We are each performing our own exhibition of balance on barstools, James Chimichanga and I. Only he is looking left, where he is focused on a bleached blonde in the throes of reefer oblivion. I am looking right, staring at a Patriarch of Early Times and a younger man stretched between the two poles of bipolar disorder. The old man is drinking Early Times and celebrating early times, the younger man is drinking grapefruit juice, and I am somewhere between the two of them. From time to time I hit the MUTE button for my right ear. Then I turn up the volume for my left ear, the better to eavesdrop on Jimmy and his target.
She goes by the name of Star, and while she is as ugly as an aluminum fence, she has at least two big assets that I can see. She's not making plenty of sense, and a west Georgia accent is not helping things. Jimmy has money in his pockets, but no comb. This means he is drinking vodka and looks like a porn star after work " with all his clothes on.
"I know what you're thinking," Star says stiffly. "You oughta be ashamed of yourself."
"Don't talk back to me," advises Jimmy. "I get enough of that at home."
"Don't cry in your drinks, it'll make "em salty," Star says. "I have to go to a school every day and ask some fool pubescent boy, "Now Richard, do you ever have thoughts of teen suicide? Or what have you. That's my life, or what have you."
Jimmy leans over to whisper something I cannot hear. Star responds by sticking out her tongue at him in a decidedly nonerotic fashion.
"Did any man ever tell you you was a nice girl?" asks Jimmy with mock sincerity.
"Why, yes. A few times."
Jimmy smacks his palm on the bar for emphasis. "Just goes to show ya. Plenty of men'll lie about anything if they think someone'll believe "em."
Star hops off the barstool to go powder her nose or look for a pistol. I turn my head to the right.
'She walks like she's on her way to beat somebody up," observes the old guy guarding the Early Times.
The young guy next to him laughs at this observation for a full 30 seconds. Then he changes the subject.
"Guess where my momma's going tonight? To get her fortune told for Lent. And guess who tells it? This old lady with blue hair named Polly who used to be a stripper. "But nobody ever seen nothing they weren't supposed to see,' she always says. "They mighta thought they did, but thinking and doing is two different things.' And guess how she sees the future. She reads coffee grounds! You think this is only a New Orleans thing or what?"
"We do sorta have a different way of looking at the future sometimes," I agree. "What'll you boys have?"
"Early Times and a splash," says the old guy as fast as if he's playing Jeopardy. "Why break up a winning combo?"
"7-Up with a cherry," says the young guy and laughs for another 30 seconds. I'm guessing about now he could laugh 30 seconds watching Mother Teresa being waterboarded.
He starts questioning the old man about a guy they both know but he hasn't seen in a while.
"He's got 30 days in escrow," the old man croaks.
"Oh, man," bubbles the young guy. "But, hey, there's worse places to be than a police station. That's gotta be where the finest ladies in America are. Hey, I watch CSI: Miami and The Closer and Law and Order, and all them cop chicks are super-fine, and right near their cleavage, they got a .357 snub-nose."
"That's a lot of hooey," the old man argues. "The last time I went to a cop station, the only broad I see looks like Rosie O'Donnell's mama. I guess that's why she was so mad."
The young guy fishes a coupla cherries out of the drink the barkeep brings. He dangles them over his head and goes up to suck them from their stems like a mullet going after a slice of bread. Star stops on her way back.
"Please don't stand so close," pleads the young guy. "You make me even more manic. It's all over my hypomania chart. My cousin Chad, he goes to UNO, and this chart is in his psych textbook. Chad's sorta like my shrink. When he's not studying "
'You're definitely an ultradian cycler," states Star, adjusting her bra with her thumbs. "You should get out more. Look how pale you are! People who get little sunlight get seasonal affective disorder or SAD."
"He gets sad alright," the old man says. "He'll be there soon as he gets tired of being glad."
"Or what have you," Star says and goes to sit down next to Jimmy Chimichanga. The Ambassador of Early Times goes over to feed the jukebox, mostly "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes," a tune that has been on this one continuously since 1935. My SAD companion tells me about him.
Like many a guy who has amassed a certain number of calendars, he is beginning to abstain from girls and baths on a regular basis. In other words, he's become a Dirty Old Man, a DOM.
'He's a DOM alright. He's getting senior'd out. Check out the luggage under his eyes. But the old guy has some great stories. Watch this."
When the old guy gets back, the bipolar kid asks him about Dominick, an old-time bookmaker who hung around this joint all the time till death slowed him way down.
"When things went bad for Dominick, like when too many people had bet on the same horse or the same team, he would sneak over to his sister's house across the street and call the cops. He'd put a handkerchief over the phone and report himself to the police. Then he'd walk back here and wait for them to show up. They'd come in, arrest him and seize all his bet sheets. When he'd get in the police car, he looked like he was gonna cry. But he didn't have much money "cuz he'd already left most of it at his sister's. And when he made bail, he'd come back here. He'd say that the law had grabbed his records and all his cake, so he couldn't pay off anybody.
"But this sergeant figured out Dominick. And one Saturday when everyone bet LSU and they covered and he walked over to his sister's and called the cops, the sergeant wouldn't let anyone raid the place, so he had to pay everybody."
We all laugh, most of all the bipolar lad. But he stops all of a sudden and looks like he's about to cry when he says loudly, "Cops! You can't trust "em to do the right thing ever. Where are they when you need "em?"
Star hears this and looks over and says softly, "Or what have you"