2 June 2004 | Vol. 4, No. 2
I Love Happy Hour
4:30. Somewhere in New Mexico. The bar is almost empty and the sun cuts a pattern like a paw print across what was once a beautiful countertop, giving it length, making a confessional out of the tiny crevices of its beveled edges. The bartender is a man who used to be handsome—now he has to work for his living. He begins with a conversation.
"So where are you girls traveling to?"
I look nervously in Addie's direction; she is pissed. She hates being called a "girl," but I told her that this journey would not be like any other, she would have to experience the underside of America, take a trip into its beautiful misogyny. She has decided to be nice because she is tired of driving. We have no hotel reservation and perhaps this used-up man can provide us with a room. I speak first.
"We're going to Los Angeles." I am wondering if I should flirt with him. I am bored, so I ask, "Where do you hail from?"
"You must be from the South—nobody says that around here." He puts a pint of lukewarm beer in front of me and busily wipes the countertop eyeing my silver rings and nicotine-stained fingers. I roll Drum in the interim.
"I spent my summers in the South and you?"
"Mississippi by birth, but I got out of there when I was fifteen and went to New York—the city of dirt and people and broken things."
I like him already—he is smooth and easy and the afternoon ends rather lazily for all of us. I point to Addie—"She's from New York and she doesn't like to think that there is anything between New York and Los Angeles. But there must be because here we are."
He continues as if I haven't said anything. "I spent about thirteen years in New York and then retired out here for good—for the weather—for the company." He smiles and nods towards all the deadbeats littered across the booths in the back of the tiny bar. It is the kind of smile that all career bartenders use when they are chatting up the ladies. Addie is not amused and turns from the bar toward the bathroom. Our last lunch of fried food has finally worked its magic. I settle into conversation with our used-up "American Gigolo." We talk about the weather, about the town.
"When I first came to town, I couldn't do anything but be in love with Indian women. Try as I might, I couldn't get over the way they spoke English—halting, but deliberate-like. It was sexy." He pauses as if he's going to say something else, but decides to keep it to himself. "I soon learned that it wasn't a good idea for a white guy to love Indians so much, if you know what I mean." He said this last sentence while wiping a bar glass with a filthy rag, spreading streaks of lime and peanut oil on the inside. When he inspects it he has the grimace of a man who desires clean, but can only achieve a familiar kind of grimy instead.
At this point I am sure that Addie made the right decision to go to the bathroom, so I say, "Is that right?" while I absentmindedly run my eyes down the length of the bar, hoping he'll take the cue that the conversation has ended.
Instead, he presses on, with "the most exciting news in weeks is that story in the —— Register about the serial killer the FBI was looking for; paper says they've gotten a few leads in the past two weeks that place him on a road straight through this county." Just to see if I'm listening, he adds, "If he kills anyone here, it's sure to put more butts on the barstools and more dollars in my pocket."
I look up from bar-gazing and smile. Touché.
About the author:
S. P. Holland is a graduate of Princeton University and holds a PhD in English and African American studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the author of Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity (Duke University Press, 2000), which won the Lora Romera First Book Prize from the American Studies Association (ASA) in 2002. Professor Holland has held appointments at Stanford University, SUNY-Albany, and is currently the Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of English at the University of Illinois @ Chicago. Her current projects include a novella (How Bubba the Socrates Got To Be Neither), a play (Killing Martha), and a second monograph ('Between Fabrication and Generation[s]': Biology, Sex (Acts) and Habitual Non-Belonging). She is also at work on a collection of transatlantic Afro-Native criticism with professor Tiya Miles (American Culture, UM, Ann Arbor). She can be reached at .