Today’s Drinking Story:
Here we see Nik Korpon hanging out with Hollywood’s sleaziest movie-maker in Baltimore’s sleaziest bar.
The Pine Box isn’t the kind of bar you take a first date to. Or a second date. Or anyone who has anything of value in their pockets.
For the record, the bar isn’t actually called The Pine Box, but I’ve changed the name for
two reasons. First: This is not a flattering story. Though I’ve heard the bar had been lost in a card game and resold since I last visited, I’m not flush enough with cash to handle a libel charge.
Second: The Pine Box shows up in many my stories, but it’s based on this bar.
So, The Pine Box isn’t the kind of place you take a first date. The floor is covered by
varying colors of chipped laminate, each owner convinced they had better taste than the last but unwilling to pay for an entire floor. Three touch-screen game consoles sit atop the L-shaped bar, strands of Christmas lights stapled to the masonite edge. On the glass game screens, two women show all of themselves, one holding a baseball and the other holding a basketball. The object of the game is to spot the difference. Beer is served in plastic cups to avoid spilling blood when an argument gets out of hand. Towards the back, patrons shake hands under the table and there is always a line for the bathroom. The men’s and women’s signs mean nothing and the toilet never flushes.
I bided my time in Purgatory, as I was wont to do in my early 20s, sitting in the middle of
the bar and nursing my fifth or eight Bud. Condensation no longer clung to the outside of the cup. A man pulled out the stool behind me. His left eye was smaller than the right, the shiny, smooth skin of a healed burn like a halo around the outside. His skin was light brown and hair like raven’s feathers, so when he said something I couldn’t understand, I assumed it was some indigenous language and not the six or tens Buds messing with my hearing. Then his dog jumped up in another empty stool and I wondered if it really was the beer. I’ve seen the man and his dog walking around Baltimore numerous times since then–and never with a leash–then one day I saw him without his dog and haven’t seen the man since.
After watching the dog lap water from a plastic cup on the bar, I decided it was time for
me to leave. I grabbed my coat and tossed down some money and walked to the door. When I opened the door though, in walked John Waters. Just like a fucking movie. I held the door for him, muttered something and made like I was just getting there, even though that was ridiculous because he would’ve seen me. In my head, it made sense. He took a seat by the dog and I followed.
I thought I wasn’t being conspicuous, just sitting down and ordering some beers all
Brando-cool. I thought I wasn’t being obvious, staring at him in the mismatched bedroom
mirrors that hung behind the bar. I thought he would high-five me when I told him that the promo idea he liked so bad for Cecil B. Demented, the one with the bullet casings and the film reels, I was the one who came up with that. Of course, I wasn’t any of those, and when he turned to me, presumably to say, ‘What the fuck are you staring at?’ I said something along the lines of ‘Kathleen Turner is so fucking hot.’ Which, she’s not, but. He gave a polite response, something about being a lovely lady.
I somehow turned the exchange into a conversation, Baltimore small-talk type of stuff.
The whole time he spoke, I kept looking at his mouth, imagining the ray-gun sound he made when he was on The Simpsons. At some point, the dog knocked over its glass of water and I clapped like one of those wind-up monkeys wearing a fez.
Between the Budweiser haze of the night and the ten years that’ve passed since the night,
some of the details have been smudged in my head. I can’t quite suss out what I said aloud and what I wanted to say but didn’t. Of the whole evening, I’m pretty sure the thing that’s most clear in my mind didn’t even happen: John Waters takes a sip of his drink, sets it down and slides it away from him. He leans his elbow against the bar’s edge, points his thumb and forefinger at me and squints an eye. His finger is a brightly colored ray-gun and he’s wearing a bowling shirt.
Nik Korpon is the author of Stay God, Old Ghosts, By the Nails of the Warpriest and the upcoming collection, Bar Scars. His stories have appeared in Needle Magazine, Speedloader, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey and a bunch more. He lives in Baltimore. Give him some danger, little stranger, at nikkorpon.com.