OPEN MIC NIGHT AT THE NEWLY RENOVATED OLD QUARTER
by John Waddy Bullion
Before I subject you to whatever country coffeehouse busker bullshit we got coming up next, a few announcements for the folks who just came in. The other people have heard it five times already, I’m sure, but they’ve been staring at their smartphones so we might as well go over all of it again:
Restrooms are upstairs. Pool table’s upstairs. Foosball’s upstairs. Giant Jenga’s upstairs. Big Buck Hunter’s upstairs. NBA League Pass is upstairs. Cabanas are upstairs. Outdoor misting system’s upstairs. A rotating menu of craft brews and cocktails with names like “Mr. Mudd” and “Mr. Gold” is upstairs. Influencer mural’s upstairs. Digital signage with real-time feeds of every social media check-in using the #oldquarter hashtag is upstairs. Bitcoin’s accepted upstairs. Your bros, your bitches, and your ride-or-dies are all waiting for you upstairs. Spray tans are staining trendy rompers upstairs. Loafers are staining untrendy sockless feet upstairs. The debit card you left behind last night is upstairs. The Uber Eats guy has been trying to find you upstairs. One of the gals from the spa across the street just lugged a briefcase full of Botox with her upstairs. A bachelorette who got hit in the eye with a string of Mardi Gras beads is threatening to sue everybody upstairs.
Now, wait wait wait, we’re not talkin’ about that.
Here’s what ain’t upstairs: a pay phone; a cigarette machine; a clear view of the night sky; a fishbowl full of business cards; a corkboard festooned with bad checks; a TV that’s forever stuck on the motorsports channel; a thick binder of karaoke songs with no machine in sight; a familiar name carved into a table; a hand dryer with defaced instructions telling you to PUSH BUTT; a one-eyed feral cat named Rusty; a stuffed javelina missing its lower right tusk; a little old Mexican lady selling tamales for a dollar; a set of coasters from a different bar; a speck of dried blood; a beer can pyramid; a human tooth; a bullet hole; a confederacy of dunces, dropouts, roughnecks, and peckerwoods; a home away from home; a semblance of order; a free exchange of ideas; a complete and utter shitshow; a mistake you’re willing to make again; a good reason to descend those creaking wooden steps and stake out a spot among a hundred sweaty strangers in a sweltering shotgun room, where the bodies are packed so close that if you want a drink you’ll have to pass your money hand-to-hand and say a prayer that your damp little wad of cash makes it all the way to the bar, and even though you’d give anything, anything, for a cracked door or a thrown-open window to get some air circulating, you know you’d deserve every decibel of the resulting shout-down, you jackass, because the last thing we need is for street noise to spill in and break the spell, because down here the music’s what needs to breathe, not you.
John Waddy Bullion’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Texas Review, Five Quarterly, Cowboy Jamboree, Revolution John, the Daily Drunk, and Sledgehammer Lit. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and daughters.