A Tom Waits Easter


Happy EasterIt’s like being let into a secret club. Neither Collin nor I even notice the neon sign until our friend stops and knocks on the metal door beneath it. Three precise knocks: rap rap rap. We are on a side street in Vinohrady. It’s 11 pm on Easter Night.

We check our coats, walk down the stairs, the beats of club music growing louder with each awkward step. Collin laughs. Our friend orders us beers and whiskies, pays for everything. He has dragged Collin and me here after a double cheeseburger, almost strategically waiting until our brains lacked the blood supply to argue.

We sit at a high top in the corner. The room fills with a steady stream of men. I am surprised to see two women. I jot a note:

Drinking Whiskey at a Gay Bar on Easter Sunday

I have long been a fan of Tom Waits. The voice. The tunes. The universal themes. And surely, song titles: A Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, Bad Liver and a Broken Heart, 9th and Hennepin, Red Shoes Near a Drugstore. Titles like these have always conjured pictures of some normal Joe who’s down and out, having troubles, and maybe drowning them in an everyday time and place.

I’ve always loved stories and songs like these, with so much else to them than we can see or hear. And I sense that tonight will capture this idea; I keep my notebook and pen handy.

Collin and I sit and chat as the room buzzes. Our friend has disappeared. We catch glimpses of him on the dance floor, then moving around some couches in a lounge above the dance floor. Then he’s gone.

“Why did we come here?” I ask.

“It’s an adventure.” Collin is a Tom Waits fan, too.

I think we both came into this for a taste of the Tom Waits side of Easter. We finish our whiskies and look for our friend. He’s gone, nowhere to be found. We leave, and I feel a pang of guilt.

We find another pub and I glance at my list of possible Tom Waits titles:

That Ain’t the Bathroom Chum, That’s the Dark Room

Who Blew up All These Damn Balloons?

Dude near the Jukebox in a Half Shirt and Pumps

I don’t know her, but I Think That’s Her Brother

I think of running them by Collin, but he’s busy ordering us drinks at the next place, which is also right up Tom Waits’ alley. It’s small and dark and grimy. The barmaid has a rash over her left eye and she keeps scratching it. Three guys sit at a table near the window and talk about their time in the priesthood. An old man with a ponytail leans against the bar and flirts with the barmaid. I revel in the Waitsness of it all.

We have shots.

“Happy Easter.”

“Happy Easter.”

“So,” I say, “what do you think happened to him?”

“Jesus?”

“No.” I jerk my head in the direction we’ve just come from.

“Oh.” Collin shrugs.

The man at the bar pulls out a cigarette that is 18 inches long, something Holly Golightly would be smoking. He presses it to his throat, the cherry gleams, and smoke comes out of somewhere. I point it out to Collin, just as the man continues to woo the barmaid in a mechanized voice.

I jot a note:

The Barmaid with the Rash Just Left with That Guy with the Voice Box

Have you had an experience that could be titled like a Tom Waits song? If so, what is it?

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