I was sitting alone at the bar with a Budweiser, waiting on my fish log and hot slaw.
I’d seen the priest sitting at a table with a some other guys- a lot of old guys who were drinking beer too. I liked that idea of a priest sitting in a rotten tavern drinking beer with the rest of us. I’d never seen a priest in a tavern before so I checked that one off my list. I’m not saying it’s that rare an occurrence, just that it had never happened to me before. Then I got to thinking how cool it would be if my next run-in with a priest was in a strip club. I sat there a few minutes spinning my beer and thinking about how that scenario might fall into place while the other guys at the other tables – guys from the factory around the block and some of the other local riff-raff off the streets, all sat around drinking beer, bullshitting and eating sandwiches.
I sat there with my beer and M*A*S*H on the TV because that’s what the old guy who owns the place seemed to be enjoying. He was sitting behind the bar on top of a bucket turned upside down while some guy who looked like an ex-con made a bunch of noise in the kitchen, occasionally stumbling out to ask questions that seemed to disgust old Elmer.
“Can’t find good help anyway,” Elmer said. “With this one, I might as well be doing things myself.”
Elmer said it loud because he’s hard of hearing. Elmer said it so loud I thought maybe his helper would hear, even over all the clangs.
Sitting that low, Elmer couldn’t see over the bar but he could turn away and look up to see the TV hanging over it. I like what I know of Elmer. He’s always been friendly. He proudly displays a picture of himself, in his younger days, in a cowboy outfit riding a bronco. He has some story about it but I’ve since forgotten it.
I felt gladsome, having nowhere in particular to go and passing the time watching M*A*S*H* with the old man on the bucket, waiting on the knucklehead with the neck tattoos to bring out my fish log, when that priest came up to me.
“You doing okay, son?” he asked.
I looked at him. I looked around the place. It seemed like all his company had left.
An older man, this priest had on a three piece suit, black except for the waistecoat that was a dark blue. And his face was red. Beet red for some reason. I looked at the collar and it didn’t look too tight.
“I’m good,” I said. “Just waiting on a fish log. It’s Friday, ya know.”
“I noticed you sitting here. If you don’t mind me asking, have you ever had a conversation with God?”
“No,” I said.
I’ve seen and thought some weird shit on LSD and mushrooms but never spoken to God.
“Would you like to? Would you like to have a relationship with God?” the priest asked.
People are always asking me shit. “Ever thought about getting married? Getting a dog? Switching insurance? Buying into a timeshare? ” Now that.
“Thanks, Father. But, no,” I said, and turned back to television. I’d never watched a full episode of M*A*S*H and never wanted to. But sometimes….what the hell. I was enjoying Elmer’s company, though we watched in silence.
On his bucket from below the bar, Elmer could tell I was speaking. He smiled, waiting for me to repeat what I might have said. The repeat is the signal that it was for him. But I returned the smile with a nod of my head “no”, so he returned back to M*A*S*H .
“Do you have a grudge against God?” the priest asked.
“God’s okay,” I said, but wondered why this priest had to be so annoying.
“You seem upset,” the priest said. “I could tell from across the room.”
“No. I’m good,” I said, but was starting to get anxious.
What I didn’t need was another flake trying to sell me meat from his truck, dope, a knockoff wristwatch or anything else so I told the priest politely, “I just came in for a beer and a fish log. That’s all.”
I wanted to add that in addition to the beer and fish, I’d come in for some peace. And it had seemed like, for a while, I’d had it. But he was a member of the clergy and all and it somehow seemed like he deserved more deference than that so I let it pass.
“I can respect that,” the priest said. Then he leaned over the bar to say goodbye to Elmer. Elmer stood off the bucket, shook the priest’s hand and said goodbye. After that, the priest patted me on the back, wishing me luck, and turned around and left.