It was Tuesday night at a bar on Metropolitan Avenue in Bushwick. I was waiting for a band called Manburger Surgical to play some music. Manburger had played a few shows with my own band from time to time and I’d come to know them a bit. The bar itself was nothing special; the main room had a subway tile floor, black naugahyde booths running parallel to the counter and a makeshift dance floor, while the space reserved for live music was simply a big room with a stage and chairs stacked in the far corner. The room was nearly empty save for a few silent bystanders who seemed to accept their position in the room as purgatorial. A much older woman who had somehow crept in off the street shit-housed drunk had been faltering around the the place for some time now. Most stared at her with a nervous disapproval of her presence and turned a shoulder whenever she passed.
Naturally, this woman fell off her stool, sidled right up to me, and promptly slurred off a short mess of vowels and consonants that I did not quite make out. I asked her to repeat herself and she tried again, this time more successfully.
“Yeeaaaaah… this. This is… is my people,” she said in a matter-of-fact fashion. I smiled politely.
“That’s great,” I said, “glad you made it.”
“Yeeaaah, no,” she continued. “No. These are m’people,” I nodded along for a second before she lobbed me a curve ball, as I’d not pegged her for a confessional type. “My family. They hate me,” she said. My natural instinct was to offer some comfort, no matter how banal.
“Well, I’m sure they don’t hate you…” I said, after trailing off mid-sentence. I felt like a jackass because, if her family was like anybody else in the room, they probably did. She had lost herself in meditative silence. She turned quickly toward me, a grave stare leaking out from under puffed, lidded eyes. “You like Ozzy?” she said.
“Yeah, I do,” I said, pleased that we’d found some common ground “Ozzy’s great.” She lit up.
“Oh, Ozzy’s the… I love Ozzy,” she said, and then did her best to rattle off a verse of “Crazy Train” to no avail. I decided to split while she was in a moment of pleasant recollection and it didn’t even faze her when I slipped out of the room.
After the music was over for the night, I’d gone out to the small sidewalk porch for some air. It was a very small, crowded space on the side of the building reserved for drinkers and smokers, penned in by a wrought iron fence. I was having a cheap lager and a cigarette. When in Rome… I thought. Then, just as the door opened to let someone new outside, I heard Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” as it raged from a speaker inside the main bar. Sure enough, there was everyone’s favorite inebriate, busting her moves and rocking hard. As the door closed again I sat back contented and happy for her until I heard the song stop just before the guitar solo. Lame, I thought, who does that?
I went inside to investigate and overheard the bartender turning away she who had rocked so mightily. Too mightily. She wasn’t even asking for a drink, just the rest of “Paranoid.” No dice. Dejected and pissed off, she was stared out of the bar and the DJ put on “Love is a Battlefield.” Indeed. I walked up to the DJ’s table and requested a KISS song. He didn’t even look at me when he shook his head no. I asked for The Smiths instead. A fake smile and head shake this time, and just like that, everything was awash in the dull throb of ’90s hip-hop while dancers exhibited a slight bob now and then to differentiate themselves from the stationary masses. Fuck it, I thought, Hang the DJ!
I went back outside and sat for some time in the din of brash voices and the intermittent “ssshk” of a cigarette lighter. A very large and pushy woman had been sitting next to me for a while and I had been in and out of paying attention to her.
“Who’s gonna roll a joint for me?” she barked in half-drunk abandon.
She produced a small green/gray nugget from her hardtop seashell purse. “Someone always does it for me,” she looked around with outwardly vacant, vaguely sociopathic eyes and finally settled on me. “Here, you do it.”
She hulked over me, bulging out of a tight, black vampira dress at all sides. She resembled a twenty-something incarnation of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula — a villain who scared me so much as a child that my father had to remove me once, crying and terrified, from the theater during the movie’s finale. Now, 20 years later, I found myself desperately trying to find my father, or someone who looked like him, to escort me from the bar.
“I’m Veronica,” she said, as if I should have heard of her before. “I like to smoke, but only out of bowls. I mostly just do pills. I love pills.” I was quite horrified by this human nightmare while she produced an account of her intake of various painkillers over the last two years. She talked ad nauseam about anything that shot itself across her mind while I made her a terrible joint.
“Yeah, I met my best friend at fashion school. We were the only two people who showed up to, like, every class wasted. She made her own clothes, really cute, like ripped up jeans with GG Allin patches all over her butt. Then I dropped out and moved here and then back home and back here again. I’m from San Francisco. I’ve been bi-coastal for the last three years.” The word “bi-coastal” was used as if it were an uncommon medical condition.
“You’re from San Francisco and you can’t roll a joint?” I asked, in all seriousness.
“Someone always does it for me. Just shut up.” She attempted to suck her teeth in disgust at my question but failed and ended up making a weird noise with her mouth instead. We repaired to the side of the building for a smoke, which canoed so horribly that it was nearly useless. She tried anyway. Her lips were the color of a cooked lobster and stained the end of the joint, already damp from spit. I proceeded to decline it.
After she finished, Veronica went back inside to terrorize some poor, new innocent. Just as she turned toward the door she passed the evening’s initial shit-show, who was on the sidewalk, trying to remember the rest of the words to “Paranoid.” I started off for my train, the brash chorus of Bushwick’s finest just behind me.