I step over a big black dog that’s sprawled, fast asleep, across the doorway. “Best to let sleeping dogs lie,” I think, but the snoring dog doesn’t budge. Clouds of tobacco smoke hang in the air and mix with the glow from neon bar signs, illuminating the room in blue, fluorescent haze. There’s a pool table at the other end and a player is taking aim with his cue. There’s the familiar crack of pool balls and I head for an empty seat at the bar next to an old man. Sitting directly in front of two enormous glass jars full of pickled eggs and sausages, it’s hard not to notice the surreal and disturbing resemblance to body parts floating in formaldehyde. “I’ll take whatever you got on tap.” The beer is ice cold and foam slithers down the side of the glass, which is slick with moisture. I gulp half of it down and lick foam off my lips.
The old guy next to me tosses back a shot, and follows it down with a beer chaser. He’s smoking a chewed up stogie that smells something like old buffalo chips. He gets up, puts a stack of quarters in the jukebox and comes back to the bar. The first song up is a familiar old country tune with a weeping, mournful steel guitar. “ That’s Ralph Mooney you hear playin’ right there. He played steel with Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and the rest of that Bakersfield crew. Used to play some pedal steel myself back in the day. Cut a couple records with the Woodhull Boys back in ’52. You was probably still poopin’ green in your diapers back then.” “Yeah, I guess so.” I say. “What do you do now?” “Been a dairy farmer here for 50 years,” the old man says, “but times ain’t now like they used to be.”
Extending my hand, I introduce myself. “My name’s Max. Can I buy you a beer?” The old man shakes my hand and replies: “Never turn down a free beer. I’m Roy and that’s my dog over there. Name’s Ol’ Bob. He likes to sleep in the doorway. Looks plenty scary, but he wouldn’t harm a fly,” he says. “Reminds me of that old joke though. Guy walks into a bar – has to step over a huge German shepherd blocking the doorway. Dog’s grooming himself to beat the band. Guy sits down next to another man at the bar. “That your dog?” he asks. “Yup” the man replies. Guy says: “ Jeez- look at him lick his balls! I’d love to do that.” Man replies: “Uh – I don’t think that’s such a great idea. That dog is downright mean and he don’t like surprises. At least you better give him some warning to let him know before you start!”
We both laugh, clink our glasses together and down our beers. “C’mon I’ll buy you another one. You gotta try one of these sausages.” Roy orders another beer and a pickled sausage for each of us. The smell almost knocks me off my barstool. I wonder how this guy can be so spry at his age on a diet of booze, cigars and pickled sausage. That kind of regimen would be enough to kill most normal people. But then again it may just be the secret to his longevity.
A chunk of sausage slips off my toothpick and I juggle it around, trying to catch it, but it plops onto the floor. Ol’ Bob’s eyes pop open and fix on the sausage. The big dog suddenly springs to life and starts creeping across the floor like an alligator in the weeds. Roy is off his stool in a flash, and deftly skewers the hunk of meat before the dog can get there. “Jesus Jimbles that was close!” Roy says, “He’s got a delicate system. Food like that – why – it just ain’t healthy. That’d kill Ol’ Bob!” The big dog heads back to his spot in the doorway and heaves a sigh, as Roy pops the rest of the sausage in his mouth and I order us both another round.