They’ve been sitting at the bar since you were eighteen and used stolen ID to get into places like this in a Phoenix reduced now to slivers of city untouched, simpler and more confused than western dreams of renewal, worn and weathered nerve ends of living that still shimmer like the bottles of Red Stag, Mango Jack, Bicardi, Jose Cuervo and New Castle Brown Ale beneath the flat screen on the wall behind the bar. The woman with the curly blond hair at the end, the man with the white hair and short beard, baseball cap almost to his eyes staring at hands folded on the bar as if in prayer while a local jazz band begins a set with a keyboard riff you think is Rikki Don’t Lose That Number from the time your future lay in front of you like loose change on the bar and you could wrap your arms around the possibilities, hold them in place, but the clack and ding of a pinball machine interrupts and you realize it isn’t Rikki Don’t Lose That Number but Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, for all fathers, for your own father who also sat in this bar all those years, lost in glass after glass of Rheingold Extra Dry, Camel cigarette butt dangling from his fingers, ashes missing the tray, head nodding until they asked you to take him home, he too far gone to protest, slumping into the winter night, smiling for a second when the cold hit his face, teeth white and shiny the only part of him not stained with sorrow and you sense he is here amongst those who have sit for so many years at this bar where nothing changes.
The jazz number ends and a woman in a long flowing red blouse with black and green birds approaches the stage, jet black hair hangs below her waist, a shaman with a message for the new year and as she reaches for the mike the drummer begins a slow, steady drumbeat accompanied by the crying wail of a harmonica that reminds you of Jim Morrison’s Texas Big Beat rising out of the swamps but you are in this desert city tonight, coming home to this dive bar you’ve missed for so long and the shaman woman speaks of 2016 and its end and the world and the country and the neighborhoods and time – time you can’t slap on your wrist, program into your cell phone. We are here for a brief series of moments, she says. In the spaces of the music, life’s sole grace. And the goal is the same for all the pinball games, keep the silver balls from disappearing into the abyss.