The sinuous pipe smoke rises beyond me, forgetting its warm origin in my mouth. Now it is becoming many different shapes as the indecisive breeze takes it. Eventually, it is a smear on the ceiling, or the tasty tail of a raincloud.
It is so difficult to maintain one’s dignity. No matter how much one tries to strut and swat water like a swan, white feathers impeccable, your beak held proudly as a conductor’s baton one second before the first momentous downstroke evoking symphonies, the ugly duckling is still there within us, quacking a sour note. My body is too puffy, and that crooked beak!
There’s this crummy pub at one end of some town in Marin, I forget the name of the town. Basically, it’s a crappy shack stuck between a holistic aromatherapy candle repository and a henna tattoo specialty shop. Called blandly “The Pub,” it has a large long crowded smoking porch out front that looks onto tan joggers and the strolling street life of a cute suburban square. In the way back, through a crooked corridor where the creaky bathroom door blasts open at unexpected intervals, there is another porch, small and dingy, with ashtrays piled like Cambodian killing fields, railed in with a high rail that interferes with an instructive view of the neighbor’s laundry.
This is a place where you can drink hard and stumble home, smoke your sins, and chuckle at the shaggy dog tales of the other anonymous patrons. The patrons remain anonymous, no matter how long you have made this backwater your stopping place, or how many scratch games of checkers or chess you have played with the cracked queen, her red crown missing a fang, because here beer is the sanctified libation, and your community with the other patrons extends only to the fact that you want to forget your life for a few smoke-filled hours while the sun drowns itself in the Pacific.
On the cash register that rang up my Dutch sourbeer earlier is scotch-taped Woodie Guthrie’s quip: “This machine kills fascists.” It was stuck there by a bored and attractive young employee who mocks all who she meets: consumer, client, co-employee, unwinding expert, or dissolute layabout.
On my way back through the crooked corridor, I notice tar leaking from my pipe; it lays a dark stain on my left index finger warmed by the ignited bowl. The ship’s hold of my lungs are leaking tar too, I know, into the cold ocean of death, the black outer water lapping. The small back porch is dark now, with a lone low light swinging from a wire. My rumpled ballcap waits in a swayback chair for me, my whistle whetted, the Red Hen British brew in my hand already half sucked down.