I walk into the place and there he is swabbing down the bar, as if nothing had happened, as if time were a fiction, a relative matter, no big thing between friends.
"Rage, m'boy!" he bellows across the room soon as he spots me. "Been what? Christ, must be 30 years. Goddamn! Good to see ya."
"You too, Rudy," I say and we high five, do the old thumb-and-palm clasp, hug.
"So what brings you in off the streets of Laredo? Drink?"
"Sure, gimme a sarsaparilla."
"The fuck's that?"
"Make it a root beer, then."
"Shirley U. Juessed, Mr. Boy. What's up with you, anyway?"
"Twenty years sober, that's what. Last week. Don't remember the exact date, just that Dylan line, you know? 'must bust in early May / orders from the DA..." Best I can figure, it was the first week of May '84 I went on my last bender. In Tokyo. Out of my fuckin mind, basically, but it was pretty much always like that near the end. Least I wasn't seein snakes and shit, but I did get the DTs a buncha times. Didn't know what the hell they were until a couple years later, all these AA types talkin about 'seizures,' and holy shit, I think, I was havin those. Thinkin about it now, seems they were usually brought on by orgasm."
"Well ain't that a hell of a thing! Bit more'n ya bargained for, huh?"
"Sure was. I'd be rollin around on the floor and she'd be goin like honey you OK? And all I could do was say mmphggrrgh! She said I didn't know anything about communication and relationship. But then, she said the same thing 20 years later when I was sober as a goddam hangin judge."
"So it was a woman, eh? Now there's a surprise." He slides a Coke across the bar to me, takes another rag swipe at the beaded trail it leaves. "Yeah, they'll get ya every time."
"Not the gettin I mind. It's the goin. But hey, speaking of orgasm, and speaking of Shirley, whatever happened to the old girl? She still around?"
"Hell of a woman, wa'n't she? Yeah well, she get herself killt colder'n a mackerel one year at the rodeo. Tryin ta ride some wildass Brahma bull none-a the boys would go near. Gored her somethin awful. And she wasn't even a Democrat." He chuckles to himself. I can tell it's a line he's used before. Probably worked on the drunks too. I'm not drunk.
"So you say you been sober for 20 years? Damn. Me, I couldn't go 20 minutes. Keeps me oiled, know what I mean?"
"Sure I know. You seen me back in them days. I look rusty to you then?"
"Shit no! I remember the first time you walked in here. 'Bout blew my mind. Ordered a double Bushmills neat. Three piece suit, like some businessman. Except for that fuckin two foot wide rice coolie hat you was wearin! Had them cowrie shells all 'round that coconut half on top... Hooooeeeee damn! You were a sight. You still got that thing?"
"Nah. Lost it along the way someplace. Lost a lot along the way."
"Yeah, I kin tell. Somethin different 'bout you now. And it ain't just bein pathologically sober. Itzat woman you mentioned, in'n't? I know you don't come 'round to see your inner bartender just to shoot the shit. So what's up really? Ain't you s'posed to have all this... whatta they call it in them meetins? serenity? But just off the top, no offense, yore not lookin all that serene, dude."
"Wasn't ever shootin for serene. It was intense I was lookin for."
"And lemme guess. You found her."
"Long story short, yup."
"Ah, yes. Face that launched a thousand ships? Grace of a seraphim, heart of a thoroughbred, body by Fisher? That special tilt of her head bring you right to your knees? Been there, Mr. Boy. Oh yeah."
"It was all that. But there was more..."
"Always is for you. Always was. Her mind your sky? Her eyes your fire?"
"You read Gonzo, then?"
"Didn't hafta. Your inner bartender knows all, kid."
"Yeah? Well then tell me this. How come I woke up dreaming about her this morning? It's been two fuckin years! And I might be sober and all but now I'm strung out on benzodiazapines and I got a thousand dollar a month antidepressant monkey on my back. And... AND, I'm dead broke. You realize I'm puttin non-dairy creamer in my coffee?"
"Now that is a sin."
"Damn straight. I'm still all fucked up about that girl. Seemed like a dream at first..."
"Lemme guess again... and then you found out it was."
"Somethin like that, yeah. Messed my head up bad."
"I know. I know. Bad day at Black Rock. It's a terrible thing when a man gets his whores shot out from under him."
"Rudy, you got no tact."
"What? Like you do? Where you 'spect I got my tactless from, there, RageBoy?"
"Oh no! No way. I'm not responsible for you."
"Now you see, right there's your whole problem."
"How you figure?"
"Well hell, son, you been readin all them psychoanalytic books about dissociation and multiple personality disorder and such, am I right? Tell me I'm right, Dude."
"You insinuatin I'm like some Big Lebowski? Unreconstructed stoned hippie worldview, irresponsible Peter Pan syndrome, some leftover Jungian puer aeternas shit?"
"Pick yer poison, Mr. Boy."
"Yeah, well lemme ask you this" -- said bending over toward me, conspiratorial like -- "what the fuck you doin talkin to me then?"
"'Zat got to do with the price of eggs?"
"Eggs is goin dear these days, Grasshoppa."
"Oh fuck you, Rudy. Just fuck you, OK? You'd make a shitty Zen master, even on a western Kung-Fu sitcom."
"So why you got me in this Laredo barroom, then?"
"What? It's a Zen barroom you sayin?"
"Rinzai, baby. One where they whack you with the stick you not payin attention."
"Attention to what?"
"Details, Mr. Boy. Details."
"Look, Rudy, you're a bartender, OK? Don't go gettin all profound on me. Fucks up the ambience. Keep it simple."
"Now he wants ambience." Rudy tilts his head back, looking to heaven for assistance. "And oh, excuse me, like YOU got any notion of simple. You wouldn' know simple it bit you!"
"Yeah shit, I guess yer right there, Rude. It was all that catastrophe theory, complexity, got me."
"Rene Thom? Karl Pribram? Punctuated equilibria? I tol' you not to mess with that shit? Didn' I tell you?"
"Yeah, I know, I know. And me doin all that acid, mescaline, peyote, 'shrooms, brain surgery, Jungian analysis. Such as it was. Tryin ta find the fugues that went with Atalanta Fugiens..."
"Leyden, 1601, wasn' it?"
"The very same. And Synchronicity City closing in. Ego constriction they call it now. My time horizon shrinking. I woulda died without the booze. And damn near died without it."
"Women, eh? Can't live with em, can't kill em."
"You got that right!"
"So what else can I do you for? Ever tried... whatta they call it? That cognitive-behavioral shit? I hear it works pretty good for some folks."
"Rudy, they give you homework. I look like a homework kinda guy to you?"
"Homework? No shit?"
"No shit. Like affirmations, fer christsake, and like tryin not to be, you know, negative for like a whole fuckin day! Not screaming at the stupid fuckin Boulder drivers. You see me doin stuff like that? Then what do I do with the bullhorn I bought last year? Tell me that."
"You bought a bullhorn?"
"Figured they couldn't hear me through the glass. They always keep their fuckin windows rolled up. Assholes!"
"Maybe you need to go to a meetin, Rage."
"Oh fuck meetings. Fuck AA. And while I'm at it, fuck you, Rudy!"
"Maybe you should drink, then. You were nicer when you drank."
"I got busted when I drank, you kidding? Used to take all my clothes off in Le Bar, you know, that place under the stairs in the Boulderado where Burroughs used to drink. Gone now. All gentrified, new aged right out the yin-yang. fuckin juice bars. Wheat grass, you ever try drinkin that shit? Boulder cops back then, though? Said they'd never seen anything like it. Doesn't surprise me either. These fuckin people. Decorticated frogs, the lot!"
"You seem to have a lot of anger."
"Heh. First funny thing you've said. You loosin it, Rudy? You didn't quit drinking too, did you?"
"Who me? No fuckin way!"
"Thank God. Do me a favor, then, will ya? Let me buy you a drink. A double Bushmills neat. For old times sake."
"Sure, but how's that gonna help?"
"I like to watch, OK?"
Rudy gets the bottle down, pours himself a stiff one. Oh god, that smell. Can't you smell that smell?
"You know what you need?" he says.
"Evidently not. So tell me, Rude, what exactly is it that I need? I'm all ears over here. All bated fuckin breath."
"A nice Irish girl."
"You thinkin Dervala?"
"You know any other nice Irish girls?"
"Not nice ones, no. They're rare. Turn into fishmongers and washerwomen you turn your back on em for two seconds. And anyway, she's all tangled up with some Canuck. Told me she loves the guy. I believe her."
"Now see, that's where you go wrong every time."
"What? Meeting nice Irish girls already in love with eco-freak tree huggers?"
"Well that, sure. But what I meant is you believe em."
"What choice do I have? I already tried the other way. Sayin 'Baby that's not really how you feel. You're really a lyin sack a shit and you know it.' Nah, that didn't work out too good.
"You said that to Dervala?!"
"No, no, the other one."
"There've been several 'other ones' as I seem to recall. You mean the one you can't talk about?"
"No, not her. She was fine. Still is. We're friends now, you know."
"No really. She's alright. She's cool. She's fantastic. I meant the other other one."
"The one you wrote about on your blog, right? Which is why she split, wasn't it?"
"No. See 'lyin sack a shit,' supra."
"Well, 'there you go again,' like Jeneane says. So now you're writing about Dervala. She's gonna really appreciate that, doncha think? Right? I mean, am I right, Dude?"
"You think she'll be pissed?"
"Point is, you don't know. Do you? And you don't fuckin care. Face it, you're an insensitive bastard. It's bred in the bone, dude. No cure. You're the bad seed. The ungodly spawn of the antichrist. The..."
"OK, boss. fuckin off over here, boss."
"What we have here..."
"...is a failure to communicate? I don't think so. I think you're blocking, Rage. In fact, that's it. Yeah. Blocking your rage. C'mon now, tell us how you really feel!"
"I really feel that you've turned into that harsh superego I've been reading about."
"That's not a feeling, that's one a them intelleckshual concepts is what that is."
"You know? You're cute when you act stupid."
"I bet you say that to all the girls."
"Eventually, one way or another, yeah, I do. I guess I'd have to say you're right."
"Tell me what I say."
"I am telling you what you say. Try to keep up here."
"OK, so is this where I say 'You mean it's true, then? That you're really a hopeless romantic?'"
"Never mind what you're supposed to say. Who says that!?"
"Every woman you ever talked at for eight hours nonstop."
"Are you high? They don't tend to like me at all. It's an acquired taste."
"Like whips and chains?"
"Sorta, yeah. Like handcuffs and the rack, but more painful. First Noble Truth, you know. Buddha said so."
"So, what? Simon sez? You believe everything you read on the internet these days? What happened to your critical distance?"
"It became critically distant. Which is not to say negative, oh no! Then it disappeared. Like I was telling you. Remember? That Bushmills eat a hole in your brain?"
"Workin on it." He pours himself another. Artificial memory trapped in liquid amber. We could be heroes.
"OK, before your China Syndrome kicks in, tell me what the fuck's wrong with romance, anyway?"
"Oh nothing, really," he says, "especially for self-torture junkies like yourself. Delusional. But no biggie if you get off on pathological mourning. How's that workin for ya, by the way?"
"So now you're Dr. Phil, right? Rudy, you are so full of shit. Let me get this straight. If I give up my romantic delusions, then what? I get a 50 yardline season pass to the beheadings? With souvenir video proving I made it to Rollerball Superbowl 2004?"
"Yeah, so reality ain't what it used ta be. Cry me a river."
"This is not helping, Rudy. This is dereliction of duty as my inner bartender."
"Whaddya want? It's not a tender bar."
"What I want is love."
"Good luck, dude. All the wrong places, et cetera..."
"Well, that and more Paypal donations. Money isn't everything it's true. But money don't get back at you. Now gimme money. What I want..."
"You sorta went off there for a minute."
"I did? Oh, sorry. btw, did I mention that, due to my current state of penury, I've been reduced to putting that non-dairy creamer shit in my coffee?"
"You mentioned that, yeah. So why not do the work you promised Norlin? And how about poor old Murray over there in Australia? They both think you burned em for a lot of bread. And what I hear? Norlin's got some nasty pals. Dangerous types. You might get more'n the 50 yardline pass, you know what I'm saying."
That does it, now I'm freaking. "How'd you hear about all that?!"
"I told you, man, your inner bartender knows all. You can defend, deny, dissociate all you want, I still get the news down here."
"I don't want to talk about this. Norlin scares me."
"Yeah, and what about Murray?"
"The Qunu guy? He scares me too. But Australia's farther away than Denver. That fuckin hyperamped car Norlin's got? Denver's like 20 minutes."
"Better get to work, then. You need me, you know where I'll be."
"Yeah, gettin hammered down here on my whiskey. No wonder I'm broke. Rudy, you're fired!"
"Can't fire me, boss. Got a lifetime contract. You oughtta know that by now."
"Fuckin uncival servants. Fuckin alters."
"We prefer 'dissociated identities' these days. Would it kill you to try a little politcal correctness now and then?"
"Yeah, now you mention it, I think it might. Look, it's been real, but I'm outta here."
"How 'bout one for the road, then, buddy Boy?"
"Thanks but no thanks. I'm driving. You fuck!"
"Like I said, lotta anger. Might want to look into that."
"Might want to drive 16-penny spikes into my head, too."
"Well, like you said, you're drivin."