Pointing to the Sky

August 2, 2019


In which we meet Amy, half-hearted barkeeper at The Lug Nut bar

Weirs Beach, NH, August 2005.

“If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” 

That’s the joke Amy tells when someone asks for her story at work. It happens plenty–there’s always someone lingering at the bar just long enough for things to head in that direction. Sometimes, when inspired, these barflies talk to Amy, other times to each other, with lots of nodding and shaking of heads, maybe a hug at the end. It’s almost always triggered by Amy’s iPod, hooked up to the sound system whenever she’s working. 

When that shuffle goes to just the right song, and the bar isn’t too busy, somebody always gets to talking. Amy hears stories every night–some sad, some ridiculous, some so embellished she has to bite her tongue instead of blurt out, “Yeah, right,” before she busts out laughing.

One story pops into Amy’s head fairly regularly, most likely triggered by the blue light of Jeopardy! every night at 7:30. 

This guy, about three years ago, just burst into tears at the bar when he heard Hootie & the Blowfish–that one Hootie song about crying. You know it. Then he launched into such a tangled story of regret that he got Amy crying too, both of them wiping their noses with little square bar napkins overwhelmed at the shame of it all. 

downloadAmy had never seen this kind of reaction from a Hootie song. She’d never seen a reaction this strong ever in the bar, other than the occasional fight of course. So she had to ask him why.

The story he told Amy that night was about high school–a lot of stories Amy hears at the bar have to do with high school–and how his mom was dying, actually in hospice and everything–and his dad told him he had to drive home early from his two-week soccer camp. 

“I took the long way. I stopped for ice cream. I stopped for gas but I didn’t need it,” he said, and this cute twenty-something guy with his sun-streaked hair and faded Pink Floyd shirt that Amy’s pretty sure she saw at Walmart the week before started crying again. He was good-looking in that rumpled and needy way twenty-something guys sometimes have, which always triggers Amy’s mothering instinct. 

It was hard for her to stand there and watch him go to pieces, so Amy put her hand on his shoulder and patted him gently, looking over at Jimmy Belvedere sitting two stools away, a sweet old regular who’s been going to the Lug Nut since way before Amy started. He could see what was coming, so he stood up, raised his eyebrows at Amy along with his mug, then skedaddled to a hightop. 

The guy wiped his face and dried his hands by running them through his hair, talking the whole time. 

“I stopped at the beach too,” he said. “I didn’t even get out of my car, right? It was a beachviewhundred degrees in that car! No AC!” 

He said “No AC!” with the kind of drama that’s usually reserved for greater challenges, but of course this was really about his mom, and Amy got that he was in the thick of it. She took her hand off his shoulder, but then he put his hand over hers on the bar. It seemed like he just wanted to emphasize the importance of what he was saying, but Amy wasn’t sure. She worried she might need to cut him off.

“A hundred degrees and I sat there sweating buckets,” he said, “like if I was gonna be such a pussy as to dawdle going home, I should at least make myself suffer, right?” 

Amy gently pulled her hand away and made for the bar rag, like she would have let him keep his hand over hers, but, you know, she had a job to do. He didn’t seem to notice, and she wondered then if dawdle is a word guys from Rhode Island use a lot. She knew he was from Rhode Island because she carded him. He was a twenty-something guy from some unpronounceable little Rhode Island town, sitting in a bar a long way from home crying into his beer. She should have known better than to ask for his story, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Lost boys were always drawn to Amy. 

He blew his nose with the napkin he pulled from beneath his beer, looked at it in his hand for a second, then stuffed it into his pocket. This made Amy grateful, because she really didn’t want to touch it, but this also made her even more sad because it’s so darn pathetic. 

That’s the worst part of sadness. There’s no two ways about it. It is so incredibly pathetic to shove a snot-nosed bar napkin into your pocket after crying over your poor, dead mom with a woman who’s not old quite old enough to be your mom, but who’s definitely a little older. 

It didn’t help that Amy was also wearing a snug low-cut Lug Nut shirt that read “Let Me Tighten That Nut!” across her breasts, and maybe also that she had, still has, a curly mess of brown hair, which, frankly, isn’t always her greatest asset, but can sometimes make her seem younger than she is.

quickandeasyAmy is currently in that weird gray area between sexy and motherly that’s confusing for guys in their twenties–and guys in their thirties, too, for that matter–especially after a few too many Bud Lights and a well-timed Hootie & the Blowfish song. 

The good thing is this gets her just as many tips as the young little cocktail waitresses who only work weekends and wear short shorts because their legs aren’t a tangled mess of varicose veins thanks to decades spent in a job standing up. 

She doesn’t feel threatened a bit by their giggles and their shiny, straightened hair falling like planks down their backs. She does just as well as they do, and sometimes even better, which she knows because if she doesn’t watch them closely, they short her when it comes time to tip out. That’s what girls that age do. Amy knows as well as anyone.

Amy put a new napkin under the guy’s beer and took one for herself because she kind of knew what was coming. Amy cries pretty easy. 

“So I just sat there in the hundred degree car, with Hootie on the CD player, right?” he said. “Every time this song ended, every time,” he said, “I went click! And played it again. That song was the only song I listened to. For hours.”

As he talked, he pointed up to the TV with emphasis, a TV that wasn’t playing Hootie & the Blowfish of course, but Jeopardy!. But the sound system wasn’t playing Hootie anymore either, it was playing Jim Croce, who also wrote a lot of sad songs, and on top of that died way too young. 

jeopardyAmy wondered then, as she often does, if her iPod got depressed at the same time she did, like it’s in rhythm with her cycle. Then she looked at the guy again and nodded, because she got that he was actually pointing at the Hootie song, and he got that she got it, and that’s when they both started crying, even though the song shuffled through long ago. 

If you don’t spend a lot of time in bars like the Lug Nut, or at loud dinner parties, or driving cross country with friends, you might not know this, but people are always pointing at songs, even though there’s nothing really to point at.

Sometimes, if a stereo system is visible, people point to the stereo, but since no one plays records anymore, and there’s no album cover to look at, they’re just pointing to the stereo itself. In a car, they might point to the stereo too, but again, they’re really just pointing at nothing. 

Amy thinks it’s better having nothing to point at, because when there’s nothing to point at like a radio or TV, people naturally point up. Or sometimes they point up and look up as they launch into the story of why they love the song that’s playing. When people point up, it’s as if the song is everywhere in the air around us, and that makes Amy happy. 

250px-OrtizpointIt’s like when Big Papi points up after he hits a homer and tosses his bat like he’s flicking a toothpick, sauntering around the bases because he’s got all the time in the world. In truth, the whole bar lightens up when Big Papi hits a homer and points heavenward, and not just because he’s won another walk-off for the Red Sox, on top of winning the whole World Series shebang just the year before. 

The guys at the Lug Nut all love Big Papi because he’s a little bit like them–a little overweight and can’t run very fast–the big difference being that Big Papi also has a great job, a bunch of money, and a blonde wife named Tiffany. The fact that his slugging percentage is over .600 and his job is playing for World Series Champs Boston Red Sox could make a slight difference in how he’s viewed by blonde women named Tiffany versus these guys, but anyway. Big Papi gives hope to the hopeless. 

Anyway, when a song stirs up that same reaction–whether it’s pushing that button to make you smile or pushing the button to send you down sad, old memory lane–it’s powerful stuff. And when this happens in the bar, with Amy’s iPod playing, she’s often the best person to talk to if only because it’s her iPod.

What’s really strange about the story Amy heard in the bar that night is she doesn’t remember how it ended. She only remembers what happened when he stopped talking.

He looked straight at her like strangers hardly ever do, like a man might look at you when you stop for a second in the middle of making love to him. You know the second I’m talking about. He’s holding you by the shoulders and he just looks at you, and even though you’re searching his eyes for some kind of promise that this won’t all go horribly wrong, all you see in his eyes is apology, because that train has left the station. There’s nothing to be sorry about, because he has as little power as you do to stop all the bad things that inevitably happen to people like you. So you bury your head into his neck and squeeze him with your whole body, holding on for however many minutes you have left. 

It quickly became too much, so they turned to take in Double Jeopardy, wordlessly watching until they somehow started whispering the same answers together without even looking at each other, Amy just a tiny bit pleased with how well they both did. 

But how can she not remember how his story ended? Not remember when his mom actually died? Before or after he got home from camp? Maybe a long time after he got home? It’s weird to Amy that she doesn’t remember, but she’s also glad. 

The story is sad enough, no matter what happened, but it definitely would be a lot worse if his mom died as he was driving home, that very same day. Amy prefers not remembering at all to remembering that

It only got awkward that night when he hugged Amy across the bar, after Jeopardy! ended and just before he walked out the door. Hugging across the bar happens a lot to Amy. Some people just seem to think she needs hugging, and other times Amy knows it’s the heady combo of too many Bud Lights and her low-cut strangely suggestive T-shirt, but this was different. Thankfully, he came to the Lug Nut all the way from Rhode Island, one night only, and Amy never saw him again. 

barmanEven without a song to get them going, guys will still ask Amy for her story when she’s working behind the bar, including the ones who actually know her, including the ones she went to high school with who should know her and her story as well as anyone. Either way, townie or tourist, most appreciate Amy’s snappy answer about only having bad luck, however much they pretend differently. 

What these men really want is to tell Amy their story, and that is completely fine with her. Amy is a bartender. It’s a total cliche, but if you don’t want to hear people’s stories, if it’s too much on nights when the stories are bad, or nasty, or even downright offensive, you probably won’t last long as a bartender. Amy has heard some of the dullest stories ever, stories so dull she’s tempted to pour herself a shot of Jack just to get through them, and she’s heard more than her share of stupid or tragic stories, but more often she hears stories that are sweet, serendipitous, or sad, often a combination of all three. 

There was a time Amy was less judicious, a time she was compelled to answer every question with complete honesty, even one as vague as “What’s your story?” She didn’t know how to lie back then, or how to hide the truth either for that matter, but that was long ago. 

There’s really only one person, one man, Amy has told absolutely everything to. Up to a point anyway, because after that point Nick was actually in her story and knows exactly what went down. Although Nick would probably interrupt to say it’s not Amy’s story at all, but his, at least until she screwed it all up.  

Now Amy only shares her deepest, most innermost thoughts with Fanbelt the cat, and she steers clear of men, even if her friends want her to sign up for online dating or, God forbid, go on an actual blind date with some person whose only real qualification is being single, a guy, and around her age.

inside bar.jpgAmy jokes with her friends she doesn’t need help because she works at the Lug Nut, where it is always raining men. True, Amy has a soft heart for most of the guys at the Lug Nut, but she’d never go home with a single one of them.  

It’s not necessarily because they’ve been around the block a few too many times, which they have, or that they’re a little rough around the edges, which they are. They’re decent guys who, for the most part, work harder than plenty of other guys and have little to show for it besides a bad back and a titanium hip or two. Some are assholes when they get drunk, but most of the time they just get louder and flirt with her in a way they never would sober. 

If Amy really wanted, she could easily snag a middle-aged guy with a Harley in the garage and a couple of kids who live with the ex, and he would kiss the ground she walked on just for sharing his bed and washing his underwear. With a little work, she might even snag one of the guys who really do have a little money and no kids with an ex, and he might just want her to quit her job and stay home. Maybe he’d even want a kid or two himself. After all, she’s not a hundred, just thirty-four. 

Thinking about that makes Amy feel more lonely though. And when she goes down that road, her own iPod shuffle turns on her as well. “Angel from Montgomery” starts playing, or “Fire and Rain,” or even “Glitter in the Air” by Pink–that one can get her even when she’s in a good mood. She thinks maybe she should get those songs off her iPod, because she gets this weird feeling like her needle is suddenly pointing to empty and she never noticed. She is out of gas on the side of the highway, all by herself, no station in sight. 

She doesn’t know what the feeling means, so she ignores it, whispering “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” though inside she hopes she’s very wrong.

Amy had a lot of bad luck long ago. In fact a lot of people would say she’s had more than her share, though others might claim it wasn’t bad luck at all but bad choices. One ridiculously bad choice after another. 

After all, how could Amy not have known about the setup from the get-go? She of all people?

But just like cliches are cliches because they’re so often true, you couldn’t possibly understand why Amy did what she did and chose who she chose unless you were there watching everything unfold and implode after Nick got found out. 

If you’ve never felt what it’s like to be under the spell of someone like Nick, drawn to his electric glow, you couldn’t understand. Nick had a way of laying out possibilities like a jeweler might toss a handful of diamonds onto a velvet cloth, telling you to pick whichever one you want.

nhA long time ago, Nick made Amy believe she would live a life more remarkable than she ever could imagine, far away and above her life in little Laconia, New Hampshire. Worse, he also made her believe, for a short time at least, that she deserved a life that remarkable. She was entitled.

Think about what you would say or do if someone showed that kind of faith in you. Think about how far you might go in convincing yourself that what you were doing was right.

To be continued . . .

Copyright by Kate Flaherty 2019

One Response to “Pointing to the Sky”

  1. this is just too good! xo, sly

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