Monday, February 17, 2014

Mr. Pothole

I don’t know when I first noticed him. Maybe he’d been coming in for a while. He was the guy that sat at the end of the bar. Always brooding, depressed, just plain sad.

The regulars had names for him. They called him the Black Hole. Some called him Mr. Pothole. Both names suggesting that he would suck you into his mysterious world of misery and shame.

At first, he hadn’t hurt my business. He may have even helped it. He became notorious. Guys would come in and see if they could crack the code of Mr. Pothole.

I listened to their patter. They said that his mother had a back alley abortion. That he’s a Vietnam vet who was in the same prison camp as John McCain, except when he came out, he ran for cover and not for Congress. He had Tourette’s syndrome and cussed himself out of a job with the CIA. He was in the witness protection program.

The stories took on their own life. Every booze bag that came in claimed that they had been drinking in my bar with Mr. Pothole since, whenever. One guy knew his middle name, another, the actress that broke his heart. Nothing could stop them from trying to top the next guy with his own version of the Mr. Pothole story.

I kept his glass filled with Jack Daniels and cracked him a cold Bud, once an hour. He always had money, always paid his bill, always added an extra five for me and he did it whether he was there for one inning or nine.

He never bothered anyone. Just sat and nursed his drinks, never picking up his head to look around or go out for a smoke or read the paper. Just sat. Glum. Lifeless.

Regulars started to feel like they had to accost Mr. Pothole in order to show that they had balls. Drunk and belligerent, they would bump him, make faces and fart noises. One quiet afternoon and it may have been one of the only times I had ever heard him speak, what happened, soon became legend. Mr. Pothole turned to some asshole that had bumped him and said, “I’ll dig your fucking eyeball out with my little finger, you prick.”

A stunned silence followed. His voice made me feel like I was biting on tinfoil.

Things changed after that day. The talk was not so much about where Mr. Pothole had been but where he would end up, and dead presumably.

Customers took pains to keep clear of him, worried that whatever bad mojo Mr. Pothole carried around in his dirty suit might be passed on to them.

But they kept on taunting and they kept on talking,

 “Someday, you’re gonna see Mr. Pothole pushing a shopping cart down the street. Shirtless, drooling maggot with snot caked on his wrist and he’s gonna walk himself right in front of a fucking Mack Truck.”

Mr. Pothole never changed his expression. He just sat there, hoping to drink in peace, I suppose.

Four o’clock one Friday afternoon he got up, paid his bill, left a five for me and walked out the door.

After a week I started checking the obituaries. Plenty of old guys had died but none of them were Mr. Pothole.

The stories soon started to dissipate. I’d listen and glance over at what had become “his chair.” I’d wash down the bar, serve drinks and wonder if he was ever really here at all?  I missed him. And I didn’t even know his name.