The bar slithers like a snake, undulating from the front door all the way to the jukebox. From Woodward Avenue to the Allman Brothers Band, from the front steps of Ferndale all the way back to Kid Rock and Frank Sinatra and Cat Stevens. Past the dart game. Past the golf game. Past the beer posters and beer mirrors and the “Little Nut Hut” which glows red and yellow on this quiet and cold Saturday morning.
Sneakers Pub. A Ferndale bar originating and conceived long before the “renaissance,” that transformation that turned Royal Oak into Greektown without the “Opa!,” that turned Ferndale into New York without the Dustin Hoffman. This is still a bar for the full-timers. The dudes working 75 hours a week making sure your toilets aren’t spilling sewage onto your newly sanded wood floors, the dudes fighting the deadly chill while working on your windows so your Christmas cactus doesn’t wither in these gray morning hours.
I’m the first one there. First one of the day. It’s not even noon, and I’m thinking of sucking down a million High Lifes and 20 bottles of Bushmills. It’s another cold Michigan morning and I’ve just about had enough. Of what, I’m not sure. I’ve just had enough, that’s all.
“Can you turn off the TVs? I’m gonna put on some music,” I ask the man at the end of the bar, obviously an employee, with his dark blue work shirt, his dark blue pants, his salt-and-pepper mustache and his tired, sagging eyes.
“Absolutely,” he mutters, sliding off the black stool, obviously hating this disruption, this request, this demand on his time.
“I don’t get too many people this early anymore. Used to. Not anymore.”
His name is Carl and this isn’t his only job. If it were, he would look much angrier, slouch more rebelliously, grimace more horribly. He works just two days a week here. On the weekends. The rest of the week he’s installing phone service for a company he started years ago. Before his mustache was gray, before his Saturdays were spent making broccoli soup. He makes the soup after he cleans the bar of all dirtiness of the night before.
The grill lies still. It’s fresh, beautifully brushed steel. Nobody is here, except Carl and me. Nobody can see it shine except him and me. I’m sure it makes him happy, that blue-steel shine.
The wind chill is below zero. It’s violently cold. A terrible cold, an enemy, as it invades your cap, your triple-layered gloves, the ragged underwear you’ve sworn to throw out this year.
But I’m in Sneakers now. And it’s warm. And I’m the only customer. It’s not even 11 a.m. yet. The best drunk there is, this morning drunk. If you’re a drunk, I mean. If you’re not, it’s still a riot. Drinking while moms are driving their kids to the mall, drinking while people are buying snow blowers and ripping down wallpaper and snapping the dirt out of their laundry room throw rugs.
Carl tells me his son used to work at a certain Mexican restaurant. He asks if I know the place.
“Of course. Fifteen bucks for a plate of beans and rice, how can I forget? I haven’t been there in years. I refuse. I ain’t paying 15 bucks for two very simple foodstuffs. Rice and beans, man. How can you charge 15 bucks for rice and beans?” The Miller is kicking in, the Bushmills is gaining strength, the mouth is loosening. I’m inside. And the rest of the world is outside. Freezing their asses off and letting their cars warm up for the trip out to the dollar store.
“Anyway, my son waited on Mitch Albom. You know who that is? I used to read him all the time. Really liked his stuff. But my son says he’s a real fucking asshole. I don’t read him no more.”
“Good for you, Carl. I think Mitch Albom is an asshole, too.” I can’t really tell you why I think this is so, but I think he’s the kind of guy who could not help but be an asshole. Tuesdays with Morrie? Fuck. This is Saturday morning with Dan and Carl and we both condemn you to asshole-hood, Mitch. Take that! Grab me another Miller, Carl. This is fun!
The Millers are filling up the tank. I better order something. Better mess up that pretty little grill or I’m gonna get hammered. Better make some room first. I head for the men’s room, almost tripping on the red matte carpet. There’s a fly buzzing around inside, right above the urinal. I stare at it. A fly? In January? It’s a morning of miracles.
There’s a new guy tending bar when I get back. His name is Jimmy, and it looks like he just got out of a barber chair. Not a hair out of place, not a part out of whack.
“Can I get a burger, Jimmy?”
“Absolutely. How you want that done?”
“I don’t care, Jimmy. I just don’t care.”
“Coming right up.”
It’s 11:24 a.m. It’s snowing.Dan Demaggio dines with interesting people for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org