Louie’s Lounge

When he’d opened his bar in 1985, Louie wanted everyone from frat boys to the most sad sack drunks, to put down their burdens and enjoy life. His philosophy of sanctuary and reverie was encapsulated in a simple message in the front window: Louie’s Lounge: Where the Fun Is.

But a decade later, things had changed. Louie’s wife accused him of contributing to the moral decay of the nation. His soul searching after their acrimonious split led him to an impossible crossroads. Dispensing liquor to the masses was a morally suspect occupation. Yet dispensing liquor (and fun) was all that he knew.

Searching for insight, Louie devoured philosophy and Native American wisdom. He decided the bar needed a makeover to match his internal transformation. Vestiges of spiritual immaturity abounded in the saloon. What about the the inflatable skeleton embracing the giant gin bottle? Or the flocked 70’s wallpaper with its repeating patterns of top hats and dice? He’d change the facade starting with the window. Louie’s Lounge: Where the Fun Is. He needed a new message designed to appeal to a loftier breed of recreational drinker:

Louie’s Lounge: In Vino Veritas

Louie’s Lounge: Imbibe and Reflect

Louie’s Lounge: The Earth Does Not Belong to the People, the People Belong to the Earth.

Louie liked the third option. A little long maybe, but at least it invited spiritual reflection. He hosted poetry readings and spiritual book clubs and pop culture salons. A different strain of customer began to frequent the bar. Bookish and destitute, this new breed nursed beers and pontificated on everything from Red Cloud to Redd Foxx. Yet instead of being energized by this infusion of intellectual energy, Louie felt depressed. He missed the sound of the frat boys the way a city-bound poet might miss the call of a loon over a lake. Only a few hardcore faithful remained.

“What happened to you Louie?” asked an old drunk named Wagon Wheels. “You used to be so much fun.”

“I guess I grew up,” Louie mumbled.

Wagon Wheels shrugged.

“Or maybe you just got old.”

Wagon Wheels shuffled out the door leaving Louie alone at the bar to contemplate the rummy’s harsh truth. He had cultivated the company of intellectuals only to find the greatest wisdom came from a man who once ate glass on a dare. Could sagacity be found in fun? What was the philosophical importance of having a good time? It wasn’t too late. The old customers would return. He would call them. Louie propped open the door with a large ceramic pirate and turned on the football game. Blasting Foreigner on the jukebox, Louie stood in the doorway savoring the mixed up siren song of his people.

The Crazy Teepee

This is the excerpt for a featured content post.

After mass, Johnny and I wandered through the Crazy Teepee, confessions dissolving in our mouths. The priest had told us that Christ was everywhere so we began searching through the rows of old bicycles, the racks of heavy coats. In the pocket of a woman’s suit jacket, I found a holy card of St. Francis with a funeral announcement printed on it.

St. Francis was so lucky to have all the animals come to him.

I always wanted to be a guy like that.

Johnny bent over a glass case examining old political buttons. Come here, he said. You gotta see this.

Right there, Johnny said. Between Reagan and Nixon badges rested a palm-sized picture inside a circle of glass. Doesn’t that look like your mother?

It must have been 1945 or 1946. I recognized her teeth, the tell-tale dimples.

I’d never seen the picture before.

Where did this come from? I asked.

The clerk shrugged. Some box full of Christmas stuff.

Had an old flame stored her image in the attic among the glitter balls and tangled lights?

I turned the picture over.

Twelve dollars? I asked, digging in my pocket for the cash.

No, the clerk said. Twelve hundred.

Why so much? I asked.

It’s rare, the clerk said. I’ve never seen one like it.

But it’s my mother, I said.

He shrugged. I’m sure you’d agree that she was one of a kind.

My ears burned. I stared at the tiny image.

The clerk extended his hand. If you’re not going to buy the picture it needs to go back in the case. I have work to do. I can’t stand here all day.

I’d last seen her somewhere in the wilds of 1979. Still snow on the ground. The sun shone through the window of the hospice. A good send off. A cloud of morphine. Hymns playing.

As Johnny and I left the Crazy Teepee, I pictured my mother’s face floating in a box of anonymous tinsel and contemplated her eventual home between the faded presidents.

You’ll never know, Johnny said, so you might as well not wonder.

I was thinking of Saint Francis with his soft halo in the pocket of the woman’s jacket. How long did he wait balancing those birds on his fingertips, for someone to liberate him?

I was remembering the hospice, the long icicles dripping in the sun, how when it was all over the nurse opened the window. For the soul, she explained.

We’re going back, Johnny said. Once my check clears, we’re going to go back to the Teepee and talk him down.

My mother trapped under glass. My mother escaping through the window.

I took a deep breath of the spiky December air.

It doesn’t matter Johnny, I said.

I smiled but I felt that I was my mother smiling. The world looked harsh and beautiful, as if I’d been gone a long, long time.