I sat at the end of the bar with the bartender Robbie watching It’s A Wonderful Life, his favorite movie. It was snowing outside and the bar was basically closed. He wasn’t supposed to, but Robbie only charged me for some of the beers, I waited tables in the restaurant.
There were two bartenders, Robbie and Randy, and everyone thought Robbie was gay but it was the other way around, Randy was. They both had long hair some called a mullet, but they wore it back in a ponytail. It was the early 90s, Allentown, PA, kind of an outer ring of Philadelphia and New York, like a ring around the inside of a toilet bowl, under the lip.
Randy (the gay bartender) came up to my apartment with Mo. Mo was short for Moira, and we were seeing each other. She got me the job there, at the Sterling. I read the book Exterminator! by William Burroughs on my breaks and one time saw a cockroach watching me reading it while I was on the toilet, upstairs.
The hotel was rumored haunted and it was basically a slum, $10/night or something, lots of transients, but the bar and restaurant were really cool, nothing dive about it, bands every Thursday through Saturday.
When Randy saw my apartment he said it looked like it was decorated by a gay or a Republican and didn’t mean it nicely by his tone. He was always shaking when he lit a cigarette and sitting on the edge of his seat or pacing, with rings around his eyes that were gray/yellow, bad skin tone. They thought he was straight because he was gruff, I guess (and Robbie was a bit more “delicate,” how he straightened the pint glasses and dried them with a towel).
They were all friends with the owners, and the owners had come from the publishing company in town, the one that did Runner’s World and so forth. I tried to get in with the publishing company but didn’t have a leg to stand on, the closest I got was the bar.
After the movie was over I would have given Robbie a nice tip and walked home to my apartment alone in the snow, up Hamilton Boulevard, my place next to the art museum I rented from a jeweler named Jules who was a Czech and a drunk, you could tell by all the Budweiser cans in the recycling every week.
It was my first Christmas alone, since my parents split up, and I bought a gloomy record by the band This Mortal Coil and sat alone in my apartment feeling sorry for myself, but feeling good, kind of basking in the self-pity, feeling like it would lead me to something.
When we watched It’s A Wonderful Life again this past week, after my mom got here, and my kids’ first time, I didn’t remember much of it at all. What message it had the first time was lost on me, and maybe that’s the point of it: we only see so much on the surface the first time but going back, we see things differently, how many lives we get to live in just one.