Recently I’ve been reading a wonderful book called Come Here Often by Sean Manning & many others. (which can be purchased here) It’s a wonderful book of essays about the writers’ favorite bars, or at least the bars that hold a certain place in their hearts. This has inspired me to write about a certain bar from my own history and what position it holds in my own sorted past.
I hate Murphy’s Pub. I hate just about everything about it. From the cheap shots that they pour down the patron’s throats, to the barely legible bass heavy music, to the Discovery Channel-esque feral display that is commonplace on the weekends. It’s a place where souls go to sleep for a night and the decisions made by drunken synapses run supreme. It exists where it should not and like an open sore it festers there. The people who frequent it are vapid, aggressive, sex crazed, shameless, and blind.
And goddamn if I don’t wish I could be one of them again.
See, I didn’t always have such disdain for the place. No, in fact I myself used to call the place “My Bar” like any good twenty-something that believed that he could claim something for himself just because he spent one or two nights a week there. It was exactly what I wanted in a bar at that time. The two dollar bottles of beer, the pounding music, and flashing lights provided that coveted sensory numbing sensation in spades. I didn’t just want to be intoxicated in my blood, I wanted everything to be drunk, from my skin to my hair. The only thing that I wanted to remain mine to control were my eyes, just so I could see the pretty girls, and not so pretty girls, gyrating and dry humping out on the dance floor. The fact that it was only two blocks away from my apartment also helped.
Murphy’s is kind of like a temple. It’s divided into two sides. On one side, that only opens on the weekend and is still easily recognizable as the convenience store it once was, is a large space with grey speckled tiles with only a few tables scattered about. There two main focuses of this side. One is the bar, a non-Euclidian structure full of angles that defies logic. No matter where you stand you’re at a corner and you can simultaneously see everyone face to face and hide from all eyes. The other is the dancefloor. Basically the space without tables and a single brass pole set in the middle. After taking enough communion at the bar to cover a solid year worth of Sundays the next step would be going to the dancefloor where the rituals take place. Here you give yourself up to something more powerful than you. Movements that travel from the far reaches of history course through the joint, forcing those participating to sway, jerk, and thrust. They move with a delusional spirit (and spirits labeled with a proof).
The other side is far more intimate, in terms of space. It’s a tight claustrophobic space with only dim lights and barely visible neon glows to light the walls. The movement on this side is reserved for shuffling to the bathroom or a game of pool. This is where sins are confessed. Or more accurately, obsessed over. This is where those who have tired of the celebrations have taken themselves, hoping to find salvation in a more somber surrounding. To be fair, I didn’t spend a lot of time on this side, but in a classic case of guilty by association, my backslide from the pub couldn’t make an exception for it.
A night at Murphy’s Pub for me went something like this.
At around 10:30pm I would arrive, just enough time for me to strip off my work uniform and put on some clothes that weren’t in desperate need of cleaning and might be at least a little appealing towards the opposite sex. The place would usually be pretty empty except for a few more “religious” few who needed all the time in the place they could get. Being there that early usually gave me the chance to catch the last couple of innings of the 2nd broadcast of The Brewers game. I would order my first beer and quickly down it and then step outside for a cigarette. This was my goodbye to the real world for the evening. The next time I would feel the air outside, my legs would be a little unsure and my nose unable to smell the flowers hanging from the street lamps that lined the street Murphy’s sat on.
By 11 I’d have another beer in me and if I was feeling especially froggy, a shot as well. The crowd usually would have doubled by this point and would continue to grow steadily until closing time. If I was lucky, someone who had already done a good deal of drinking on their own would hit the dancefloor. I have to admit there was something admirable about their lack of shame as they danced by themselves, without any other body hiding them. Their moves were on display for all to see and would often become immortalized by a Facebook post.
By midnight, people I actually consider friends would begin to show up. They were gracious people and would try and catch up with me as soon as they could. We’d spend an hour bullshitting and bitching about our jobs, this person or that person, or anything else we felt capable of complaining about over the sound of the DJ and his Ipod. I wish I could say that we were goodhearted people with only positive ways to find enjoyment. But more often than not we’d find ourselves standing at the borders of the dancefloor playing Statler and Waldorf to the dancefloor now full of Muppets. When that wasn’t entertaining enough I would play a little game I like to call Leech. Murphy’s was a collection of circles. Be it a group circling around a member of their own who was crying over a recent breakup, or a circle planning out who’s place would host the after bar party, or a circle of people who felt the need to bunker up against the onslaught of outsiders. I would jump from circle to circle under the pretense of being a long lost friend or someone who shared a similar mindset. The goal of this was simple, scoring free drinks. I usually only brought thirty dollars with me max, but I would usually drink as if I had brought forty.
At 1am I would join the Muppets. Not because of some desire to express myself with dance, no I had a much more sinister goal in mind. See, by this time I would’ve spotted a girl in the bar that I wanted to fuck. I wish there was a more poetic way to say this, but to do so would be to legitimize it more than it deserves. But, I’ve come to realize that as doggish I may have been, my basic method for achieving my carnal desires was to allow myself to be taken advantage of. I would dance, I would provide laughter for unfunny jokes, I would shower compliments, and most importantly, I’d buy drinks. I’ve decided that the times that this worked had nothing to do with my abilities as a Casanova, but the woman’s charitable side.
At closing time, I would join in on the mad scramble for that glorious final drink then it was outside for The Suicide Run. I call it this because essentially this was the last chance anyone had to either continue the night by latching onto someone who was willing to open up their house and alcohol to a bunch of drunks unwilling to let the houselights tell them it’s time to stop. Either that, or it was the last few moments to settle unfinished business. This was the time to start that fight with the asshole giving you the eye all night, or laying out that final flirt that would convince that girl to come home with you. The amount of time available for The Suicide Run was never set, all that is known is that you have until the red and blue lights of a police cruiser start flashing.
It was a pretty good itinerary for me and I adhered to it for a couple of solid years. Until one night. I had reached the 1am portion of my night without any problem or deviation. But that all changed when I spotted the girl I was going to try and take home. I’ll avoid using her name here. She appeared to me very much like a jump scare ghost shows up in horror movies. I knew who she was as she had a place in my history. She had dated an old friend of mine, a fine Lothario he was. Honestly it wasn’t easy seeing someone in that bar that he hadn’t dated or at least slept with. That’s what made her different. She was the one who never shared a bed with him. He made that painfully clear with the way he talked about her in a negative light after she was out of the picture.
The people I was with knew what I was up to. They pieced it together really quick. I wanted the one girl my old friend didn’t have. I laid it on thick and relentlessly. I can’t begin to say what was she was going through at that time, but I can only imagine that it was some sort of crisis, but by the time Suicide Run descended on Murphy’s, I was taking her home. To celebrate the moment, I promptly called my friend and told him about my indulgence in the conquest of his that got away.
It took me a few days to realize exactly what I had done. Then a few days after that to realize that I had transformed into a human being that I didn’t particularly enjoy. I still went to Murphy’s every weekend for a while after, but the temple had been tainted. As my own evils became more visible to me, so did the sins of the bar. The kids sneaking off to the bathroom to shoot heroine, and the blood spilled in the back alley were unavoidable spectacles. The sagginess of the drunken women and the wetness on the lips of those who desired them became attracted my sight more than the dancing and Brewers game. Within a year I began to see Murphy’s Pub as the den where all the problems of my small town boiled down into a concentrated stew.
I stopped going there without announcement. There was no big farewell party or mournful toast. I just removed myself from the scene and I highly doubt whether or not anyone even noticed, which honestly, is probably for the best. The last time I was there was when some coworkers from a new job convinced me to join them. I tried my hardest to participate in their revelry but I couldn’t pull my eyes away from a short haired, tattooed, brunette and a pudgy kid with nervous hands and a penchant for cheap beer trying desperately to get her attention. I had been replaced and the ones who did the replacing would never know that they had done it.
Murphy’s Pub is still there and I still hear about the horror stories that are birthed there on a nightly basis. I wish I could tell the people who bring me these tales that it’s easy to get rid of them, all they have to do is learn to hate the bar. But, honestly, that would be the same as trying to convince them that there’s a certain good in hating themselves. And if you’re a patron of Murphy’s Pub, there’s just no damn room for self-hatred.