Lip Sync

It was the first time she allowed her daughter to do something on this scale without adult supervision. Though she never thought of herself as overly protective (as her daughter’s halter top and skimpy skirt certainly proved) she was having second thoughts.  Her daughter’s friend, Christina, was dressed like a nun in comparison.

Why didn’t I put my foot down?

“Text me during the last song,” Jenny Mulligan reminded Lauryn for the umpteenth time.

“I told you I will,” Lauryn replied with no effort to conceal her annoyance.

They were parked at a fast food restaurant in downtown Detroit, down the street from the new Little Caesar’s Arena, where the Cee Monkeez were about to make the dream of every privileged tween-age girl in metro Detroit come true.

“And by last song, I mean encore,” Jenny reiterated.

“What’s an encore?”  Lauryn asked with the ignorant arrogance of a teenager. Jenny explained it.

“You think there will be one?” Lauryn asked.

“There always is. Trust me, I’ve been to my share of concerts.”

“Mostly lame ones, I’m sure,” Lauryn said with an exaggerated eye roll.

“Looking back, maybe so…”Jenny said in an attempt to prove her worth. “But at the time …”

“Yeah, sure.”

“They weren’t the Cee Monkeez … I will leave it at that.”

“The Cee Monkeez are the best band ever,” her daughter insisted. Christina nodded in agreement.

“Just wait,” Jenny warned. “You will feel the same way when you’re–”

“Old?”

“Have fun,” Jenny said, changing the subject. “I’ll pick you guys up right here.”

“What are you going to do?” Lauryn asked.
Jenny pointed to the book sitting on the dashboard.

“The whole time?” Lauryn asked.

“Don’t worry about me,” Jenny said. “Go and have fun. And don’t do anything stupid.”

“Same to you,” Lauryn smirked.

“Yeah, sure,” Jenny said.

“Are you sure you’re not jealous?” Lauryn asked, with no regard to the fact that the original plan was a mother-daughter date. So yes, Jenny was a bit jealous. Not because she was going to miss out on such catchy hits as “Stroke my Heartstring” and “Booty-Shaped Heart”, but because she was missing out on a perfect opportunity for some much-needed quality bonding time. It was a hope that faded as soon as Lauryn let it slip that she would much rather go with her friend instead. Though hurt, Jenny didn’t let on. Besides, she understood perfectly well.

Once up on a time, she had done the same thing.

What comes around goes around.   

“Jealous? You mean other than of your age?” Jenny said.

Lauryn smiled as she and Christina climbed out of the car and scurried across the street on a flashing light.

As Jenny watched her daughter grow more distant, she was astounded by not only how grown up her only child now looked, but, by extension, by her own age. The big 4-0 was a mere two weeks away.

Where did my little girl go?

Where did I go?

Jenny grabbed her library copy of a bestselling chick lit she had waited four months to get her hands on, accompanied by a cool spring breeze that wafted through her half-rolled down window. It was chilly air, but a refreshing antidote to the warm sun coming through her windshield, which made it feel warmer than it actually was.

She tried in vain to read, distracted by the hordes funneling into the one-night tween mecca. Perhaps even more diverting was a sudden seepage of envy she that coursed through her bloodstream. She wasn’t so much envious of today in particular, but rather of everything the concert represented: her bygone youth; her only child’s quickly passing youth. Both slipping further and further into the recesses of time.

And then everything was overshadowed by concern and regret: though she would be close-by, what kind of guarantee was there that her daughter would be safe if she was out of sight? She remembered having the same conversation with her mother when she wanted to go to her first (of five!) Boyz wit’ a Z concert 23 years ago. Her father was naturally opposed. But the buck stopped with her mother on all parenting decisions, so she played up that card. After a series of bitter tantrums that morphed into soft pleas, her mother finally relented.

It was the best Christmas gift of her life.

Looking back, she liked to imagine her mother carefully wrapping and then placing the tickets into her tattered stocking. Just like she did with her own daughter years later.

She shuddered at the thought that she caved because of any pressure or desire to be a “cool parent.” She couldn’t help but feel like a hypocrite; she was always irked by parents who put friendship above parenting.

It wasn’t so much that she wanted to be her daughter’s friend, but wanted to prove to her daughter – and in many ways, to herself – that she wasn’t “lame.” That she was and is cool. That she still had a pulse. For the past couple of years, she felt a constant need to prove to her daughter that she was more than just a “mom”. That she didn’t just once have a life. But still did. Then there were parts of her she hoped her daughter would never know: that once upon a time, she gave blowjobs to half of her class before she was her daughter’s age and had lost her virginity by the age of 13. In fact, she was so determined to keep this part of her self hidden from her daughter, she was doing everything in her power to appear as square as possible in the spirit of being a “good mom.”

And how far the mighty had fallen. Despite her fast start, she had actually stopped desiring sex years ago. She had burned all of her fuel. In fact, she couldn’t even remember the last time she had sex. She could remember the last time he had sex, but she couldn’t fully blame him. Of course, her husband only saw himself as a victim in this. It wasn’t that she wanted to feel this way.  And she certainly never thought she would be able to feel this way.

In fact, she practically gave him permission to seek greener pastures. Or, at least wetter ones. But she never thought he would take her up on it. It wasn’t until she saw physical evidence that it had begun to bother her. Then it became more real to her. Less abstract.

Looking for a distraction, she grabbed her book and headed across street toward a diner, only to find herself wandering through the doors of a dive bar next door. She felt moved by forces out of her control.

Why should only my daughter have all the fun?

Though she recently went through a stretch where she swore off alcohol (following a night of one too many bottles of wine), the old craving suddenly reappeared.

She sat at the nearly empty bar and ordered her old, familiar drink: rum and diet Coke.

At least some things never change.

She reflected on her life at this exact instant:

Half empty?

 Or half full?  

She settled on the realization that she was somewhere in the middle – a no man’s land between the two islands with no boat to navigate the chasm between the two.

She received her drink and took a long, much-deserved sip, taking notice of handsome, but slightly disheveled man two bar stools away from her, half-hunched at the bar. He appeared downtrodden. Or was he just tired?  He looked back at her, making brief eye contact. And then she nearly shat herself.

It couldn’t be….

…but there was no doubt: it was Randy Rogers, former lead singer of Boyz wit’ a Z. She was obsessed with the band…but even more so with Randy.

As much as she didn’t want to trouble him, she figured he might be flattered by the attention.

“Excuse me,” she began feebly, “but are you …”

A clear view of his face erased all doubts.

“Yes,” he said, completing her thought with a hint of what seemed like shame.

She couldn’t tell if he was annoyed, or just simply indifferent to her intrusion. He appeared much more haggard and melancholy than he would have expected from such a star.

Former star.

Then again, who was she to judge?  It wasn’t like she ever knew him. She only knew his public image.

An image from twenty years ago.

He had been out of the public spotlight for years. No social media presence. Even his fan club had ceased to exist. So in her mind, the Randy Rogers of her childhood was a timeless monument cast in stone.

Despite his crow’s feet and hint of grey in his hair, if she squinted, he looked exactly the same as he had 20 years before.

This wasn’t her first one-on-one encounter with Randy Rogers. At her second concert, he turned her down for an autograph. And she felt the same nervous feeling she had when she approached him all those years ago.

“Is it really you?”

“More like a ghost,” the former heartthrob began, not looking up from his drink. “Or perhaps a shell of me.”

He didn’t seem to be affected by her presence at all.

“You don’t know how many times I imagined this exact moment.”

“Bet it’s been awhile,” he said. This time, he looked up, sporting a sarcastic grin.

“This is just …” she continued to struggle for the right words.  “I mean, I can’t—”

“Believe this is happening?” he interrupted, as though they were both reading from the same script.

“Yes.”

“There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t hear this.”

He seemed more annoyed than flattered. She understood to an extent. He couldn’t even have a drink alone without some middle-aged soccer mom dragging him out of the shadows of his solitude.

“You look far too young to be a former fan.”

She saw right through his bullshit. But liked it.

“So you must still get recognized a lot?”

“Yes, but typically only by 40 year old women.”
“So your audience aged with you…”

“Good thing, too. Otherwise, I’d still be fucking 13 year olds.”

Was he serious? His smirk made it difficult to tell. As awful as his statement was, deep down she wished she had been one of them once upon a time.

“I find it hard to believe that you are old enough to have been one of my many adoring, number one fans”

“Your biggest,” she said, dreamily. “And I’m still under 40!” she said, stopping just short of a wink.

“Still my biggest now?”
“That same little girl is still buried somewhere deep inside me. She just has to be

found.”

“What does that mean?”

“What do you want it to mean?” she asked.

He flashed a seductive smirk.

She still struggled to grasp the fact that this was reality. She snuck another glance at him. Despite his downtrodden demeanor, he was still in remarkable shape. Beneath the scruff, his baby face was still intact.

“I wrote you so many letters. At one point, I think I wrote you a different letter for like two weeks straight. Each one getting more and more desperate. By the time I got to the last one, all that was left to say was: “I HATE YOU.”

“I think I remember that,” Randy laughed, with a tinge of embarrassment.

“Yeah, right. You probably didn’t even open up your fan mail.”

“I did! Sometimes. I mean, early on, all of it. But then I had to hire an assistant to do it for me. It eventually got so out of hand, she had to start tossing them out. And then later recycled when that became a thing.”

“Just one of her many job duties,” he said with wink, leaving no doubt as to what he meant.

“Guess I shouldn’t have taken it so personally then,” she said, giggling like the school girl she once knew so well and was suddenly back from the dead.

“When you’re that young, you think the world revolves around you,” he said. “Then you grow up. Unless you turn into a pop star, which is when you find out the world truly does revolve around you. The fall from grace when you find out that’s no longer true is harder than any other.”

“Was it all worth it?” Jenny asked.

“At the time, definitely. But there are plenty of times I ask myself that very question.”

“So what if I were to write you now?”

“You don’t need to. We’re here in person.”

“I mean, suppose we never met.”

“Well, even though I still get a fair amount of mail –  mostly e-mail – I can now read most of it. And even reply back occasionally. The only real difference is that back then, I took everything for granted. Fan mail was an expectation. Now, I am flattered. An absolute privilege.”

“Wow …the ego truly can be tamed,” she said.

“I guess it’s a side effect of getting old.”

“Well, for the record, time has been kind to you.”

“Vegan diet,” he said, rattling his glass. “And bourbon.”

She laughed, then realized that he was being more serious than she had given him credit for.

“You don’t find it disturbing to get all of this fan mail from 40-year-old women?”

“No. What I find disturbing is that they still read like they were written by 10-year-olds. Only, more R-rated.”

“I’m sorry I never wrote back,” he said, almost as an afterthought.

“No you’re not.”

“Trust me when I tell you with 100% confidence that current me is apologizing on behalf of the former me. To you. And every other fan I ignored. The millions of them.”

“Like when you blew me off when I asked for an autograph?”

“Yes. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t sign one for every girl asked. Though, I did usually skip the ugly ones.”

“You literally told me: ‘Get the fuck out of my face.’”

“I can’t imagine you would have been ugly…” he said, before he held up his glass for a toast and added: “Please accept my most humble apology. I’ll make it up to you before we part.”
“Thank you,” Jenny said, hoping the blush wouldn’t be as obvious as it felt.

They each sipped their drink.

“Apology accepted,” Jenny said, surprised at how flirtatious she made it sound.

“If my friends could see me now…” Jenny began.

“They’re stuck in the past, too?”

“It wasn’t that long ago.”

“Time is fluid,” Randy said, turning philosophical. “But then it isn’t.”

“Deep.”

“Are you mocking me?” Randy asked.

“Maybe a little,” Jenny said with a hint of flirtation.

“So what are you doing here, anyway?” she asked. “In Detroit?”

“Book promotion.”

“You wrote a book?”

“Surprised you didn’t pre-order it,” he said, gesturing toward her book.

Swagger still in check.

“I would have had I known.”

“That’s why I’m trying to get some press so my fans will know about it. He noticed her book.Watcha reading?”

“Oh, typical chick lit shit,” she said, looking down with embarrassment.

“Anyways,” Randy continued. “It doesn’t help that the reporter for an interview, canceled at the last minute.”

“Rescheduled?” Jenny asked.

He shook his head. “Editor changed her assignment. Bullshit code for: ‘let’s find someone more relevant.’ But little does she know, I am about to become relevant again. I’ve been recording music.”

He beamed with pride.

“Oh yeah?”

Her curiosity was piqued.

“What kind?”

“Folky, indie stuff. Thinking of performing in some small venues. Under the moniker: ‘Strategic Grapefruit.’

“What does that even mean?” she said, holding back laughter.

“Not really sure. Wanted something mysterious. A little artsy. To let the world know I am serious and not the teeny-bopper everyone still thinks of me as.”

“So hipster.”

“Not trying to be, but if I am, then so be it.”

“Well, I’m definitely intrigued.”

A wave of silence passed over them. They sipped their drinks.

“So what are you doing here?” he finally asked.

“My daughter’s at a Cee Monkeez concert.”

“Of course she is…” he said, rolling his eyes.

“What does that mean?” Jenny asked.

“Fucking amateurs. That’s what that means.”

She got the sense that jealousy was at play here, but wasn’t going to let on.

“Oh, come on. You were once that group.”

“Ah, but therein lies the rub…we played our own instruments. And would never have auto-tuned.”

“I agree. You were much more talented than the shit my daughters listen to.”

She caught him looking at the ring on her hand.

Why didn’t I take it off?

She had never been more aware of the ring’s existence. And for the first time since the ring had been placed on her finger, she found herself wishing it wasn’t there. She got the since that it wouldn’t have made a difference to him one way or another.

“Married?”

“In theory.”

“Well, that looks like solid evidence to me.”

“Well, not all evidence should be taken at face value.”

What the fuck am I saying?

“So what exactly do you mean?” he asked her.

“I’m going to need another drink,” Jenny stammered. “Bartender? Another please?”

“So go on…” Randy gestured.

“About my marriage?”

“Yes. Remind me why I never want to get married.”

“Well, we live together. Have a kid together. But we simply just …”

“Co-exist?”

“Yes.”

“That’s no way to live,” Randy proclaimed.

“Don’t have much of an option.”

“Sure you do. You always do.”

“Easier said than done. The whole kid factor.”

Randy leg brushed against her. She didn’t pull away. He clearly saw an opening and was going for it.

Could she have opened the door any wider?

She suddenly realized that she was defaulting to her 13-year-old self, but with an adult’s libido. A dangerous combination.

She couldn’t remember the last time she felt this vulnerable. She saw exactly where this was heading, but refused to believe it. The bartender delivered her drink and she promptly knocked it over.

“I’m so sorry.”

“No worries,” the bartender said. “I’ll fix you another.”

“No, I’m good,” Jenny said. “It’s a sign I should stop drinking.”

She noticed his drink was gone. “But can I buy you a drink?” she asked him.

“You don’t have to do that…”

“Consider it a thank you for or all the joy you brought this little girl once upon a time.”

“I have another idea. How about I fix us both a drink at my hotel. It’s right around the corner. I’ll play you some of my demos.”

And just as quickly as he offered, she accepted without hesitation. She was standing on a fulcrum between her present mess of a life and her childhood fantasy. She couldn’t help but feel that that she was owed this. It would be one singular moment of indiscretion with a man she had fantasized about more than any other. How could she not go through it?

He picked up her tab, leaving what appeared to be at least a $50 tip. She then followed him toward the exit. As he held the door for her, she was not only certain about this decision, but she was prepared to bend over, crawl on her hands and knees, and take it up the ass if that’s what he wanted. Suddenly, her long-dormant deep freeze had morphed into a hotbed of molten lava.

He led her across the street to the recently-restored Book-Cadillac Hotel, and up the elevator to his suite.  She hoped that it would be a suite, but realized she probably missed that boat by at least 15 years. But by mortal standards, his room was not too shabby.

He suavely motioned for her to have a seat on his immaculately prepared king-sized bed.

Like sitting on a cloud.

“Wine?” Randy asked.

“Merlot okay?”

“Merlot is perfect.”

She hated red.

She watched from her cloud as he opened up a new bottle of wine, keeping close tabs to make sure he didn’t add anything extra. She convinced herself that it was an irrational fear. He knew that he didn’t have to drug women to have sex with them. He was the drug. She just wanted to make sure she was conscious when he fucked her.

She settled her thoughts on how many times she had fantasized about this exact scenario – a lineage that could be traced back to the first time she masturbated.

Should I tell him this?

No. He’s probably assuming that anyway.

She ignored the twinge of guilt that was threatening to ruin the moment. Not so much that she was about to have sex with another man, but the fact that she was about to give another man the satisfaction that her husband had been waiting in agony for three months and counting. In fact, the elapsed time between sessions was widening each time.

She reminded herself that he was probably getting it elsewhere anyway.

In order to focus on the task at hand, she told herself that she could feel all the guilt in the world afterward. She refused to let guilt ruin this moment. Her moment. What she wanted more than anything was to savor this moment, removing all sense of past, present, and future.

He closed the curtains, making her feel a cocktail of unease and excitement, then started playing some grating folksy music on his iPad that sounded like a tone-deaf Bon Iver-Sufjan Stevens hybrid.

He walked over with two wine glasses and sat down next to her, leaving no space between them. Her body tingled with arousal.

“Like it?” he said.

She liked neither the wine, nor the music he was using to forge his comeback. It was God-awful, but she nodded, pretending to enjoy it, taking a sip of her God-awful wine.

“I think it’s the best work I have ever done.”

“It’s definitely got … promise,” she said, trying not to be a combo buzzkill-boner killer.

She hated lying. But what else could she possibly do in this situation?

“And doesn’t ‘Strategic Grapefruit’ just seem to make more sense now that you hear it?”

“Yeah. Totally,” she lied through her teeth.

She couldn’t help but feel more and more sorry for him.

He offered her a toast as the music kept playing.

“To my number one fan.”

They clinked glasses as he slid an arm around her waist. She cozied up to him, before she took an abnormally large sip of her wine and nearly gagged. She cautioned herself not to drink too much – not to avoid doing something she would regret, but to make sure she wouldn’t distort her memory of the night. On the other hand, there was the offhand chance that if she remained too sober, she might back out while she still had a chance.

They took a couple more sips before he leaned in for a kiss. It was amazing how natural and predictable everything about it felt. This exact fantasy had been played over so many times in her mind, it was like muscle memory.

Within seconds, she allowed him to lower her onto the bed, where they made out with their clothes on like teenagers, against the excruciating cacophony of his “comeback” garbage. She tried everything in her power to tune it out. But it was impossible. It was as distracting as his unexpeted bad breath.

Nevertheless, she had forgotten how good it felt to want warm body against her, as opposed to pushing one away: her husband. Plus, his feet were always cold.

Without hesitation, she allowed Randy to do something she hadn’t let her husband do since they were newlyweds: go down on her. Within a minute, she was dangerously approaching completion, but held back. She knew she had the capacity to come again, but knew it was never as good the second time around. She wanted to wait for the real thing.

She unbuckled his pants as they continued making out. She pulled his boxes down, took one look, and recoiled.

What the fuck?!

Half-cast in shadow, she assumed that the lighting – or lack thereof – was playing tricks on her. But another, more definitive look confirmed her suspicions.

He had a micro-penis.

She pretended she didn’t notice (which didn’t take much effort) and quickly tried to replace the reality with the fantasy that had infatuated her mind all those years ago. However, the fantasy was dissolving by the minute. Even though she couldn’t shake the reality, she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Surely, he was self-conscious about it. How could he not be?

Worried she was already letting on, she took his mini-pecker in her hand, hoping it would somehow continue to blossom. It was wishful thinking. At no point had a small dick ever entered into her fantasy of this exact moment. And it wasn’t that she particularly fantasized about him having an abnormally large dick, either. Size never really played into it. The allure of having sex with him was her primary focus. Average, or large, it wouldn’t have mattered. Micro was a whole other story. However, right now – in the moment – his size was the only thing she could think about.  Years of fantasy practically reduced to rubble. Her 20-year fantasy – the fulcrum of the entirety of her youth – was fading away before her very eyes. In some ways, she had mourned the passing of that era years ago, keeping it forever preserved in her memory. Nostalgia riding off into the sunset was one thing. But watching it die a slow, prodding death in front of her eyes was another thing altogether.

It was fucking depressing.

And there was nothing she could do about it.

Despite her bleak outlook, she still had hope that the sex was going to be great. She refused to let a small pecker ruin her night.

The time had finally come as he readied his mini-pilot for a smooth landing. With her blessing, he entered. Or, at least she thought he did. She honestly couldn’t tell. In fact, she had to sneak a feel down there just to make sure.

She sadly confirmed: he was in.

And less than a minute later, it was all over. For him at least. Following three rapid thrusts, he quivered, as though in the throes of a seizure or stroke – before coming to a motionless rest. At first, she thought that maybe he had dropped dead. (A drug overdose would not have been a shocker). But his gentle sobs revealed otherwise. He was merely finished.

He collapsed next to her in a heap. When she looked over, she noticed that he was weeping. The illusion was beyond shattered. It was obliterated. He was tearing down an entire empire that she had built up in her mind over 20 years ago and continued to cultivate as absolute, unequivocal truth. And he had no clue. Or did he? Perhaps he would blame it on whiskey dick. That was such a thing, right?

She wasn’t sure whether to take pity on him … or herself.  As he continued to weep, she cradled him like a baby. Neither said a word. What could they possibly say? “I’m so sorry,” he said, finally breaking the silence.

“Don’t be,” was all Jenny could muster.

“I can’t believe it’s happening again.”
“What?”

“I’m so pathetic.” He didn’t elaborate, but she had a pretty good sense as to what he meant.

She had already gotten the sense that he was a bit of a downtrodden has-been. Now, he was a downtrodden-has-been cursed with a small dick and premature ejaculation. He no longer stood on the pedestal Jenny had placed him upon so long. She didn’t even have to yank him off it. He tumbled. And the fall from such great heights would surely leave an indelible mark

The act of finishing early wasn’t nearly as pathetic as his woe-is-me response to it. She looked down at his now even smaller, shriveled dick, slipping out of the assumingly-barely-fitting condom which was still clinging pathetically to wet flesh. She felt a cocktail of compassion, disgust, and shame flowing through her entire being.

“You don’t have to be sorry,” she assured him. She had to muster every ounce of energy to get these words out.

“It’s just so tough to live up to the expectation,” Randy said, sniffling. “Like boxing shadows.”

“You’re real. It’s fans like me that aren’t. We’re the ones with delusions of grandeur.”

He continued weeping. “It would just be nice to live up to the ideal from time to time.”

“You have already done so much for girls like me.”

What the fuck? I’m Randy Rogers’ fucking therapist now?!

“That was then. But what about now?”

“Just keep making music. And we’ll keep coming.”

Even shitty music.

This seemed to perk him out of his funk.

“You don’t need to be so hard on yourself,” she continued. “You have brought so much joy into this world. That could never be taken away. From any of us.”

She couldn’t believe the cheese that was coming out of her mouth.

“You made us all feel sexy before we were,” Jenny assured him. “We will never forget you.”

“But if only they knew the truth about –” he stopped himself just short, before gesturing toward his little shrimp.

“Most won’t. The fantasy will always remain intact. Don’t worry, I won’t be running off to post it all over social media.”

He seemed relieved.

“And I would like to thank you for bringing that girl back from the dead tonight.”

“And thank you for reminding me of my God-like powers, despite my physical limitations. I took so much for granted back then. But just know that now, I am so grateful for all of your support.”

They smiled at each other in mutual understand.

“Shit,” she blurted out.

“What’s wrong?” Randy asked, wiping away his tears.

It had just dawned on her. She hadn’t checked her phone since she arrived at the hotel. She scrambled to locate her phone and noticed several missed calls and texts from Lauryn. She called her back.

“Is it over?” Jenny asked.

“Where are you?”” Lauryn demanded through the phone. “We’re by your car. Why weren’t you picking up?”

“I’ll be right there.”

She hung up the phone.

What a fucking great parent I am, making my little girl wait in a Detroit gas station parking lot.

“Sorry,” she explained. “But I gotta run.”

“I understand,” her told her.

She quickly threw on her clothes as quickly as Randy had removed them.

“You know…,” Randy began. “Historically, I have always been the one rushing to leave.”

“How does it feel?” Jenny asked.

“Like karma swinging back on its pendulum,” he said with a smile tinged with leftover tears.

They smiled at one another, then hugged in in the manner of lifelong friends.

“I’ll let you know when I get my first gig,” he said.

“I’d appreciate that.” She had a feeling that there would never be a first gig.

They exchanged contact info, but she knew right and then that tonight officially marked the end of an era.

“Ok, bye.”

As she made her way to the door, he chimed in.

“So, about that autograph…”

“I’m fine,” she said with a smirk. “Thanks.”

As she hurried out the door, all she could think about was regret that she turned down his autograph. It really would have brought things full circle. Then again, there was a lot to be said for not getting it.

She was already beginning to reflect over what had just transpired – all of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly – into the part of her mind where she stored her dreams and fantasies. Far from reality. Never to be spoken of aloud. Some victories should be kept to oneself.

She hurried out the door and across the street, where Lauryn and Christina awaited with annoyed, impatient expressions on their face.

“Sorry,” she offered when she got within earshot, stopping short of offering any excuses, which would only be lies.

“I thought you got kidnapped or something!” Lauryn said.

“You wish.”

“So why didn’t you pick up or respond to any of my messages?”

“I think the signal was jammed” Jenny pulled out of her ass. “With so many people around.”

Jenny hated lying to her daughter. But in this case, it was better than the truth. “And why is your hair so messy?” Lauryn asked.

Why didn’t I take a look in the mirror before I left?

“The wind.”

Her daughter gave a quizzical glance. There was no wind. In fact, it had been perfectly still all day.

“So how was the concert?” Jenny asked, as everyone got into the car.

“It was so awesome!” Lauryn exclaimed. “If they come back, I’m definitely going again and I hope you come, too!”

This was the greatest thing Jenny possibly could have heard that night. And certainly more special than anything else that had transpired. She fought with all of her might to hold back tears, but there was no gain in trying to hide it. Randy Rogers certainly knew about that.

She wept. And she didn’t care whether her daughter saw her or not. It appeared that she hadn’t. Or, was perhaps pretending not to notice.

In that very moment, what Jenny wanted more than anything was for daughter’s favorite band to last forever and in parallel, for her daughter to remain young forever. So that neither could be tossed out the door by the next generation waiting in the wings.

She never had such a burning desire to see the past and present join forces to stave off an unknown future

But Jenny knew better. Nothing was born to last – in both reality and fantasy.

Nothing gold can stay.

One day, her daughter would learn this for herself.

 

“Steve’s Place” A Short Story by R.J. Fox

18134_380167700553_5107390_n-1On the loneliest street, in the loneliest city, Steve’s Place was a lighthouse in an urban-gone-wild wasteland. The fresh blanket of snow that had fallen on the surrounding neighborhood had an almost heavenly, ethereal quality.

Adrift in the winter wasteland were Jimmy and Julia Schicksal, who somehow managed to veer off track while driving home from a friend’s birthday party at a downtown Detroit club, where they spent most of the evening pretending (wishing) that the other didn’t exist. In recent months, fighting had become their only shared activity. Lately, most of their arguments were done in silence, which was often far worse than the ones filled with words.

They were so lost in their own individual – yet mutual – suffering, they had somehow roamed off course. The fact that the snow was now falling even harder certainly didn’t help, making it nearly impossible to see a foot in front of them. Jimmy was prone to getting lost in normal driving conditions; one of the many faults Julia found with her husband. The list was growing exponentially by the day.

Sadly, it wasn’t that long ago when Jimmy and Julia were frequently described by others as “the perfect couple.” They were that good at keeping up the illusion when out in public. Lately, it was getting harder. Behind closed doors, their relationship was reduced to smoldering ruins. They tried counseling, but came to the conclusion that the only thing that succeeded in doing was draining their now separate bank accounts. It was no longer a matter of if. It was a matter of when … a foregone conclusion.

Jimmy looked over at Julia, who stared through the snow-covered windshield with glare a so sharp, it could cut glass. She finally ripped through the decaying silence like a dagger.

“How did this happen?” she asked.

“I must have taken a wrong turn,” Jimmy said.

“Why am I not surprised?” Julia said with disdain. Jimmy’s only response was to clench the steering wheel, knowing that remaining mute was in his best interest. Besides, Julia was right. He had the ability to get lost in his own neighborhood.

“Of all the places to get lost in, you had to pick here,” Julia continued.

“It’s not like I did it on purpose,” Jimmy said, still gripping onto the wheel for both weather and spousal conditions.

“This is why I should have driven,” Julia retorted.

“Well, if you didn’t drink so much, then you could have,” Jimmy said, struggling to keep his temper at a low simmer. “You obviously didn’t notice that I was going the wrong way, either.”

“You’re the driver,” Julia said.

“I’ll figure it out,” Jimmy said, without a speck of confidence. “I always do.”

Jimmy looked around at his snow-diffused surroundings, consisting of abandoned skyscrapers and storefronts, punctuated with busted-out windows and graffiti. It was like being trapped a snow-globe from hell. Not a single streetlight worked. Not a soul was in sight. They might as well have been at the end of the world. Even prostitutes and the homeless were nowhere to be found on this cold, snowy night.

As Julia continued to fume, Jimmy continued to struggle with his attempt at creating the illusion that he had things under control, despite having no clue where he was. There was a reason why Julia normally drove. But after taking a drink tally, they determined Jimmy was the wiser choice that night. This was no surprise. Lately, Julia was turning more to booze to remedy her reality – at least more so than her husband.

“What are we going to do?” Julia continued to nag in that grating voice of hers, which once upon a time, Jimmy thought was the sweetest sound in the world.

“What would you like me to do?” Jimmy asked.
“Stop being such a fuck-up. That’s what I want you to do.”

Jimmy pretended to ignore this. He had heard it all before. However, deep inside him was another story. No matter how many times she called him a “fuck-up,” “loser” and any other term of endearment du jour, her words stung on the outside, poisoning him slowly on the inside.

Meanwhile, the snow had begun to fall harder, making it harder to see in front of him. Panic began setting in, but he refused to show it. He truly had no idea how to get back on course and he imagined that getting lost in a Michigan snowstorm in the middle of downtown Detroit was about as close to hell on earth as one could get. But suddenly, straight ahead in the distance, an amber light appeared, burning through the falling snow.

“What is that?” Jimmy asked.

“Obviously, a light,” Julia said.

“Maybe it’ll be somewhere we can stop and ask for directions.”

“Or get us killed,” Julia countered.

“Do you have a better idea?”

She ignored him. Jimmy continued driving toward the snow-diffused light, which slowly revealed itself to be emanating from a green brick building, with a matching green and white striped awning, which stood on an otherwise abandoned block with several long ago shuttered buildings.

Jimmy parked along the curb in front of the decrepit, building. It was difficult to fathom how any business could flourish in this location – both in terms of the building itself and its environs. One end of the structure’s awning fluttered ghost-like in the wind. Peeling paint on the side of the building proclaimed “Steve’s Place,” below which said “Fine Homemade Food. Cocktails. Open 7 Days.” Despite the run-down outward appearance, there was something down home, warm, and inviting about this place. Then again, compared with the rest of the block, that wasn’t saying much.

“This looks like a dump,” said Julia.

“We needs directions,” Jimmy countered. “Plus, I need a drink.”

“We have beer at home,” Julia reminded him.

“It’s gone,” Jimmy said, realizing he probably shouldn’t have admitted that.

“Well, you’re not getting a drink here. You’re going to go in, get directions, and then leave so we can get the hell out of here so I can get to bed,” Julia demanded in a tone that made it clear to him that she would have the bed to herself tonight.

“Okay, I won’t get a drink. But I’m not leaving you out here,” Jimmy said.

“As if you care.”

“If I didn’t care, then I wouldn’t want you to come in with me.”

“If you cared, you wouldn’t have gotten lost in the first place,” Julia said, forming her own sense of rationality.

Jimmy opted not to dignify her statement with a response.

“Are you sure they’re even open?” Julia asked.

Jimmy peered through the falling snow and pointed to an “Open” sign in the window of the otherwise darkened bar.

“Then stop wasting time. Go in there and get it done.”

“Okay, okay,” Jimmy said, beginning to get out of the car. “You’re not coming?”

“No. I already told you,” Julia said.

Jimmy was too tired to argue anymore. He cautiously got out of the car to brave both the elements and the environment. His feet disappeared several inches into fluffy, freshly fallen snow. As he took one step toward the entrance, he felt a chill run through his entire body, unlike anything he ever felt before. He considered hightailing it back to the car, but before he could collect his thoughts and take another step, Julia got out of the car and joined him. Whatever he felt, he assumed she felt it, too. Her presence made the chill subside, though he could still feel its lingering effect.

“Scared?” Jimmy asked.

“Shut up,” which Jimmy knew translated into “yes.”

Jimmy smiled at her. It was the best he could do when she got like this, which infuriated her even more.

Jimmy reached for the rusty door handle, but it didn’t budge.

“It’s locked,” Jimmy said.

“Are you sure?”
Jimmy tried again. “Yes. Pretty sure.”

“Let me try,” Julia said, nudging Jimmy out of the way. Sure enough it was locked.

“Well, this sucks,” Julia said. “Now what?”
Jimmy peered through the window, partially obscured by blinds. Julia joined him. The well-stocked bar stood empty. Unlit Christmas lights were unevenly strung across the bar and around the entire perimeter of the building. Not a soul was in sight.

“Okay, let’s go,” Julia said. “It’s obviously closed.”

“But it says it’s open,” Jimmy insisted.

“This place is freaking me out. We’ll figure out how to get home on our own.”

Suddenly, a harsh wind blew, knocking off a drift of snow from the roof, narrowly missing Jimmy and Julia down below.

“Look!” Jimmy said, pointing toward the door. Somehow, it creaked open.

“Must have been the wind?” Julia said.

“But it was firmly locked. Guess we’re going in, after all.” Jimmy entered, leaving Julia little choice but to relent and follow him with skeptical footing.

As though on cue, a scratchy recording of Billie Holiday’s melancholy “Solitude” poured out of an ancient jukebox located in front of the window, intermingling with a musty odor that hinted of death and nostalgia. The cobwebbed Christmas lights also flickered on – first in struggling dimness, before surging to full life, blinking erratically. One thing was clear to Jimmy: these lights weren’t put up for this Christmas, but rather some forgotten Christmas from long ago.

The entire bar felt time-abandoned, oozing a nauseating, musty smell, which hinted of death. Various faded posters advertising beer and booze products punctuated the room. Not a soul was in sight.

Jimmy and Julia situated themselves on swiveling, squeaky barstools with torn, faded green vinyl padding. The coupled soaked in their unsettling surroundings, not uttering a word, as though breaking the silence would shatter the illusion of the surreal universe they just entered. Julia’s expression suggested that this was the last place in the world she wanted to be. Jimmy, on the other hand, was enthralled by their discovery. He felt as though they had entered into another dimension of time and space.

Despite the lonely, suffocating sound of a hissing, rattling radiator, the bar was cold as death itself. Jimmy removed his coat, but Julia kept hers on. She was always cold to begin with – this place certainly wasn’t going to change that.

“Can you believe this place?” Jimmy asked, finally breaking the silence. The illusion remained.

“Were you expecting anything different?” Julia asked.

“I’m not complaining. I think this place is awesome.”

“Well, clearly nobody is here, so why don’t we get going?”

“Maybe I can help myself to a beer and leave money on the bar,” Jimmy said.

“You can’t do that,” Julia said.

“Why not? It’s not like I’m stealing it.”

Just as “Solitude” reached its lonely conclusion, shuffling footsteps were heard from above. Jimmy and Julia waited in suspense. Moments later, the footsteps began a slow descent down an unseen staircase. After what felt like an eternity, a door at the back of the bar buried in shadow opened up and out of the darkness came a gaunt, elderly man in a plaid shirt. Jimmy found the sight both equally haunting and comical. One look at Julia’s horrified face was all Jimmy needed to hold back his stifled laughter as the haunted man continued to advance toward the bar. He moved at a snail’s pace, hunched over from a lifetime of weariness. His feet never once left the ground, but instead, shuffled along the faded black and red tiled floor, worn and beaten by time itself.

As the bartender crept nearer, Jimmy once again felt the chill he experienced outside the bar. Jimmy noticed Julia tighten up with fear as the bartender proceeded to walk right past them … as though they weren’t there at all. He headed straight to the jukebox, made a selection, and turned on a neon light bordering the window, through which the snow had begun falling even harder.

As the bartender slowly made his way back to the bar, The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” came on. Steve smiled and nodded his along to the music. Steve’s Place was now officially open for business.

When he finally came to his resting place behind the bar in front of Jimmy and Julia, he buckled over with a violent, bronchial cough, before finally struggling to regain his breath.

“Something to drink?” the bartender finally asked, in a thick, unrecognizable accent. He proceeded to adjust the collar of his plaid shirt, which was buttoned to the very top. It was faded and torn, neatly tucked all the way into his pants, which were pulled up high above his twisted, thin waist. His peppered hair was neatly combed, and still wet with grease.

“What do you have on tap?” Jimmy asked.

Julia gave her husband a characteristic glare for even entertaining the bartender’s offer. Although he would never admit it, Jimmy knew his wife was right. He didn’t need another drink, anymore than she did. Like arguing, drinking was one of the few things they had in common anymore – though it was usually done in separate rooms. Or locations all together.

“No tap. Bottles. Just Stroh’s,” the bartender said.

The bartender ended every sentence with the smacking of his dry, chapped lips. His musty breath poured out of his partially-shaven faced. It smelled much like the bar itself, as though the two were somehow one and the same.

“That’s it?” Jimmy asked, disappointed in his beer options.

“That’s it,” the bartender replied matter-of-factly.

“Then I guess I’ll have a Stroh’s.”

The bartender turned toward Julia.

“You?”

“Nothing, thanks,” Julia replied, looking right at Jimmy with her patented death glare.

“No drink, then you must leave,” the bartender said.

“Seriously?” Julia asked. Jimmy chuckled, pissing Julia off even more.

“Yes,” Steve said, with a stern glare. “You want drink, you stay. No drink, you go. So drink then, yes?”

Julia realized she didn’t have much of a choice. She was too tired to try picking a fight with this man. Jimmy was surprised she surrendered so quickly. In the past, Julia always stood her ground in situations such as this. It saddened Jimmy to see her so resigned to her fate.

“Bud or Stroh’s?” the bartender asked.

“Bud.”

“Would you like my wife to fix you something?” the bartender said.

“I’m sorry, what?” Jimmy asked

“Would you like my wife to fix you something?” the bartender repeated with more enunciation, which did little to clarify what he was trying to express. He made an eating motion with his hand to his mouth.

“Eat?”

“Oh. As in food!” Jimmy said, looking at Julia, who was staring past the bar, where a row of dust-covered lime-green booths lined each side of the room, leading to an abandoned kitchen, littered with dirty pots and pans from a meal served long ago.

“Want something?” Jimmy asked.

Julia flashed Jimmy a look that suggested “Are you crazy?”

Clues leading to what may have last been prepared in that kitchen hung behind the bar on a plastic signboard, featuring weekly menu options posted in plastic letter pins – many of which were missing:

Mon: Ro st B ef/Chi k n Noo le

u s: Ro st Chi ken/Na y B an

We : Me balls & Spa.

Thur: Sh rt Rib / t Pea

ri: Fi h & Chi s/Cl am Ch wde

“Food, yes?” the bartender asked.

“Just beer’s fine,” Jimmy said, characteristically caving in, wondering if refusal would be grounds for removal.

With a sad, puppy-dogged face, the bartender got to work, retrieving two beer bottles out of an old, grimy fridge. As Chet Baker continued to croon his troubles away, the bartender moved in the deliberate manner of a sloth. No one said a word – only Chet, as though demanding to be heard. His lyrics said it all.

Jimmy noticed a faded calendar from 1983 hanging on the wall. Seemingly random, off-kilter knick-knacks from decades past were scattered on both the bar and shelves above the bar. Even the bottles of liquor appeared dated, beyond their faded labels. Behind the bar rested an antique cash register that was probably older than the bar itself.

As the bartender finally popped the tops off with a rusty bottle opener, Julia removed her coat. The place was slowly, but surely, beginning to warm up.

With trembling hands, the bartender slowly set the beer bottles down on the severely scratched blue, faux-wood bar, which was peeling off in every possible direction with edges accentuated with green, tattered, and torn vinyl padding. Two shot glasses suddenly joined the beer bottles.

“Oh, just beer’s fine,” Jimmy said.

“Comes with beer,” the bartender said.

“It’s free?” Julia asked.

“Not free,” the bartender replied. “On me … on me.”

“Okay, I’ll have, um, a shot of whiskey,” Jimmy said.

“Peach Schnapps. That’s it,” the bartender scolded.

“Okay. Then Peach Schnapps it is,” Jimmy said with a confused chuckle.

“Good choice,” the bartender said with a sly smile, before pouring them some. Despite his shaky hand, he managed to fill Jimmy’s glass up till the very brim, without spilling a single drop. When he attempted to fill Julia’s glass, she put her hand over it in an effort to stop him.

“No thanks,” Julia said, but the bartender insisted.

“Peach Schnapps. Very good, very good,” he said, tilting the bottle toward her glass. Julia moved her hand out of the way just in the nick of time. Another surrender.

When the bartender was done pouring, he put the bottle back, then reached for a bottle of whiskey, which he proceeded to pour for himself, drawing a shared smile between Jimmy and Julia – something Jimmy assumed was a thing of the past. Judging from Julia’s expression, she felt the same way. For once, they were on the same page. As much as it felt good, it felt even stranger.

The bartender then held up his glass and proclaimed: “To old times,” a refrain that both Jimmy and Julia repeated. They then all downed their shots, as though they were old friends. Jimmy proceeded to take a sip of his beer. He cringed, nearly spitting it out.

“It’s warm!” Jimmy said.

“Fridge broke. Can’t fix,” the bartender said in defense.

“Maybe you should get a repairman in here?”

The bartender merely shrugged. It wasn’t clear whether the shrug implied indifference … or confusion. It was quite possible that no repairman would venture this far into the urban wilderness even if called upon. That was probably the more likely explanation.

“So, are you the owner?” Jimmy asked.

“Yes,” the bartender said in reply. “And wife.”

“Then does that make you Steve?” Jimmy asked.

“Yes. Stefano. My wife, she Sofia. She sleep upstairs.”

“You live here?” Jimmy asked, genuinely curious about this strange man and his strange bar.

“Yes.”

“Where are you from?”

“We come from Greece.”

“How long have you owned this place?

“Thirty-two years,” Steve said with pride.

“Wow,” Julia said. “That’s a long time.”

“This place,” began Steve. “My life. My joy. My jail.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”

“I was born 47 years ago.”

“You’re 47?!” Jimmy asked. Seventy-five would have been too young of a guess.

“If you want to know the truth, I really don’t know,” Steve added.

“You don’t know how old you are?” Julia said.

Steve shrugged, then added: “You sure you don’t want something fixed?”

“Other than the fridge?” Jimmy joked. “We’re fine. We already ate.”

Not satisfied with Jimmy’s answer, Steve looked toward Julia. “You?”

Just then, a cockroach raced across the bar past Jimmy and Julia. Julia shrieked. The bartender either didn’t hear, notice, or ignored the situation all-together.

“Nope. We’re good.”

Disappointed, Steve took the shot glasses away and turned his back away from them. He proceeded to carefully remove a small sheet of paper from his shirt pocket, followed by dried herbs of some sort that he kept in an envelope.

“Is that weed?” Julia whispered to Jimmy.

“I’m assuming maybe tobacco?” Jimmy said, as Steve started to gently roll his own cigarette, before removing a book of matches from his pants pocket, which he used to light his handmade cigarette.

“Smoke?” Steve asked, taking a long drag.

“No thanks,” Jimmy said. “But can you please tell me where the restroom is?”

“In back. You’ll find easy,” Steve said, taking another puff, which led to another coughing fit.

“Thanks,” Jimmy said, getting up from his stool just as Johnny Cash’s “I’d Just be Fool Enough (to Fall)” cried out of the jukebox.

“Don’t leave me alone with him,” Julia whispered in a plea to her husband.

“I’ll be quick,” Jimmy assured her.

“Another reason you need to stop drinking. You piss too much.”

“You bitch too much,” Jimmy retorted. “That’s another reason to drink.” Though she was pissed, Jimmy noticed an layer of hurt beneath her tough exterior. Unable to bear the sight of it, Jimmy headed toward the restroom, slipping into the darkness and instantly regretting what he said – as was usually the case … as was being too stubborn to ever apologize. Perhaps tonight would be different.

Jimmy cautiously walked past the kitchen – noticing a sink filled with dirty dishes that appeared to have been there for several days – if not weeks. Their decision not to order food was certainly a wise one.

Jimmy passed the door Steve entered through upon his arrival and felt the same, odd chill he felt earlier, mixed with his increasing guilt for what he said to Julia. It formed quite the eerie cocktail. Jimmy quickened his pace and continued walking down a dark red hallway with a single, flickering light, just barely illuminating the various, broken bottles, and abandoned junk littering the edges of the hallway.

He finally entered the men’s room, consisting of one trough urinal and one stall with a missing door. It was even darker inside the restroom, than it was in the hallway. Jimmy scrambled to find a light switch, but it didn’t work. The only light source came from a busted, barred window located next to the trough. In the center of the trough was a round Hanoi Jane sticker, featuring Jane Fonda’s face, illuminated by same the amber light that drew them to the bar to begin with.

As Jimmy took aim at his target, he continued to ruminate not only over what he said to Julia, but over everything he ever did to hurt her – big or small. He wished he could go take it all back and go back to the start. It saddened him that he couldn’t.

A cold wind suddenly rushed through the window, carrying with it several snowflakes that landed on his exposed flesh. Despite the frosty air, Jimmy found it refreshing, compared to the musty air suffocating the rest of the bar. It rejuvenated his senses and partially cleared his clouded, muddled mind.

When he finished the showering of Hanoi Jane, he approached the rusty sink, containing the nasty, caked remnants of a bar of soap, glued to the ledge. Jimmy opted to skip the soap, rinsing his hands instead – although the thought of turning the rusty, scum-covered handle wasn’t exactly a consolation prize. His concerns were amplified by the fact that the handle wouldn’t budge. After a brief struggle, he finally managed to loosen it, unleashing a rush of rusty water. He waited several seconds for the water to clear up, rinsed his hands, then turned toward the towel dispenser, which he realized was a dirty, yellowed cloth towel.

As Jimmy dried his hands on his pants, the toilet flushed behind him. He turned around to face the door-less stall just in time to see the remainder of the rusty water spiraling down the filthy bowl. Freaked out, he scampered the hell out of there, running down the dark hallway, tripping over a discarded milk crate, and falling hard to the filthy, grimy ground. He took a moment to make sure he wasn’t seriously injured. Aside from a couple of bruises, he was fine. He got back onto his feet, looked behind him to make sure he wasn’t being followed, and then tried his best to regain his composure before Julia came back into view. But it was no use.

“What happened to you?” Julia asked.

“Just got a little spooked, that’s all,” Jimmy said. “Julia, about what I said earlier, I’m sor—“

“You look like you a saw a ghost,” Steve interrupted with a sly smile.

“I may have,” Jimmy said.

“Another shot?” Steve asked, reaching for the bottle of Peach Schnapps.

“No, thanks. I really shouldn’t.”

“Schnapps, good,” Steve said.

“Yes, very good,” Jimmy agreed. “Which is why you should save it for others … or yourself.”

“Never runs out,” Steve said with a wink.

“So do you get a lot of customers in here?” Jimmy asked, in an attempt to divert the conversation.

“Sometime yes. Sometime no,” Steve said. “When there event, many come. No event, few. Trouble. So … much … trouble.”

“And you’ve stayed in business all these years?” Jimmy asked

“Don’t need money,” Steve continued. “People come, they come. They don’t, they don’t. No difference. Work is home and home is work. We need nothing.”

Jimmy attempted to soak in everything Steve was telling them, but the more he thought about it, the less sense he could make of it all. Julia appeared equally perplexed.

Without warning, Steve suddenly shouted “Go away!!” while shaking his fist toward the window. Jimmy and Julia saw a couple of African American women peering through the window. Steve continued to fume, shaking his head in frustration. The warm, genteel somehow morphed into a raving lunatic.

Meanwhile, the women acted like they didn’t even notice Steve, as they continued peering through the window, much in the way Jimmy and Julia were earlier.

“Not open!” Steve shouted. The women finally walked away. Steve shook his fist up in the air again, as though cursing God Himself. He muttered something indecipherable – in either English or Greek. Jimmy and Julia flashed one another a perplexed glance, as Steve kept looking out the window in a paranoid fashion, his anger now reduced to a low simmer.

However, his anger completely dissipated the moment the haunting opening strings of Nat King Cole’s “Stardust” flowed out of the jukebox, accompanied by shuffling footsteps up above, beginning a slow journey down the steps.

While Jimmy and Julia waited in suspense, Steve beamed with excitement and anticipation in the direction of the door he earlier arrived in. After what felt like an eternity, the door finally opened and a ghostly, catatonic-like woman appeared in a red and white polka-dotted nightgown, a beacon of light in the pitch black of the entranceway.

“That’s my Sofia,” Steve said with pride and a love so deep, it inspired a strange sense of envy in Jimmy. He looked over at Julia and could instantly tell she felt the same.

As she shuffled, zombie-like across the floor from the back of the bar, she emerged out of the shadow and into the light, her lifeless eyes zeroing in on her husband as though nothing else in the world existed. Steve stood waiting for her at the end of the bar. When she finally reached him, he helped her into a tattered chair that was padded with an enormous pillow, proceeding to retrieve her a can of Vernor’s Ginger Ale from the warm fridge. He popped the top and handed it to her, once again in the fashion of a sloth. In comparison, her movements made Steve look like an Olympic sprinter. She reached for the can in the same manner, then took a long, slow sip. Her expression never changed. And her eyes never left her husband.

As Steve jaunted over to the jukebox, there seemed to be an extra spring in his step. He finally reached the jukebox just as “Stardust” ended. As he deliberately punched in his next selection, the bar hummed with the sound of the dying radiator and the buzz of shoddy electrical work. Although the radiator still sounded broken, it was now generating perhaps too much heat after a slow start.

As Steve made his way back toward his beloved Sofia, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” kicked in on the jukebox, which now sounded louder than before, echoing through the empty bar.

Steve reached his arm toward Sofia, even though she was still far from his reach. She reached out in return. Jimmy glanced at Julia, who smiled at him warmly. He couldn’t remember the last time she looked at him like that.

As Steve honed in on his Sofia, their eyes locked in a loving embrace. Her dead eyes were now overflowing with life. To Jimmy, the couple now appeared younger, but he dismissed it as an illusion. When Steve finally reached her, he took her by the hand and helped her up before they began to dance to Patsy Cline’s haunting, melancholy melody.

As Steve and Sofia danced, it was as though the rest of the world no longer mattered – or perhaps never existed at all. A lifetime of shared love, happiness, tears and loss radiated from their beings, directly into Jimmy and Julia. As the dance progressed, Jimmy felt the negative feelings that had controlled his entire being for so long slowly begin to erode until they were replaced by the old, happy feelings that had been packed away for so long. They were now renewed and refreshed.

Meanwhile, the ancient couple danced and gazed at one another with a love so deep, it transcended human understanding. Jimmy could now clearly see just how far he and Julia had drifted apart from one another. He wondered whether once this moment was over, if they could somehow find a way to permanently return to where they once were and retrieve the towel they had thrown away so long ago. As they sat there and watched the embodiment of true love slowly being revealed right before their eyes, Jimmy began to fear that once the song was over, they would slip back to the dark void they were in when they first walked into the bar. There was nothing Jimmy wanted more than for this moment to last. Forever. Just like he thought it would seven years before when they both uttered: “I do.”

Suddenly, Jimmy found himself on the brink of tears – the edges of which he saw forming in Julia’s another’s eyes. They turned to face one another at the same moment and without speaking a single word, Jimmy knew she was feeling exactly the same way. He reached for her hand. For once, she allowed him to take it into his. He felt his body fill with that old familiar feeling from a time when holding hands meant so much. Before it became meaningless, then an annoyance, then non-existent.

Jimmy and Julia smiled at another and continued to do so through a cascade of falling tears. They were Jimmy & Julia again, rather than Jimmy and Julia – or more specifically. Jimmy. And Julia.

When they turned back to look at Steve and Sofia, the old couple had magically transformed into the exact age of Jimmy and Julia. It wasn’t an illusion, Jimmy thought to himself. Or was it? Age was no longer relevant to this timeworn couple. Jimmy looked at Julia and she appeared to him exactly as she did on their wedding night, both in terms of her appearance and his feelings for her. It saddened him to think how once upon a time, he assumed he would always feel this way about her. He never imagined that the day would come when such a familiar feeling felt so … foreign.

Julia squeezed Jimmy’s hand even tighter. He never wanted her to let go. Of this moment. Of him. Of them.

Steve suddenly waved Jimmy and Julia over to join them.

“Want to dance?” Jimmy asked Julia.

“Can we just stay like this?” Julia asked.

Jimmy nodded, gently caressing her held hand with his fingers. Steve persisted that they join them. Jimmy politely shook his head no.

At the song’s key change, Steve dipped Sofia back. They not only remained young, but were suddenly bathed in a heavenly, ethereal light – a light that Jimmy felt permeating through both himself and through Julia, whose hand he still held.

As the song finally came to an end, they transformed back into their old selves, as Sofia buried her face into Steve’s shoulder. Steve held her closely against him, as though fighting off the reality that the song was coming to an end – like everything else in life. Knowing this, they did not let go of one another until the echo of the very last note faded, absorbing into the very walls that held onto everything else that slipped from the present and into the past.

Steve kissed Sofia’s hand and then watched as she slowly shuffled back to the door from which she came, out of the light, into shadow, and then back into darkness, until all that remained were the sound of her footsteps slowly ascending the stairs until coming to a rest.

Julia slowly let go of Jimmy’s hand. All he could see on her face was sadness – the same sadness he felt inside.

As “Stardust” picked up where it left off, Steve turned back to Jimmy and Julia. “That’s my Sofia,” he beamed, before breaking into another violent coughing episode. Still coughing, he managed to pour himself some whiskey He downed it, settling his cough.

“Another shot?” Steve asked.

“No, thanks,” Julia said in a melancholy tone.

“I’m fine,” Jimmy said, offering Julia a reassuring smile. Her face lightened.

“Have another,” Steve insisted. “On me.”

“No, seriously. We’re good,” Jimmy said. “We still have to drive.”

Disappointed, Steve took the shot glasses away as Jimmy and Julia took a long sip of their beer. Steve regained his composure and smiled at them.

“Beautiful people,” he said. “Beautiful people.

“Thank you,” Julia said, flattered.

Jimmy finished his beer and Steve leaned against the bar, before proclaiming:

“Stay in love,” Steve began. Jimmy put his arm around Julia’s shoulder just like he always used to do before her body language forced him give it up all together. Now, she leaned in closer to him than ever before.

“Love lasts forever. Life does not. It is why there’s no greater thing. And just like that, everything will be fine. Everything will be fine. Because love will always melt away all the snow.”

Jimmy glanced at Julia, who smiled warmly at him as Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” began a mournful lament out of the jukebox.

“Ready?” Jimmy finally said, looking toward the window. It was no longer snowing.

Julia nodded, taking one last sip of her beer.

“How much?” Jimmy asked Steve.

“On the house,” Steve said, catching both by surprise. After all, Steve had already given them so much that night.

“Are you sure?” Jimmy asked.

“Don’t need the monies anymore,” Steve explained. “You keep it.”

Jimmy set down a $10 bill.

With a shaking hand, Steve handed the money back to Jimmy.

“No tip. Keep it.”

Jimmy refused to take the money back, but Steve insisted.

“Buy her something nice,” said Steve, winking at Julia. Jimmy was left with no choice but to take it back. He could tell Steve was relieved.

“Thanks, Steve,” Julia said.

“Yes. Welcome,” Steve said in reply. “Beautiful people always welcome.”

Jimmy and Julia stood up. Jimmy offered to help Julia put her coat on. Jimmy was pretty sure he caught her blushing.

“Thank you,” Julia said.

“My pleasure,” Jimmy replied back, before kissing her gently on the forehead as Steve watched this with great satisfaction.

“Goodbye, Steve,” Jimmy said.

“Yia sou,” Steve said in Greek, before translating. “Goodbye, my friends.”

Jimmy and Julia started to make their way toward the door, when Julia stopped in her tracks.

“We forgot to ask for directions!”

They turned back to Steve, but he was gone.

Suddenly, a booming voice commanded: “Okay, guys. Party’s over.” Just then, the jukebox, radiator and every light in the place all shut off at once, as though somebody pulled a giant, invisible plug.

Jimmy and Julia turned toward the door, where a portly cop stood, revealing his badge.

“I’m sorry?” Jimmy said in confusion.

“You’re trespassing,” the cop said.

“Trespassing?” Jimmy said. “We’re customers.”

“That’s what they all say,” the officer said, annoyed.

“Just ask Steve,” Jimmy said, turning toward where Steve was just standing. All that remained were two empty beer bottles.

“Come on, you two,” the cop said, with his back already turned toward the door.

Jimmy and Julia followed the officer out, in a state of confusion. Not only had it stopped snowing, it also felt much warmer.

“If I catch you in there again, you’ll be arrested, do you understand me?” the cop warned, pointing an accusatory finger at them.

“Yes,” Jimmy said, trying everything in his power to not question authority, despite the million questions running through his head.

The officer proceeded to put a thick padlock on the door. Jimmy could no longer bite his tongue.

“When you said ‘that’s what they all say,’ What did you mean by that?”

The officer looked up into the night sky, as though searching for an answer, then sighed deeply.

“With all these empty buildings downtown, we periodically catch trespassers trying to salvage what’s left. I don’t know what it is about this place in particular, but there isn’t a night that goes by where we don’t find someone in here. Must be some kind of cheap thrill.”

“But we were invited in by the owner, Steve … unless he was a trespasser, too?”

“It’s always the same with you people,” the cop said in a somber tone.

“We don’t understand,” Jimmy said.

“You know damn well what happened in here,” the cop insisted.

“I’m sorry, Officer, but we really don’t,” Julia said.

The cop finally realized that they were telling the truth and took another deep sigh.

“About 30 years ago, the owners – who lived in the apartment upstairs for over 30 years – were robbed and murdered inside there. They’ve been closed ever since.”

Jimmy felt that old familiar chill shoot through his body, stronger than ever.

“Which is why I implore you to STAY THE FUCK OUT!” the cop’s voice echoed into the empty night. He turned around and walked away, leaving Jimmy and Julia to ponder their new reality. He disappeared around a corner, as though he were never there at all – much like Steve himself.

Jimmy and Julia were left with nothing but confused silence, haunted by loss. Still too stunned to speak, they both looked back toward the bar and noticed that in place of the “Open” sign was a “Closed” sign. The same chill Jimmy felt throughout the night returned – but intensified.

They peered through the window one last time, still unable to fathom what had just transpired.

The bar was still empty. And dark. Only the cobwebs remained, which led the eye to a framed photograph of Steve and Sofia dancing together on their wedding day – the only beacon of light remaining in the entire bar, looking just as they appeared while they were dancing just moments ago.

“Let’s get home,” Julia said, without a hint of the demanding tone she used earlier.

“We never did get directions, did we?” Jimmy realized.

“I’m sure we can figure it out,” Julia said. “You eventually always do.”

As they walked toward the car, Julia took Jimmy by the hand for the first time in months, as the remaining snow melted all around them.

View my short film here: “Steve’s Place” movie

A Farewell to Steve’s Place

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With the passing of its long-time proprietor, one of Detroit’s best kept secrets is no longer.

Steve Francis, who lived above the surreal bar he owned and operated along with his wife, Sophie since 1972 succumbed to cancer at the age of 90. He will be laid to rest in his native Greece.

Sophie does not plan to keep the doors open.

Metro Times Obituary

Detroit Free Press obituary
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I had the privilege to shoot a (very amateur) short film inside this bar back in 2009 — a location like no other. It was loosely based on Steve himself.

“Steve’s Place” movie (official selection Flint Film Festival).

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A premiere for my film was held there on January 23, 2010. The joint was packed to the gills.

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Steve truly felt as though Hollywood had arrived on his doorstop. He always referred to me as ‘Mr. Bob’. I’ll never forget how fascinated he was with the barrel of hard pretzels I had on hand during the production. He asked me to bring him a few barrels. I did.


A couple of years later, I wrote a short story based on my film, which I will post in a subsequent blog entry.

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As anyone can attest who has stepped foot into Steve’s Place, there has been no other human like Steve on earth. And certainly no other bar.

This previous article from the Metro Times paints a pretty good portrayal of both Steve and his bar (never was a man and his business so intertwined as one being).

“The Tao of Steve’s” Metro Times

I’m certain heaven greeted him with his customary Stroh’s and  complimentary shot of Peach Schnapps (as was the usual way he served his customers).

R.I.P. Steve.