Oregon Tavern Age: Hearts

(In honor of Oregon Governor Kate Brown proclaiming April as Oregon Tavern Age Month, the blog will feature a full week of OTA stories. A new book of these tales is slated for a fall publication in some atypical publishing format.)

Two OTA couples entered the South Jetty bar. Teeth were scarce but smiles were not. The couples seemed jubilant, like most toothless people are in OTA country.

One of the men carried a red, heart-shaped pillow. I’d never seen that before in OTA country. He called out to the bartender, “Hey, I’m alive!” He seemed almost surprised by it. The bartender certainly was and said so.

“Go ahead and tell everyone I’m alive,” he added.

The man sat down at a table with the others and the bartender moseyed over. The man did not sit on the pillow as I thought he would. He clutched it to his chest. He ordered a rum and Coke and they ordered white wine, a Mai Thai and a whiskey and soda.

I was sitting a table away writing about a dead man’s writing that I’m resurrecting.

The man put his head down on the table and announced he wasn’t feeling well. His wife asked if he was all right. She touched his shoulder.

It occurred to me that he might die. That would be a first for me in OTA country but I had heard of it happening, usually in the afternoons with the old timers, before they could finish their drinks.

It was the afternoon. He hadn’t even sipped his drink.

The man raised his head and his eyes were closed. He leaned back.

Would I have to intervene with CPR? I didn’t really want to get up, but I probably would.

The group began talking. I eavesdropped. The man had just been released from a Portland hospital after open heart surgery. He’d gone straight to the bar to celebrate. The doctor held him a few days longer than he liked. It was torture. He had a stint in.

The drinks materialized. The man stood up and moved the pillow to his left hand. He grabbed the rum and coke with the his right. He stood up and began shuffling toward the video lottery area. He stopped and took a deep drink of his cocktail. The other man got up and escorted him under the arm.

Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” came on the radio. I am not making that up. I thought about Kurt Cobain and how Kurt was dead. You could hear it in “Heart-Shaped Box” and he was alive when he recorded it.

The man shuffled past me and I watched him enter the video poker area. He found his favorite stool and sat down in front of a machine, but did not sit on the pillow. He set his drink on the machine and fished out some cash. He fed the machine and punched up a poker game. He held the pillow tight to his chest with both hands and began to play in the most curious way. I just watched. I knew he was either going to die or hit a heart flush, perhaps both at the same time.

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