Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas
34.74° N, 92.28° W
Snow flurries have shut half the damn town down. The night has an odd glow as the windblown snow reflects the orange hues of acidic street light. It is Sunday night and the riverside bar scene is uncommonly sparse. I find a seat within the Flying Saucer. Goddamn the barstool is cold. My anguish is quickly noticed by the woman behind bar, who approaches, dressed as a schoolgirl and wearing the name tag of “BILLIE”, asking what ails me. I do not confess my cramped sphincter on this frigid stool, but instead sigh, gazing at the limitless beer taps on the wall behind her. I ask of the bartender, what might warm my bones and ease my conscience? Billie-behind-bar moves her glossed lips to one side of her face as her eyes go heavenward; in thought or in prayer, I am unaware. Well, she says, warming your bones is the easy part, mister, but I suppose I ought to know what exactly is giving your conscience fits. I say, nothing yet. Nothing yet?, Billie repeats, nodding, only to depart, returning moments later. She serves me a 10 ounce glass of beer, saying, this should warm your conscience and ease your bones. It isn’t exactly what I am looking for, but I thank her for trying. Forsaken Bacon Double-IPA singes my tongue, fills my nose with smoke and causes sparks to fly every time I blink. What do you think?, Billie-behind-bar asks. I smile and respond, it’s the hell I deserve. Billie nods unconvincingly and leaves in search of another customer.
I check my phone for messages. Nothing yet.
The front door of the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium opens; all three seated patrons turn to grimace at the intrusion and the loss of precious heat. What our eyes find at the door is unexpected: a 6’6” boyscout and his much shorter escort. I’ll be damned, a local behind me curses, if it ain’t the Legend of Boggy Creek. Billie-behind-bar has a similar reaction, whistling before saying, that boy’s one long drink of buttermilk. Nah, I say to Billie-behind-bar, I know this man to be mostly bullshit. I do not elaborate, but this boyscout is known to me as Khaki Carl. Strangely enough, I separately had a run-in with the prostitute on his arm. Her name is Saltina. She and I crossed paths earlier this week at a North Little Rock Waffle House. I only wanted a cup of joe, but thought I’d take a leak too. It was in the men’s room when we met: Saltina was exiting the bathroom stall, leaving the john, when she spotted me at the urinal. She stood at the sinks, licking her thumb to dab at the residual cocaine dust on her bust. She sucked on her powdered thumb before shifting her eyes, asking me, pissing all by your lonesome, baby? Focused on the task at hand, I did not respond. She left her business card on the sink. In the wake of her departure, washing my hands, I read her card, “PROFESSIONAL ESCORT TO CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY”. It’s a good cover. I exited stage-left: I left her card, left the bathroom, left Waffle House believing I’d never see her again, until right now, seeing her right here on Khaki Carl’s left elbow. The boyscout and the Clinton librarian are sampling beers and reviewing the selection of cigars in the small humidor. Saltina pushes a beer sample back across the bar at the woman in the schoolgirl stockings. I can’t drink this, I hear Saltina say to Billie-behind-bar, it tastes like herpes. Khaki Carl guffaws and smiles his big dumb grin, turning his look upstream to share his joy, only to spot me. He quickly diverts his eyes back to Saltina. I’m cool with his avoidance. In my opinion, the fucker is an under-qualified asshat and Saltina could do better.
Does Khaki Carl deserve this vilification? He’s a good boy, a cornfed Indianan with tribal tattoos around his arm, I’d guess, fraternity vice-president, maybe, aspirations to be senator someday. He told me last night he doesn’t have sex with drunk chicks; he wakes up the next morning, takes a second look and if he is still interested, has sex with them then. He’s a real boyscout. Eagle scout, actually, if you believe the patch on his sleeve. He sells knives and is in Arkansas for a knife-selling convention. Dangerous times, these, to be in Little Rock, I think.
Okay, I have decided: Khaki Carl is a villain. A mediocre bad-guy, but a villain nevertheless. Exhibit A: last night he called Jolie a half-wit bitch. Oh, have I not mentioned Jolie yet? I should have begun with her. When Khaki Carl called Jolie a half-wit bitch, I took offense and challenged him to a duel. It was Jolie who called the whole thing off, very insistent, saying she and Carl were colleagues, brothers-in-arms in the knife-peddling business. It would not benefit her for either he or me to be felled by a lead bullet. This was sound logic on her part, despite the numerous hard-seltzers which siphoned away at her judgment. I stood down and there was peace, briefly, but as the night wore on, the two colleagues became more incendiary, more enraged. At one point, Jolie flung the steaming sauerkraut of her bratwurst at the back of his jacket. Khaki Carl, the angry baby-faced boyscout, yelled at Jolie, saying, I pray to god he makes your womb barren so my children grow-up in a world better than mine. Jolie responded with laughter. Fuck you!, she then screamed, getting us kicked out of Rackinsac Wines. Khaki Carl stormed ahead as I tended to Jolie. She ignored me, calling after the boyscout, saying, Khaki Carl is so fat he has to sit in the bathtub sideways with his legs hanging out. Turning around, Khaki Carl was clenching his fists and pouting something fierce in her direction. Jolie yelled, Khaki Carl farts in the tub and eats the bubbles! Jolie then gave a toothy imitation of Mrs. Pacman gobbling ghosts. Mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah… Fart-biter!, she yelled at Khaki Carl and continued to laugh hysterically.
As angelic as she may appear, Jolie is a bit of a villain too.
I thought tensions had simmered into a low, manageable boil by the time I hired a car to return us from downtown to our Marriott in North Little Rock. En route, I wasn’t paying attention when Jolie reached from the backseat to smack Khaki Carl, sitting shotgun upfront, in the back of the head. Our poor Uber driver. What could he do, drop us off in the middle of the Arkansas River Bridge? We were delivered to our hotel north of the river and as Khaki Carl exited the passenger-side front seat, Jolie kicked open her backseat door in an attempt to strike him. The boy scout called her a father-raping psychotic bitch. Whoa, enough!, I said. It was an awkward walk through the lobby, let alone the elevator ride up. Jolie got off on a lower floor and spat at the door as it closed. I turned to Carl and said to him, some night, eh? His baby-face stared ahead, silently calculating his revenge. We parted ways. Best not remain in the middle of a dispute between blade-mongers; who knows what butcher knives wait on their nightstands?
I didn’t know either one of these maniacs. I first saw Jolie earlier this week when she was checking-in at the front-desk. I figured she must’ve stepped-off a sleeper train or was an off-shift stripper as she wore pajamas and plastic shower shoes with a night mask raised to her forehead. Despite the negligible intimates she wore, or because of them, I was nervously intrigued by her presence. She has a natural aesthetic appeal which has been over-curated: hair bleached blonde, skin orange-burnt from tanning beds and a Chinese script tattoo at the base of her spine which spells trouble for sure. Trouble for sure, yet I was intrigued. I didn’t speak to her at the front desk. We wouldn’t meet until nights later when I went to the hotel lounge for a bottle of water. The faucet water tasted like drowned possum; I decided it best to seek hydration downstairs. At the lounge, Jolie was the only other guest present. She was wearing an executive pant-suit, black, with an off-white blouse which contrasted with her uncanny tan. She gave me a quick glance-over. Can’t sleep, she asked and without waiting for me to respond, she presumed as much and said, me either. Her eyes appeared green, but it was hard to tell in the poor light. I found words, saying, I sleep fine, I’m just thirsty. Thirsty?, she laughed. It was a staged laugh, but I didn’t mind. She said, I will buy you a drink if you tell me a story. Her eyes shifted to the seat beside her. Every instinct I had told me this was a trap. But what does a trap matter when you’ve no one waiting for you back in Chicago? And so, I began a story, but was quickly hushed. Wait!, Jolie said, shaking her head side-to-side as the hotel bartender delivered my whiskey drink. You can’t… Jolie said, you just can’t begin a story, “I was in Cuba on a scientific visa to study crocodiles!” I mean, who does that? Who the fuck are you?, she asked. I told her, I’m Vic Neverman. She smiled and held out a hand, hey Vic, I am Joliesse, call me Jolie. I continued my story and was on my second Old Fashioned when her phone rang; she had to get this. She took the call and walked away. I was perplexed, vexed even. I was equal parts drawn to the flame and sweating my little moth balls off. How close dare I get? Hey!, Jolie said to me, still on the phone. This is going to be a while. Can I see you tomorrow night? Yes!, I said a bit too enthusiastically. When? Seven, she said, nodding her head towards the lobby.
Saturday night at 7pm, I found Jolie in the lobby, standing next to the man-child boy scout who would be introduced to me as “Khaki Carl.” Fucking hell, I thought to myself. Was this her boyfriend? Had I been bait & switched into being this couple’s third wheel? Best case scenario, Carl was a voluntary cuckold wanting to watch from the closet, but was that even an opportunity I would entertain? No, not even in Arkansas. Well, maybe. It soon became clear Carl was disinterested in both Jolie and myself. She further clarified, mentioning they worked together. Ah! Okay. Are you in the market for revolutionary kitchen knives?, she asked me. Always, I said because why wouldn’t I be? We three Ubered downtown to the River Market. The night, as I mentioned before, went gradually downhill from there.
After the cluster-fuck finale to Saturday night, with Jolie and Carl almost literally at each other’s throats, after each of us returned to our own rooms, after I brushed my teeth and settled into bed, I realized I was not going to be able to sleep. Drunk and anxious, I sent Jolie a text, saying, can’t sleep again. Five minutes later, I received a text from her, Room 205, stop by if you’re in the neighborhood. I waited eight minutes. Okay, maybe seven and a half minutes before leaving my room. I knocked. She answered wearing only a towel and invited me in. She offered me a seat on her bed and sat beside me. She apologized for her earlier behavior, blaming it on blood-sugar. She mentioned some drama she was going through back home in Bloomington. She said other things, but between the inebriated looseness of my mind and indefinite tightness of her towel, I was quite dumbfounded and may have missed some details. Then her phone rang. She had to get this, but could she see me again in the morning? Sure, I said, before realizing I was being asked to leave. Oh!, okay. I paused at the threshold, when?
This morning, I arrived in the lobby dressed in jeans, t-shirt and trench coat. Outside, the heavy sky suggested snow. I was nursing a hangover while sipping Marriott coffee and eating soggy waffles. Jolie arrived in spandex, sneakers and an arctic coat. I was relieved to see she’d left the boyscout behind. What’ve you in mind?, I asked of her. She smiled, saying, is it too early for you to drink beer? Not today, I said. Jolie asked me, have you ever heard of the Hash House Harriers?
Half an hour later, I was introduced to Beau Williamson, the head harrier of the Little Rock Hash House Harrier Kennel. Don’t call me Beau, though, bro, he said to me. My hash name is “Sweet Tart Fart”, he said. Never use real names, son, he said. Jolie then told me her hash name is “Sugar Tits”. I’m supposed to call you “Sugar Tits”?, I asked. Yes, she said, at least for the run, if you don’t call me the right name, you have to drink whatever beer is left in your hand. What’s my name then, I asked. Sweet Tart Fart answered, since you’re a virgin to hashing, we’ll call you, “Cherry Boy”.
Harriers and Harriets!, Sweet Tart Fart called to the dozens stretching and belching and gathered in the street. He introduced the hasher virgins, those new to the club, including me. Snow was falling and melting on impact. I might be from Chicago, but this morning was worth shivering. I had a cold beer in hand warmer than the outside air and I had to finish the whole damn thing when I accidentally called Sugar Tits by her outside name, Jolie. Drink!, she insisted. Harriers and Harriets!, Sweet Tart Fart hollered again. If you haven’t given your hash cash to our treasurer, Dingleberry, please do so as soon as motherfuckingly possible. We have a live hare today! He smiled and many of the runners cheered.
What’s a live hare?, I asked. Sweet Tart Fart was at my shoulder to explain, it means we have a live trail. Without a live hare, the path is predetermined. Today, there is no set path, only the tracks of the hare, who will leave marks along the way. He told me, some of the marks are accurate, others are misleading. Our lead chasers will make adjustments to those markings as they see fit. Cool, I say. Sweet Tart Fart is in a sweat suit and headband, jogging as I keep pace in my jeans and coat, carrying a case of Modelo. Sweet Tart Fart says to me, if the hare isn’t clever or fast enough, we will catch her.
Chalk arrows drawn into the sidewalk concrete or road asphalt alert us to the next direction. There can be miscues, however, error arrows or misdirects. The speediest of harriers run ahead and once they become lost, they gather about, drinking their cold beers in the snow, looking for clues on where to run next as the rest of us slower harriers catch-up.
The Brits came up with all this shit, Sweet Tart Fart told me. Back in pre-war Kuala Lumpur. A bunch of bored colonialists met every Friday to run through the jungle in their jodhpurs with stopping points where they could drink ale and smoke cheroot. Every once in a while they’d get eaten by a tiger, but today’s no different. Gang-bangers aplenty on these streets; our little hash might get bloody after all. Keep your wits about you, Cherry Boy!
Everything was a shade of gray: the streets, the sidewalk, the buildings, the falling snow and the gloomy sun overhead. Our paths switched from industrial area to commercial to residential. We hurriedly jogged, drinking, for miles. My intestinal fortitude was lacking; I regurgitated my morning waffles and lagged behind with a few old ladies in self-knitted sweaters who were swearing up a storm, cheese & biscuits!, it’s colder than a witch’s tit at Christmas Eve sermon!, not today, Satan!, keep your blasphemies from my ears!, you gussied-up hoecake!, eat turds!, but hey, how’s your mama and them? The ladies were named, respectively, “Sweet Hag”, “Dotty Gray Bush” and “Penny For A Dollar”.
At the end of the run, my shins were splint, my arches ached, and I was mildly intoxicated from the five or so beers I could keep down. Jolie was in much better shape. She was making the rounds, high-fiving and hugging the crowd. I was listening to Sweet Tart Fart and his son, “Dickchop”, about the basic tenets of the Hash House Harriers. The original hashers, British ex-patriots abroad, had a few basic purposes to hashing, Sweet Tart Fart told me. First, to promote fitness. Second, as a hangover cure, sweating out the prior night’s gin. Third, to acquire thirst, specifically for beer. Fourth, to remind the older members of the group they are not as old as they think they are. Today, though, Sweet Tart Fart told me, we have a fifth purpose, to give back to the community. I nodded along to his lecture, but my eyes were distracted by Jolie who was glancing at me throughout her socializing. After glistening her lips with some sort of balm, she approached. Hey Cherry Boy, Jolie said, tell me a story and I will buy you dinner.
Drawn to the flame, I immediately agreed to terms.
Joliesse had errands to run, shit to sort, tasks to master and then she would meet me at Flying Saucer. Let’s grab a couple drinks and then meander from there, she suggested to me. Sure. Cool. It’s a date!
I arrived at Flying Saucer early and debated whether to drink water until she arrived or to order a beer to help quell my nerves. Then Billie-behind-bar quelled those nerves with that double-IPA which warmed my conscience and eased my bones.
I certainly never expected Khaki Carl to return to the scene of the crime from last night, but here he is, with a North Little Rock prostitute. They find a high-top away from me. I decide to leave my barstool for one closer to the entrance. Once Jolie arrives, I am thinking, she will not want to be in the same room as Khaki Carl and would prefer a quick departure. I sit, ass-puckered on my new barstool, texting her again, suggesting we meet somewhere else. No response, nothing yet. I dare a glance over my shoulder and see Khaki Carl and Saltina have left their high-top and are entering the men’s room together. I am relieved they might be a while.
A text arrives. Jolie is at Dulles. Hello Cherry Boy, she says in her text. She’s waiting on a flight to connect her back to Indianapolis. She tells me Khaki Carl contacted human resources and reported her as ill-fit to be a sales rep and now she is out of a job and has been given an immediate plane ticket home to Indiana. We’ll always have Little Rock, she says in text. XOXO, she adds. I read her text three times before it is clear to me she is no longer in Arkansas. Well, shit.
OXOX, I respond, texting, forever yours, Cherry Boy.
I look back to the men’s room. Carl and Saltina have yet to emerge. I ask for my check. Better to hop along down the River Market than stick around this shithole. We had ourselves a live-hare, but she was too shifty by far. It is time to find a new trail.