“We haven’t played the juke box recently,” Leigh says to Joanna and Barb on this Friday night in February.
“I know! I miss it! Let’s pick some songs,” Barb says. She reaches into a pocket of her beautifully-cut jeans, which beautifully accentuate her beautiful posterior. “Here’s a dollar.”
Joanna and Leigh ante up too. Three dollars will buy them six songs. Leigh is the one who will punch the keys; it’s part of her I-like-to-be-in-control mantra. She will, however, allow Joanna and Barb to pick two songs each.
“Barb, your choices?” she asks.
“Toby Keith. I Love This Bar, and Good as I Once Was.”
“Good choices,” Leigh says as she efficiently punches buttons. “Joanna?”
“Bennie and the Jets, and Ode to Billie Joe.”
“Strange combination, but it’s your dollar. I’m picking Before He Cheats, and Last Name. My girl Carrie.”
“We can sing to those and to mine. Not so much to Joanna’s,” Barb says.
“If you call what you and Joanna do singing,” Leigh says.
Barb and Joanna each have many talents, but being able to carry a tune is not one of them. That does not stop them from singing on nights they are in the mood, and have had enough to drink.
Leigh actually can sing—she says she has perfect pitch—which doesn’t mean much to the tone-deaf Barb and Joanna, but they murmur appreciatively every time Leigh tells them.
“Fuck you Leigh,” Joanna says now. Her smile takes the sting out of the statement. “Why don’t you tell us again that you have perfect pitch?”
“I have perfect pitch,” Leigh says, and belatedly adds “Fuck you too,” with a smile of her own.
I Love This Bar has begun playing, and Joanna yells to Matt, Jim, and Barb’s husband Al, who are sitting at the bar just a few feet away. “Hey guys, come sing.” She knows they won’t, and they don’t.
Leigh and Barb are finishing the line Chain smokers and boozers and Joanna joins in:
And we got yuppies, we got bikers
We got thirsty hitchhikers
And the girls next door dress up like movie stars
Hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm I love this bar
We got cowboys, we got truckers
Broken-hearted fools and suckers
And we got hustlers, we got fighters
Early-birds and all-nighters
“I’m fuzzy on the rest of the words. But I think I’m on key tonight,” Joanna says to Leigh.
“No, you most certainly are not,” Leigh answers.
“Am I?” Barb asks.
“You are a bit closer, but no.”
Leigh sees a look of distress on Joanna’s face.
“I didn’t upset you, did I? You could not have really thought you were on key.”
“What? Oh no, it’s not that. John is here.”
“John. From work. My archenemy,” Joanna says.
“Standing next to Matt, ordering a drink from Melissa.”
“Oh no. He doesn’t usually come here, does he?” Leigh asks.
“No. He usually goes to Union Jack’s in North Hills. But he lives around here.”
“Does he know you come here?” Barb asks.
“Hell no, I never tell him anything personal. Plus he hates me as much as I hate him. He no want to see me.” When Joanna is rattled, which she is now, she sometimes talks like she texts—in ungrammatical but perfectly understandable shortcuts.
“Has he ever met Matt?” Leigh asks.
“No, of course not.” Joanna is facing away from the bar and is using Barb as a shield. “Why would you ask that?”
“Because they’re chatting like they’re best friends. I think Matt just paid for his drink.”
“Oh shit!! Shit, shit, shit,” Joanna says.
“Matt is looking over here. I think he wants to introduce you to his new friend,” Barb says.
Joanna says, “I’m going to the lobby. Give me cover.”
Leigh and Barb move with her until she is in the lobby. They return to the juke box, where As Good as I Was Once Was is playing.
Joanna calls Matt’s cell. He answers “Hey, where are you?”
“Don’t say my name!” Joanna yells.
“Uh ok, any particular reason?”
“Actually, don’t say anything. That guy you’re talking to. That’s John.”
“Yeah, he told me his name was John. Do you know him?”
“I told you not to say anything!” Joanna is shrieking. She knows Matt hates it when she shrieks, but she can’t help it. “Did he hear you?”
“No, he walked over to the jukebox. What’s the matter with you?”
“That’s John. From work. You know, my nemesis. The one who stabs me in the back when he’s not stabbing me in the front.”
“Oh.” Matt pauses. “Seems like a nice enough guy.” Joanna begins to sputter and Matt immediately realizes his mistake. “Which doesn’t mean he’s not a prick.”
“You said he’s at the juke box?” Joanna says.
“Is he talking to Leigh and Barb?”
“Well, it looks like he’s hitting on Barb, like all guys do. Leigh looks a little miffed.”
“Hey, any woman standing near Barb might as well be invisible,” Joanna says realistically.
“What are you going to do?” Matt asks.
“I’m going to go outside and come back in through the side door. I’ll meet you down at that end of the bar. Bring my coat. Please.”
“Ok,” Matt says.
Thirty seconds later, Joanna has settled herself among a small cluster of regulars, safely separated from John by 20 yards and 30 people. She smiles at Matt as he joins the group.
“Whew, close one,” she says.
“Crisis averted,” Matt says.
Stan the Nut is talking animatedly to Kiki; Joanna hears him say “Don’t let him bother you. He’s just an angry guy.” Must be talking about Ben, she thinks. That sure is the pot calling the kettle black.
“You look a little tense, Joanna,” Stan says. “Something wrong?”
She fills him in quickly, knowing he can relate to having a work enemy. He nods understandingly and says, “Do you want me to kill him?”
Joanna laughs, then realizes he may be serious. You just never know with Stan.
“Thank you, but no,” she says.
“Suit yourself,” Stan says, and turns back to Kiki.