Monday, August 8, 2011

Tough Bar

"I don't know about this," Cal said, his hands tucked firmly into his jacket pockets as he and Doug stood at the threshold of the biker bar.

"Come on, man," Doug said. "I've been wanting to try this place out for months. A real biker bar!"

"Dude, it's just, this whole thing seems way too 'Blue Velvet' for me," Cal said.

Doug had seen this coming, and had prepared a counter-argument.

"Tim and Frank went here last week," Doug said, "and they said it was fine! At least it can't be worse than another night at Twistee's."

This struck a nerve. "All right," Cal said after a moment's consideration. "Let's give it a shot."

The bar seemed calm, even serene. There was no sign of the violence and dystopia that Cal had dreaded. Most of the regulars were content to nurse their beers and smoke resignedly.

"What'll it be, boys?" asked the bartender, a man with a gentle bearing despite his immense size and imposing facial hair.

"I'll have a Schlitz," said Doug, fearlessly.

Cal mulled his options. "Do you guys have Yuengling on tap?"

"Nope, sorry."

A voice reached them from the other end of the bar. "First time here, college boy?"

"Excuse me?" Cal replied.

Cal and Doug could just make the man out in the dim light with which he had cloaked himself. He was grotesque in his elephantism, his girth spread across at least half of the bar and the three bar stools he placed in a row to support himself. His skin was sallow and pasty, shimmering with perspiration where the scarce light chanced upon it. His speech was kept to a minimum, as he was shaken by racking coughs with every few sentences that escaped his mouth.

"He's new all right," the man said, ignoring Cal. "Better give him the Brown Bag Special, Tommy."

Tommy, for that was the bartender's name, chuckled softly and shook his head. "I dunno, Patrice, he doesn't look like he's got hair enough on his balls to handle a Shirley Temple much less the Brown Bag Special."

"Ain't that the rule?" Patrice was working himself into a huff, punctuated by an abhorrent run of very wet coughing and wheezing. "Ain't that always been the rule that first-timers gotta drink the Brown Bag Special? I swear Tommy, sometimes I don't even know what kinda establishment you're runnin' anymore."

Tommy considered this. He eyed Cal somewhat cagily, then made up his mind. "All right, I guess you got to do it."

"God dammit!" Patrice gleefully pounded the bar in front of him, causing Cal to jump nearly out of his skin and knocking over several tumblers which had luckily been emptied of most of their contents. "I ain't seen a Brown Bag Special been drunk around here in a dog's age!"

Before Cal could give voice to the many questions racing through his mind at that moment, Tommy produced a brown paper grocery bag from a compartment beneath the counter and set about filling it with Bud Light from the bar's tap.

Cal was growing increasingly worried. "Uh, sir? If it's all the same to you we'd be happy to go on our way, we don't have to do this Brown Bag Special at all."

Tommy did not look up from the tap. "Sorry boy. Doesn't seem like you've got much of a choice."

It was then that Cal realized that the bar's exit was barred by two menacing individuals, one of whom was brandishing a pool cue.

Cal tried to protest. "Wait, now just hold on a second..."

"You got to do it boy." Patrice was beside himself with delight. His wheezing had become truly offensive, and flecks of spittle were gathering on his lower lip and chin. "You got to drink the Brown Bag Special."

By now the paper bag was full to the brim with beer. Tommy carried it with no little difficulty to the bar, and placed it before Cal, where it writhed and jiggled, spilling over the top.

"Doug." Cal was fully in disbelief. "Doug, I-"

"Dude. I think you have to drink it." Cal was staring fixedly at the sack of beer, his eyes betraying the zeal of the converted.

"Can't you help me out here, man? Or at're new here, too, shouldn't you have to drink the Brown Bag Special too?"

Doug looked at Tommy, who gravely shook his head no.

"No," said Doug.

Cal could see that he was out of options. He approached the beer bag, leaning his head over the brim and taking little sips.

"Uh-uh," Patrice said. "You can't be doin' that. You got to hug it close up to you, like a lady."

The grocery bag full of beer was extremely damp by this point, so it was with a great deal of disgust that Cal attempted to negotiate the act of lifting it up and bringing it to his lips. He managed it, though, and began now to take full gulps of the brew, pausing to hack up pieces of bag that had peeled off in their saturated state and become lodged in his throat. These he placed on a pile that grew larger with each sip.

After twenty minutes of this, Doug offered some sage advice. "Dude, I think you should just dunk your head in the bag."

Cal was drunk and desperate enough by this point to see the wisdom in Doug's statement. Positioning the bag on his lap, he submerged his head fully into the beer, opening his mouth wide and inhaling the Bud Light in truly awesome quantities. Patrice guffawed and clapped his hands together, shaking the entire bar and sending some glasses and beer bottles crashing to the ground. "Woop!" he shouted.

Cal finally looked up from the bag. His eyes were red and he looked as though he held onto sanity with but a tenuous grasp. "I...I can't..."

A dull tearing sound followed by a splash was heard. The bottom of the bag had fallen open, soaking Cal's lap and the ground beneath him. Cal tried to stand, but slipped on the spilled beer and smashed his lip open on a nearby table.

Tommy was unmoved. "You failed the Brown Bag Challenge," he said.

Patrice was inconsolable. He smashed several ashtrays and was overcome by a coughing jag so monstrous that even Tommy had to look away.

Doug turned Cal over onto his back and could see that he was weeping.

"I just," he blubbered, "I just wanted this place and...and you made me...YOU MADE ME."

"You blew it man," Doug said.

"I need a...I need hospital."

"What you need," said Doug, "is to be a little more open to new experiences."

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