Every one of us has a story to tell. It seems silly: me, stating a thing so obvious, but it’s true. Moreover, I believe every one of us has a story worth telling.
If you’ve experienced any sort of rural American way of life, you know or have learned that there are establishments in town that separate sorts attend: church, and the local watering hole. Sure, there are a few stragglers, a few cross-overs, sinners saved on Sunday so as to cover their asses for the week ahead, but double-dippers aside, you’re going to see a town with two personalities, depending upon the establishment you frequent.
I am a fan of the fire-water clan. For one thing, bars hold nightly service, in their own shape and form. For another, a good bartender is like a good priest: both give a prescription for a price. Only, one deals in souls, while the other works from the wallet on up. I prefer to deal in tangibles, or at least I did, back then. So you can understand how, while living in a small town for a year of my early twenties, I ended up in with a beer in my hand at the center of a honky-tonk long-bar.
There wasn’t much else to choose from, actually (I guess I could have read a beer and drank a book at home, but somehow, that night, I felt like I had a few things backwards, and I needed out of the house). I sat on a stool instead, with either side of the bar looking as though it were a long, empty hallway that ran the course of an abandoned old ranch house. Built in the seventies, maybe, but decorated in the nineties, that’s for sure; I’ll never forget the Jeff Gordon, #24 DuPont, NASCAR hood hooked into the ceiling above the bar. It reminded me of the shell of some sort of exotic insect, and I always wondered when it would split open, sprout wings, and fly off into the night.
There’s something else I’ll never forget: the regulars. Well, I should say ‘regular’, because there was only one regular at that particular bar. Or maybe it was that he was the Regular Ring-Bearer; one regular to rule them all, one regular to bind them. I don’t know. Both descriptions seem right. But, it doesn’t matter. What does matter, and what is more to my point, is that this regular was a mess of a man.
He wore the regular plaid button-up work shirt and blue jeans that you find out past mile 30 of normal population centers, and the customary baseball cap was indeed on his head, the stitching in a faded ruin. The man wasn’t drunk, not when I first met him that night, but his words slurred all the same.
There was a gaping hole where his two front teeth should have been. When he talked to you, his tongue would wriggle out into the gap, licking up at his lips and gums. Sometimes there’d be drool on his bottom lip, sometimes not, but there was always air hissing in and out of his nose–it was as if the man was set on air avoiding his mouth all together, if he could swing it. And yet, in spite of this, he’d be in the bar everyday by four or so, a bottle of booze stuck into where his teeth should have been. Is there a saying that goes ‘water is thicker than air’? I don’t know, but I do know that this man was there at the same time every day. I know, because I went back to that bar after my first night there. I went back because of Larry.
And I can’t tell you why I did that, I can’t really say that there was any good reason for it. I went back to the bar to get a glimpse of a regular in action, maybe; to witness a middle-to-late stage alcoholic in his 50’s, drinking well-liquor and skunk-beer with a ten-spot tucked under the glass (a promise to the bar-keep, no doubt–a tip if you take care of me). It was something all of us young men and women were warned off of at a young age: drinking so that you felt like you’d been clubbed over the head with a baseball bat every morning. But today, I believe there was another reason I went back to that bar to visit with Larry.
Deep down, I think I knew Larry had a story to tell. His life’s story, perhaps, and it wouldn’t be fiction–but it was a story. There was something there. In a man struck low by disease, there was still a story left in him. I’m sure of it now, and I wish the idea had occurred to me back then, back when I was in awe of a man who got trashed on schedule day after day as if it were just another appointment to keep on his calendar.
Instead, all I learned was that Larry washed trucks for a living, and drank away his pay. Did he have a home? His clothes were often the same. Did he have a wife once? Where was his family? How did he come by a small town in Central Washington? How did his life come to the point where, upon shitting his pants after so much booze, he’d go into the bathroom, where the bartender stored a fresh pair of pants and underwear for him to slip into and wear?
I’ll never know. And that’s sad, I think. I’ll never have more than a fleeting impression of the man named Larry, a regular who is now either dead or still dying by choice. He had a story to tell. A story worth telling, if only once, to someone who had time enough to listen.
Every one of us has a story to tell. Larry might have told me a true tale, or he might have lied up a yarn for me all the same; it wouldn’t have mattered to him, one way or another, I suspect. And that’s okay, because fiction may be nothing more than a pretty lie, anyway, but it’s important to remember that the lie is inseparable from the liar. Larry’s story could have been the prettiest of all lies. I’ll never know. I wish I did. We all must keep in mind that there are people out there telling stories, that there are people intertwined within each story told. And it’s with that idea that we push ahead, here at DeadLights. That’s what this Magazine is all about: giving people a chance to tell their story.