Girl in Town, 1978
The white men glide or stumble from bar to table to bar, to restroom and back, stopping to gladhand a shoulder or garble a toast, glasses raised and voices eleven on a scale of ten--as they say--for it’s loud in here, “this ain’t no library,” or to insist that it matters not a little to recognize whom we’ve seen or smelled here before, and that the unrecognized are unarmed.
(The first plague of the current millennium is with us now, 42 years later.)
It’s a Saturday afternoon in October in the Willamette Valley, itself a sodden clearing where hills rise east and west, the rain-blue forests, in one direction the ocean. Men all around me. Men gardeners, carpenters, laborers, unemployed, parolees. Singing John works on the railroad, those two with flannel shirts are loggers, of course. Rex, Walter, and Pee Wee, pickled octogenarians, out of it. There are rogue women huddled at a back table. One’s a barmaid my age, and two pickled Annies in red windbreakers, they work at the cannery.
(Washington State had the first American epicenter. I’ve been to Seattle twice.)
The phone behind the bar rings. Conversations slow, they halt. The bartender answers. He is not facing the room, good, a barman here can turn his back. In the mirror above the backbar he notes in the assembled faces a terror bloom. The voice on the phone queries and the bartender turns to the assembled. He cries out believably: “Ma’am, I’ll check to see if he’s here.”
The men—most of the men--are frozen ghastly as if by a flashbulb in a darkroom. They have been drinking a good while and intend to drink more, and half now contort their faces and point to their chests and shake their heads violently, mouthing the words “I’m not here.”
“Did anyone see Tom Evans?” cries the bartender, good and loud.
Each man looks relieved, save Tom Evans. He is an owl-eyed man by the dartboard, shaking his owl head furiously and mouthing words while his buddies chuckle, one jabs him in the ribs.
“No one’s seen him, Mrs. Evans.” The bartender hangs up the phone. Laughter pours and spills and belches through the tavern. The men have won again.
(My college roommate from Oregon lives in Seattle now. Her immune system is compromised. She’s shut in but okay, last time we spoke.)
I’ll drink with the barmaid and the Annies. I’m a new girl in town. I’ve been in places like this. There’s always amusement, at the beginning.
(How to explain to those coming up how it was to not think twice about smoke and shouting and intimacy?)