I bought my first beer from a four year old. I was sixteen and she was learning her simple numbers behind the cash register at Sam's Beer and Bait attached to the Honky Tonk Bar & Grill. Sam Blank, owner and operator of both establishments, had a mind to teach his children math in this way, selling everything from nightcrawlers to whiskey to anyone who could carry them to the counter.
I walked into the bar a little after dark. The usual crowd of working class stiffs sat around the dim space with only a few people standing out in the sea of coveralls and loose ties. Two members of the Bilbo clan were in the far corner by the stage tuning a guitar. Sam, the one-armed piano player, played a rendition of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" by Hank Williams.
I spotted Dave sitting at the bar to my right talking with a few others. I walked over and only too late saw how drunk Dave was.
The drink in front of him was one of Dave's signature beverages. Sam advertised the "Banned County Garggleblaster" as a mystical concoction so potent that even the mention of it can erase the mind and wake the dead. Everyone knows it's mostly rasberry drink mix with grain alcohol Sam makes out in the woods behind the shop. Dave's was half finished.
"Ehhhhannn," Dave said.
"That's pretty much all he can say," said the young man next to Dave.
"Did he drink all that?" I asked.
"Ehhhhhaannn, mmmmaaaa frrrreen," Dave said, attempting to stand. He fell down and began laughing.
The young man and I picked our friend up and drug him over to the booths.
"We been here since, hell, about two hours. We got started a little early. I'm Jessie, by the way."
We settled Dave's body into the booth and shook hands. Jessie wore a dirty leather jacket covered with spikes and buttons of obscure punk bands, most of which I recognized. His hair was cut in a short mohawk, a stripe of brown that divided his hair in a sloppy line. A tattoo of a tree wrapped around his bicep, words scrawled on several branches.
"Clara's brother," I said, "Dave told me you'd be here."
"Told me you might have a job for me."
"Could be. You don't waste time, do you?"
"Fuck that. S'why we got here early. What else we gonna do?"
"True. What you drinking?"
"Nothing. Told Clara I'd get this guy home safe tonight."
"Don't let Sam here you say that. He's got a reputation."
I walked over to the bar and ordered two drinks. The piano stopped and the crowed started clapping. I looked over to the stage as the Bilbo's took the stage.
The Bilbo clan was legendary in town. Town gossip says they are no relation to the infamous Mississippi govenor and later senator, but who knows? The entire family is built on lies and violence, the only real information you can trust about them is the police reports and even those are built after the fact on heresay and drunken rambling.
Besides their relationship with local law enforcement, though, they were known as the most creative people that ever existed. Singers, writers, poets, all types of creativity, even painters and sculpters spring from Bilbo loins. Yes, sir, the people climbing to the stage with instraments held together with duct tape and prayers would make you cry with their unique energy then probably shoot you if the drink takes the there.
They started slow, some little ballad that I could not place. I walked back to the table with my beers. On the way, I spotted a splash of red hair that reminded me of someone at a table by the stage. I squinted, but the room was dark so I let the idle thoughts of dangerous red headed women go.
We were soon joined by several of the guys from the circus and a couple of fellows I knew from high school that Dave had been acquainted with. As the drunkenness ensued, we took turns signing Dave’s face as he lay sleeping in the corner of the booth. The large bowl of alcohol that had brought the mighty IT man down was brought over at some point and we began taking shots from it.
The crowd gathered and the Bilbo’s music picked up the pace. People moved the chairs and tables to the edges of the room and created a dance floor where boots were boogied and everyone clapped to the music. I found myself out there, being taught with the circus folks some line dance by my fifth grade English teacher.
At least I think that happened. The room lost its focus rather quickly as we decended into a gyrating mess of drunkenness. Even Dave rallied, climbing on stage and singing a slurred version of "Free Bird."
Near the end, a fight broke out and a guitar met its end over the head of a man I thought of "Beardman McFace." My last clear memory was surfacing in the back seat of a car driven by person's unknown. A woman with bright red hair was in my lap.
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