GREEN  1.4                                                       The DownUnder
 

      Stan literally bounces into the DownUnder Pub. It’s Miller Time! He pauses briefly at the bottom of the stairs long enough to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. It’s mid-afternoon and the bar is very quiet, just now opening for business. There is only one customer in the room, perched like a buzzard atop a stool, eating tiny pretzels from a wicker basket. It’s Charlie, the old guy who likes to tell him about the early sixties, back when he was roommates with Zal Yanovsky. Charlie swears that Zal was the real brains behind the Lovin Spoonful. They had some really wild times together, Zal and Charlie.
      Stan is a bit surprised by the absence of Red. Most days Red was here to open the bar, and Stan thought he had seen Red’s panel van parked up the street at the VFW. Aww, what a shame. Stan had brought along a very special item in hopes that Red would be here today. It was an article he had come across the day before which implied that Bill Clinton had overseen secret mind-washing experiments utilizing popular broadcast media commentators. Or some such shit. It would have been strong enough to keep Red going for hours.
      Stan takes a fine seat at the front of the bar where he can see both televisions at the same time without having to move his head. The sets haven’t been turned on yet, so he helpfully rises and switches one on to Jerry Springer. Jerry’s theme today is ‘The Day My Bust Went Boom’. Jerry is talking to a group of sad-eyed former strippers with unusually lopsided proportions.
     Stan says hello to Charlie, and what’s up to Cindy the bartender, and that’s it, that’s all of the people in the room at the moment. Cindy opens him a Coors Light and kibitzes with him for a few moments about last night’s rowdy crowd. What was it about Tuesday nights?      “I mean it is ten cent wing night, but that's not the sort of thing that should get people so riled up. Chicken wings? What the hell’s up with that?” Cindy sports a blond shag, and she’s naturally pretty, with a good sense of humor. She could afford to gain a few pounds, but her clothes hang perfectly. Cindy is the right age: old enough to be respected by the customers, and wise enough to know that she will probably be behind the bar – this one or another - for the rest of her working days. And that's okay with her, this is a world in which she can rule.

      The pub is old, even by Occoquan standards, and Occoquan is old through and through. The building itself was erected in the 1790s, somehow meshing appropriately into a street lined with structures of dissimilar heritage and signs of decay. Upstairs there is a restaurant featuring medium priced fare; atop of that is another restaurant catering to a higher-rent clientele. The upper one is quite popular with the tourists, aging plaster covered by faux antique wallpaper and old prints depicting the town in its early days. The wooden floor slants in places, and many people think that this adds to the historic charm of the room. In reality it would be prohibitively expensive to level.
      The pub itself sits below street level, harkening back to a previous life before the advent of electricity when it served as cellar storage for a funeral home. The bar is small and sturdy, good old wood, a perfect little square with the liquor tiered against the back wall. It can seat twelve patrons comfortably, but on a good night there are at least eighteen stools bellied up, every inch of space accounted for, and a swirl of people on the periphery.
      The décor is a mish-mash of the old, the familiar, and the just plain wacky, with plenty of improvisation provided by the staff and owners. There are photo montages and hand made signs scattered throughout the room. In an honest but long ago abandoned salute to the great pubs of Britain, large beer mirrors hang across maybe forty percent of the far wall.

      Stan enjoys the company of most of the pub regulars. They're an interesting mix of professionals, trades people, office workers, retirees, and anything else you might imagine. The DownUnder is an authentic mixing bowl in the heart of the tiny town.
      All of the patrons seem to like Stan pretty well, at least they say howdy when he walks in and usually include him in their conversations if he shows an interest. It is primarily an older crowd that haunts this place, lots of forties, fifties, sixties and beyond. Stan feels relatively young, even though he himself has just turned fifty. It's all in the attitude, Stan thinks, that and the psychological benefits of never having had to work a real job in his life. He has been told this enough times that he accepts it as true. Stan has always felt younger than his factual age, and it gives him an eerie kind of shock when he zones in on the fact that these people are really his peers. At least in theory they are, he tells himself.
      People are vaguely aware of the fact that Stan is a writer, a pop culture critic if you will, but rock and roll, at least all that new stuff, they could care less about it, it's not part of their lives. It's really kind of an embarrassing career, when you think about it, nothing to be ashamed of, but still… He seems to make good enough money at  it, so they give him a pass.
      Still, at his age…
      This is what Stan thinks.
      Stan never really talks about his work, particularly here at the DownUnder. The conversation in the bar is about many things, the local sports teams, the day’s news and events, town gossip. And plenty of bullshit and pretty decent one-liners ricocheting across the bar.

      There is a CD jukebox over to the side of the room which has a respectable variety of music on it. It has never once occurred to Stan that one of the reasons the selection is so varied is because folks here actually do know who he is and what he does, and they actually are interested in what he thinks and does, but they can tell he doesn’t want to talk about it, so they try to give him space. Cindy will usually take care to add a disk to the jukebox if Stan has given it a good review in one of the local papers. The customers ask. Stan is a little oblivious.
     In Stan’s mind, most of the folks who frequent the joint tend to focus in on the classic rock whenever they feed money to the jukebox. Stan himself starts to feel self-conscious whenever he gets up to play music. People watch him expectantly. It makes him feel like he’s trying to prove something. He intellectualizes. He wants to get too hip when he makes his selections, scrutinizing the song titles for what seems like hours, and then he finds himself thinking, am I playing 'Surfin Bird' for myself, or am I playing 'Surfin Bird' for more secular reasons? And then it cycles around again in his head. Playing the jukebox is too much like work.
     “Hey Stan, We got that Gorillaz CD that you liked,” chirps Cindy, looking quite pleased with herself.
     “Cool” says Stan, just as Charlie punches up ‘Another Brick in the Wall’.

     One of Stan's great sorrows, and one of the recurrent themes in his writing, is the fact that his generation, the baby boomers, had created a soundtrack that would not end. They would not let it go. They could not listen to something new unless it sounded like something from their own glory days. The baby boomer music was pervasive. You could not escape The Doors, The Beatles, Floyd and The Stones. Ha! In the malls they're piping in Steely Dan, Lynyrd Fucking Skynyrd, Jimmy Buffet and Fleetwood Mac. Their songs were playing in family restaurants and featured on call waiting, and worse yet, they were still All Over The Radio and Every Jukebox in Town. When Stan was young, The Who had sung 'I hope I die before I get old'; nowadays old Bob Dylan was singing 'I'll kill myself before I get senile'. Forty years of lies.
 

Red’s Wife

Red's Wife is sitting inside of Red’s blue panel van.
She is angry.
She is plotting.
She does not have a name.
She is Red’s sorrow, Red’s special burden.
If this were a book, she would symbolize the Angel of Death.

     Red’s Wife finishes off a pony Bud before she slides open the door. She grinds out her cigarette on the driver’s side floor mat where Red will be sure to see it. She knows that Red is inside the VFW without her. He should not be in there without her, he doesn’t belong there. She is the member, he's not a fucking member. She slams the door of the van closed and heads down the opposite side of the street.