The Surly Bartender has long had a very clear sense of the hereafter. In his mind, Heaven is a bar in which, during his off hours, he can always find a seat, the cigarettes don’t give you cancer, the music is the all roots rock and angry, while the booze flows freely from the hands of his Surly Colleagues, each of whom are angelically hot and devilishly available barmaids.
Moreover, in the Surly Brain, there is – as there always will be in a bar – a hierarchy of sorts. The folks with the best stories, the ones who took the plunge and made their lives adventurous and creative, get pole position on the corner of the rounded oak. The part-time-tourists, the 2-weeks-in-Cancun set, the once-had-fire-in-the-belly cubical dwellers, have to accept their lot, hanging about in the 3-deep behind the stools, shouting their orders over your head as you cop a drink with Tensing Norgay and George Jones. Over in the corners, lost in the smoke and noise of the heavenly honkytonk, are the accountants, ad executives and middle managers of the temporal world who kicked the bucket three weeks after they’d paid off their mortgages and finally popped an artery due to the accumulated stress of their lives of quiet desperation.
In an earlier version of the Surly Bartender’s holy vision of the heavenly hierarchy which ruled his celestial honkytonk, all great adventure stories pulled weight – maybe on a slow Monday night the WalMart greeter who once dove into a freezing river to save a tubercular baby who’d been tossed from a bridge after being kidnapped by methed-up bikers could steal a seat and have a chat – but the tales that pull ed the most weight were the stories of how you died.
But after so many years of this comforting notion, the Surly Bartender now sees the need to admit that he may have made a mistake and be willing to alter his theological precepts. To understand why, one needs to know that this original vision came to him while he was sitting around a campfire in the Wrangell Mountain range in Alaska, beer in one hand and extremely hot girlfriend on his arm. Just as they and their friends were settling in for a night of boozy splendor, three ornery, adolescent and recently orphaned grizzlies wandered into camp. A much younger and more attitude-possessed Surly Bartender felt that chasing them away, through the forest, by running, screaming and wailing on them with beer cans was a thoughtful way to address the situation.
It worked, everyone survived, the bears ran away, and the Surly Bartender was pretty sure that even if he had been eaten, he would have had one hell of a story to tell to any soul willing to listen at that Great Café No Sé in the Sky.
But now, for my sanity’s sake – the Surly Bartender has to reconsider the “amazing death story” part of the vision as he recently had a brush with eternity brought on by nothing more fearsome that a bite from a 12 pound tomcat. All is better now, but sweet Jesus, if I’d actually gone out that way, by my own reasoning, I’d have been relegated to a lonely stool by the window ferns at a suburban Fudruckers for all eternity.
The whole, sad story starts about six months ago when the Surly Girlfriend – a long time hater of cats – somehow began to have them tickle her fancy. The S.B. has always had reasonably good relations with felines. Growing up my family always had a cat or two. The first was Abraham Lincoln Pinocchio Cat, mother of Frisky – herself a lovely little beastie until she got face herpes (and, no, we do NOT know how that happened and no one in the family will field questions on the subject any longer) and became a rather sour bitch. Then there was Darth who succumbed to feline leukemia back in the hazy days of the late 1980s. Then Atticus, a truly wonderful kitty who met his end beneath an unseen, speeding car on Orton Avenue in the early 1990s. All normal stuff for cat owners, really. Well, other than the face herpes.
After Atticus, there was only one more cat in the Surly Bartender’s home – Spike of Bensonhurst – my pet from 1993 to 1996. Once, accidently, I did set Spike on fire, and maybe because of that rather traumatic day, I’ve since been quite content to live without the added responsibilities of having another combustible creature in the house who demanded food and the cleaning of a litter box once every other month, or so.