Where there’s smoke

I stood behind the bar mixed my friend a drink. It was made with premium vodka and a dry vermouth purchased just for us. I’d anticipated his arrival and poured the drink just as he took his seat at the corner of the bar. The counter top and cabinetry were expensive. Eight feet long on one side, four feet long on the other, it would’ve cost $3,000 to have the bar built for my house.

The owner of the card room had declined my offer to take the tiki bar in my garage. I built it for a Bradoween several years ago. Over the years, dozens upon dozens of people have signed the counter top with everything from congratulations to profanity. The bar itself had become a symbol of a lot of things. Recently, it’s been seen as little more than a symbol of lost youth and a garage that is too crowded to fit a car.

“It doesn’t really go with the feel of the room,” the card room owner said politely. “I’ll pass.” It didn’t hurt my feelings. I knew he was right. And, in truth, I was just looking for someone to haul the Bradoween Bar somewhere other than my garage.

I’ve fantasized in the past about being a bartender. I listen well and feel at home when serving people. So, when the new card room opened, I took advantage of the opportunity to stand behind the bar and make drinks for a few minutes. A good friend was my first customer. We drink the same thing. He makes the drink better than I do. I think it’s because he’s more centered.

I think I looked tried when he sat down. I know my whites were bloodshot and I had giant gray circles–impending raccoon, I thought–hanging below my eyes.

“How long does it take you to fall asleep?” he asked.

I sleep badly. My job and lifestyle mean I’m awake until 3am or 4am three or four nights a week.

“At least an hour,” I said, knowing that the time stretched to two, three, and four hours on a fairly regular basis.

He recommended Melatonin and said he’d been using it to some success. I’ve used it in the past and find it to be as successful as I allow it to be. Frankly, I’ve tried everything–herbal aids, alcohol, prescription narcotics, and over the counter sleep aids. They all work to a certain degree, and most have side effects I’d rather not suffer.

We dropped the discussion in favor of an argument over Benadryl and what ingredient causes drowsiness. I tried to fall asleep eight hours later at 3am. The last time I looked at the clock it was 5:30.


“Do you smell something burning?”

That was my wife on the other end of the phone. I have no idea what time it was, although it made sense–what with the daylight and my wife being gone–that it was morning. I’d taken an OTC sleep aid the night before to knock me out. It worked pretty well and I barely dreamed until morning. Those dreams featured my then-fiancee telling me she’d had an affair two months before we were scheduled to be married. So, I woke up mad at my wife and unwilling to get up and see if the house was on fire.

Unfazed by her subconscious infidelity, my wife explained that she smelled something like burning plastic when she left for the gym. I eventually forgave her roll in the hay with dreamscape boy and got up to see what was burning.

I went out on the back deck. Sure enough, I smelled it too. It was a familiar smell. After covering countless fire in the old days, the smell was pure mountain brush fire…one that had snagged the vinyl siding of a home. I looked toward Paris Mountain, but couldn’t see much through the haze. Paris Mountain fires can be a little close for comfort.

Inside, I checked the Internet. It told me that the smoke and smell were coming from far away in Florida and Georgia.


The e-mail subject line might have seemed vague to someone looking over my shoulder. It read, “annnnd…scene.” I knew what it meant before I even opened the mail.

In practical terms, the e-mail didn’t mean much for me. It wasn’t going to change how I live, how I make money, or much about my future. However, it did spell the end of something I enjoyed. What it is really doesn’t matter. Regardless, it’s yet another illustration of how I’m not good with change, especially when things change from good to not-as-good.

There have been a lot of those little changes in the past four months. Individually, the changes are never enough to send me over an edge and to some little town to tend bar. Collectively, though, they spell the end of a period of time I’ve really enjoyed. It was a time in which I really saw a lot of promise for the future. It was a time of new friendships and boundless possibility. It was a time that I knew would eventually end, but never thought would happen so soon.

Right now, the wind is blowing outside and with each gust is the scent of destruction. My home is not in danger. I can still breathe basically clean air. People in Georgia and Florida, however, aren’t as lucky.

It reminds me, whether it’s the butterfly effect, the domino effect, or a hard wind blowing in from the south, we’re never far enough down the line for distant change not to alter our lives.

And that’s the kind of stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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4 Responses

  1. Anonymous Uncle Ted says:

    Frustratingly cryptic, per usual.

  2. Anonymous Lyyyyssoooooollll!!!! says:

    I remember when I was living in Ft. Smith AR the smell of burning grass. Summers there are dry and something was always on fire.

    — Have you ever noticed how Angus Young (AC/DC) sounds like Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe? I remember someone mentioning it to me one time, but for some reason it came to my mind when reading your post. Go figure.

    Cobra Commander:

    Angus Young: (AC/DC – “Thunderstruck”)

  3. Otis
    Try a natural sleep aid that doesn’t leave you drowsy. I’ve tried melatonin and not had a lot of luck with it but tried a different one that works well for me. It’s natural stuff and I don’t wake up sleepy. Here’s what I use: http://www.vitabase.com/supplements/stress-relaxation/

  4. Funny. Right now on HBO there is this guy that did an movie on him to fall asleep…a documentary of sorts…funny stuff.

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