It was nice in here, long ago, when the news wasn’t on all day, when the channels on the tube above the register didn’t require a team sweater. Hard to pinpoint when it all changed, but there surely was a time when the customers made nearly the same amount of money, lived in the same kind of houses, shared the same sense of modesty. They looked out for the other guy, argued and made up, ostracized no one. Sure, over boilermakers they’d gossip, sometimes maliciously, but they’d come back the next day, sit at the bar together, start over. The resiliency of their relationship to the place, and to each other, was borne of hundreds of such instances. Now the only thing that seems unchanged is the wood paneling, the sleigh bells on the door, and the neon sign in the window. Red, then blue, then off for a sec; repeat ad infinitum.
When the real arguing started it seemed mundane, until people started leaving in bitterness, stopped showing up the next day, then the next. The words had changed, knowing or snide commentary discarded in favor of brutal personal attacks. Instead of another fiver on the bar for the next round, a dollar tip, a look of disgust, and exile. Sometimes there was no interaction, the choice of news network was compelling enough. Look at the T.V. , shake head, leave at once. “They have the real news on at the diner…” they’d say, and be off.
Nights are the worst now. Agitated by traffic, they come in looking for a fight, and always find it. It is a bunch of vehicles of hate in here then too, charging at each other, spewing the pungent but empty fumes of their fuelers, horns a’honking.
The barkeep had to weed the jukebox – the soon to be ex-regulars would squawk whenever a song came on by those girls from Texas that were ashamed of the second Bush; and heaven help the place if a tune featured a Spanish chorus. He used to think it easy to find a song that would change the mood, but now he was afraid to feed the juke those dollar bills he’d smooth between his fingers. Everything is provocative when people are fed up, or angry, or confused, or ignorant, or all of the above. At least that’s what they say on the news, or what they used to say. Last week the barkeep unplugged the T.V. and threw it in the dumpster. The eerie blue light of the tube no longer interfered with the neon. Red, then blue, then off for a sec; repeat ad infinitum.