6th & South, Circa 1997

good-dog-bar-and-restaurant-philadelphia-1344978990I hate her, with her hand on her hip like she’s got attitude, spouting words like water, ranting for her supper like some old guy in skinny jeans with a goatee. But she’s not that old guy and she’s never going to be. Instead she’s a pretentious rich girl who feels like “slumming it” is the ticket to getting recognized for what she calls poetry but what I call swill. Call a spade a spade. Christian is thinking the same thing I am as he sits across from me rolling his eyes faster than she can spout her idiocy. It’s her first night here. I would have remembered someone like her.

But then again I guess everyone’s like her at the Good Dog Cafe, in the back room that’s really just an extension of the one room. The place is small, probably about as big as one of the lofts a couple of doors down where a few of my friends crash. And it’s cramped. We fit inside it like sardines in a can wriggling to be free, no one claustrophobic in here, which rules out quite a few people who visit South. The street, not the pub. Out in the main room someone’s singing “Free Bird” and I want to puke, but I’m not drunk yet. Getting there, but not yet. Christian is throwing down shots someone bought him. He’s so lucky, I think.

On the small makeshift stage she’s still talking like the world owes her something, liberally abusing the F-word. It’s apparently going out of style and she wants to get as much usage out of it before it’s as passe as the old guy she’s trying so hard to be. She’s a smoker. It’s obvious in her eyes, that haunted look that’s probably about the most authentic thing about her. Her fingertips are stained too, I notice, as she accentuates her words with a motion of flinging her hands out like she’s trying to reel in a fish, to reel in an audience that has already moved on to the next guy waiting in the wings.

2340520709_fc49d94674Christian is flipping through pages of poetry he writes but never shares. He’s cool like that. It reminds me that some people are real, that not everyone changed their underwear this morning, that not everyone has more than one pair of underwear. And that’s okay. That’s real. It bleeds out in his words. I’ve been lucky enough to hear them in private, not on this ramshackle stage that could fall apart at any moment. He shifts in his seat, a sure sign he’s getting antsy, that he needs his pills, but he’s not going to take them tonight. We’re going on the street later to do some major improv and he likes to be lucid for it. His word, not mine. I’m ready to go now.

She finally finishes on stage, and I realize I never caught her name, or if I did I threw it right back. She’s interchangeable with all the other trust fund kids who think the world owes them something, who think they’re being “cool” by coming to South Street, by hanging at coffee shops and pubs and doing open mics because they can. But in back corners, and in alleys, and out windows that overlook the river, we laugh at them. We laugh at their plastic faces, and at their stained fingers, artfully arranged to full effect. We laugh at their over-inflected words that condescend instead of celebrate. We think we’re so incredible when all we did was happen to be born in the slums and we never did anything to rise above that.

Christian has that look in his eyes now, that psycho look that I know too well. He took something before he came in here, and I sigh because I know he won’t be lucid at all, that he will only spout so much nonsense when we ad lib later. It makes me sad, and I know he doesn’t understand why. Sometimes even I don’t know why, but at times like these he reminds me more of people like this girl who got a quiet clap when she left the stage instead of the force of nature I know he can be when he’s sober. He gives me a look when I glance his way, a look full of pain that I only see when he’s vulnerable like this, and I feel nothing.

I feel nothing as I sit there waiting for the next round, and my turn on that makeshift stage.

Sam

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