THESE MANY, EMPTY, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS

“How you doin’ Pete?” asks Steve.

“I’m thinking about fish.” Pete replies.

Steve nods his head in understanding and resumes strumming his imaginary guitar.

Pete sets down a plastic box filled with sushi on the wooden bar in front of him. His shaky hands grasp the wasabi packet. “I call this one, Sushi Blues.” He commences to sing quietly, gruffly, accompanied by Pete’s [silent] strumming, “When there was no sushi, there was no packet. Ketchup, once, but never for fish. Bukowski said it best, ‘these many empty Saturday afternoons."

Steve nods his head in appreciation of the recitation.

“The power of song!” Pete exclaims, cracking open the wasabi and sending a thin line of the verdant goo oozing out like snail excrement. Rewarding himself, he takes a sip of watery Schaffer. Slowly. Meticulously. When he smiles, it is the lazy Cheshire grin of a man who was once at the top of his game and who has now sunk so low as to imagine himself still there.

Pete takes a long pull on his morphine lollipop and stares out the window at Gina The Wig Lady placing her delicates in a basket lowered from the apartment above the bar. Hanging over the narrow balcony railing is Gina’s mother with whom she has lived her entire life, save for the month of September '65 when she went to live with Vinnie Sip two blocks down on Mulberry Street. It pained her mother to have her so far away and so dutifully, Gina returned, never to leave home again.

“Whadda ya’ say Pete?” Gina’s voice an electrical wire.

Pete shakes his head; even though Gina can lay claim on this neighborhood back to when it was still The Five Points, Pete’s been here since the forties and feels his association with The New York Intellectuals sets him above and beyond.

Pete lets his eyes flutter closed and sings in response to the vibrations Steve is making in the bar’s dead air. “I walked in here, knew I was home….” He hums a few more bars and when he senses Gina has lost interest, opens them back up and smiles a languorous smile that once landed great beauties in his bed.

The next item to conquer is the soy sauce. Pete’s hands patiently look for a soft spot in the packet, but as luck would have it, does not find one. But time means little to Pete, and until happy hour rolls around and the bar needs this table for paying customers he can sit undisturbed, opening up as many packets of condiments, as slowly as he wants. 

Some hours later, he’s managed to mix the soy sauce with the wasabi to his liking, but by then his pop has been worn to a nub, and the need for anything - sushi, women, even poetry – has fled.

Pete settles back on the bench against the window of the bar, relaxing into a dulled stupor that recalls a time when nothing mattered. This bar is just a physical space, a jumping off spot, a dock at the end of Ditch Plains where he begins and ends each day, reuniting with old lovers and friends until darkness forces him to swim against the changing tides back home.