Chapter 2


i used to tend bar at a place called the Widower. for eight years i wiped the counter and cracked bottles for a crowd of mostly regulars. a diamond in the rough—or, more accurately, a rough hidden in the middle of a diamond, the Widower was an old dark, dusty tavern in the throngs of a thriving center of modern marvels of architecture, hospitals, universities, museums and historic residential streets.

the place was a ‘seven-nights-a-week music listening club,’ as my boss Ace would tell it. many a band or songwriter would play the Widower on their first real tour; go on to fabulous careers. then there were the local legends who brought everybody coming back for more. but there was never a cover charge. Ace knew a charge at the door might discourage the regulars from downright inhabiting the place. as it was, at any given time i knew at least by face, if not damn intimately, most of the good vermin that made it inside.

one end of summer Ace went abroad on holiday. he entrusted me with a set of keys and i opened the bar several days a week. id let in Artie, the cleaner, and would tidy the bar, grab the cash drawer and prise open the many glass doors what led to an encompassing deck.

most of the times i opened there were a mite few customers. that is until work let out. then the usual crew of blue collar gentlemen (plus the occasional dame) would take their usual seats. i tried for my part to entertain them. which wasnt too hard, being that i was young and nubile and, well, female.

one sunny Saturday afternoon i opened early. i expected the place to fill up. it was almost hot, and more beautiful out than it had been for some time. Artie was shadow-boxing between picnic tables when i arrived. he tipped his hat at me and i bowed, he curtsied. we went about our business independent of each other, and when wed done i started making his lunch.

Artie was this super friendly debonair forty-something who lived in a group home. Ace gave him seven bucks plus his fill of Dr. Pepper, chips and hot dogs daily, in exchange for light housekeeping. he collected his other meals at the home. the guy dressed to the nines: three-piece suits, Dobbs hats. he was an oft-homeless clothes horse. and one hundred per-cent out of his mind.

at least he was crazy in a good way, like, harmless. he was semi-literate but well-versed in etiquette and manners. and generous—hed give you the coat off his back. more than a few times i complemented his attire, he took whatever it was off and gave it to me. of course in exchange id give the guy a handful of dollars. i had more than a couple Artie jackets and hats. also, i collected Artie quotes.

one time to all of our delights he stood up and proclaimed to a near-full bar, “i am a white-born German male with some Cherokee mixed in!”

he tipped his hat. then he sat back down, kinda chuckling to himself. quite animated. (in fact, Artie was Made in the USA, and decidedly black—his face was warm-brown, like good mahogany showing thru lacquer made of sunshine).

‘holy shit,’ i thot, and quick, got a pen so i could record the proclamation while everybody laughed or was otherwise speechless.

thru the years i wrote down many such Artie quotes. i collected a fine assortment of his doodles, and other memorabilia. you could say i was a fan.

anyway, on this particular Saturday afternoon, it was dead as a hangnail. the first person to join Artie and i was a guy dubbed ‘the Crying Man’ who walked over to the piano, played a song and cried. which was not so unusual, for the crying man. he came up to the bar after and wordlessly handed me two dollars, which i knew meant ‘Labaat draft.’ he repaired to a far corner table, with his unwiped face and eyes.

next thing i knew, Artie was at the piano. i dont know whether Artie had been trained, but he often tinkled around. after some bucolic phrasing he managed to find a sort of loose blues pattern. to my amazement he began singing: ‘may not be what it seems, never while away the dreams, deep in yo heart, deep in my heart, come for me….’

i felt sure at the time hed made up these lyrics on the spot. this was no song anyone had played before. i quick, got a pen.

Artie was on to a stormy number when the second customer of the day walked in. Max was a skinny black dude of medium height. he was around the same age as Artie. i dont know what Maxs circumstances were. once in a while i saw him washing windows of any of the various storefronts in town. i was usually mildly reserved with him lest he draw me into long conversation. like Crying Man he never tipped and was sometimes a handful of cents short of the price of our cheapest beer.

“can you tell me what is reality?” Max had got my attention with a wave.


“umm…reality would be…the combination of ones actual thoughts, feelings and what is going on around them,” i tried.

“no,”  he stopped me.

Max rolled his eyes, “i want to know what is reality.”

was he fishing for a particular answer? i wondered.

“dont you have a dictionary?” Max scowled.

he was annoyed, his brow furrowed. Max was unnerved at my being such a simpleton. in fact we did have a dictionary, well-used.

“ill look it up for you,” i decided.

“yes,” Max said, “and write it down, too.”

he slid me a loose band flyer across the bar, blank side up. i put on my most patient face.

“well dont i spoil you,” i smiled at him in a drawl, already poring thru the big dic.

Max snorted.

“ok, here i go,” and i transcribed the meaning of the word reality, neat as neat may. i wasnt an hour into my shift and was already feeling untethered, as if i was in fact detached from reality. i handed it to him.

“does that help you at all?” i asked Max.

Max read it out loud:

re-al-i-ty n 1 : the quality or state of being real 2 a (1) : a real event, entity, or state of affairs  (2) : the totality of real things and events  b : something that is neither derivative nor dependent but exists necessarily

“a little.”

he folded the flyer and placed it in his pocket. then he plunked a handful of mixed coins on the bar.

“a Lite, baby.”

“youre a little short,” i noted, picking up the coins without looking at Max.

“well im taller than you,” he smiled.


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