Friday, October 28, 2011
Friday Night in the Country
It’s Friday night in the country and Kurt and I are back at our computers. We tried to go out. The kid is on a sleepover. Very rare. But there’s nothing to do around here. There aren’t even any lights on in the houses and I wasn’t sure when we passed them if they were abandoned or the people were all asleep. It was only 8:30. Probably half and half. It’s common around here for people to let old farmhouses fall into disrepair and then put a doublewide, or if they have money, build a brick ranch house, a few hundred feet over. It’s also common around here for people to get up when it’s still dark to feed the critters, and so naturally they go to bed early. So it could be either way.
I love the old farmhouses. It breaks my heart when I see brown clapboards with all the paint worn off, buckling porches choked with kudzu and roofs like swayback horses on old farmhouses. Maybe the next time I drive by the roof will have collapsed. It frustrates me that people have given up on these houses. Don’t they know there are people like me who would love them?! How did they get so far behind that giving up and starting fresh made more sense than trying to fix the thing? Maybe one year the heater conked out and the roof started leaking and they thought they could get through one more winter—maybe the livestock market would be better next year. Then the chimney started crumbling and noises on the metal roof as mortar fell and skidded to the gutters raised the hair on the back of the farm wife’s neck. She stopped stirring. She cocked an ear to listen. They couldn’t stay warm. They couldn’t use the bathroom sink because the pipe was broke. (If there was a bathroom sink.) They couldn’t keep up with the paint. They were tired of it. Every spring, scraping, sanding, painting. An old house will kill you.
But still! I would never abandon an old house!
We passed these old houses and the doublewides and neat brick ranch houses, all dark, not long after supper in search of a dive bar we got a tip on. Kelly’s boyfriend, fifteen-years-old, mentioned it in passing. He was over for dinner and was explaining where he lived. I was trying to maintain a look on my face that conveyed both sophistication and friendliness (he comes from a good family—the father is a lawyer). He said, “It’s past this bar. It’s a dump. You wouldn’t want to go there. Rednecks go there.” Kurt’s and my ears perked up. He’s obviously much classier than we are. There was actually a bar around here? And it had rednecks?
All these years we’ve been living here, we haven’t found one good watering hole. Not that we’re big drinkers. But you’d think that in the moonshine capital of the world, in a place where people know how to line dance and play fiddles, we would be able partake in the whole authentic experience in some backwoods honky tonk with knotty pine walls and red-and-white checked floors like you see on TV. Something like Urban Cowboy. But there are none—no honky tonks, saloons, taverns, pubs, inns, or local hangouts of any kind where you can get a beer, a line on some decent moonshine—just so you could say you’ve had it because I hear it’ll rot your insides out if you drink it on a regular basis—and maybe listen to a little bluegrass on a Friday night. At least on this side of the lake. No bars at all. There are forty-seven churches and one Dairy Queen but no bars.
There are a couple of bars on the other side of the lake. They cater to “them ones not from around these parts”—non-locals—who buy McMansions on the water and build docks with boat houses bigger than my real house, but that’s about forty-five minutes around. Plus, they are really not bars, per se. They are really restaurants with bars on the side to accommodate diners waiting for their tables and they seem to go out of their way to shed themselves of any kind of country flavor, which is what we have all come down here for but I suspect the locals are embarrassed by and don’t realize how much we, their only customers, love that stuff. If they did, they’d be making a ton of money. The places would be packed. But, in a misguided attempt to attract us, their décor is designed to be progressive and modern—industrial pipes and duct work exposed on the ceiling (these “pipes” are sometimes fake—cardboard tubes spray-painted with silver paint), plum-colored walls, shiny black tiles, brick, martini glasses with Z-shaped stems.
There is one real bar on the water but it thinks it’s in the Keys and has bamboo tables, blue drinks and plastic palm trees.
It specializes in ‘80s bands and closes at eleven o’clock—about the time I’m just perking up—even on July 4th. Very similar to the Palace across the boardwalk in Keansburg except you could barely get the people out the door at last call at two a.m. and when they had ‘80s bands, it was 1980.
Therefore Kurt and I were really itching to find a cool, authentic place. They might say around here that we had a hankering for one. This might be our only chance since we’re selling the house. Pretty soon we’ll be in New Jersey where we’ll have plenty of bars to choose from but maybe no authentic redneck place. So we decided to go find this dive bar. We couldn’t ask the boyfriend for directions because it’s bad enough that we don’t pray at dinner and we’re already wrecking Kelly’s reputation (the boy, good natured, said that’s okay, when Kelly apologized that we dug right in like two barbarians—he had said a silent prayer). Obviously a nice boy. Last thing we wanted to do was damage her reputation any further—I’d already embarrassed her when I told him that the woman in the old picture he was looking at on the wall in the kitchen was Aunt Millie and she was a hot number. Why I had to describe her, I don’t know. But that’s what we always say about Aunt Millie when her name comes up. She was a hot number. When he looked at me quizzically, I said, “You know, a floozy. Died of cirrhosis of the liver, something like that. Big drinker. But ooh, she was a hot number in her day. Had a couple of husbands, flaming red hair…” So I couldn’t ask him for precise directions and we had to wing it.
Luckily we have the Big Mama because at least if you’re going to drive all over the hillside with nothing to look at but dark houses and hulking shadows that may be cows or children of the corn, at least you can drive in style. I splurged and put my seat warmer on. This was our night on the town! Kidless, in my cowboy boots (not the riding ones, the dancing ones), and going to a backwoods, country dive bar! I imagined some Outlaws on the jukebox, perhaps a little ZZTop—“Waiting for the Bus,” would be perfect—and some oldies, got to have the oldies—“Make the World Go Away,” George Jones, George Strait, Hank. We’d dance across the dusty floor and shoot pool with boys (that’s what they’re called around here—boys—not guys, not men, even if they are grandfathers) in flannel shirts and John Deere caps, and maybe a cowboy or two. There’d be a couple of bleached blondes with too much make-up on and hairdos back from when I was still watching Three’s Company, and a guy named Eeavard with his head on the bar. I mean, how good is that? A guy named Eeavard?!
It wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have gotten a look at some of the farmhouses. But all I could see were shadows zooming by. We couldn’t find the bar. We went further. We turned left. We turned right. We said let’s go a few more miles. We considered calling the boyfriend but ruled it out. How desperate were we anyway? What about if we took Business 29? Maybe it was the business highway and not the regular highway? (I don’t know why they do that—it’s so confusing—two highways with the same name.) We’d get excited every time there was light on the horizon—Look! That’s got to be it! But all it ever was were the yellow lights coming from a church basement or the digital sign from out front. No bars anywhere.
So we’re back on our computers on a Friday night. Which I guess is just as well. I hear boys with names like Eeavard can get pretty rowdy.