Free Will is for Suckers (or “Vic Gets Stuck in Saugatuck”)

Wally’s Bar & Grill

SAUGATUCK, Michigan

42.65° N, 86.20° W

I arrive at the marina, legs wobbly, not sure what to make of steady ground. Down the river, beyond the dunes, the foghorns at the jetties are blaring. Where the hell are we, I ask the local dock-monkey, some tanned teenage goon gifted in tying loose-ends into knots. Suck ’n’ Tuck, he says, graciously anticipating gratuity. I toss him loose change and ask where’s a sailor to find room & board. Get fucked, says he without stooping to pick-up the nickels. Not necessarily, I respond, just a place to lay my head. His back is turned; he’s of no further use, but at least I know where I was stuck: Saugatuck. 

What breeze blew you in, Skipper, the barmaid of Wally’s inquires at my entry. Tiff is a cheeky red with hips which could swivel-off a beer cap. Saugatuck is a safe harbor on the Kalamazoo River and its dockside bars are mostly staffed by college coeds in mid-drifts, but Tiff is a wizened elder whose early century tattoos have faded in the sun. She’s been around the block; perhaps not this block, but some block and perhaps more than twice. Her eyeshadow fails to hide crow’s feet, but it doesn’t matter as she has the alluring appeal of a lioness who knows her way around a ham sandwich. And she seems keen on salty-haired sailors who’ve washed ashore, evidenced by her smile which is mildly-suggestive and chipped from a youth of pond hockey. I’ve a broken compass, I tell her. Not if it brought you here, Tiff says with a slight tilt of her upper lip. Saugatuck was not my destination, but Wally’s might just be the right place. I order a draft beer and a ribeye medium-rare. I would’ve been content with a club on wheat, but a medium-rare steak sounds more sensual and Tiff is impressed with my carnal appetite.

I’m sipping my ale and formulating further conversation with Tiff when a Neanderthal steps up to the bar at my left and asks for the cheapest beer. Tiff gives him the Champagne of Beers, Miller High-Life. Dude is six-foot-something-else and has a cartoonish amount of wild platinum hair spilling out of his headband as if he’s a glam rock reject or a wrestler on the California fuck-boi circuit. Dude is tattooed with cheap ink, X’s and O’s, arrows and tears, along his fingers, face and neck. Keep ‘em coming, he tells her, nearly quaffing his bottle in one go. He tells Tiff he just came from an AA meeting. I laugh, nearly choking on beef. Neanderthal turns towards me and says, you hear something funny? His chin is like a boulder and I am amazed at the tendons which tie this rock to his face. I measure my response carefully. I tell him, James Lee Burke called AA “12 Steps or Die, Motherfucker”. Neanderthal’s smile grows impossibly wide as he says, exactly! 

His name is Brey and he’s eager to make a friend. I’m more concerned with Tiff and why she is slinking away. He mentions military service and shows his knuckles with “USMC” tattooed across his thumb, index finger, middle finger, ring finger, while leaving the short pinkie flesh blank. I’m compelled to ask, why start a four letter acronym on the thumb? I get anxious man, Brey says, impatience having led to him tattooing the first digit he found. After his service to our country, he became a drug-addict and homeless. Addiction man, y’know… Brey says. But I am back on the path of the righteous, I just got to stop fucking it up by fucking-up. I shrug and tell him, that’s the bitch of free will. Most of our lives are predefined, predestined-even, based on the dumb luck of the dice roll, like where we’re born, by whom and genetic disposition. Exactly, Brey says, super-deep-shit, guy. I go on. What free will we have is misguided by unquantifiable chemical releases in our brains, I say loudly, hoping Tiff is listening to my super-deep-shit diatribe. Some of us get our kicks out of gambling, others by wearing high heels and others by running their asses off. Whatever chemicals our brain is predisposed to can determine the person we become. Exactly, Brey nods along. Free will is for suckers, he says and finishes his next Miller High-Life in two gulps. 

Tiff arrives with a bill I didn’t ask for without a single eyelash batted my way. I wonder if it was something I said. I turn to the low rumble of Brey’s belch. I think they’re closing up, he says. Where to next, guy? Huh, I ask with a grunt. There is no next, as far as I am concerned. I turn around to look at the other patrons of Wally’s, similarly settling their tabs. They are yacht-rock daddies in boat shoes and captain hats, whispering into the ears of young men in tank tops. Oh man, I groan. Hey Brey, what line of business did you say you were in? Party, he smiles. Shit. Maybe this isn’t the right place. No one would confuse me for a yachtsman, but Brey must think me another cruiser looking for a cabin boy. Which would explain why Tiff became disinterested in me once Brey and I chummed it up. Just my damn luck.

See you around, man, I say to Brey. Don’t let your free will keep you down. Where you heading, he asks. Man, I am on the wrong side of a great lake. Brey nods, counting dollars for his tab. Ain’t we all, he says.

Where: Wally’s Bar & Grill

What to Drink: any local craft beer brewed by Founders

When to Go: Summer has the crowds, Winter the ice

How: by boat, there’s more dock spaces than parking spots

What not to Do: stay until closing time unless you’re looking to party

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