I started going to this bar because it makes me twenty-five, but not twenty-five in the nineties, twenty-five in the seventies. The regulars are characters from the movies I grew up with: Travis Bickle pre-crazy mohawk, Theresa from Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Bobby from The Panic in Needle Park. Everyone is on edge, not yet violent but brimming with insistent energy.
Something’s always about to break in the Star Bar.
I get a shot of whiskey every time and I haven’t had to pay yet. The music is a dream, funk and soul and sex. Every song’s a favorite and the dance floor is pure democracy. Nobody has a cell phone or a credit card. Nothing is artisanal.
Things aren’t so great on the home front anymore with both of us not working.
Someone’s going to come on to me sooner or later at the Star Bar.
The apartment is all nerves and question marks.
Any luck?, I ask the spouse. He has melted into his computer.
And yourself?, he says without looking up.
I borrow my daughter’s clothes. (You know those outfits Jodie Foster wears in Taxi Driver? Well, that’s what they’re marketing to your middle-schooler.) I leave the house every night in bell-bottoms and hoop earrings and platform shoes.
You probably want to know if I’m getting laid at the Star Bar. Do I like it rough? Are there bruises on my arms and legs?
Am I afraid of needles?
I miss the bar when I’m at home. I want the smoke and the good vibes and those generous smiles. I crave that long, low ceiling that makes me feel held tight by the city.
I do not want to share the bar with anyone.
One night I kiss a guy in the hall by the payphone. I wonder if he knows he’s kissing someone’s mom.
In the restroom I feel great compassion for the young woman I see in the mirror. I know I can take care of her now.
A row of shining faces lines the bar. The men stare at me as if I have an answer for each one of them, and they are right. I have always had the answer. I am supposed to say yes. Every time you don’t say yes, you ruin the story.
—Are you seeing someone else?
—I’m seeing everyone. And myself. I’m finally really seeing things as they are.
—The colors are different in there. The fabrics. Even my hair is softer in that place.
—Are you on drugs?
—I wish. Looks like you need a drink, though.
I take the spouse to the Star Bar. He tells me the whiskey is shit and the crowd is disgusting, all druggies and whores. My body falls apart right there on the barstool. My friends, an instant mob, drop their smiles and start moving toward us, slow and sure.
I know how this movie ends because I saw it as a kid. The critics will be harsh, but the people will keep lining up for it. They won’t be able to tear themselves away.
Jan Stinchcomb’s stories have appeared most recently in Whiskey Paper, Atticus Review, Five:2:One and Gamut Magazine. She is the author of Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015) and she reviews fairy tale-inspired works in “Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower,” her column for Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Southern California with her husband and children. Find her at http://www.janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.