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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Emerson Dameron

10:00PM: show up. Stomp my feet, though this bar's already a filthy tide pool. The bartender doesn't seem particularly happy to see me. Rather, she seems like she was already pissed about having to work, and seeing the doorman punch the invisible clock doesn't cheer her. As I'm always concerned I'm going to lose my job (whatever job I have, when applicable) for general uselessness (most jobs I've had, I can't believe anyone will tender actual money for what I do, but I also don't understand how advertising works, at all, so there you go), her indifference concerns me. A bit.

10:06: observe that the bar has, despite the abysmal weather, attracted a crowd. A small crowd, in four or five dense clusters. Confirm the theory about God running out of extras by tagging everyone in sight a doppelganger for someone I know, or knew. This one guy looks like a guy I work with, though I don't think the guy I work with drinks. Realize I have no hard info there.

10:16: cycle all the way through the smug rejoinders I have for customers whom my presence seems to annoy. "It's what I do." "It keeps my parole officer happy." "Trying to catch the terrorists." Begin again.

10:18: "Just trying to catch the terrorists." "Well, you got this one." [Grin.]

10:20: encounter the night's first customer who stares blankly and asks, "Are you checking IDs?" Pass up the "No, I'm the world's least competent pickup artist" quip, as I usually do now. Let's make it a simple "Yes," which turns into "Yes. Yes, I am," as if taking control of itself. Listen to her giggle like a nine-year-old as she talks about how old she is. She is all of four years' your doorman's senior.

10:26: witness the first interest in the jukebox. My stool rests directly beside the jukebox. I read the Reader in its soft, flashing light. When customers hover over the jukebox for more than a minute or so, I get claustrophobic, unless they talk to me, in which case I mention, nicely, how fucking sick I am of the Pixies and Neko Case. When there are too many cooks in this musical prep kitchen, I get claustrophobic, and I don't say anything. Silent dude meditates at the jukebox for about five minutes. His bubbly girlfriend pulls up behind him, jumps up and down and says, "Ooooh, play 'Tiny Dancer'!" If a customer plays "Tiny Dancer," the 1970s Elton John chestnut featured on his Madman Across the Water LP (which our jukebox does not contain) and the Almost Famous sound track (which it does), one of the bartenders whips out the remote and skips it. Always. Do I share this info? Too late.

10:28: once, a young lady leaned over in my face and shouted, "Tonight… I'm going to smoke pot… for the first time… in six months." She then turned her attention to the jukebox. "I'm going to play a Prince song. What Prince song do you think I should play?" M'dear, I think you should play whatever Prince song you'd most like to hear. It's your thirty-three-and-a-third cents. "I think I'm going to play 'Soft and Wet,' by Prince. I think that would be appropriate." Nothing like this happens on 22 Jan.

10:29: the tamale man shows up. Buy tamales. Although they're hot, they remind me of the Icee Push-Ups I consumed in my younger days. A customer lets himself out, to chat on his cell phone. Jets of icy wind take his place. I shiver.

10:46: observe that no one is drinking alone. Remember the mysterious dish of a gal who sat alone in the bar and read, that one time, for about an hour. She was waiting for her boyfriend, come to find out. No one drinks alone. Groups generally have a raison d'etre, which often moonlights as a reason to drink. Notice that these people are, as of now, coming along, quite nicely, in their drinking.

10:51: witness some obnoxious behavior, not a bootable offense. Wish the bar had a time-out corner. You don't have to leave. You just have to sit here, for five minutes, sporting this conical hat, and think about what you did. This obnoxious behavior involves a harmonica. At least it's not a kazoo, this time.

11:11: listen as a large group, perhaps a birthday party, groans as one.

12:01: "Beer o'clock," the bartender calls it. After midnight, I drink for free. Gain sympathy with customers. Actually start conversations with jukebox patrons. Realize you have to be drunk to get the most from drunk people, which is why my plan of going to parties, drinking one can of beer, refilling it with water and watching the party disintegrate never made me happy.

12:10: bark "no cigars" at beefy guy with cigar hanging off lip. "Thanks," he barks back.

12:16: douche with eyeliner returns from cell phone break, letting in the winter.

12:17: douche's phone rings. Again, he retreats outdoors.

12:28: "I was gettin' nervous there. It's a really deep bag." Smile, pull "It's not like there's a sign on the door that says, 'Please Have ID Ready'" from the back of my mouth, replace with "It lets me tell my mom I have a job."

12:32: know that, in more ways than one, I suck at faces. I'll ask you for ID a million weekends running, unless you give me something to remember you by. Some sort of story. Distinguish yourself, if you want to, in the future, get waved past the checkpoint. That's your lookout.

12:46: notice that the new arrivals are, by this time, already half past drunk. Hear a gurgling din of voices, none of which present a narrative, or even recognizable words. They could all be repeating "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb," like frustrated movie extras, movie extras who realize they might very well not get laid tonight, movie extras not yet drunk enough to refuse surrender.

1:16: nod at bar owner's party, as it finally departs. Observe that guy with cigar is owner's boyfriend. Or bodyguard. Or a little bit of both.

1:20: fret about lack of intuition. Seven years of college, and this is all I can do. My life is a joke I'm only beginning to get. Give bartender the Scout's salute as he comps another PBR. Decide to start calling "Pabst" at Chicago bars, as that's what the bartenders always say when "PBR" is called. Fret about possibility of receiving Pabst's Red Ribbon, White Ribbon, or Honorable Mention brews as a result of break with tradition. Realize most bartenders don't even ask anymore.

2:11: give departing customer directions to a dance club. ("She wants me to do this.") Give him directions under assumption that he's driving, down to parking pointers. He doesn't dispute the format. He's going to be driving drunk, like a lot, if not most, of the people who leave this place. Some even make shotgun agreements on the way out. Reflect on 16 Dec 2000, when a four-block trip home led me into a legal wind tunnel for a year. (Cop cars on both sides of the road. Cop rolled hand around, meaning "turn right and drive around the wreck;" I thought he meant "roll your window down, as this is a checkpoint." My hands were immediately on the hood.) These people are doing something stupid. And they're probably getting away with it.

2:45: last call. Normally, getting customers out of here at last call feels like getting acne off my back. Tonight, they filter out peacefully enough.

3:00: flip sign around. Sign won't scrape ice off window. Kill flashing Christmas lights. Lock door behind last reveler. Haul garbage.

3:20: see bus roll by as I'm walking to the stop. Sit down, make self comfortable for thirty minutes.