Monday, December 21, 2009

FFF #14 - The Bar at the End of the Road

Cormac gave us no options this week. We had no poll of starting sentences to vote on. He provided us with the starter sentence. In addition, he laid down some rather severe ground rules I thought when I first read them. Though now that I have followed those ground rules, I am happy he did. I pushed myself further than I have so far.

The rules this week

"The story cannot center around a crime and it cannot be set in a post-apocalyptic world. It also cannot be a pseudo-existentialist piece. The starting line is - "Well, how did I get here" "

Here goes-

" Well, how did I get here? Funny you should ask. I have been wondering the same thing. I started out this journey to find myself. Instead, I found you and this bar at the end of the road."

Berto leaned on the worn and dented planking that served as the bar top. One hand fondled an empty shot glass. The other hand was busy reaching for bar nuts.

Jackson, the barkeep repeated, "Well you haven't answered my question. How did you get here?"

"I rode my bike."

"From where?"

Berto held up his empty glass. "Fill this again, toss a draft on the side and I'll tell you the whole story."

Jackson was mildly interested. The bar had only been open for an hour. The rush of sun burned tourists would not start until sometime after they had scarfed down their complimentary breakfasts and sobered up from their previous nights drinking and debauchery. This crusty old fart leaning on his bar had the possibility of making his morning. He filled the shot glass with four fingers of the stock whiskey and yanked a draft into a scratched and chipped lager glass.

Setting the beer and the shot on the bar, Jackson spoke. "Got any money?"

Berto grinned. Almost like he expected this question, a crumpled fifty dollar bill fell from his hand onto the bar. Jackson grunted and pushed the drinks over to Berto. "You said you have a story?"

Berto grabbed the shot glass and tossed the whiskey back with one gulp. His face contorted as he slammed the glass upside down on the bar. "Whew-ee, that's tasty! He turned his attention to the draft. Picking it up with both hands he tipped it back and drained it. "Thirsty work, pedaling a bike in this heat." Shoving the glasses back at Jackson, Berto demanded, "Another round my good man and pour yourself a glass of your favorite liquid refreshment. On me of course."

"I don't drink alcohol. I just serve it."

Berto looked at Jackson with slitted eyes. "Of course you don't. But pour yourself something. If I expect a man to listen to my tale of woe, I should at least keep him well hydrated."

While Jackson set him up with another draft and a shot, Berto began his story.

"Typical tale you know. Broken marriage, broken career, broken life." Berto took a small sip from the shot glass. Tipping his head back with his eyes closed, he let the whiskey linger in his mouth before he swallowed.

"I started this latest and final journey of mine in Vermont up in the States. I left my family, my home, and everything that was my previous life three years ago. I had a contracting business. I had a partner. My partner started diddlin my wife, diddlin the books, and one day I find there is no business left and my wife has moved in with him. And can you believe this Bitch? She emptied the house but left me the bike that now leans up against the front of your bar. Taped to the bike were some of those legal papers suing me for divorce. I said screw that. Dropped the papers on the floor of the garage, got on the bike and well, here I am three years later drinking your whiskey at the end of the road."

Jackson stopped his busy work and looked at Berto. He had dealt with others who had found his bar "at the end of the road". Usually just down on their luck US citizens who had run out of money and time. Seems this guy was no different. "So what did you do the three years it took you to end up here?"

Berto sipped some more whiskey. He did not speak right away. It seemed he was trying to figure out just what he had done for three years.

"You know, I am not sure. I rode my bike. I worked when I needed money. And I rode my bike some more." Berto swung around on the bar stool and looked out of the smoke encrusted windows. "I guess all I did these last three years was exist. Take up space. Riding a bike thousands of miles somehow doesn't mean much if there was no point in the first place."

Berto swung back around to face Jackson and the unfinished drinks still there leaving rings on the stained and tired bar top. Carefully Berto smoothed out the fifty dollar bill, taking pains to unfold each folded corner. When he had finished, he grabbed the shot glass and tossed back what whiskey was left. He grabbed the draft and drained it one more time. "Son, I guess there is no point. We live and we die. And that's about the size of it." Berto climbed off the bar stool, stretched, and turned to Jackson.

"Keep the change." And Berto walked out.

Jackson had been keeping bar here long enough to know what came next. He waited ten minutes and then called the police. "Looks like we have another jumper...... What's that? Oh, this is Jackson.......... Yeah, last bar before the wharf........What?......Oh, he just left a minute ago. .........Yeah, I seem to get all the winners don't I?"

His obligations to Berto and the police now met, Jackson hung up and went back to prepping the bar for the afternoon losers visiting here for the weather and beer with lemons stuffed in them. He noticed the fifty dollar bill still laid out on the bar. Looking at it, he realized this was the last fifty Berto would ever spend. He put it in his pocket.

I must have started six or seven different tales spun off the opening line. Each one hit a snag early on. I tried to force something out of each until frustration made me start a new one. I am reminded of something I think Mark Twain said about writing stories. I am not quoting his words but his sentiment as I remember it - "You can't force a story. A good story writes itself."

Now, I am in no way even considering what I just wrote as "good" in the sense of literary achievement. What makes this story good for me is I finally found something that evolved of it's own accord. What you just read took me only an hour to write before editing. Some of the others I spent several hours wrestling with before I shit-canned them.

Until next time......................


Randal Graves said...

This story almost makes me want to ride my bike for a very long time, but, you know, not jump to my death. A trampoline would be alright.

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

I'll bet Berto actually went for a bike ride, and Jackson called the cops for nothing.

Great story, Crum.

Demeur said...

I always find my stories either too short or too long. Seems I get to a point and can't finish.
Too wet to ride a bike and no long walks off a short pier.

BBC said...

Cormac gave us no options this week.

If someone told me what to write and how to write it I would tell them to take a flying fucking leap at a rolling donut.

That's high school lit shit and I graduated from high school many years ago.

Here's some comma's, put 'em where you like. ,,,,,,,,,,,,,

BBC said...

The only stories I write are about my true experiences, to hell with my making other stories up. I could spend the rest of my life writing true stories about my life, that would be interesting, to some anyway.

MRMacrum said...

Randal - Eventually it comes down to two choices. We are either pushed or we jump. No way around it.

El Cerdo Ignatius - I purposefully left it hanging so the reader could draw their own conclusion.

Demeur - I am never completely happy with anything I write. But what the Hell, I put it out there anyway.

BBC - Jeez guy I just don't know what to tell you. You say you gave up High School Lit shit in high school? Then why do you still act like a high school punk?

Cormac Brown said...

Now that is what I was talking about, MRM. Something different and something outside of your comfort zone. Well done.

PipeTobacco said...


Delightful as always, sir. I read through yours last night, and was fearful at first, from the description on Cormac's site that we took a nearly identical path. Yet, they are both different.... with yours being the better of the two.

With mine, I am not sure if I was able to really get out of the "existentialism" or not. But at least I put a nice Hemingwayesque veneer on it.


BBC said...

It seems like every monkey on this planet is trying to be an author but me.

You say you gave up High School Lit shit in high school? Then why do you still act like a high school punk?

Go ahead punk, make my day, ha ha ha ha

Beach Bum said...

That was the best bar story I have read in a long time. I was a little taken back by Jackson calling the cops cause I have to admit at times I have a fantasy not far removed from what the Berto character did.

David Barber said...

Mike, I'm seeing improvement all the time. I second what Cormac said, a well told "different" story.

Excellent stuff that also impressed the others going off their comments.

Merry Christmas!

Beach Bum said...

Oh yeah Mike, Where did you get that picture? That is about paradise for my Parrothead soul.

Freida Bee, MD said...

"Well you haven't answered my question. How did you get here?"

"I rode my bike."

I LOVE how you handled the starter sentence.

Why did the bartender wait ten minutes...? That was my wondering.

One of my favorites, as well!