Thursday, January 31, 2008

truth is stranger than fiction -- final installment

with great trepidation, i set foot inside the bar.

the richelieu, had all the charm of a rat hole in spite of the uptown moniker. although smoking was now illegal in california drinking establishments, no one here had yet heard the news. a drink would definitely improve the situation as would one of the dunhills in my purse.

the bar and it's great decision loomed before me. should i order something that needed a glass??? i had long ago discovered that dive bar drinking ought not include the flotsam and jetsam of glassware maintained with with questionable sanitation practices. bottles are the best way to go; at all costs avoid draft pabst and the old crow shots. by the grace of god, i could get the local brew (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) in a bottle. i'm sure it was only because of the proximity of the brewery and not the quality of the bar inventory.

sierra nevada it was -- i tried to pry the bar wench from the thicket of customers at the end of the bar. as she approached i almost choked on my altoids. i clutched my friend's arm and said

'molly, remember that weird group i told you about at the train station last summer? damn! that's the old woman'

sure enough, l'retta (as i had begun to call her in my fictitious stories) sucked a final drag on her discount cigarette and asked 'what can i get you?' in a voice that rivaled anything in marge simpsons family tree.

suddenly, i knew the evening was going to be interesting and that this was no acid flashback.

i ordered my drink, ignoring the smeary glass that accompanied it and took a long swallow. a peculiar smile settled upon my lips and my eyes were ready to drink in the scene.

i looked at the clientele -- no longer the ancient alchies i remembered from my youth (of course, i only saw them stumbling out of the bar). no, these were my contemporaries. the kids who had stayed behind while i went off to san francisco and parts around the world . this was as close as i was ever going to get to a high school reunion and a homecoming extravaganza, right here in the richelieu.

my eyes glittered at my friend (who was determined to remain sober after a crushing DUI from in front of her own house in a parked car). i glanced at the crowd at the end of the bar, and there was the old woman's daughter 'entertaining' a group of balding, paunching men. from outward appearances, they were haggling on price, but i'll never know for sure. i did think it was odd that this young woman was displaying her wares so brazenly while her ancient and sagging mother was tending bar but i had come to expect all this and more.

at last, the mystery was solved...the redneck trio hailed from my own hometown. shit! goddam sonofabitch! i was about to hang my head in shame when one of the gang approached me and offered to buy me a drink. as mine was still cold and i wanted to owe no favors, i declined but began a conversation. i recognized this particular paunch bearer as the former quarterback on the high school football team. and he didn't recognize me. lord knows, i no longer looked like the tall math dork i had been at 17 but i had progressed to unrecognizable. what a coup! in a class that graduated about 80 kids, this is a remarkable feat.

the band began to play. i was reminded of the blues brothers all too much, where the crowd liked both kinds of music -- country AND western. the music was serviceable i tapped my toes and caught the drummers eye. he was a friend and knew i was there in support of him and that just setting foot inside this place was a big damn deal for me.

my new found friend began asking me the usual questions -- what's your name? cheryl. where are you from? san francisco. (ahahaha -- no mention of orland here) what do you like to do? travel.

at this point his eyes lit up. 'travel? ' he said. 'Me too.'

i had just returned from a trip to costa rica and spain before that and was thrilled with the wonders of the world i had seen so far. i was eager to discuss surreal art and the travels of columbus from spain to costa rica. i had stood at the shore where he departed in barcelona and where he was received at the alhambra by queen isabella upon his return. less than a year later, i found myself on the shore where the new world was discovered.

the guy who was now obviously hitting on me said he had just returned from a trip as well. 'oh really?' i asked 'from where?'

'susanville' he proudly announced. to those of you unware of the california penitentiary system, susanville is the newest recipient of a maximum security facility. now, he could have had other business in the susanville area, but there is none. perhaps he was just visiting a friend or family member. in either case, it was obvious that our definitions of travel didn't jive -- susanville was a two hour car trip away from where we were presently sitting.

i began to become bored with my little cat and mouse game with the mentally deficient and started hollering idiot requests to the band along with my friend molly. for over 20 years we had a joke of doing just this. we'd light our lighters, i'd yell 'free bird' and she'd yell 'muskrat love'. we thought it was hilarious.

as this band knew us, they paid no attention. come to think of it, no one ever does. eventually though, i yelled some legitimate requests during an interlude between 'mustang sally' and some other generic bar band tune. 'dead flowers' i hollered.

'well, alright' the singer said. i was happy that at least i could hear a favorite song. until he announced he didn't know the words and grabbed me to sing with them for the next set. i got to do a bunch of hippy/country tunes and ended with my female johnny cash impersonation doing 'folsom prison blues' dedicated to my new friend who liked touring state prisons.

a few more beers a few more smokes and it was closing time before i knew it. i had successfully closed the richelieu that night; my dad would be so proud. the old woman behind the bar finished 'washing' the dishes and gathered her daughter from the drunken clutches of some loser at the end of the bar.

i never did get a chance to talk with either of them and get their story -- somehow just seeing them at the richelieu was enough. i knew which home rule community was home.

the bar closed it's doors for good shortly after that, an end of an era in my hometown. i'm glad i had the chance to grace it with my presence and gladder still that no one recognized me.

submitted for your approval.


  1. "Say it with dead flowers at my wedding
    And I won't forget to put roses on your grave"

    That's gooder'n hell, McCoy. It gusts me. FREEBIRD!

  2. I'd love to hear your version of Folsom Prison any day!

  3. Oh, by the way, I got tagged for a meme, and I tagged you, too. Don't feel pressured to do it, but I know how funny you are. Details at my blog, Thursday's post.