2020_07_28

Back At The Bar

Jim used to come to this bar all the time, back when he used to live a couple of streets up, back in that interim of time where he’d just graduated college but hadn’t found a real job yet. He lived there with two good friends and the three of them would come down the street and spend most afternoons in the bar. Sometimes his friends would be at work and Jim would just come down alone with a book. Crazy how time flies. That had been years ago now. Now he lived in a different part of the city and he had hardly thought of this place in years. As for the friends, they’d both found adult jobs, started adult relationships, moved on with their lives, as had he. But when he’d seen the old bar as he was driving along on an errand this afternoon he’d decided he had to stop in, for old time’s sake. He found a spot just a half a block a way, parked, and walked along the sidewalk, back to the bar. Funny, he realized, he didn’t even remember the name of the place. They’d always just called it "The Bar." He didn’t bother looking for a name this time either; he just walked on in the door, walked over to the same old table as usual, and sat down. The place looked pretty much the same as he remembered. Wood paneled walls, checker-patterned linoleum floors, red bar-stools at the bars, cheap plastic chairs at the tables, random sports decorations on the walls. He found himself thinking back to that time in his life, where he’d spent so many afternoons here. He hadn’t thought about it much in a while. So many fun times with Johnny and Mike, his good buddies at the time. He missed the two of them. He missed the fun they would all have. He suddenly wished he could go back, back to that time. For just a day even. They would hang at the bar, go get pizza slices down the road, then go to whatever party was happening at one of the friends’ houses in the neighborhood. They’d ride bikes around for hours. Nowhere to be, nothing to do. Utterly care-free.

The bartender called to him across the room from around the bar, "Hey buddy, what you drinking?"

He ordered a cheap beer and the man brought it to him in a pint-glass. The place was pretty empty and the bartender looked a bit bored so he hovered by Jim’s table, hoping Jim might chat with him. That’s what’s so great about a place like this, thought Jim. You can just have a nice conversation with the bartender on a Tuesday afternoon.

"You know, I used to come in here all the time," Jim told the bartender.

"Oh yeah?" asked the bartender.

"Yeah, about six or seven years ago. Wow, can’t believe it, but yeah about that long."

"You ever wish you could just go back in time, have a quick taste of the good old days once again, maybe just one more day?"

It was a weird thing for the bartender to say, considering that it summed up how Jim was feeling exactly. Jim told him so. Things hadn’t been going very well with Jim and his girlfriend lately. She wanted kids. Soon. He just wasn’t sure he was ready for that whole thing.

"Yeah, I miss the simpler times," he said, thinking about all that.

"Well," said the bartender, "finish up that pint. It ought to help with that sort of thing," and he laughed. "At least it always helps me."

Jim laughed too, then he downed about half his pint in a few gulps. He took a big breath, then downed the other half.

"I’ll have one more of these, then I’d best get back to my complicated life," Jim told the bartender with a grin.

The Bartender smiled, went off behind the bar, and soon brought him another pint. Jim sipped this one more slowly, savoring it and reminiscing about the fun, crazy things he, Johnny, and Mike used to get up to. Finally, with a sigh, he got up, went to the bar, and left the bartender some cash including a hefty tip.

"Hey," called the bartender after Jim as he walked toward the door of the bar. "Enjoy your day!"

The bartender winked.

"Thanks!" called Jim and left.

He started walking up the sidewalk towards where he’d parked his car. Except when he got there the car was nowhere to be seen. You only had two beers Jim, he thought to himself. Keep it together. Where the heck did you really park the car? Was it maybe one more block up? He walked another block up, but the car wasn’t there either.

"Hey, Jim!" cried a voice behind him. A voice he knew. He turned around. Sure enough, Johnny was standing right in front of him. He didn’t look like he had aged a day either.

"Johnny! Wow, good to see you. How long has it been?"

"You just come outta the bar?" asked Johnny, ignoring Jim’s question.

"Yeah, funny thing, I was driving around and decided to stop in for a couple of pints."

"That’s funny, I was just about to stop in there myself."

"Oh, well it’ll be weird I was just in there, but mind if I join you?"

"Come along, I want to know what you’ve been up to."

They walked back down the sidewalk and back into the bar. Johnny went first and sat at their usual table. The bartender from before was nowhere to be seen. Instead there was a blond woman behind the bar. Jim though she looked vaguely familiar.

"So, how’s Florida, man? You surfing or what down there?" asked Jim.

"Florida?" Johnny looked at Jim quizzically. Jim’s mind raced. Is this really happening? At that point the bartender called from behind the bar.

"What’ll it be, boys?"

"I’ll have your cheapest beer," said Johnny with a wink to Jim.

Jim laughed. "Same for me."

She walked over to the table.

"Can I see some IDs from you boys?" she asked.

Jim laughed. He hadn’t been ID’d in what, six or seven years, at least. Then he stopped laughing. It had hit him. What on earth were the odds of running into Johnny outside the bar the exact same day Jim happened to stop in, after six or seven years, when Johnny didn’t even live in this state? And he hadn’t even understood what Jim was talking about when he’d mentioned Florida. And maybe his car had disappeared because... well because... No, what you’re thinking is crazy, Jim. You just can’t find your car, and by some weird coincidence Johnny is in town. The other bartender wasn’t magic. He was just a normal dude that switched shifts with this lady right after you left. Play it cool. He began to fish out his wallet, but the bartender interrupted him.

"I’m just joking, I know you’re twenty-one."

She brought the beers over. Jim took a sip of his. At this point he was beginning to feel a little freaked out. His hand was even shaking. Without realizing what he was about to do, he found himself standing up.

"Listen, Johnny, I have to be right back. I have to check something."

"What do you have to check?" asked Johnny, looking just a bit annoyed.

"I... I think my car got stolen or something."

Now Johnny just looked concerned, and a little confused. Jim ran out of the bar. He needed a second to think. Was this really happening? How was this possible? That other bartender had sent him back somehow. Back to six or seven years ago. It had to be. The bartender had disappeared. His car had disappeared. Johnny didn’t know anything about Florida. He was young enough that the new bartender had joked about ID-ing him. He ran back to where he now knew for sure that he had parked his car, to check again. It was indeed missing. This couldn’t be happening. He was only joking about wanting to go back in time. He now found that he missed Rebecca, his girlfriend, immensely. What if he screwed things up in this loop? What if he never even met her? He put his head in his hands and groaned.

At this point a voice behind him said, "Excuse me, mister?"

He turned around. There was an old man in a brown jacket standing on the steps of a shop several yards down the sidewalk. Jim walked to the old man.

"Was your car parked there?" asked the old man. "Because if it was, they towed it about twenty minutes ago. They do that all the time on this street. I don’t get what their rush is. But people never see the no-parking sign. I always have to come down and tell ’em what happened."

The man gestured to a no parking-sign that was mostly obscured by the foliage of a tree growing from the sidewalk.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" said Jim. He was never so happy to have his car towed in his life. In fact the old man looked a little surprised by how Jim was taking the news.

"So, it’s still twenty-nineteen?" asked Jim, joyfuly.

At this the old man looked at Jim even more strangely. He chuckled uneasily.

"Yep, it’s still twenty-nineteen. Are you feeling alright there?"

"Yes, I’m good," said Jim.

The old man gave Jim the details of the towing company and the yard, which he luckily kept handy, and then Jim turned and walked back to the bar.

"Yep," he told Johnny as he slid back into his seat, "my car got towed."

Johnny was still looking at him weirdly.

"You don’t sound too upset about it, there, Jimbo."

Johnny laughed. No one had called him Jimbo in six or seven years either. In fact, Johnny was the only one to call him that, really.

"To tell the truth, I’m not. It will be alright."

Johnny shrugged.

"Well, do you need a ride anywhere after this?"

"No, that’s alright. The guy who saw my car get towed told me there’s a bus that goes out, pretty much straight to the lot."

The thought of riding in the car with Johnny had caused Jim to remember something: He hadn’t ever really liked Johnny. He’d always felt like Johnny was silently judging him. That’s even why he’d moved out. Jim hadn’t seen Johnny for years, but he suddenly didn’t want to spend any more time with him.

But to be polite, he sat and caught up for a bit, and learned that Johnny had only lived in Florida for about a year. After that he had moved to Wisconsin. Jim soon finished his beer and stood up, once again.

"Well, I’d better go catch that bus. But it was really great to see you."

Johnny nodded and said the same. They hugged. Out at the bus stop, Jim thought to himself, you know, let the past stay in the past where it belongs.