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AN ANGEL IN THE STREET
At the bar where I work, everybody’s got an
angle. Drinkers, just like other cons, are always full of angles. Sometimes,
when they’re busted, they need an angle just to scare up their next drink;
sometimes, when they’re flush, just to excuse it. Other times their angle is in
getting by for now—holding out, with the hooch’s help, until the day after
tomorrow—that rosy, real-parade day when they are all the floats and marching
Mummers and the whole crowd, too, and when, just the way they always knew it,
everything is finally okay.
The help at these places, we have our angles
too. Waitresses dream of money honeys or sometimes, with more innocence, of the
kinds of decent guys they’ve seen in 40’s movies or read about in all the
coverless books they buy three for a dollar down at Goodwill. Meanwhile, they’re
content to make enough to put three squares on the table and to afford to pay
the nearly live-in babysitter, the one who watches the offspring of the not so
decent heart throbs of their recent pasts.
Me, I pour the poison, make sure that the
bromides and Bromos keep flowing. My angle? Hell, everyone knows the bartender’s
angle—or thinks so.
Look at Przybylski, guy I work for, sitting
there not two seats from the pickup station watching the register. Stub of a
cigar between his teeth, pig-eyed and red-faced; he takes it in, the whole place
in the backbar mirror. Takes it in. But most of all, I see him take me in.
Because he knows that the tender’s angle, for
all of you who just fell off a turnip truck, is to someday own the place where
he’s now working, buying it outright out of coins he’s copped from the till.
So, Przybylski has to watch—since he was once
the tender here, skunking out La Russo, who had been the previous drink doctor,
and who, I would bet you, had his share of heydays and paydays at the cost of
the former lord’s.
No wonder that on any given day when I start
my shift along about 4:00 in the afternoon, I’ve learned that there are only
three things I can count on: the sun will be going down somewhere in the West;
the country-western tunes on the tavern’s juke will feature more two-timing than
a Philadelphia lawyer’s expense checks; and Przybylski will wait, like some
housefrau with muumuu and wedgies in line at the local Rite Aid, fervently yet
patiently, for that single fluff, muff or bobble—clip, con or shuffle that will
forever vindicate his being and bring to an end, in triumph, his life’s work.
Hence, it gives me great joy to report that he
will wait in vain. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that he’s
got me going jittery or that maybe I’m just some “candyass”—you know, some kind
of “goody twoshoes.” Let me tell you right now that neither guess is anywhere
near the mark; in fact, not a single one is even in the ballpark.
No, the reason that I don’t rip off old
Przybylski is basically the same as the reason that stops most of us from laying
out the loudmouth at the Little League or wasting the wise ass who will not wait
his turn at a four-way stop.
Sure, there’s a little bit of Baltimore
Catechism working here, and maybe even a touch of caution. But if you would
really stop and think about it, another premier reason we don’t act is that we
know the yerks and assholes are around us thick as flies; ice one and we will
not even smear the icing; punch another’s ticket and the show still goes on.
It’s the feeling that we just can’t win for losing that most often keeps us
straight, I’m thinking; our last chip’s on the table and there’s no more cards
But maybe before I start to sound like a tune
by the late Hank Williams and, lacking his sweet whiskey voice, just run you out
the door, I’d better tell you that I come by my miseries honestly. I learned my
ropes in a quaint little layout known as Viet Nam and, in this tale I’m going to
tell you, you’ll see that I got a chance or two to get it down in earnest. I’ve
killed a few people, watched a few hundred die and seen one of the two women I
ever really loved get put down the wrong side of the ground.
And for all of that, the world, it seems to
me, is what it has always been. Przybylski’s little stake still stays intact;
the bad guys of the earth are still pushing most of the buttons; and, as certain
as caca, the only difference between tomorrow and all the shit and misery of
today is still just 24 little hours.
So, the take in the drawer remains kosher, and
I am hopelessly true blue.
The name of this gin joint is the Circle Bar,
though the wood that I work behind is more like a flattened horseshoe , penning
me in to a mirrored backbar wall.
Just like me it is both worn and shadowed;
just like me, it has no angles.
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