Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Emerald and The Ghost of Kerouac (Part 1)

I was at the Emerald Bar, ridding myself of the cold reminder of reality that came with her . . . and, at the same time looking for something I wasn't sure I could find. I was in an old hero's hang out, and I was just hanging. Distracting myself with eighty-five cent drafts of Bud and chain smoking Marlboro Reds, wandering which bar stool old man Kerouac favored in the days of his final horrors.

In the air hung that stale smell of cigarettes and cheap cigars, and the nonsense chatter of old men, who'd spent the morning quietly weeping before arriving in time for the opening of the Emerald's door.

Anytime I came to drink here, I always arrived in the early afternoon. It was when all the old drunks held court. I was a kid of twenty-five and in this place surrounded by hard drinking people in their sixties, seventies, and eighties, was the only time I felt surrounded by my peers.

I was only on my second beer, when the guy sitting next to me started eying me. His face was worn but ageless. I watched him out of the corner of my eye while I smoked a cigarette. When it was down to the dirty little butt, I put it out and looked over at him. In his left hand he was clutching a glass of beer, with the fingers of his right he was playing with three quarters. I looked up at his face and noticed he wasn't looking at me, but eying the door. When he noticed I was looking at him he cracked his lips a bit and nodded at me. I nodded back.

"Hey Francine," he said with a soft raspy voice in the bartenders direction.

"I'll be right there sweety," She said, looking over at him and smiling.

He finished what was left in his glass and I did the same.

"You need another one?" Francine asked. The old guy nodded.

"What about you honey?" She asked looking over at me.

"Yeah, sure," I responded.

"You come in here much? I don't think I've ever seen you." He asked me.

"Not too much anymore."

"Yeah, I'm here almost everyday. Some days if I'm not feeling good I'll meet everybody over at Drake's in the evening. You ever been to Drake's"

"Once or twice."

"All us old timers down on this end of the bar, usually meet up here and then go to Drake's in the evening."

"Oh yeah."

"How old are you?"


"You're just a kid."

"Don't feel much like one."

"Yeah, life will do that to you?"

"When I was around your age, I was over in Korea. Hating life and getting shot at by Koreans and Chinamen."


"Say, what's your name," he asked.


"People around here call me San."

"Nice to meet you." I said nodding at him.

"You know, I see this mess on the TV that this dumbass President Bush has got us in over in Iraq."

"Yeah, I got friends over there right now."

He paused for a minute and looked me in the eye. He was gone for a moment.

"Shit. Sorry to hear that."

I nodded at him and took a long drink of my beer. He did the same. We stayed quiet for awhile. I lit another cigarette, he went back to playing with his quarters.

"I feel real sorry for your friends over there. I feel sorry for all of you. This country isn't what it once was. Every thing's really going to shit."

"Seems that way."

"I was a kid during the depression. Let me tell ya, things were hard. Families didn't have shit. But you could count on your neighbors and friends. They might not have had shit either. But you'd always do what you could for each other.”

"Oh yeah."

"Now days, nobody does nothin' for each other. People just as soon spit on you then help you out. That's what I like about these people here. We all grew up in a different time. I can ask anyone of them for something and they'd help me out and I'd do the same for them."

“Of course it was different with my family. You know, when I was a kid, my dad was a drunk, loved betting on dogs. Mom, well, she was sweet lady, but she died when I was eight. That really messed me up . . . Dad didn't know what the fuck to do with me, so he just left me alone. When I turned 15, you know what I did? I ran away, just took off. I wanted to join the circus. When I was a kid, I read a book about a kid who ran away and joined the circus. I'd always liked the idea. Well . . . I traveled around until I found a circus . . . A guy named Lester gave me a job selling tickets and cleaning the animal cages. Then I met a girl, a contortionist named Sandy. Was she somethin' else. What a body. Not much up top, but an ass that could bring tears to your eyes. I traveled with them for awhile. Sandy and I became an item, which pissed off her parents and some of the other performers. Most of these people were circus folks for life, had been for generations, and they didn't care much for me. They thought I'd get tired of it and want to leave, taking Sandy with me. After a few months, we ended up in Texas. Man, Texas . . . God awful place. You know I have this fear that I'll either die in Texas or that when I die my soul will be trapped in Texas for all of eternity. It was in Texas that Sandy broke it off. That fucked me up. I left and went back to Missouri. When I got there I found out my father had taken off.”

“That is a hell of a story,”

“Yeah, well, I hate telling it. it's too painful to think about for too long. You never get over your first love.”

“I hear ya . . . I think about mine more than I should.”

"How are your friends in Iraq doing?" San asked, trying his best to change the subject as quickly as possible.”

"Best they can, I guess."

"I hope so. I lost some good friends in Korea. Myself I got a free pass back home. I took a couple of Chinaman's bullets."


"Yeah, but don't be getting ideas. I'm no hero or anything. I hated being over there. Didn't even give a shit as to why we were there. Who gives a flying shit about Communists and what not anyways? It's all the same thing."

“What is?”

“Politics. Communists. Capitalists.”

“You think so?”

“Sure. It's all about power. Someone's got it. A whole lot of people don't. Either way, people are starving and dying. The whole thing just keeps going on. Call it whatever you want.”

I was at a loss for words. I nodded in agreement and kept drinking my beer and smoking my cigarette until Francine came back over.