Case Study: A Night in a Midwestern Dive Bar. By Patrick Murphy.

By Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy likes to travel. He frequently drives from state to state. (U.S., continental, perhaps it should be mentioned. Driving to, say, Hawaii is difficult. He does not very often do this.)

Patrick feels funny talking about himself (a.k.a. Patrick, me, I, whatever) in the third person. But every once in a blue moon, it happens. (Reference: tonight. Give Patrick a break. He’s had a feverish bout of writer’s block lately.)

Patrick also likes to fly and travel overseas. But that’s not what Patrick is doing tonight.

Patrick is digging the lower 48 at the moment, particularly states which begin with vowels; states that are traditionally “red.” States that are neither West nor East. Middling sorts of states. And that’s where Patrick finds himself now.

Patrick has stopped at a Midwestern dive. It’s a low-class (hey, no judgment), rural, tiny-town little podunk bar. Patrick sits at a barstool and orders something. He does this while looking at the broken ceiling tiles above him, the dirty, cob-webbed lights in every fixture. He does this while double-checking his seat before sitting in it (carefully, of course; Patrick does not wish to offend the locals). The seat has cigarette burns but no recent condiment spills. Patrick is pleased. He proceeds to order his “drink” before visiting a bathroom with doors that do not shut, with floors that do not lay flat, and, in fact, before realizing that the bar is not actually in a real-live building but instead is comprised in some grand amalgam of pole-barn and double-wide trailer. You know, thinks Patrick, this is the kind of thing that routinely gets slammed by a tornado.

A momentary pause while Patrick does his deal in the restroom and then returns to the bar for, as it turns out, the world’s absolute shittiest mixed cocktail. (Watery, lots of ice, heavy liquor, not heavy enough to compensate for what must be both under-syruped and moldy soft drink lines.)

Patrick sighs. (As any traveler would when accosted with such a clearly inferior drink.)

Patrick, being fond of Patrick, feels that he is intrepid and worldly, even in the lower 48. So he checks out the locals. Toothless man drinking nameless beer in plastic cup. Highly floral, perfumed, and permed middle-aged lady drinking something equally (probably) floral, perfumed, and permed in similar plastic cup. Bartender, also middle-aged (Patrick himself is also middle-aged so feels it is a fair thing to say), in black cut-off midriff t-shirt, painfully tight jeans, and non-glassed but obviously astigmatic eyes.

The bartender is not, as Patrick notes, herself inside of a plastic cup. But perhaps she should be. Not that she’d fit. (The plastic cups are not, as the kids would say, “party-sized.”) Patrick believes he may be a wit. (He takes what he believes to be a thoughtful sip from his very own plastic cup.)

He keeps looking around, and checks his watch to make sure it is still, in fact, June. The discolored Jack o’Lantern paper cutout and the equally discolored Christmas lights have made him a little uncertain of time. Plus, there is that truly subpar drink in the plastic cup and the fact that the plastic clock behind ol’ Astigmatic doesn’t work.

Ol’ Astigmatic stops “working” for a second to adjust, quite delicately, what might be termed as “her crack.”

Patrick wishes his drink was stronger. (Seriously, what the hell? Patrick adjusts his wishes and expectations. In fact, it could be said that Patrick comes to his senses.)

Patrick, intrepid anthropologist as he’s feeling he might be and/or become, orders another drink anyway and focuses, deliberately, away from Astigmatic’s Lycra/Spandex/Poly crack.

Suddenly there is sudden, loud, aggressive, profanity-laden yelling ’round about the pool table.

Patrick looks at the moldy floor, the trailer environs, even at ol’ Astigmatism and wonders how a pool table hasn’t actually just fallen through what passes as a floor here. Patrick is glad it hasn’t, yet. He gives a plastic cup “clink” to the mascara’d and hollow-cheeked apparition on the seat next to him.


The bartender has decided to lean over the bar and shout the melodic refrain of “Drink it, you pussy.”

Patrick thinks that, were he the pussy, drinking would, of course, be the absolute safest course of action. He is glad he is not the object of Astigmatic’s encouragement.

The door flings open. Patrick winces. “Who knows what dreams may come.”

Patrick may or may not wish his plastic cup of inferior beverage were refilled with, well, who cares? He looks to the door.

She is, to be frank, disheveled. She has also, to be even franker, clearly pissed herself. Recently. There’s a wet stain covering the front of her jorts. And still spreading; thus, still wet. She has a shriek like an eagle: “Okay, who stole the seat to my moped???” There are several F-words in the question, too, but Patrick decides not to record them because Patrick is a gentleman, even in a trailer, even with a plastic cup, even with his mouth open wide at the sight of a banshee who both has misplaced the seat to her moped (!) and has also, there is no good way to say it, wet herself.

She glowers towards the pool players, hitches a seat on a bar stool. Grunts, orders. Astigmatic hands her something in a (you guessed it) plastic cup.

To be fair, Patrick thinks (Patrick is always thinking. It’s a curse.), she couldn’t get very far away without the moped seat. Or at least, she couldn’t do so comfortably.

Patrick decides a car is infinitely preferable to a seatless moped, to a ramshackle little Midwestern bar in an “I” state; infinitely to be preferred to the watery concoction he’s been paying too much for.

Patrick is, as it were, quite grateful that his car has not had the seats stolen from him. But he gives a good, hard look at the pool players. Just in case.

And Patrick pays and walks out the door.

He doesn’t even glance backward. Not even for effect.

There truly is a moped in the parking lot. It doesn’t have a seat.

“Damn pool players,” Patrick thinks.

And Patrick drives, mostly soberly, just far enough away.

There’s more of the Midwest to explore tomorrow, after all.

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