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Bar Dog


B A R     D O G

                2625 words                                                by Tim Uhr






"Is your bite as obnoxious as your bark?" she smiled, cracking the mirror behind me.

Why do I let myself in for such torture? My best line, shot down like a helpless dogfighter, by a girl Snoopy would probably turn down a free root beer from.

I walked slowly away, fighting to regain my composure. It looked like another dog day afternoon.


*           *           *


Ben Halloweed, an unusual person at his usual place on a Friday night.

If the people around him were to take a moment to think about it they would perhaps chuckle as they realize that Ben is what would loosely be termed as a "regular." How long has he been coming to this bar? Popping quarter after quarter into the assorted games that line the back wall? Talking to almost no one? Wasting time, but seldom getting wasted.

Bars are usually thought of as good for two things; bringing a stranger home for the night, and for getting drunk.

These objectives may be buried somewhere deep down in Ben's particular arrangement of priorities. How deep down they were buried can only be guessed at, as he seldom got around to either.

Ben's entrance may have been noticed, but it wasn't noted.


* * *


Would it be Mrs. Pac Man or pinball all night; or at least until they stopped serving this flat, warm, year‑old, draft beer? Ben knows that he will probably run out of quarters first, even though he's come with the usual stock. Pockets filled with quarters, he jingles with each step. He walks slowly, like a true gun-slinging cowboy, not for the dramatic effect, but for the weight of the quarters holding him back, and also to keep from sounding like a Christmas song. Jingle Bells, or Silver Bells anyone? With ten dollars worth of loose quarters in his pocket he can be a proud cowboy by Mae West's terms, even without a gun. Ben would be decidedly happy to see Mae, to break up the routine a bit.

He wonders how long he has been coming here, wasting quarters and getting wasted? A dog‑gone long time . . .

Bar's are funny places. Do people really come here to drink? A place were you have to take out a second mortgage on your home to get drunk ‑‑ what with the exaggerated prices. Possibly the attraction is the atmosphere, or the decor ‑‑ third century gutter. With all that going for this place the owners feel they can get away with charging five times Supermarket prices. It must be the artful beer posters and lighted signs, second only to the beer commercials themselves, which is the real draw to these places. Class ‑‑ when you want class you can drink your beer from a glass. The pinup girl on the calendar above the bar could tell you a thing or two about class!

The bartender hands Ben his first beer, asking if he needs change.

Ben replies that he is getting sick of the dull, old routine, and that, yes, it was about time he has some change!

Ben gets all quarters as change from the ten he has given the bartender for the beer . . .

Ben turns away a bit red‑faced, walking with a slight tilt, a wiggle and a jingle from the excessive amount of quarters in his left pocket. The ring full of keys in his right pocket gives him a sort of "stereo" effect. It is likely that he will now be able to close this place down, having enough quarters to last a while. He has more than sixty quarters! ‑‑ and he will need them, for although Ben plays these video and pinball games more than anyone who ever lived, he is only adequate at them. Frustration for Ben is to see a little kid drop his quarter in a game, then when Ben comes back three hours later, the kid’s still playing on the same quarter. That is the one good thing about bars, you have to be 21 to get in, and thus the games are usually relatively free. Since Ben plays these type of games so often he can walk up to any new game and do well enough to look like he has played it before. But after that initial play his improvement is usually minimal, no matter how many times he plays. The next few times he plays a game he might get a few more points, but seldom does he reach that point where people say "Wow! Lookit em' go." Leveling out somewhere at a point just less than that of the average five‑year‑old's first attempt, Ben plays on.

While, although his hand-eye coordination isn’t very good, at least he's usually able to understand the object of a game pretty fast. Which is not true when it comes to the social games people play, they totally baffle Ben from the start. Making his choice between social games and electronic games every time he's here, Ben's learned to come with a load of quarters because his choice always seems to be the same . . .

Ben is quickly trying to decide if he should head toward the pinball game or the Tron game. Tron's nice because it is a table game and you sit down when you play, plus Tron is close to the bar, and chances are good that a quick run for a beer can be made without losing his seat. Not to mention the fact that Tron happens to be his favorite game. While the pin ball game is a bit less nerve‑wracking and intense, and although it is stuffed away in the corner furthest from the bar, it also happens to be the best spot to watch the dance floor from, and watching pretty curves shake on the dance floor can be almost as much fun as a good game of Tron.

The reason Ben finds himself standing at the pinball machine digging a quarter from his pocket is because by playing Tron would be admitting defeat early. It was important to keep up the guise of an attempt at conversation with one of the many lovely ladies who came here with the hopes he will talk to them. He knows that once he starts at Tron the beers will flow too smoothly and quickly and he will find himself there all night engaged in endless battles with spiders and tanks. So many hearts would break! Not saying "boo" to anyone all night was one thing, but he might even show being upset at someone breaking his concentration by interrupting him in the name of friendship. After all, supposedly, the reason he comes to these places is to meet people and, truthfully, only the female of the species. If he comes here just to play games he can buy all the games he wants to run on his computer. As a matter of fact he has never even played a game on his computer.

Ben starts on his first ball. Beer at his side, flippers keeping time to the music, the pinball game was like home. Occasionally he will steal a glance to the dance floor. It is early, so the only people on the dance floor is an older couple. His attention is focused wholly on the pinball game and so his first game goes fairly well.

The place is filling up as he starts on his fourth game of pinball and second beer.

The dance floor now possesses three girls who must have been let in with fake I.D.'s. They are all giggly and jumpy and dance almost as fast as they talk, and naturally they talk faster than they think. They're cute in a flighty sort of way. Couples come and go with each song, but these three with tennie‑bopper type energy look as though they have ideas to dance all night.

They have the energy to dance all night. Ben has the inclination to watch them dance all night, but it's doubtful he has enough quarters to stay near them at the pinball machine.

Wait. Is it Ben's imagination or is the small, cute one, with the Mohawk and sideburns, stealing glances his way every now and then? But Ben's embarrassment keeps him from watching them to see if one or more really are looking at him. Nonetheless he tries to look as cool as he can, and refrains from dancing at the pinball machine.

Ben doesn't mind dancing, still he prefers dancing with a girl rather than a pinball machine. There are many guys who won't admit they like to dance, they say they do it just to get girls. But as Ben would point out, dancing is a good way to work off the beers and of minimizing the crummy feeling due in the morning. It may not be as much fun as basketball, but it's easier to do when drunk. And it does make it easier to talk to girls, although if it were a prerequisite that he had to dance before a girl would talk to him, he would just as soon date the bartender. But for the unimaginative guys it's a good icebreaker. All girls like to dance. Ben never met one who didn't, and doesn't expect to, excluding dreams.

Dancing stone sober is entirely another thing. Everyone does a little jig every now and then when no one is around, but to get up on a dance floor in a room full of people is something that works a lot better with a few stiff drinks in one's system. Dancing doesn't seem to embarrass girls, although Ben's not surprised because this is the gender that also likes to show off their bodies in men's magazines. Ben admits that there are some guys who will pose nude, but most guys have too many hang‑ups (or too much modesty) about it, subduing their need to show off. Dancing is the same. All girls do it, most guys won't.

Sex is a bit different, but Ben's not really sure how. It's harder to tell who will and who won't and under what circumstance. This is an area where social games, that Ben doesn't pretend to understand (and doubts he ever will), play a big role.

Dancing and pinball, yes, Ben Halloweed has the best seat in the house. "If only girls were as predictable as pinball games," is a thought that has gone through Ben's head more than once. Maybe that's his biggest problem, for every time a girl starts playing games with his head he looks for the slot to put the quarter, and never finds any instructions on her.

"I'll never get a free game if I keep this up." A ball lost due to lack of concentration. Losing the ball is bad enough, but Ben curses himself for also losing his composure in the bar and committing the number one sin of all video players ‑‑ he talked to himself. See, girls think you're strange enough when you come to these places and play video games, but if they see you talking to yourself, they're sure you're strange, and no amount of convincing can ever change that fact. Ben's tried before.

Ben remembers that once a girl he was quite fond of caught him doing something stupid, something along the line of doing a jig when you think no one is around ‑‑ only the one person who you would least like to be there, is. He tried, with red face (and red isn't one of his better colors) to explain to her that he was not insane, inane, or even just plain strange. After finally assuring himself that he had convinced her that he was not strange, she turned to him and simply said "Someday I plan to marry a strange man."

Ben wishes he had then stuck a banana in his nose, got down on one knee and told her that in his heart she would always be appealing. But he just left her with a baffled look in his eye, went home and thought about it for three days. He never saw her again . . .

So what? Ben talks to himself. What does he care what these people think of him, most he'll never see again, unless they're the type of people who come to a place like this regularly, and those are such weird people that he doesn't want to know them and doesn't care what they think. Ben wishes he really thought that way. Admiring the particular breed of people who can make fools of themselves one day and come out bright and early the next and face the world. Ben wished he were less self-conscience.

Ben would be better off, he thinks, if he didn't think.

It looks like this night will end early as Ben has no idea who or how many people have noticed him talking to himself.

Ben figures it's about time to leave the pinball game.

Another beer, and over to Tron.

Ben makes his way over to the bar.

"Hi there, what'll it be?" asks the bartender. The bartender remembers Ben, but not his name. It is doubtful he ever knew it, or would ever care to.

Ben, answering decidedly above a whisper, yet in the somewhat hoarse voice of someone not expecting to talk, "I'11 have a Michelob."

"One Mic coming up! Need quarters?"

Before Ben can answer, the bartender hands over Ben's beer and change ‑‑ in quarters. Ben walks away slowly, keeping a hand on his pocket, trying to keep the change from jangling. Ben is mumbling to himself, as he makes his way to the Tron game, about the insult of a bartender that keeps giving him quarters.

But Tron is taken! Ben wipes the tear from his eye . . .

What is he going to do? He was just joking, it's just an act, and it’s a put‑on that he comes here to meet people! Ben only comes to play Tron. He doesn't want to talk to anybody. He has more fun playing Tron then he would asking some girl what the weather is like in the galaxy she comes from. He isn't on the same plane with these people!

He thinks of jetting right on out of here. He can't talk in cliches. He would rather talk of favorite authors than of favorite colors. If he happens to speak of space when he's with a girl he wants to be referring to the vacuum and the bits of matter that are in it that make up all that is, and not the place between her ears.

Something somewhere tells him that he should be willing to put up with a little mush behind the eyes if the eyes themselves are pretty. Desire. It runs deeper than the warmest springs; it's almost impossible to keep it from surfacing, yet we are sad when it finally does run dry. Desire is lust wrapped up in fancy paper waiting to be opened and set free.

The girl playing Tron has just finished her game. He has to do something before she puts another quarter in. He has to think of a way to get her away from that game. He needs a Tron fix, and she was standing between him and his habit. If he could muster up enough nerve to talk to her maybe she would get bored and leave. But is he that desperate?

There she sat.

Here he stands.

Here he no longer stands.

Here she sits.

Here he comes.

These are desperate times; drastic action must be taken.

"Hello, haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

She giggles and with a sardonic smile, "I don't think so."

"Oh, I'm sorry, It must have been in a dream."

The giggle turns to a smile. Ben doesn't believe it!

"Do you believe that dreams can come true?" Ben pushes forth, slowly gaining a shred of confidence.

"Dreams are for sleepers." She shakes her finger at him.

"Doubt is for daydreamers, who are afraid to try to remember their nightly dreams because they are too much like reality."

"Reality spurs hope, while dreams and fantasy can only bring hopelessness." She kept volleying right back. ­

"I hope and work to make my dreams come true, hopelessness could only set in if I denied these dreams and pretended they didn't exist," he explains.

"You've heard the Jewish proverb; 'Sleep faster, we need the pillows?"'

"Ha, ha!" This laugh is genuine, and Ben is used to having his slightly insane sounding laughter scare people away. But this girl stays. His usual embarrassment about his laugh is no where to be felt, he's comfortable enough not even to think about it. "You've missed the old Beatles proverb, 'I'm only sleeping."' He comes right back.

"Ah, sleeping is fine as long as one's life isn't built around it. Remember you're 'ONLY' sleeping."

"Dreams are a different level of consciousness trying to communicate with your waking state."

"Dreams are nothing more than fantasy acted out as a release of tension and stress. Dreams are the residual of the daily pains and have about as many hidden meanings as going to the bathroom does," she retorts.

"Sleep is in the eye of the beholder . . . And if he would wipe it out he could see a lot clearer."

Her laugh is stifled by, "Hey come on Sharon, all this talk about sleep is making me tired," a female friend standing next to her, who Ben hadn't even noticed and wishes it had remained so.

"Well, actually I was on my way out . . ." Ben stammers, face again that unbecoming red. He makes his way to the door.

Ben can see her watching his exit from a mirror on the door, and perhaps it wouldn't be too vain for him to believe that he recognizes a touch of sadness in her eyes.

He goes out the door, gets into his car and heads home. As the night ended rather early he sees quite a few couples still in the streets walking hand in hand. That is an advantage of leaving late, he notes.

Back in the bar, Sharon turns to her friend, the one she had sworn to herself that she would never talk to again just seconds ago, and says, "How about a game of Tron?"

Sharon knows she can beat her friend at Tron. For Sharon is quite good at Tron. But she wants to play it right now mostly because Tron is a game that takes some concentration, and doesn't give you time to think.

Sharon smiles as she pops two quarters into her favorite game.












Anytown's favorite hangout

Elm Street Tavern is Anytown's favorite place for great drinks, music, and atmosphere. We feature several giant big screens and a great dance floor. We feature live music and DJs every weekend. Our outdoor patio is the perfect place to relax, unwind, and have a great time. Locals often visit Elm Street for a game of darts, shoot a game of pool, or groove to our pumping 10,000 watt sound system. Don't miss your favorite band or DJ. Check out our Events page. We look forward to serving you at the Elm Street Tavern!

Tuesday and Friday Happy Hours feature $2.00 drinks from 5-7pm.

Come enjoy Monday Night Football on our giant big screens, with our special $2.00 hot wings!

Thursday Night Texas Hold'Em

Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday Night Karaoke

We have a large non-smoking section

Elm Street Tavern
123 Elm Street
Anytown, AA 12345
(555) 123-4567

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