You might be surprised to learn that the loft my husband and I call home has a bar directly below it.
The entrance to the bar – which I will call Journey’s End – would be easy to miss except for a small lighted sign with the bar name and a martini glass that hangs above the inconspicuous front door like a homing device for drunkards. The establishment is windowless – a long narrow space with red walls and a hodgepodge of tacky memorabilia scattered about. It is bordered by a long bar with stools on one side and a few scattered tables on the other At the end of the bar is an old-fashioned jukebox, with a surprisingly well-curated collection of tunes which we can hear and sing along to as we climb the stairs to our place.
This is not one of those fancy-schmancy bars that are popping up all over our city – the ones where bearded hipsters wearing suspenders and tweed newsboy caps serve craft cocktails to attractive professionals and artsy types, and their bar menu includes items like mini corn dogs and loaded tater tots – but only ironically.
No, the Journey’s End is a bar for serious drinkers only. Day drinkers. Grizzled men who look like they’ve seen better days, and women with 80’s hair and throaty smoker’s laughs.
They come for the daily $5 Pabst-and-a-shot special. They come not to be seen, but to remain anonymous. They come because at the Journey’s End, there is zero judgement if you want to knock a couple back before noon.
When my husband and I first downsized and moved into our loft, we felt like urban trailblazers. We were the only people we knew who chose to live downtown – an area in the midst of a major revitalization, but also one with a sizable homeless population and a certain grittiness that some can deal with, and some can’t.
The day we moved in, I was coming back from my car where I had unloaded a box and was carrying it toward our front door. Just then, a guy who looked to be in his 50’s or 60’s emerged from the bar. He was balding, with a bulbous nose and a sturdy build. He looked like someone who should have a peg leg and a parrot perched on one shoulder.
He took a couple of steps, then stopped, swaying a bit before unzipping his pants. I watched in horror as he proceeded to pee right there in our doorway. In the same way most people would drop off a fruit basket, I suppose it was a Welcome To The Neighborhood gesture, of sorts.
Needless to say, I was not happy.
I walked over and confronted him. “That’s our doorway you just peed in,” I informed him, with a look of genuine disgust.
“Sorry”, he mumbled, obviously embarrassed. But then, eyes downcast, and in a slightly accusatory tone, he offered up a laughably lame excuse. “But some people have medical conditions, you know.”
“Oh – you mean the kind of medical condition where you drink 8 beers and then have to take a piss?” I responded, rolling my eyes. “That must be so awful for you. I saw you coming out of the bar – I’m pretty sure they have a bathroom in there you could have used,” I added.
He merely shrugged his shoulders and skulked away.
I knew I’d seen this guy hanging around in the general vicinity before, and I vowed that I would be a colossal pain in his ass from that day forward until I got him to head for greener pastures.
But oddly enough – right after I called him out – he suddenly transformed into Alfred Doolittle from My Fair Lady.
“Good day, m’lady”, he’d now greet me, with a tip of his cap and a slight bow.
What. The. Holy. Hell.
I’d still see him hanging around on our street more days than not, and I’m pretty sure he slept in a beat-up pickup truck that he would park and move around throughout the day. But now he seemed to have a certain dignified air about him It was like he had taken it upon himself to be the official spokesperson for the neighborhood.
Deciding I had nothing to lose by accepting his olive branch, I asked him his name one afternoon.
Co-tour is what I thought I heard him reply.
“Cooter?” I repeated.
At first I was dumbfounded, and then it was all I could do to keep a straight face. As in haute? It was so pretentious – a name Gwyneth Paltrow would come up with for Apple’s baby brother. Certainly not the name of a scraggy bar fly.
I didn’t laugh though – I figured he had changed his name in an attempt to recreate himself. And doesn’t everyone deserve that chance? I found out he was an artist and a musician. He obviously had much more depth than I had given him credit for.
Lesson learned Anna, I told myself. You may not look like some people’s image of an alcoholic, but you are. He didn’t look like my image of a renaissance man, but he was.
A few days after we moved in, I purchased a welcome mat to place in the downstairs doorway. I hoped that it would discourage people from smoking, peeing and loitering there, but instead, I stepped outside after only a couple of days to find it had disappeared. I should have known better. Things that aren’t bolted down don’t usually last too long in my ‘hood.
However, the next day – low and behold – the welcome mat was back. I was completely perplexed. First of all, who steals a welcome mat? But more importantly, what kind of sick, twisted individual actually brings it back?
“Did you see what I left for you?” I heard Couture call out.
Turning around, I saw him a few feet away, with an expression of obvious pride.
“What?” I asked, perplexed. Then it hit me. The welcome mat. He was the one who had returned it.
“I found it in a dumpster. Some guy from the bar threw it in there. I cleaned it up and put it back for you.”
I couldn’t believe it. What a nice thing to do, I thought – suddenly feeling guilty for the ill will I had harbored toward him.
And from that day forward, Couture looked out for us. He even did a painting for us, which was pretty darn good.
One night, I actually confessed my concerns about my drinking to him. I’m not sure why I spilled my guts to him. I guess I figured he’d get it. We talked for almost an hour while he stood outside the bar, smoking. Mainly he just listened.
He always asked me how I was doing after that – and he asked like he actually cared about the answer
A few months ago, Couture moved. He told me that he had found a couple of roommates to share an apartment with not too far away, just one city over.
He assured me that he’d still be around, but I haven’t seen him since. I imagine with the amount of time he spends day drinking, he decided not to commute and found another bar closer to home.
I came across this shirt online recently and had to buy it. It made me laugh and reminded me of Couture. I hope I get a chance to give it to him someday and find out how he’s doing. Because truth be told, I miss him.