magical bar across the parking lot

by John Grochalski

once upon a time
there was this magical bar
across the parking lot
from the wine store where i worked

i usually went there on my lunches
not every one
but the ones that came after
the little napoleon of a boss
hauled me into his stinking office
to yell at me for my facial hair
my stained pants, my un-tucked shirt
or whatever sundry things
that he could find wrong with me

napoleon didn’t like me
because i didn’t like working
in the wine store
and he could tell

but the magical bar
across the parking lot was my refuge
there were old men in there
talking about the old times
men finished with their years of labor
free of their own napoleons
free from their wives for a few hours

and the waitresses were beautiful
young women who didn’t care about college
who still hadn’t put high school behind them
living in the same town where they grew up
having small dramas
with their unemployed boyfriends
in the parking lot at noon

the bartender knew my name
he knew my drink and had it ready for me
before i even had the money out
never stood around and bullshitted
just left me alone to drink and eat
the hamburgers they served
left me alone to pump dollars into the jukebox
to play temptations songs
and not talk about working
in the wine store

but one time
after a bad day on the job
after idiots had broken wine bottles
dousing me with cheap white
all over my pants and shirt
and napoleon hauled me into his office
to tell me once again
what a disgrace i was

i went over to the
magical bar across the parking lot

but it didn’t feel the same

the old men seemed dour
the waitresses seemed older
the bartender set my drink down
without saying hello

he just handed me the menu

i didn’t even feel like playing the jukebox

what had happened? i wondered

then i looked to my left
and there sat my boss
there sat my napoleon
with a hamburger on his plate
and a tall glass of coke to his right

he stared at me
and i stared back at him
as i drank the first of what would be
four drafts of labatt blue that day

and i never went back
to the magical bar across the street
again

the end.

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