This Bar I Used to Know

“My only suggestion would be to change the words ‘letting go’. It’s just become this phrase, kind of new agey, you know?”

My writing instructor looks at the girl who’s read her poem aloud, then around at the rest of the group for affirmation. Everyone nods. I have to agree.

The girl’s not so sure. She wrinkles her brow. “Like what? Change it to what?”

I know how she feels. Everything you learn sounds cheesy, eventually. All those words you pick up in church basements; pithy little sayings on cards printed by AA’s Central Office. Cards with layers of masking tape on the back, cards that can’t stay up all week so they’re taken down at the end of each meeting and stored in cardboard boxes next to tins of Maxwell House, bags of sugar, non-dairy creamer, a mess of plastic spoons. Cardboard boxes stacked into a closet in the hallway outside the room. Each box belonging to a different group: “Monday Night Big Book Discussion”, “Tuesday Keep Coming Back”, “Thursday As Bill Sees It 7pm”. Words and phrases that have worked their way into mainstream consciousness far enough to generate parody in movies and on Saturday Night Live: “One Day at a Time”, “Keep it Simple”, “Easy Does It”. Familiarity breeds contempt.

I forget to let go. I hang on tight to trouble, to worry. I obsess, I sweat, I toss and turn. I want love and assurance. I want affection. I want success. I want comfort and money and sex. I want a life free of embarrassment and boredom. I want a better job. I want the world to be okay. What does Meryl Streep say in “Postcards from the Edge?” The problem with instant gratification is that it takes too long.

On Tuesday we filmed a scene where I used to bartend; early in the morning I parted the thick black curtains hanging inside the front door and slipped inside, the bright sun cutting off abruptly as the curtains fell back in place. The dark windowless rooms, the smell of old beer and urinals and ashtrays and sex. Walls covered with Tom of Finland-like art; beautiful paintings of men, butts, penises. Flyers for every night of the week; a xerox of a boy in a jockstrap, head tilted back, mouth wide open as a leatherman empties a bottle of tequila onto his waiting tongue. A beautiful blue painting of a man’s backside on the restroom door, done by one of the bartenders; does he still work here? Who still works here, how do they do it, year after year? I know where the sinks are, I can lean across the bar with three beer bottles half-full with tea (for the scene) and drain them without looking. I know where the light switches are. I know where to find the votives, where to toss the bottles. I know you have to push the trashcan in front of the restroom door when you take a piss, if you want any privacy. As they set up for the next angle, I leaf through the bar rags, more snapshots of half-naked men, groups of shirtless friends at all the clubs, all of this, it was my life for awhile.

My barber, a former Mr. International Leather, was wearing a “Manhunt.net” T-shirt the other day. I was looking at it thinking, “I don’t want to hunt for men anymore; I don’t want sex just for the sake of sex.” I never have; I’ve always wanted more. I may have acted otherwise for awhile, then again I was doing a lot of drugs, chemicals that would let me do things I didn’t want to be doing.

I don’t want to wait another month to meet the space monkey. Another month of the Imaginary Friend, when I’d rather get my hands on the real thing. I want a date I can circle on the calendar; an oasis in this desert; an eye in the storm. I want a chest to sleep on, a hand to run through my hair. I want the comfort of another man’s arms in uncertain times.

I can’t seem to control anything; my job, the war, my virus. Love. I want to know it’s going to happen, I want it all today. I don’t want to let go of anything; I want to hold on tight. If I can’t clutch him I’m gonna clutch something. What do you have if you let everything go? Who are you without anything to squeeze? I’m not that evolved. I’m changing, but not that fast.

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