asks.
Now Pete’s screwed. He knows it. “Yeah. You can put it on my tab.”
“So, Mr. Pete,” says Roxanne, looking completely invested, “what do you do besides never leaving bars?”
“I’m a man of the bottle. Seriously. I’m a manager at a bottle plant.” This isn’t completely untrue. What he manages is to remove the defective bottles from the line. Actually, the machine does that automatically, but he has to supervise it and make sure the machine, which operates at the precision of something like 1/1000 mm, is properly sorting the good bottles from the bad ones. Basically, his job is not needed and he keeps it only because when the bottle plant opened here a few years ago, the company promised the city it would maintain a certain number of employees in exchange for even more lucrative tax breaks. But really, if he calls in sick, no one fills his spot. He’s been sick a lot this year.
“So, what exactly do you do there besides down a few when no one’s looking?” she asks.
The bartender slides her drink in front of her.
“We make the bottle, not the booze.” He lifts his empty beer bottle for her to inspect. “You see this. This is glass. It is one-hundred percent reusable and doesn’t decompose. You can’t say that about plastic or anything else.”
She crosses her legs. She has nice ones, he thinks. He also thinks she’s being flirtatious until she takes off her sandal and shows him the long scar on the inside of her right foot. “I got this from a stepping on a broken bottle.”
“That’s quite a scar. Thanks for showing it to me.”
She blushes. “Sorry about that. It’s not something I usually show people. But since you mentioned your connection to bottles…”
The bartender brings him another Budweiser. He must have misinterpreted Pete’s raising of the bottle for Roxanne to inspect as a request for another. Pete’s really got to do something about this issue of a tab.
“There are other parts of me that make up for the parts that are scarred,” Roxanne says, breaking a silence that was gaining momentum.
“We’re all scarred in one way or another,” he says, thinking he’ll sound deep and empathetic, but the words feel cold and hollow.
She excuses herself to go the bathroom. Pete takes the opportunity to pull out his cell phone and send a flurry of text messages to loyal friends who might be able to rescue him by coming to the bar and covering his tab.
When Roxanne walks back from the restroom, she seems more lustrous, and Pete’s trying to figure out what exactly she did to herself. She walks with confidence, he notices. He stuffs his phone into his pocket.
She puts her hand on his leg to brace herself as she climbs onto her stool, but she leaves it there even after she’s seated.
“Do you like to dance?” she asks.
Before he can answer, his phone vibrates.
“You’re buzzing. Maybe that means we should go.” She laughs nervously.
We? He nonchalantly pulls out his phone. He hopes it’s Ray, Juan, or even Tony replying to his texts. It’s not. It’s his wife.
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