Down the Line


Johnny Cash is playing on repeat on the jukebox. No one here drinks drinks named after birds. Bill from the West Side Biker gang is arm wrestling this huge Dominican dude I nick named one brave drunk night El Tiant. They are laughing as they call each other motherfucker. Motherfucker is everybody’s middle name here. Got to move on down the line. Don’t even try to figure it out. The smoke curls like eyelashes. The light is nearly violate. The felt on the pool table is always ripped. Outside the street is full of booms from fireworks, the night sky plumage like a peacock’s tail. I’m watching Harry, who did two tours in Iraq, he seems jittery, bending his chin down to his drink, then squinting & rocking with himself at the bar. Leaning into the two fisted shots of Jack. It is over 80 proof in here & sweat pours out of the yellow papered walls, with its stains shaped like the maps of countries named Stan. Gotta move on down the line. The Puerto Rican bikers are playing darts & calling each other Puta. Ralphie, in his red leather chaps, is leaning some woman with tall gold hair against the wall. Their mouths melt like votive candles. And someone suddenly opens the steel door & the outside pops in—BAM BAM BAM, & half of us not drunk enough to know better duck. But it’s just a bunch of white kids tossing M-80s into the metal garbage can. The night is a chorus of sound, some intimate & some strange & unfamiliar as some far away country we left behind in another lifetime, the thatched villages of our fathers & our dead. Vlad the Slav is on his 12th round, He's mouthing lyrics to Down the Line, when he stands up straight as a statue of Tito, lifts his shot glass of vodka, and roars Gonna get what chu ain’t got, she’ll be sweet and won’t do me wrong. And then the jukebox and everyone shouts back as if they know the only words that might save us, She’ll be cool and twice as gone—