The Bird
Doug Paul Case

Yes, The Eagle’s the dive bar on the other side of town, but it’s probably not your kind of place. Boys like you belong at Club Café, or maybe Machine if you’re feeling adventurous—not that hole in the wall with a brass hawk perched over the door.

Yes, over The Eagle, a hawk—wings spread. It sparked an argument between the owners the first night I’d gone. They would’ve kicked everyone out if Jimmy, the bartender, hadn’t calmed them down. I asked Jimmy about it later and he just said, “Where else would they go?” I didn’t know if he meant the owners or the patrons, but it doesn’t matter. They’re all sad men, filled with a longing for things they will or won’t be able to find there.

Last month, Jimmy duct-taped a piece of cardboard he found on the road over the only window. He didn’t like the streetlights coming in. He’s pretty grumpy, and I’d imagine that’s why the owners hired him however many years ago. They wouldn’t want some good-looking twink like you behind the bar, flirting with men twice his age. It’d mess with their business model. You’re meant to go in, order a drink, and sit on a stool until someone asks to take you home. It’s usually pretty quick, though sometimes you’ve got to do the asking. On good nights that’s not a problem; the men end up completely different every hour or so. They get off their late shift, they come in. They settle for the old guy earlier than they thought they would, they leave. There’s a cycle.

To that end, there’s Jimmy. He pours a mean, fast drink, and he doesn’t like bright lights, contemporary music, or giving drag queens the key to the women’s bathroom. I haven’t seen it, but it’s got to be nice if you need a key—at least, nicer than the men’s, which you should avoid if you can help it. The one time I went in there I saw a guy with a handlebar mustache giving one of the owners a blowjob. But even if nothing’s going down, it’s only got a sink, two urinals, and two toilets along a single wall—no partitions and no paper towels. You dry your hands on your jeans and you’d best not be bothered by a few less-than-subtle glances. Get in and get out.

You get the sense that the place is supposed to be hard. Rough surfaces, sharp corners, scowling bartender. Jimmy’s eyes and hair match his gray t-shirt, always with his worn-out jeans. I’ve wondered if he sleeps there, too. Since he’s the only one who doesn’t just rotate through the place, he’s turned into its fixture. He’s the bird’s chandelier, but he never gets polished, never gets lit—just stuck dangling. I hope they pay him alright, especially since they obviously haven’t spent the money on decorating.

The only things worth looking at are the jukebox—filled with the Stones and Skynyrd—and the pool table, which would be impressive if not for the cracked, stained glass Budweiser light dangling over it. Its frame is polished mahogany and its red felt was recently replaced. If you want to play, you’ve got to pay Jimmy for the balls by the hour, so it mostly goes unused. If you ask these men to choose between a game and two beers, they’re going to pick making the man they end up with more attractive.

You can’t help but feel shitty for the ones who end up there every night. It’s tragic, in how they think maybe this time something worthwhile will happen. Maybe this time someone new, someone different, will walk through the doors. The regulars have undoubtedly all slept with each other, so they’ve got to hope for something. Which, if you’re intent on going, could be you. Just head over in your tightest pants and perch yourself on the table. See how many men try to take you home in an hour, and let me know if you top a dozen.

Doug Paul Case is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University. His short fiction has appeared in Pank, Word Riot, Annalemma, and others. He’s probably wearing a cardigan.