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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Two

On one unusually fine day towards the end of January, Brian sat down at his desk in a locked room and began a novel to which he had already given the title The Library. He wrote as he always wrote, on 8 and 1/2 by 11 inch plain white paper ordinarily used for a copy machine, using a plastic ballpoint pen filled with black ink. The white paper was much like the oblivion he felt he must work against every day; the black ink was as water drawn from some frozen sea within. He wrote for about two hours, or to be more precise he thought about writing for about five minutes and spent the rest of the afternoon either reclining in his chair or sitting with his face in his hands, staring out through the window in front of him.

From the vantage point of his room he was able to look down into the backyard of his neighbor, which consisted of a Kentucky Blue grass lawn and several flowerbeds, in which were planted rhododendrons, roses and a host of other flowers that would be more visible in another season. Two trees rose up from the middle of the lawn as well; one was probably a dogwood, the other was certainly a cedar. In the shade of the probable dogwood, a crow was poking at the ground in search of food.

Looking up from his neighbor’s yard and past the fence, he turned his attention to a series of pillars holding up an overpass of I-5 about 50 yards from his window. From this angle, he had to look through his own faint reflection in the glass, and at this point he momentarily changed his focus to examine his features. First at the broken line created by a bump a third of the way down his nose, then at the smooth (perhaps too smooth, he thought) jaw line, and then back up to his eyes. It was while gazing into his left pupil that he noticed a sudden movement of orange next to one of the big, cement pillars holding up the freeway, about ten feet back from the road which ran underneath the interstate. A large piece of plywood that had been leaning against the pillar fell over as a man climbed over a barrier and out of his pupil to stand on the ground which just a moment before had been the lower half of the blue iris of his eye.

He leaned slightly forward in his chair in an effort to close the gap between himself and what he could now see was a crop of orange hair on the top of the head of a young man of medium height. Even at so great a distance the young man was obviously of a very sleight build. The carrot colored hair contrasted sharply with the darker colors of his clothes. Picking up a black bag at his side, he turned from the cement barrier towards the sidewalk and began walking out from underneath the overpass. From his desk Brian followed the young man’s pace as he came into full view while continuing on the sidewalk across the street. For a few minutes even after the redheaded fellow had walked out of view, he continued looking out of the left side of his window.

Since his attention had been diverted already, he decided to gather up his papers and put them back on the shelf of a bookcase adjacent to his desk. After pushing his chair away from the desk, he stood up and began looking for his shoes amidst the clutter of books and paper surrounding him on the floor. After putting on his familiar tennis shoes, he knelt beside a single twin bed to get at the savings stashed between the mattress and box screen. After pulling three fives out from between a wad of tens and nearly innumerable ones, he slipped the bills into his wallet, the wallet into his right back pocket, and then himself out the door and down the stairs on the side of the house to the street below.

Chapter Three

At around four o’clock every afternoon the tempo in Queequeg’s began picking up. Cooks from the morning and lunch shift were swabbing the countertops for the last time, rolling up the heavy rubber mats off the floor, then sweeping the ceramic tiles clear of eggshells, cheese, bacon, burgers, chunks of fish, and the occasional ham hock knocked off the cutting board and kicked underneath the stove during the lunch rush. Cooks coming onto the evening shift were busy stocking their supplies. On the salad line they emptied ten gallon garbage bags full of freshly washed lettuce into huge cooling bins, and then filled square metal pans with pre-portioned sandwich baggies containing chicken, imitation crab, and shrimp. Besides these went other pans filled with salad dressings: reddish, translucent, and very light orange, for French, Italian and 1000 Islands, respectively, and three different shades of white for Caesar, Ranch and Blue Cheese. On the hot line they loaded Kaiser rolls into racks above the stove; they stacked up the refrigerated drawers with steaks, ground beef, chicken, and of course, more and more cheese. There were also three kinds of fish in supply, but for a salmon house they still worked the cows pretty hard. The wait staff scurried around the dining room from table to table, refilling saltshakers and bottles of ketchup. Since the opening of the dining room was still an hour away, most of the wait staff wore sweatshirts over their short sleeve, safari shirt uniforms. The busboys and the dishwashers were out back smoking cigarettes on the loading dock, talking about the latest video games and their various anti-psychotic medications.

They may have called it a tavern, but it was a real restaurant. Two stars and three dollar signs in Zagat’s. In addition to the dining room there were also some twenty-five tables in the bar. A salmon house had originally stood there alone under a different name, but when the liquor laws regarding the making of beer were relaxed in the early 1980’s, a brewery took the place of a sporting goods store next door. Plate glass windows were installed so that customers could watch the brewers at their various tasks. A short time later the large, open area in front was turned into a bar, and in reaction to the growing success of a local coffee company her puckish new owner decided to rechristen the whole operation ‘Queequeg’s’. It was more commonly referred to by her younger patrons as ‘the Queeg’, and sometimes even as ‘the Q.’

By this time of day business already began building up in the bar. Half a dozen customers sat at the rail, half of them talking about the upcoming Super Bowl and the others musing over different sections of a single edition of the Seattle Times. Brian was one of these. Another was the bartender for the evening shift, waiting for the clock to get a little closer to five, when he could punch on for a shift that would probably end a mere six hours later. By this time later in the week the taproom would be more full, and the most crowded section would be in front of the bar. They all showed up for Diana, although she wasn’t there in the flesh at that particular moment.

Soon she came around the corner carrying a blue plastic crate filled with bottles of liquor instead of the milk (or dairy products in general) for which it had originally been made (a use that once seemed slightly unscrupulous to Diana, especially given the prohibition originally printed on the crate). Now this little switcheroo doesn’t bother her in the least (never having heard a peep out of anybody else about the transgression). After hoisting the unwieldy load up onto the counter with a swing of her hips, she ducked under the side counter and began pulling bottles out of the crate by their necks: fifths of Jack Daniels, Boodles and Absolut on display on the shelves; cheaper, American gins and vodkas in the well for those customers who didn’t care to pay for the name. There were liqueurs as well: Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua, Creme do Cacao, Brandy and Schnapps, all in the peak of their season, used in nudges, shoves, chocolate drinks, and the occasional cheater sent to the stressed out waiter who had too many tables, or not enough tables, or just enjoyed drinking on the job. Many of the eyes in the room and all of those at the bar turned for at least a glance at Diana as she stretched to put the pricier bottles on the higher shelves. One of the customers reading the paper covered himself by clearing his throat and saying “Diana, close me out when you get the chance.”

After setting a new bottle of coffee liqueur on the counter, Diana reached over to a small letter rack by the cash register to retrieve the customer’s credit card slip. Then everyone wanted to cash out and soon she was filling out more slips and changing bills for her faithful band of followers. The paper in the register unrolled as if a market were beginning to crash somewhere, and in a way it had. Steve, the night bartender (and to continue the analogy, bear), took this as his cue to punch on early, and wrapping an apron around his waist he stepped behind the bar. For the next five minutes the two worked gingerly around one another in a kind of counterpoint: Diana leaning over the dishwasher in order to clean up the glassware, Steve reaching up to put away the last of the bottles; Steve crouching down to stock bottles of beer in the refrigerated cabinets below while Diana cut up the last of the lemons and limes.

Before sitting down to count out her till, Diana pushed a dollar into the juke box and dialed in a few of her standard selections, such as ‘Shelter From The Storm,’ from Bob Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks, and a few others from Slow Train Coming to get her through the end of her shift. Unusual songs for most jukeboxes, but it fit in well enough with the other dozen or so Dylan albums collected right around it. The reason for this abundance of Dylan resided in the small clout a day bartender carries with the purveyors who take their orders during business hours. Or maybe it was just the clout that Diana carried. In any case, when she asked for three discs full of outtakes that the paying public would never have chosen, the jukebox company rep just laughed when the manager of Queequeg’s shrugged and said, “I know at least one person will be playing ‘em.”

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Diana sat on the edge of a captain’s chair, making a tight fan of bills as she counted out her till. She looked outside the window when she noticed a blur of orange gently bobbing up and down among the other pedestrians, like a torch being carried in front of a procession of strangers. Brian looked too, as he had been eyeing Diana over the Entertainment section of the newspaper he had been pretending to read, and when the red hair came through the doorway he did a double take and then raised the paper, private detective-style. A more visible headline read, “Is There Too Much Sex and Violence on Television?” with an especially beautiful woman pictured below, gun drawn, with her back against the wall.

The young man walking through the front door of the restaurant was certainly the same person who just a few minutes earlier had walked out of the gully underneath the overpass. The newest customer didn’t notice (or pretended not to notice) the look of surprise on the face floating above the newspaper and walked straight up to the bar to order a Slug Bait Pale Ale. He was dressed a little strangely: underneath a black vinyl Members Only jacket he wore a green, v-neck sweater with an argyle pattern woven onto the front, giving him the vague air of royalty somehow gone to seed. His pants were black, close-fitting, and looked like they may have been part of the canvas high-tops. That were also black. After amiably greeting Steve he sat on a stool a few spots to the right of Brian and began peering past a skyline of different sized bottles at the mirror on the wall. He noticed how the crack broke the line of the reflected image of the shelf, so that the left side seemed to incline downwards by just a few degrees.

From the way he gulped his beer and stared down at the bar, he looked a little nervous.

He looked into the mirror again; not at himself, but at Diana, seated on the other side of the room (by concentrating on an image the crack became more or less invisible). He noticed what he had noticed several times before; that her back was arched with poise of a ballerina, her shoulders squared and her chin pointed directly at the bills she was shuffling from one hand to the other. After finishing most of his beer in another minute, he turned around on his stool and walked across the room.

“Hey.”

“Hello there,” she answered cheerfully while gradually pulling her gaze from the money in front of her.

What followed was an awkward pause for the young man standing by her table, but just a pause for Diana, who had begun stacking a pile of nickels into groups of fives.

“Jeb, right?”

“Yeah, right.”

“Like some Civil War guy?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” he said, pleased. “Good memory.”

“And the governor too.”

“Yeah, guess so.”

“So how goes it?”

“Good”

She nodded in response while whispering as she counted out the ones in the drawer. After she was done she said, “I see the music can’t keep you away.” She put a rubber band around the ones and began counting quarters and putting them into little cylindrical slips of paper. At the same time a chair began magically pulling away from the table at a slow angle, like a ship from its dock. A pretty calf appeared soon after.

“Yeah, right … I mean, no; I never meant that the music was bad, but, uh …” He mumbled on unintelligibly for a moment, dying away into a downward look and a little shuffle before taking a seat.

Diana smiled, now counting pennies into stacks of fives. “He’s an acquired taste, really; you don’t have to like him.”

“Well, he’s okay, I guess. It just sounds like he’s having trouble finding the notes. And the guitar and the harmonica … I think I’d rather just hear the words.”

They’d had this conversation before. Why did he always feel so awkward? Why did it always have to fall apart so quickly? Why did he have to talk this way? Jeb really couldn’t stand the way he carried on sometimes. “De gustibus non est disputing,” he said, more apologetically than critically.

“You don’t have to get nasty about it!” she said, laughing at him.

He started to protest, saying, “No,” but then just sat there, blushing. He hadn’t done any better by Latin. Worse, maybe.

The end of the song helped bring a welcome end to the conversation, just as Diana stood up and swept the pennies into a bag. She’d become somewhat accustomed to these slurs against Dylan over the years. She smiled at him peevishly as she stood up and headed towards the office in the back.

“Ail be back”, she said in imitation of the Terminator, for no apparent reason, and started walking back to the office to drop the contents of her till in the safe.

When she did get back, Steve let her know that the keg of Creosote Porter had blown with the first glass he’d had to pour (‘strange how that always happens,’ he added), to which she just smiled. Could she tend bar while he went to the walk-in fridge for another? She could, and did. While waiting for Steve to change the keg Diana thought about her brief conversation with Jeb. This was the third or fourth time he’d come in. He was clearly nervous, but Diana found this intriguing (not least because of his appearance, oddly elegant and sloppy at the same time) as well as the slightly privileged air he carried about him.

Too bad he couldn’t appreciate Dylan (they’d had this conversation before), but then, who did? Nobody she worked with. To Diana it seemed that the world could be divided between those who could appreciate Dylan and those who could not. Or those who would grudgingly allow that he wrote songs well enough, but that the voice was something else entirely. It was understandable, she supposed. Jeb hadn’t grown up on him, as she had. None of her girlfriends were fans, either, although they’d learned to tolerate Diana’s obsession over the years. Other than a few older women she’d met at his concerts, she was the only woman she knew who was a big fan. She was already draining foam out of the line into plastic gallon milk jug by the time Steve made it back behind the bar – the extra beer runoff was used by the kitchen to make batter for fish ‘n chips. Sometime the cooks just drank it themselves. She’d caught Dale, one of the lead cooks, holding a jug up with his forearm and pouring its stale contents into his mouth, hillbilly style.

After claiming her shift beer (the Creosote Porter, which was another acquired taste) and returning the same tip to Steve that he had given her half an hour earlier, Diana returned to the table where Jeb was reading a book with a green paper cover. The conversation came a little easier than it had before as Diana now more attentively guided it through the awkward moments that occurred because of Jeb’s nervousness.

“So, whatcha reading?”

“Latin poetry.”

“Sounds tough.”

“Not really.”

“Well I couldn’t do it.”

“Greek,” he said emphatically, “is tough.”

She didn’t respond at first, pausing to mop up some of the beer that had spilled onto the table. “Greek, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“For school.”

“Yeah. Just started.”

And so on. While Jeb carried on about the colorful characters on the faculty of the Classics department, Diana faded in and out of real and feigned interest. She tore at her fingernails whenever she got bored – a bad habit for anyone, but especially a bartender.

“So you can read the bible?”

“I could, I guess.”

When Diana didn’t say anything, Jeb shrugged. “Don’t have time for it, I guess. I’m more interested in the pagans. The language is pure, and the prose of the New Testament is simple, a dialect spoken and written by a generally less educated … or, uh, you know … later, writers. I think. Just different, I guess.” He trailed off in fear that he might offend her, frustrated with his own voice again. He was showing off, and he knew it.

Diana just smiled.

“Right.” He took another long pause. “Why?”

“Well, it’s the all time best seller, for one thing.”

He had to laugh. “Yeah, I guess so.” He wanted to say something more, but tried playing it cool this time.

She didn’t seem too concerned, and he ended up talking again. “Not that it doesn’t have some cultural value. I’m Irish myself, you know – Irish and Scot, actually. The ones who saved civilization and all that.” He laughed in order to show her that he was being ironic.

At this point Diana scrunched up her eyebrows, letting Jeb that she hadn’t understood his point.

“What I mean is . . . it was the medieval Christian scholars – monks, actually – who copied out all the great works … which is why we can still read them today.” After he’d finished he thought he sounded like a brochure.

“Ever been to Greece?” asked Diana.

“Nah. Rome, once.”

Just then a nail was sprung from Diana’s fidgeting fingers and landed near the sleeve of Jeb’s jacket. ‘How embarrassing,’ she thought, ‘and he’s the nervous one.’

She had somewhere else to be later on anyway and decided to beat a hasty retreat, so she checked her watch and asked (said, really), “See you next time?” before standing up to leave for the second time in five minutes. ‘Did he see my fingernail?’ she wondered; ‘would he be discouraged?’ They finished their farewells and Diana left by a door in the back to the parking lot, while Jeb went out the front door and in the direction of the freeway. No, not that it would have mattered; but yes, he was a little discouraged.

Shortly after Diana and Jeb had left, Brian paid for his beer and left Queequeg’s as well. He walked half a block to the corner, not far from where a road crew was patching a part of the street with new asphalt. A big, black bubble of tar had ballooned up near the curb at the corner. He stood and stared blankly at the orange hand across the street. He was in a dark mood, but was thinking of how smooth the fresh asphalt looked and wondering how long it would it look this pure. Thoughts rose up like the bubble, occasionally coalescing into sentences that were soon forgotten:

‘It is what it is.’

‘What it always was and what it always will be.’

‘Never coming, never going away.’

‘But I myself am not within it.’

“No… I must not be in it,” he actually whispered.

He was staring at the glowing white figure so intently that he forgot to start walking across the street. It was only when someone bumped him while walking past that he started across, stepping off the curb just as the orange hand began to blink again. He paused for a moment when he reached the opposite side, trying to remember what he had thought three thoughts before. He passed a barbershop and took a moment to look at the pole. Hypnotized, he watched the stripes turn round and around while he went back to riding his favorite hobbyhorse.

‘One among Many. Many within One.’

‘The One leads to Many, and Many return to the One, in a kind of balance.’

“Yeah. Balance; that’s the most important thing.”

From the corner he walked up two blocks towards the freeway. When he arrived at his house on Boylston Avenue, he paused in front of the mailbox. After pulling out two envelopes he walked up the short wooden staircase on the side of the house to his mother in law apartment in the attic. Reading the envelopes as he climbed up the stairs, he could see that they were both pieces of junk mail, one a Valu-Pak full of coupons addressed to ‘Brian Jove’. That certainly seemed providential, perhaps even worth hanging onto. Life offers so few real surprises. After letting himself in, he emptied the envelope and stuck it on the refrigerator with a magnet of a miniature Mount Rainier.

Comments

  1. Henri Young says

    The Q is a box similar to the one the bum in “Molholland Drive” had in which all the characters from The novel “Birds Nest In Your Hair” by Quin Finnegan exist. This is based on another novel called “Birds Nest In Your Hair” by Brian O’Brien.

  2. Henri Young says

    By the way, this is a terrific yarn and I’m enjoying it.

    Keep posting.

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