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November 17, 2011

Barfly

Chicago is a bar town. San Francisco, New York, they're all bar towns because you can have that one extra drink, there's a subway, cabs are nearby. Los Angeles has all the mechanical charm of the suburbs, stretched out end-to-end for a thousand miles and everyone is in a car. It is not a bar town.

Yet all across the Valley floor you will find the corner pocket is filled with a dive bar. When I first moved here and I was at the Daily News, reporters would congregate at a dive in Sherman Oaks called Pineapple Hill. The bar is still there, and still only bearable because of its proximity to In-n-Out Burger. Back then everyone smoked indoors and we would order pitchers of beer and baskets of fries and wonder if we were all writing about other people as a way to avoid writing about anything real.

Reporters.

Later when I was with Mr. X we would visit the Tonga Hut or the Starlight Lounge, part of our modern-day Nick and Nora L.A. lifestyle. I loved the jukebox, I adored the long, polished wood bars with rings stained in the grain. I liked sitting in a dimly lit room with a cast of characters nearby. I would sometimes eavesdrop. All the best stories are at the end of a tab somewhere in the Valley.

As a single woman now I don't go to dive bars anymore. The story changes then, doesn't it? Becomes a lurid tale, maybe with an unhappy ending fit for the headlines. Instead I am at the grocery store or the gym or more likely I am just walking and living outside the world, outside looking in.

Last night my friend D. was in town and he took me to a local pub and we had Newcastle on tap and chatted friendly with the Blue Moon beer gals. D. is in the trade, his company distributes the alcohol to the bars and pubs and dives, as he says, "I'm in the booze delivery business." He's conflicted about it, an enterprise I never think about, the logistics of pleasure. We sat at the local pub and ate bad chicken strips and visited with Molly and Ashley, the Blue Moon beer girls.

"How do they make money?" I asked him later, as they were off smiling and working a customer.

"Twenty-five bucks an hour," he said. "It's customer conversion. They all think it's their ticket to Hollywood."

"Is it?" I ask. The girls are so young and lovely and friendly, and as soon as they recognize D. is in the business the relationship changes, they aren't on the sell, they're real people and they're just hungry. Everyone has a job to do.

"I don't know," he shrugs. "Maybe they think it will make them into someone."

"Maybe they're already someone."

Later I tell him about a dive nearby, a hole-in-the-wall I've never gone into. I pass it on my morning walks and at 6 a.m. you see rumpled drunks stumbling out the doors. For Los Angeles it's unusual, this town likes its veneer and an Irish pub serving eye-openers on the boulevard is unseemly. We pass it and he laughs at me.

"Oh no way you are getting out of this, we're going in," he says.

"I'll need a full decontamination shower afterward," I say in protest.

"You can't make me look into the abyss and not have a sample," he says. And no one can argue with that logic.

He orders our drinks and we settle in on the smarmy couches under the flat screen. From this spot we have a view of the whole bar. There's a pretty girl of perhaps 25 who is very intoxicated, she keeps asking men to dance with her. To our left a dark-haired woman is alone in a booth with a laptop -- this is Los Angeles, after all. Someone is legally obligated to be working on a screenplay nearby. Two men play darts. It's early still, and the bar is just beginning to spar.

D. watches the young woman at the bar swaying with the music and trying to dance with someone, she finds a young man who will tangle with her but he loses steam midway through the song. She drapes her arm across another man, the young man's friend. He smiles but his body says he's wary. He leans out.

She isn't dressed sexy and suggestively like other girls at the bar. Our girl is in faded jeans, a white tank, with a plaid shirt buttoned over the top. Her hair is long and curly and wild and she seems lost like a puppy, looking for affection. She stands alone at the bar for a moment and sways along to the music by herself.

I want to watch this out to its inevitable end. But D. is tired and needs to get a move on and has to drive all the way back to the beach. And anyway he's not as interested in the outcome. He's seen it all before. He says I'm too optimistic.

But I want to know what happens. Does she go home with him? Does she find a man for the night? How does it play out in the end, do they leave the bar hand-in-hand, does she tell herself she loves him? How does a woman love anyone here, herself included? I want to know what happens to her, I want to believe there is an ending I'll appreciate.

Instead I go home and I don't get the answers. Los Angeles isn't a bar town.

Posted by laurie at November 17, 2011 10:54 PM