Friday, July 14, 2006

A Long Time Ago In A Place Very Far Away

A (mostly) true story.

We were sitting at the end of the bar in an after-hours joint outside Troy, Il, three of us minding our own business just having a few beers. It was the first and the last time that any of us had been together and the only time that I was ever in Troy.

The bar was a shacky little place with worn linoleum, chrome and plastic chairs and the lights turned all the way up just like in your aunt's kitchen. There was a kitchen in the back that had closed many hours before. A pool table with shabby blue felt took up most of the front just inside the door and there was a crowd of young men taking turns challenging one another around it.

The pool players voices raised and lowered depending on the fortunes of the game and the amount of money changing hands. Mostly, it was easy to ignore them as background noise until one particularly unlucky local started to lose more often than he considered to be his fair share. His voice got louder and harsher, his accusations more personal and intense until the bartender felt obligated to request that the young man take his patronage elsewhere until he could behave himself.

The large woman eased herself back behind the bar as the young man left muttering, "Gonna show them. You'll be sorry," along with a string of pretty pedestrian obscenities. The group around the table set another rack and we turned our backs to the door and reacquainted ourselves with our cold taps. She apologized for his behavior and said that he just had a few too many sometimes and that when that happened he had delusions of adequacy around the pool table.

In a fairy tale, this is where the happy ending would go but Troy, IL isn't a fairy tale kind of town. It wasn't so very long before the screen door blew open and the discharged pool player wobbled back in, waving a small pistol over his head and declaring that he had, "By God, had enough." As he took a few steps into the joint the crowd started to make themselves scarce as they could. A lucky few were close enough to the door to make the street without much trouble. The pool table sheltered a few others.

The bartender rolled her eyes and headed toward the loudmouth while my new friends and I started scouting a place to go. We gathered our beers and retreated into the kitchen to take stock of the situation.

"Do you think he's gonna start shooting?"
"No. If he was going to do that he'd have come through the door that way. He's just looking for some attention."
"Well, he got mine. What are we gonna do?"
"There's a back door. Let's just get to the car and head back.'

there it was. We had a plan. We drained the last of the beer, put our empties on the counter and headed out the back door to call it a night. Which is where we found ourselves directly in the path of our angry young man and the bartender who had shoved him, by the belly, out into the street. Now that she had taken his pistol away there were several who intended to show their own manhood by taking a swing or two at him. There was fighting and shoving and swearing and scuffling and we popped out the side door right in the middle of it all.

Discretion being the better part of yadda-yadda we turned on our heels and went back into the bar where we sat patiently waiting for a refill. It wasn't so very long before the bartender had her crowd sorted, some sent home and some allowed back and came to get us another cold one.

"What ever possessed you to come out through there?" she wanted to know.
"It looked to me like a good way to get the Hell out of Dodge."
"I got him around the corner so the rest of you could get out the front door and then you guys just come smack out into the middle of it. I swear."
"Well, thanks for the good intentions anyway. We were grateful"
"Just remember those two things," she said. "Good intentions are seldom enough and the back way out of town can be more trouble than it's worth, sometimes."

We drank to that.

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