I walked into my favorite OTA joint after a two month absence caused by the virus that was all Obama’s fault. I was a journalist at the front of the reopening. A crap Western played on television, you know, the kind with Donna Reed as an Indian Maiden. The slot machines were placed six feet apart and all full, with three or four shifty meth dudes and elderly men in wheelchairs waiting their turn. Only the socialist unemployment insurance made it possible! Get that money back to the state! I answered the trivia question correctly, the name of a lake where Native Americans were slaughtered by the US Army a couple centuries ago in the name of Manifest Destiny. I ordered a pint of craft malt liquor and repaired to my table near the window by the lending library. I’d happily been social distancing there for years and written about a half million words at that table. It occurred to me that I’ve been happily social distancing for most of my adult life. It’s the only way you become a writer and not have a steady girlfriend.
The bartender wore a mask but no one else. An old man walked his pug outside down the sidewalk and carried three large stuffed animals. On my way here I composed a fight song for this joint. I’d never composed a fight song before. I dug it. More fight songs in our lives.
They spruced up the joint during the lock down: new paint and lacquer. The curtains looked new. I asked about them. First time washed in 20 years!
A taxi pulled up outside. The driver had no passenger. He ambled in and got in line for the slots.
The joint’s opening time is now 9 AM. The bartender told me there were five people waiting to get in—all gamblers. I think one early customer had a Crown and coke to celebrate his freedom to lose money.
Oh I had missed OTA country! I never realized how much it served as my informal writing and editing studio. This place was my Cannery Row but I wasn’t Doc.
The Western ended. Someone switched to Fox News. The Space Force flag was revealed. So was Operation Warp Speed to find the vaccine. A rotund OTA regular walked in and ordered a cranberry and soda. He hadn’t taken a sip before he launched into conspiracy theories. I got the sense people didn’t give a shit. You don’t want to hear scripted propaganda from a gas bag after two months in self quarantine. It sounds so stupid.
Oh I had missed these Steinbeck and Bukowski and Bad Company characters!
Things got a bit rowdy. A new OTA woman in town living in an Airstream was hitting it hard with shots of terrible liqueurs.
Gary and Linda showed up with Dotty the tavern dog. Linda brought me a gift of a wedge of key lime pie from New York and a paper doll set from 1936. I really have no talent as a writer to explain both those gifts.
Everybody gambling was losing, but really they were winning because they were losing together and relishing it.
I stayed for an hour and cranked out the prose. I was a little disappointed I didn’t see a new OTA weirdo, but rest assured, they will emerge. How can they not in these times?
Story start: A man walks into a bar with nothing; he walks out with key lime pie and paper dolls. Oh yeah, that’s good….