NO ICE CUBES
Why can’t I watch the game in peace?
You give them your entire life, your spilled guts; you save them from the wretched of the earth while they lollygag in danceable ignorance to the same looped track of forgetfulness and you don’t get so much as a thank you.
Sacrifice is for suckers. But I’d do it again because that’s what I do. That’s who I am. That’s why we’re here… free to be as forgettable and crass as we want to be all the while ignoring the uncomfortable fact that the red stripes in that flag bleed. And does anyone care how I feel? Does anyone care why they can sit here in heavenly bliss? No, cause nobody knows what I did and if you told them they wouldn’t believe me.
I barely believe it and I lived it. How’s that for denial.
And yet they want to ask me questions. I sip in this dark bar night after bleak night in the same wobbly bar stool hunched over the worn red leather rimmed counter just enough so that no one feels welcome to speak. I don’t want to hear their jabbering. I keep my head low or in the flashing idiot box. Yet, everybody’s got a question. It’s like they can’t talk to you without asking an unnecessary question… interrupting me midway through the fourth quarter on a tie-breaking jumper to ask me nothing.absolutely nothing.
“How’s your day, Reggie? What ya up to, Reggie?”
Fuck you, I think. I don’t say it but my pores reek with every ounce of disgust I can squeeze from my temples without exploding. Women who like men and men who like men think I’m being flirtatious when I flash to stone with anger. They think its sexy, like I’m a black hulk teddy bear. I am dangerous. I was dangerous once. And they need to be jittery glad that I flipped that killing switch off for good. Rewiring a sharp shooter’s no Sunday stroll in Grant Park. But someone had the nerve to do it and I don’t know how happy I am about that.
I don’t think I’m happy at all.
For those who think I’m not playing with a full deck, guess what? You’re right. I played every spade I had in that bid whist of a war clinging to my wits. I’m all played out. Nothing but jokers here. And I’m not laughing. I want this world of snot nosed wannabes who are all yap and no go to think I’ve lost a screw or two so they’ll leave me the fuck alone. But that rarely happens cause’ they’ve just got to ask their featherweight, happy-go-lucky questions.
“What’s your name?” they ask.
“My name is none of your business,” I mutter and they giggle like I’m some cute wind up army doll in a Christmas display and they’re window shopping. They think it’s a joke.’ I’m not a joke,’ I scream on the inside. They don’t hear me though.
What’s the point of being in public if you can’t be by yourself?
There are mousy men and fems skipping around this wobbly world hoeing for a look over. Even the loud spectacles among them are damn near invisible. No one asks these attention whores a doggone thing. These people go out in the world on knees and clasped palms praying someone sees them and the world gives them the finger. I on the other hand, show up in drab clothes, an army patch and a frown praying no one will speak to me and they meander my way like ants. Do I look like a pile of brown sugar to you?
“Sun sure is nice today, isn’t it?” a woman whose sunglasses cover so much of her face she might as well be wearing a ski mask coos. ‘Go away,’ I think.
But they don’t hear me, though.
And that lady, the one with the doe eyes and blond locks who keeps swirling and swirling a figure eight to the deejay’s mind numbing repetitive acid house tracks reminds me that monotony is a buzz kill. Then I order another drink, a warm vodka tonic and clutch the glass in my hand, imagining I see an ice cube melting into a stream of clear and bubbles.
If I were an ice cube I would never melt. Real ice cubes stay cold.
Why won’t she stop dancing? All she does is swing her hour glass hips, like she’s an urban snake charmer in ancient Tunisia….And she does it for no reason, no reason at all. Her empty bliss pisses me off. She doesn’t even take tips.
Surely, she’s got something better to do than wiggle on a stage with no spotlight and be distracting to people who just want to hold their drinks and stare at the ice cube that’s not there. But she doesn’t know I’m not thinking about her and I won’t give her the honor of knowing how much I don’t think about her. She won’t ask anyway. Asking would require that she stop invoking the funky worm and you know that’s not gonna happen.
We need a new DJ. And if I weren’t so hypnotized by the scratch of squeaky kicks on floor boards like 1s and 2s from the basketball game, I would tell the owner, Marty.
“Basketball’s too easy,” a tall motorcycle jacket wearing dude says, slinking his way by the TV screen. At least it was game talk.
“They should make the hoops twice as high and the courts twice as long,” he continued.
“What?” I said in total disgust. My voice went so high I almost scared myself. The only thing worse than questions is some non sport watching fool giving half-assed analysis. Fool sound like he just landed on the planet yesterday. He’s obviously wasn’t from around here.
“The size change would give em’ a challenge,” dude said.
“Spoken like a man who’s never played a sport in his life,” I said squeezing my glass so tight I thought it would smash in my palm. A vein rippled across my forehead.
“I’m Del,” he said extending his hand. I gripped it and looked back at the game.
“Reggie,” I muttered. “And what you said is the dumbest thing I’ve heard all week”
“The week just started,” he chirped with a toothy grin better suited for someone who liked studying gums. After an icy silence, he slithered to the south end of the bar and swiveled in his chair to adore that Dancing Lady and her hula dance minus the hoop.
War is hell. And life afterwards ain’t a crystal stair either.
Langston Hughes said that. Well, he said the part about the crystal stair. I think it was ‘life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Hughes didn’t say it to my face, but I read it in one of his poems. I carried a palm-sized book of his poetry in my back pocket during the war and read it by moonlight in our tents. The moon was so big out that way. It was stronger than a floodlight if you asked me. Felt like we were Turkeys on the day before Thanksgiving sleeping under that bright-as-the sun full moon. Some of the guys in the platoon weren’t big on poetry, but one of em’, Mario from Long Beach, said he was an aspiring writer in a former life and we’d switch off reading Hughes as the bombs sailed overhead. He talked about a dream deferred being like a raisin in the sun. What if that dream comes true?
I dreamed of being a soldier. Now that I’ve walked that way I don’t remember a damn thing that happened before. Maybe I was a wayward kid shipped off to keep me out of gangland. Maybe I ran away from the circus and signed up. It doesn’t matter how I got there, all I can think about is piecing what little l have into something workable.
So I watch the game. I watch the bouncing rubber ball and stare into my ice cube-less glass to deaden the instant replay of automated platinum arms ripping flesh seared into my cerebral cortex. The same gutted image plays over and over like a rehashed horror show. I slow it down, I rewind it. Hell, I play it backwards. Same frames, same names. Either way I play it, the carnage of metallic’s, nanotech and bloodshed continues.
“Nice shot,” a lanky spectacle wearing man with an oversized red jacket says. At least he didn’t ask a question.
“Yeah it was,” I mutter back, careful to avoid eye contact.
I don’t know how long I’ve been in this bar. Sometimes it feels like hours, sometimes it feels like years. The polka dot tie wearing, think-he’s-better-than-me-dude with the champagne flute in his hand says I walked in five minutes ago. Who cares?
When I’m here, I’m home. Home is where the heart is and my heart is in this glass encased by the invisible ice cube.
“Want another one?” Marty asked. Marty owns this rat trap of a bar. He’s so proud you’d think he built the thing with his bare hands. Hell, maybe he did. Always upbeat. Always greeting you with a smile. He’s seen everything and nothing. He’s a genuinely nice guy and that’s why I keep coming back. He always knows what I want and he keeps his damn opinions about life to himself. The only question he asks is if I want another one. And I always do, even if I didn’t finish the last. I don’t know how the hell he breaks even. There are never more than a handful of people in here but he’s happy as a blue jay. Not too much loud talk in this bar, very little bustle. It’s life the way I like it. If only I could get that lady to stop dancing and stop these small talk freaks who get their jollies asking me stupid questions from flapping their jaws.
“How’s your day, Reggie? You betting on this game?” these two lady love twins in matching black skinny dresses say in harmony. They wield decks of cards like it’s a gun in a holster, just scheming to take your money and your ego before needling their stiletto heel in your side.
“Get away from me,” I mumble and they just laugh school girl giggles.
“Do you think I’m funny?” I yell banging my fist on the bar. My glass shakes from the bass in my voice. Heat sears from my eyes but they just laugh.
I don’t see what’s so funny.
“You’re funny, Reggie,” Dancing Lady says, as she squeezes between me and the giggly twins.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” I said. She popped a handful of old peanuts in her mouth from a makeshift bowl that resembled an ashtray and sauntered off.
“I said I’m not talking to you,” I shouted. But I was too late. She was already lost in groove land.
Perfect, the game is over. I throw my hands up in disgust; knock my drink on the counter and the Card Playing ladies just laugh harder.
“Want another one,” Marty says. I nod as he hastily wipes up the table with a red rag.
“No ice cubes,” I say. Life is a crystal stair; I just need to stare long enough to see it.
“Why me?” I asked.