This story is semi-based on “Off He Goes” by Pearl Jam.
Off He Goes
It’s Sunday night, a dead night for the pub. The usuals indulged too much on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday is left for quiet time, football, and open mic.
In another life I was rock star, literally, but I flatlined on booze and drugs, which makes a bar probably the wrong place to be and the right place to be. The scent of whiskey that was once a powerful draw now smells like vomit to me. The source, the outcome.
Rodge is up tonight. He got me my first gig back when we both were sober and talented, he more than me. He could compose a song in thirty minutes. It would have reason, story, melody, and an ache, and it would be a hit, back in the day. Then he discovered his love of bourbon and then heroin and the rest is an unfortunate history.
He now calls himself Jim Beam and sings Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and sometimes Jimmy Buffet to shake things up and to be slightly ironic. Tonight though, he starts with one of his own songs the few that can be called a crowd knows and then offers an original.
I’m wiping down the counter when he begins singing. My fingers tighten on the white cloth. This isn’t just any song, it’s the one I’ve been humming, singing and throwing around the lyrics to in my head for the past five months. Five fucking months. Now he’s singing it like it’s his own. I wad the dishcloth in my hand and think of throwing it at him but as his fingers slide over the strings of his guitar he says, “You’ve got one helluva fucking bartender because he wrote that song.”
And fate landed me with money because Rodge had called someone in advance, a favor, because he still had those, lots of those, and maybe sometimes in this life where you think you’ve screwed up your only chance, you get another one. Maybe.
With money and rock star once again in reach, if I want it, I hear Rodge has disappeared. There’s talk about a note, a venture to visit grizzlies in Alaska and drink and indulge in fine Inuit women. And then something less dramatic, that talks of being done and having had enough and feeling that waking up is not always a good thing.
I wipe down the bar, see his leathered face in my mind and understand he wanted to leave something behind, to me, because you realize that no matter how good heroin feels it’s not something to share with people you really care about and sometimes it’s too hard to give it up. He gave me heroin, but years later, now, he’s given me an alternative even if he doesn’t have one of his own.
I’ll clean up and then go look for him. He’s gotta know, gotta understand, that, at the end of the day, life’s all we got.