Best Bar Ever

Anyone who knows me knows I am no stranger to mental illness.  My family tree, although far from dead, has been known to bear if not strange, then at least curious fruit.  Schizophrenia, developmental delays, depression, autism have all hung heavy on my ancestral bough, ripening in the leafy recesses among the less extraordinary offerings that comprise the bulk of the harvest. We never hid our peculiar family members.  We weren’t refined enough to feel the well-bred shame of difference inherent in many WASP homes.  Difference is as fundamental to my family as success is to the Kennedy’s, which is why it was surprising I was so shaken when the two people with Down’s Syndrome walked into the bar. 


“We want a drink,” she said.


I panicked.  How old?!  How old!?  Do people with Down’s have driver’s licenses?


“What are you thinking about?”  I asked. 


“I don’t know,” she said, turning to her companion.  “Do you know?”


He screwed his face up like a cartoon of someone trying to think.  “I don’t know,” he said.


“Do you two like chocolate?” I asked


They both nodded emphatically.


“How about Mudslides?”


“Yeah, Mudslides!” he shouted.  She smiled broadly, as did he, thrilled with their success.


The blender whirled and I could feel the crowd shifting, trying to figure out how to be.


“So where are you two visiting from?” I asked.


“My boyfriend and I are visiting from Connecticut,” she said.


“How long have you been dating?” 


“I don’t know,” she said.  “Do you know,” she asked her boyfriend.


“’I don’t know,” he said.


She sighed, taking his pudgy hand in hers.


“All I know is that I love you,” she said


We had all been listening, and we all melted, just a little.  Why not love?  Why not them?  A second round of Mudslides followed the first, and soon he and she were chair dancing and fist pumping.  “This is the best bar EVER!” she exclaimed, and in that moment it was.  Not just for them, but for all of us.  Their happiness was so infectious, so basic, not in a developmentally delayed way, but in a germane way – a way I’d imagine we all could be if we didn’t pay attention to all the reasons we are told to be unhappy. 


They were my favorite customers of the year.


W is easily overlooked in the summer.  It is the fate of many year round residents.  Eclipsed by the strollers and the muscle tank tops,  there is an entire community that only becomes visible in the dark of winter when star frost is on the sea grass and the surf  freezes on Herring Cove.


“Hey, come here for a minute.”  He was crouched in front of Big Vin’s.  “What are you up to tonight,” he asked.


“Not much,” I said, downplaying my dinner plans and the bottle of wine in my gym bag.


“Do you have any money I could have,” he asked.  “Anything.  My SSI check doesn’t come until the end of the month.”


I reached into my pocket and pulled out a crumpled dollar.  A nickel fell to the sidewalk and rolled towards the cars at the curb.  I handed W the dollar and went after the nickel.  I imagined every penny counts when your SSI check is in the mail.


“I get to watch you bend over?” W asked eagerly.  I bent my knees and scoped up the nickel off the bricks.  “You squat like a girl,” he said, an accusation as I handed him the change.


“How’s Sophie,” he asked.  “I heard she’s married.”  I assured him she was not.  I could think of no one I knew who was less married than Sophie.


The door to Big Vin’s opened and closed.  The cold wrapped around my legs and fingers.


“I have to go,” I said. “You have a good Thanksgiving.”


The bricks were already moving beneath my feet when he called me back.  “Hey,”  he called.  “Hey!  Hey!”


I reluctantly turned around.  He was still crouched in the dark.


“Come here,” he said.  He started rocking back and forth on his feet while opening his mouth in a wet cold “O” .


“Behave yourself, ” I said.


“You’re such a lesbian,” he replied.





Are You There God?

She had her hair up the first time I saw her, a large messy pile held in place by a few bobby pins and what looked like some shoelaces.  She wore a purple strapless sundress over a black bathing suit she knotted behind her ample neck.  A zebra tattoo graced her left shoulder and a small gem sat astride her nose.  If I was in Vegas I would have bet she attended at least 10 Grateful Dead concerts during her undergrad and currently had a hit of Molly in her purse. 


“I can’t believe this,” she said.


“Believe what?” I asked


“Every time I come to the Cape I meet a childhood idol,” she said.  “Give me one of those things he’s drinking,” she pointed. “This is my cousin Eric,” she nudged the man next to her then leaned in conspiratorially.  “Gay, gay, gay!” she sang watching as I began my pour.  “Make that thing strong.  Anyway, I’m walking out of a store – Which one?”  She nudges her cousin again.  “It doesn’t matter.  Anyway, I’m walking out and I trip right over John Waters!  I can’t believe it!  Amaze-balls!”  She backs up, as if making room for the magnitude of her story.  “Absolutely amaze-fucking-balls!”


“Every time!”  She threw one meaty arm in the air.  “Every time I’m on the Cape!”  She sipped her drink and starting looking in her purse for either Molly or her cash.  “One summer I was working on Nantucket and I met Judy Blume.  Are You There God It’s Me Margaret.  Did you read that?”  she asked.  Someone in the crowd said they had read Are You There Vodka?  It’s me, Chelsea, but it did not break her stride.  “Superfudge?”  Super-Fucking-fudge man.  That was amaze-balls!  .”  I see my co-worker out of the corner of my eye.  He has the glassy stare of a rape victim who is actively disassociating. He slowly lifts his gaze over her head and starts dancing to the music piped in from the dance floor.   I realize I’m on my own.


“So I’m working in some restaurant and living in what was basically slave quarters.  There’s me, another couple of girls, this Russian woman who eats raw hot dogs for breakfast.  Raw hot dogs for breakfast!”  She shows me how the Russian woman ate the hot dogs, miming how she would pinch the hot dog between her index finger and thumb and then crane her neck underneath to eat the hot dog from below.  “Gross!  But who the hell knows what they do in Russia.” 


“Anyway, I’m there one day and all of a sudden this new girl walks in.  I’ve never met her before.  I’m like, ‘Who are you?’ and she’s like, ‘I’m a personal chef.’ And then I say, ‘What are you doing here?’ and she says ‘I just got fired,’ which didn’t answer any of my question, but anyway.  Then she tells me she was working for this wealthy family.  There was the mother, the father, and this 15 or 16 year old son.  Anyway, after dinner one night, wile the family is eating, she ends up upstairs with the kid.  I don’t know.  Maybe they smoked pot or just hung out, but anyway she was walking back downstairs to clean up after dinner and she met the mother on the stairs.  She thought the mom was going to say thank you or everyone was done or something like that, but instead she started screaming, “You fucking cunt!  If you had sex with my son I’m going to fucking kill you.”  Then a bunch of things happened and she’s outside– canned!”


“But wait – so she’s telling me the story and all of a sudden the door flies open to this shack and a woman is standing there screaming.  “You forgot the rest of your fucking shit,” she says and starts throwing clothes and shoes and books in the door.  I’m like ‘Who the fuck is that?’ and the girl says, “That’s her, that’s the mother.  JUDY BLUME!  Judy-fucking-Blume!  Amaze-balls!”  She knocks back half her drink.  “This is good.  Thanks” she said, turning away with her gay gay gay cousin, “I hope I didn’t hurt John Waters,” I heard her say as she meandered into the crowd.


Amaze-balls indeed.