Pardon the moment of fiction…
Rocky’s ass hurt.
He realized this at irregular intervals between drinking beer in big gulps and chain smoking the cheap cigarettes he bought at the bodega on Second Street. It was his tailbone, he decided and attributed it to slipping on the kitchen floor a few months before. That’s what he got for hiring the Mick without any references. Boy sure could work the knives, though.
“Unoriginal sons of bitches.”
That was the old man behind the bar. He’d been serving Rocky beer for as long as either could remember. The wrinkles in Newt’s face had grown deep and in concert with his resentment for First Bar’s neighbors.
“Second Bar?” Newt asked himself. The bar rag in his hand was soaked in stale beer and ammonia. “Sons of bitches.”
Two months before, an enterprising young entrepreneur had happened on the idea that he could open a bar on the next block and piggyback on Newt’s history on First Street.
“In all fairness,” Rocky said, “it really hasn’t cost you much of your customer base.”
Newt’s lip curled up. “You know, Rock, it only takes you three beers to start sounding like a Jap again.”
Rocky shrugged. “No offense meant, I’m sure.”
“Fuck you, Rock.” Newt refilled Rocky’s beer and walked to the other end of the bar.
Rocky had worked long and hard to sound like an American ever since leaving the name Hiroaki at home. But Newt was right. After a few beers, Rocky started sounding like he did before he went Anglo. America did that to people, he decided. And, really, who was he to complain? America had been good to him so far.
Rocky turned his eyes away from First’s worn bar and down to the man at the end. He had long hair and a calm face. He drank a glass of red wine and kept quiet. In the face of Newt’s grumbling, quiet was usually better than the alternative. The man only barely turned his head when the bell over the door dinged.
The Russian wore a ragged white t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans that hung too low over his boots. The barbed wire tattoo around his arm was as pronounced as always. When the Russian walked, it was as if he led with the tat. If Rocky hadn’t heard the story so many times, he would’ve had to count the ten barbs on the wire. Rocky had tried to seem impressed when the Russian—Yuri, if anyone cared—told him how he made the ink and cut himself with a sharpened spoon.
“Burned the sole of my boot,” the Russian had told him, “and mixed the ashes with my own piss. Stung like hell.”
The Russian took a seat next to Rocky and waited for Newt.
“Who’s the long hair?” Yuri said.
Rocky shrugged. “Newt’s allowed a new customer from time to time.”
“Probably not cutting his hair until Kennedy rises from the dead,” Yuri muttered. He said things like that. “Fucking hippies.”
Rocky did the math. “I think a couple of years is too long to be dead. Jack isn’t coming back.”
“You sound like a Jap tonight,” Yuri said before turning to Newt and ordering his drink.
Rocky let Yuri and Newt bitch at each other and allowed his thoughts wander with his eyes. The restaurants were doing well and he was still young. People still saw him as a Jap, though. No matter how successful he might become, nothing was going to change that. Supermodel for a daughter, CEO for a son, millions of bucks. No matter what happened, he would never really be Rocky. For now, his ass hurt and he wanted another beer.
“It’s a bastardization,” Newt said. “You know how long, I’ve been here? I opened this place with my dad. We were the first bar here. It was only a fucking coincidence we were on first street.”
“Happy coincidences,” Yuri muttered and fingered his tat.
“And now, this son of a bitch decides he’s going to open a place on Second and call it Second Bar. A bastardization.” Newt threw his rag at the mirror behind the bar. It left a long streak as it slid down behind the bottles of booze.
“You should have Yuri kill the guy,” Rocky said, then immediately regretted it. Despite his bigger-than-normal frame, beer still worked its way into his body too fast.
“I’m not adding any more to this,” the Russian said, thrusting his arm in Rocky’s face. “Why don’t you do it? We can put a little thorn on that red rose on your arm.”
Rocky wished he’d never compared ink with the Russian. “It’s not a rose. It’s a safflower.”
“Whatever,” the Russian said, and finished his drink in a gulp. “Benihana mother fucker.”
Newt retrieved his rag from the back wall and rinsed it off in the sink. “Should kill the son of a bitch. Really should. I mean, what’s next? Third Bar? Fiftieth Bar?”
Rocky pointed to his glass. “Nothing stays new forever.”
Two drunk toughs stumbled out of the bathroom in a cloud of smoke and laughter. As they walked by the bar, one stopped. His voice was louder than anything else in the room, including Pat Boone singing “Ain’t That a Shame” on the jukebox.
“Hey, man! I’ve got one just like that!”
Before Rocky or Newt could stop him, the kid was pulling up his sleeve and showing Yuri a barbed wire tattoo. “Got it last week, man! How long have you had yours?”
Rocky stole a glance at Yuri and wondered how it would end. Yuri, however, didn’t move. He looked at his own face in the bar mirror and didn’t turn around. Newt managed to catch the kid’s eye and give him a look that said, “If you want to walk out of here, now would be the time.” The kid took the hint and moved.
The three men sat in silence for the next few minutes. Newt finally broke the spell by dropping a bottle of wine. As he crouched to pick up the glass, he muttered, “Second Bar. Jesus Christ.”
At the end of the bar, the long-hair smiled.
“Been there, man,” he said.