On the Patio at Harbour Lights

(This was written on 1/27/2013 as an assignment for the MatadorU Travel Writing course)

One night at the Replay a man in a Deadmau5 shirt bought me a shot of whiskey.  I threw up in the alley within 20 minutes.  My friend Jamie walked me to her place where I puked in her toilet for an hour then fell asleep in her bed while she slept on the couch. 

I met Jamie at Harbour Lights on Christmas Eve, 2011.  The place was nearly empty that night.  I noticed her when I was out on the old patio reading Joyce’s ULYSSES on my iPhone  and having a cigarette.  It was cold out.  I went inside, sat across the room from her, half reading, half looking at her.  Something about her.  Made me think of classic movie stars like Lauren Bacall or Rita Hayworth.  

She walked over and asked, “You want to play pool?”

I said, “Sure,” wishing I looked more like Humphrey Bogart.

Harbour Lights is like a friend that’s always there for you.  The interior is virtually the same now as it was when Jamie and I met.  The same dimly lit one-room bar, the same graffiti on the same walls, the same old pool tables and warped cues, the same people drinking the same drinks on the same stools at the same bar same as they always have.  The bathrooms have been replaced, but everything else is the same inside.

I push my way through a crowd of people that have taken over every inch of open space  and head toward the outside seating where I can have a cigarette and perhaps reflect that smoking with a sore throat is not the best idea in the world but, I feel, makes me strangely in touch with the human condition.  I’m sure Gogol or Dostoevesky wrote something about that very thing, or at least they should have.  Some story about a man with a head cold having a beer and smoking cigarettes meandering through a bar crowded with strangers trying to find a table on the back patio.  The table represents a purpose in life, a place to call one’s own.  I find such a table and sit out on the first level, under a cloudy night sky, surprised that none of my friends are here tonight.

The renovations to the outside began in July 2012.  Harbour Lights is one of the oldest bars in Lawrence, KS, located at 1031 Mass. St. on the edge of the downtown strip and hadn’t changed for a long time up to that point.  There wasn’t upstairs seating.  The heat lamps worked, but not that well.  “Employee parking only” and “WE B TOWIN’ AND U B PAYIN’” was still painted on the old back wall from the days before the smoking ban, before the back area was fenced off and made into a reasonable facsimile of a beer garden–or something like that, just some tables and chairs, really.  When construction plans were announced, there was some worry with the regulars that Harbour may go too commercial and drive off the loyal clientele.  Now everyone comments on how nice the changes are.

Megan and that poet friend of hers who wrote the poems about a dead girl in the woods are now seated at the table with “PLUR” carved into it.  The “PLUR” looks like it’s been there for some time, long before Deadmau5 and Skrillex came about, when I used to be part of the rave scene in Kansas City.  I miss those days and am glad that table wasn’t tossed out.

Megan and I hug.  I take a seat.  Megan points and says, “There’s a roof up there now.”

I look up at the sheets of corrugated steel covering the rooftop seating area.  “That must have just gone in.  Wasn’t there last week.”

Megan used to have long dreadlocks that went down nearly to her waist.  For some reason I’m not entirely aware of, she cut them off a few months ago.  She hosts a bi-weekly poetry reading at The Gaslight I’ve attended a few times.  She says, “You got the crud?”

I blow my nose.  “Yeah, probably shouldn’t have come out tonight.  How was the poetry reading?”

She replies, “It was so great; it felt like the first real one we’ve had.  Everyone spoke from the heart.”

I think of Jamie.  I think about writing from the heart, writing about a girl I met in a bar who I’ll never forget.

Wednesday Night at Harbour Lights

Arnold Schwarzenegger is killed in a nightclub.  After a few moments, he wakes up and shoots everyone.  I take a sip of my gin and tonic and turn my attention away from TERMINATOR and back to Instagram.  New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder has posted a photo of insoles from her ballet shoes.

To my left, I hear, “I could do the ‘t’ and the ‘c.’”  “You could do the ‘c,’ eh?”  The bartender is playing Scrabble with two young women drinking mixed drinks at the bar, neither of which look like they could do a pirouette.

The insoles are toe-to-heel, one parallel to the other.  Ashley Bouder starts the comments with, “At least someone is hitting a perfect fifth today.”

The Scrabble game is interrupted by a woman who has just walked in.  Her hair is pulled up and back, into a pony tail.  She is selecting her words carefully, articulating each with the precision of a ballerina dancing en pointe.  “I’m . . . wanting . . . to . . . have a draw . . . of Anchor Steam.”  Arnold is wreaking havoc in a police station.  The bartender, “Actually, the Anchor Steam just exploded.”  He turns to a man in a hoodie and blue jeans, sitting on a barstool.  “Ryan!  Check on the Anchor Steam.”  Ryan gets up to go change the keg.  Back to the girl with the Love Missile F1-11 hair.  “A jar . . . of . . . Sierra Nevada.”  “All right.  And we’ll know about the Anchor Steam as soon as Ryan gets back.”

“@ahsleybouder I thought you wore Freed not Bloch?  Hopefully those are insoles from flat shoes . . .:-)”  Ashley Bouder replies, “I wear Bloch”

Two heavyset women in sweaters and jeans are at the bar before anyone can make a play in Scrabble.  The bartender asks to see their IDs.  They are either amused or annoyed by this; it’s hard to tell from their expressions.  “Any shot specials?” one asks.  “Single and double specials.”  “Two Jagerbomb shots.”  Then, to her friend, “Fuckin’ Wednesdays.”

Arnold puts on his sunglasses.  Love Missile F1-11 is back at the bar.  The bartender is on it.  “ . . . All this fresh new Anchor Steam we have.”

“What kind of Bloch do you wear?”  “I thought most company members wore freed?  Special order?”  “@ashleybouder hahaha apparently the awareness that you wear blochs has torn a hole in the space time continuum!!”

The Terminator is still on the hunt for Sarah Connor.  I’m done with my gin and tonic.  It’s time to go home.