Don Bauder 4:30 p.m., Dec. 9
The Star Bar starts to get a little crowded by noon. I went back in and all I knew was two things. I knew that Hank was broke and he would ask me for money, and I knew at some point there would be a fight in there, sooner rather than later. Hank asked me for money straightaway. I had a twenty and a five and a wad of one dollar bills, but I had to tell him no, even though I had a bit put away in my room. I’d buy him a couple of beers more, but that was it.
Hank was going after the gal sitting there and sipping her drink, and I wasn’t about to invest in his quest.
When she got up and went to powder her nose, Hank woke Tony up and lifted some cash. Hank was good for it. He’d be fired by the end of the day, but he’d get something else in a week. I was never that lucky. I had to watch my cash, I knew I had something lined up on Monday but I never know how long it will last. For Hank, it always lasts as long as he wants it to last.
“I’d buy you a beer, pal, but I have to save what I got for a date,” Hank said.
“No problem, Hank, we’re friends, don’t worry about it.”
And then it started. Francisco was waiting for it, and when she came out of the restroom he introduced himself and bought her another drink. Francisco is a good guy sober, but he’s a big mean bastard when he’s drunk. And there isn’t a woman in the world that he thinks doesn’t belong to him. In that way, Hank isn’t much different. I didn’t figure I would referee that fight, and it was the only thing I was right about all afternoon. But I learned a long time ago that I never really know what’s going to happen next.
“Do me a favor? Go chat up Teddy,” Hank said. I knew what he meant. He wanted me close enough to Teddy that when Hank and Francisco squared off, Teddy wouldn’t be inclined to hit Hank over the head with a half bottle of beer. I went over to Teddy and I sat down.
“What about the Mets this year, Teddy?”
“Screw the Mets. They’re gonna go at it, Hank and Cisco.”
“Yeah, I know. What say we just watch this time?”
Teddy nodded. It started out amicably, at least from a short distance; they all got along swell. She drained Francisco’s drink and then it was backed up by one from Hank. Teddy and me drank and watched. Then Hank and Francisco traded off buying shots for the three of them. Then Francisco slipped his arm around her. That was it. Hank got cute after that. The barfly peeled Francisco’s arm off of her and turned to Hank, and then Francisco got mad and reached for a full bottle. I jumped up instinctively, I still don’t know why.
In the short time it took me to grab Francisco’s bottle out of his hand, Teddy got up to hold me back, but Tony – now awake and watching – tripped Teddy and Teddy fell to the ground. I looked in back of me, and then Francisco punched the back of my head. I turned and slugged him in the stomach, and that doubled him over.
Meanwhile, Hank grabbed the broad and went back a few feet.
Francisco isn’t easy. He got up quick and gave me a right hook to the eye, and somehow I countered and caught him good, directly to the nose, sending him backward and down. Tony held Teddy firm. Out of the corner of my good eye I caught Lolite dialing the phone, I knew what was coming next. Francisco tried to get up but he couldn’t. There was a lot of blood. We were both panting. I looked at him and felt stupid.
“Sorry,” I said.
He didn’t answer, he nodded, blood still pouring from his nose. I helped him up with my left hand because my right hand hurt too much. It was over. The cops would be there in a few minutes. Teddy took Francisco into the restroom and I threw a couple of dollars on the bar and left, Hank and his new girlfriend following. We walked three blocks to my room. I had a couple of bottles of cheap red wine up there.
I went into the bathroom and changed my shirt and cleaned up. My eye wasn’t swollen shut but I’d have probably been better off if it had been, the shade of purple didn’t flatter me. My hand hurt more than anything else. I came out and the three of us polished off the wine in a couple of hours. The street came in through the window, along with some sun and there wasn’t a lot to talk about other than Hank thanking me for having his back. He would have mine some other time.
She got up and went to the bathroom and Hank slipped me a ten-dollar bill.
“It’s all I can spare, do me a favor and give me an hour.”
The sidewalk was warm down there, it was three in the afternoon and I was hungry. It’s funny when you’re a drunk, you can go for days without eating, but when you get hungry it hurts and nothing can stop the hurt until you eat something. Anything will do, it doesn’t matter, just some sort of food. There is a Chinese joint around the corner that loads up a big Styrofoam container for two and a half dollars and a lot of us drunks eat there. Drunks with no money can get full eating out of the trash cans in there, and some do, and so would I if I ever ran out of money.
I ate everything and thought about getting more, except that Chinese food is like one of those hydra monsters, where when you cut off the head, another one grows. The more Chinese food you eat, the hungrier you’re going to be later. You’re better off eating a bunch of it all at once and getting the hell out of the place. I was full and that was all that mattered for the moment. I sat there and wondered where to go next.
The Star Bar had already changed shifts. Marguerite would be in there for the afternoon people, so I walked back down and crossed Broadway. Everything was busy now. There were a dozen people out in front of the place smoking. Inside, there is no concept of morning, afternoon, and evening; it’s starting, continuing, and finishing. It’s mostly empty, mostly full, and time to leave. The only good things about mostly full are there aren’t many fights and the beer tastes the same.
I was halfway through my second when Hank walked in. He sat next to me and got a beer.
“Nice shiner,” he said.
“Yeah. You can have it.”
Hank took a drink. “She wasn’t worth it. I owe you for this. I’m gonna quit that place and get my last check tomorrow. Let me take you somewhere, maybe we’ll go down to the Pinto.”
“Yeah, maybe. I’ll let you know.”
I finished my beer and left. The sun was casting longer shadows, and I walked up Sixth and passed my hotel, and went to the liquor store around the corner and bought a bottle of wine. I drank it up in my room and watched the twilight creep in. The sound of the city never changes. I imagined the next shift of drunks finding their way through the streets, in and out of the Star, the Chinese joint, and the liquor store. It was only a question of when the next fight would break out.