Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: Old Phil In Town

     I was sitting at the bar at the Crooked Angel. It was late. I should have staggered home, across the back parking lot, a couple hours ago. Home to my shack. The saloon had been roaring along just fine a bit ago, but the band had stopped and the crowd had dwindled and I was sitting here on my usual stool, waiting for my ass to take root, waiting for the Voice of God, waiting for the clean up crew. Molly had long ago given up on me. She said she would rather I fall off a bar stool in her place than down the street. She didn't like it though.

     A couple of guys just slightly less drunk than me came in the back door. Orange County wise-asses. They were the frat boys of Ruby Beach, the ones who lived in Orlando where the money was and came slumming over here on the weekends. They liked to play tough and some of them were. I had given up on that challenge many years ago, but every time...whatever. Much to my dismal delight, they took the stools next to me. Molly's Number Two, Little Missy, came over to take their orders. All of Molly's bartenders were ex-dancers. Survivors.

     “What's up, boys? What can I get ya?'

     “Two Bud drafts. And there's a dead dog tied up to the bicycle rack out back.”

     “What's that, sweetheart?” She started filling the beers from the tap marked Budweiser. It was Busch.

     “Yeah, as we were coming in we saw this dog on a leash laying on its side with its legs stuck out stiff and there was a little drool coming out of its mouth. It was gross. Karl nudged it with his toe but it didn't move. It was gross.”

     Little Missy finished topping up their glasses and said “I'll get somebody to go see. Here ya go. Last call is only a minute or so. Want me to pull you a couple more?” Molly was gonna be rich as hell someday.

     I heard the whole thing and as soon as I heard 'dead dog' I raised my head and looked around the more or less empty bar.

     Missy said, “Blix, could you go see what that dead dog is all about?”

     "Yeah baby, no problem.” There he was. My Uncle Phil. He was back in the corner by the pool tables. He saw me looking, winked, and ran out the rest of the table with one hand while he carried on a conversation on his cell phone. Yet another pair of Orlando frat boys were watching, stunned. I knew from long experience how this was going to go. Missy took a little ceramic bowl from under the bar and filled it from the tap in front of me. The Red Stripe. I was wobbly as I carried it out but I made it to the back door well enough, without spilling much of Tuesday's beer. As I passed by the pool tables a couple of beefy Orange County college boys slid off their stools.

     “That's bullshit!” the one who looked like his name might be Biff said. “You're a fucking hustler!”

     “Either way, you have to pay,” said Phil. I went on out the door. Those assholes had no idea what 'either way ' meant. They were about to learn the meaning of 'pay'. Ruby Tuesday was laying on her back, legs stiff and straight up in the air at the bike rack. Phil's old stripped down mountain bike was behind her, unlocked. I heard shouting inside the bar.

     “Here ya go girl, here ya go, a little Red Stripe.” When she heard my voice and 'Red Stripe” she immediately flipped onto her feet, magically gaining weight and vitality in one split second and laughing her dog laugh.  I untied the leash.  “Let's move a little away from the door, girl.” I set down the terra cotta bowl and Ruby took a tentative first taste and then slurped away with abandon. I sat down on the bike rack, wondering how I had forgotten to bring a beer for myself, when the back door of the bar busted open with a violent kick from inside and the two Biffs came storming out, rolling their shoulders and steaming and getting themselves psyched up. They were obviously fans of those bloody fight contests on TV. It always looked like violent man-sex to me and I am not into that kind of thing. I have worked construction my whole life, but at school I studied philosophy and literature and while war may have symbolic merit for some, I myself would rather walk away. I don't always do that, but it is my preference. The two Biffs saw me.

     "Watcha lookin' at, homo?”

     “Ambulance meat,” I said. I looked at Ruby. She couldn't stop smiling.

     “What's that supposed to mean?” He looked at his buddy. “I thought that fucking queer hustler was coming out to fight. Where the fuck is he?”

     “You little rascals could just get in your Hummer and leave. Why do you guys drive all the way over here to start trouble? We're just a bunch of surfers and sailors and fishermen. All that he-man stuff is for you tourists.”

     “Maybe we'll just kick your ass instead!” said the previously unheard from Biff. They were getting themselves thoroughly worked up. It was sad, really.

     “Well, good luck, then.”

     There was a barely perceptible trilling from somewhere overhead. Ruby Tuesday transformed into a snarling hell hound and leaped at the throat of the nearest Biff. She could be very convincing for a recently risen dead dog. I don't think she has ever actually ripped out anyone's throat, but if you ever caught her act you would be certain that she could. Not that it mattered. Old Phil Stine leaped from the roof of the bar and was on Biff number two before he had any idea what was happening. That was it. It was over. One Biff pissing his pants, a wild wolf ripping his throat out, apparently, while some kind of flying man was crouched over a fallen Biff, holding him by the front of his shirt, speaking with fierce danger directly into his face.

     “That man you beat... Ruby!” His dog stopped slavering and growling at the throat of the unharmed bully. She backed off, stiff, every hair on her hide standing, quivering. Phil turned back to the guy he was holding by the shirt front. He banged the guy's head on the ground. Hard. “That homeless man you beat is still alive. That's the only reason you will live. For now. Change your story. Tell the truth. Or I'll find you and you won't get a second chance.” Both Biffs were crying now. They knew the truth, finally, that we all must one day learn: no matter how bad-ass you think you are, there's always gonna be somebody bad-asser. The trick is to not encounter that one, and if you do, don't cross him.

Hopefully, these college guys learned something. Probably not.

     Old Phil Stine stood erect in the parking lot, watching the two fallen varmints stumble to their SUV and get inside and pull out, quietly, humbly, as though afraid to disturb the fabric of the universe and thus encounter yet more god-like wrath and vengeance. Beside him, his dog Tuesday was standing, only a little scary now, but still possibly a rabid animal and dangerous. He turned to me, stern and serious.

     “We should talk, nephew. I need a favor”

Ruby Tuesday smiled.