Friday, March 3, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF GEORGE JOHNSON--AN EXCERPT FROM PS WINN

pizap-com14882175096341They always say the best place to start is at the beginning, so maybe we should just take a trip back there. Like I said, this story is about George, but truth be told it’s probably just as much about me, maybe a few others too. I guess first things first. I should introduce myself. My name is Jacob Baronelli, Jake to my friends and Mr. B to my students. I teach creative writing up at Clarkston High. I know, you’ve never heard of me right? That’s okay, even though I have written a couple of books and they are published. If you were the one that bought them, thanks, thanks a lot. Well maybe I sold more than one, but not a hell of a lot more. Fortunately I listened to my dad’s sage advice and didn’t quit my day job. To tell you the truth I like teaching and my kids, I mean my students, seem to like it also. I’ve only lived in Clarkston about a year now. I got tired of the big city and the ulcers that came with it. At thirty-eight I still feel I am too young to keep the drug companies in business by buying acid reducers by the case load. That’s all beside the point anyway. Just know that I like it here. I like my boring, slow, practical everyday life. That’s why all of this was such a surprise to me. I think we should start down at the Corner Bar. And before you ask, yes that is the actual name. I guess it’s a good thing the building actually does sit on the corner. Right there on the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue. If you come into town and head down the good old main drag called, guess what? Main Street. You can’t miss the place. Main Street here in Clarkston isn’t much to see. I do like the idea that all the stores are real Mom and Pop stores. No big box stores in Clarkston. Of course that means a lot of folks head on over to Jonesboro. I won’t mention any names, but they have one of the biggest, big box stores that belong to a chain. It’s only thirty miles from here and a lot of folks have to make their living over in Jonesboro. They don’t pay all that well, but for the most part it is a steady paycheck. You know how it is; you gotta do what you gotta do. In that respect I’m a damn lucky guy. Teaching is steady work, especially in Clarkston. While I was opting for small town life, most of my colleagues wanted the bright lights of the big city. I like it; I have most week-ends and summers free. You know, to work on that next best seller, ha, ha. Yes I am being sarcastic, I do that sometimes. But we were talking about the Corner Bar. The Corner Bar is the second place I went when I arrived In Clarkston. Right after I had finished with my meeting with Principal Lassiter. When I first stepped in his office the first day of school was still a couple of weeks away. He wanted to show me the school and give me the lesson plans for my creative writing class. I don’t really work with a plan, but the county has this set of requirements the students have to meet. Once my students finished those basic requirements I could let them read what they wanted. I also expected each student to write something of their own. It was up to them whether they wrote a poem or a novel. I always felt that was the fun part of my class and where each student could bring their unique imaginations to play in their work.  After Principal Lassiter and I finished going over the school items he had me walk the half block from the school to the house the school had found for me. When we stepped in to the small house I was surprised. Although a bit run down and in need of a thorough cleaning the two bedroom house was perfect for me. The rent was amazingly low and I wouldn’t have much of a bill for putting gas in the car. Even in winter I could easily walk to work. On top of everything else the school board had arranged for all the deposits associated with my rental to be dropped. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I told the principal I would take it. James Lassiter smiled and handed me the keys. “Welcome to Clarkston Jacob.” I took the keys and nodded. “Thanks and it’s Jake. I really appreciate all that you and the school board have done for me Principal Lassiter.” The principal laughed. “It’s James and believe me we were glad to do it and glad to have you here. It’s hard to get a teacher to stay around. We don’t have much shopping, any kind of night life or much else going on here.” I nodded. “Exactly why I took the job, I’m looking for just the opposite of those things.” James laughed. “Looks like you came to the right place then.” The two of us walked back over to the school so I could get my car. James Lassiter went back into the school as I drove away and over to my new home. I didn’t have much to unload. I’d sold about everything I owned when I decided to move. The few things I couldn’t bear to part with I stored at my mom and dad’s place. I took my couple of suitcases and a few boxes I had brought with me in the house. As I walked over and in one of the bedrooms I realized I didn’t even have a bed. I wasn’t too worried about it. I left my things lying in the bedroom, then locked up and headed to take a look at the town. I decided to walk. It was only three blocks to downtown and that was only about another three blocks long itself. I passed a hardware store, a variety store and a small restaurant on the first block. Only the restaurant was still open. The second block had a little grocery store, more like a convenience store in size and next to it sat some kind of secondhand store. It was the building that was at the end of the third block that caught my eye. I walked past a bowling alley unsure if it was even still running and came to the wide open doors of the Corner Bar. I smiled, great name, plain and simple. A bar sitting on the corner deserves that name. I could hear music as I got closer to the open doorway. I was surprised to hear an old rock and roll hit coming from the bar. For some reason, I thought all small towns bars would be listening to country music. Stepping inside the bar I looked around. I was surprised and glad that the bar was dim but not dark. I hate walking in a place and finding myself blinded by the darkness. Ahead of me was the actual bar with five or six people seated on the stools there. Past the bar a corner stand about eight feet by ten feet had been set up. You had to take one step up to get on it. The whole thing looked like it was just waiting for a band to set up and start playing. To my left were four tables with chairs. Two of them had people already sitting at them. Just in front of that area stood two pool tables. One had two people playing pool and the other had four. Before I could step all the way in to the barroom the bartender was waving at me with a big, tattooed arm. “C’mon in, welcome to the Corner Bar. I bet you’re the new teacher.” I smiled at that and stepped over to the bar and shook the hand the man held out across the top of the almost chest high bar. “Hi, yeah I’m Jake and I’m going to be working at Clarkston High.” Nodding at me, the bartender smiled. “I’m Aaron, the head bartender here, well, only bartender I guess. Unless you count Mac and Lilly, they own the place, but aren’t around a lot. What can I get you?” I shrugged. “You got anything good on tap?” Aaron nodded. “You bet, one draft coming up.” It seemed like it only took him a few seconds to fill my beer and set it in front of me. I smiled at the perfect head of foam floating on the top of my glass and reached for my wallet. Aaron shook his head. “First ones always free for new customers.” Laughing at what must have been a dumbfounded expression on my face, Aaron shook his head. “Don’t worry; I’m sure the bar will be making its money back.” I had two more beers and talked to Aaron when he wasn’t pouring drinks. I’m sure he learned more about me than I did him or the town. To me that’s the sign of a good bartender. They know when to talk and when to listen. I was just getting ready to make a decision whether to have one more beer or call it a night and head home when Aaron yelled over to the person standing in the bar’s doorway. “George, how the hell are you?”"

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