Peter sat in the Tenement Bar and Grill. He couldn’t recall the place ever having a grill. The stale air reeked of cigar smoke from when a good cigar cost a nickel. To the uninformed, the dump had little going for it, but Peter liked Gretz bottled beer. The Tenement Bar and Grill was the only bar still dispensing this long-ago defunct brand Peter had been weaned on. Where and how they got the beer, Peter didn’t know or care.
In addition to things like atmosphere or ambiance, the Tenement Bar and Grill lacked technology. A 14-inch television set that received precious few stations dangled precariously alongside a large, cracked mirror. Peter wondered how many losers like himself sat on the very same unsteady chair at the very same table watching Ernie Kovacs or Phil Silvers on the very same TV. That, and a payphone mounted to the wall were the extent of the Tenement’s technology. There wasn’t even a cash register. Coins were kept in an old White Owl brand cigar box, bills in a zippered leather bank bag. It was this same bag, currently unzipped, that caught Peter’s eye on his way to expel some of the recently consumed Gretz. Andrew Jackson peeked out from a short stack of bills. Joe, the sole bartender, debated who did and did not belong in baseball’s Hall of Fame with a guy wearing a Philadelphia Phillies hat. Peter grabbed the twenty and stuffed it into his pocket before disappearing into the Tenement’s single unisex bathroom. A woman would have to be pretty desperate and wasted to venture into this combination urine-rust-stained shitter, he thought. While doing his business, Peter stared at the blank cement wall above the urinal. He wondered if Joe, or anyone else had seen him take the money. He finished, walked out, and noticed the leather bag still unzipped. Another customer, a skinny guy whose overalls were construction-dust covered, had joined the baseball debate.
“You gotta put Dick Allen in the Hall,” the newcomer said. “He hit .308 in ’72. The guy drove in 113 runs with 37 home runs. Both league best. And, did I mention, American League MVP? On that season alone he deserves to be in.”
Joe flung a filthy towel over his shoulder. “You’re nuts,” he said. The bartender turned and walked toward the restroom.
Peter watched him. Joe didn’t break stride as he slammed shut the open cigar box lid, secured the money bag, and walked out from behind the bar. Peter breathed easier. He sipped more beer. “Shit,” Peter said into his glass. He should have helped himself to more cash while he had the chance. But, his attitude changed when Joe came out of the bathroom. Peter couldn’t be certain, but had Joe given him the eye? It was fleeting, but Peter couldn’t help think that maybe Joe was aware of the theft. Peter remembered a similar feeling long ago after stealing a candy bar from a small deli. For months after that, he was certain the deli owner saw him take the chocolate, yet nothing was ever said. Peter had worried for nothing. He told himself this was a similar situation.
A fairly steady stream of customers made their way into and out of the restroom. Peter lost track of the number of beers he consumed. Six? He became suddenly aware of an immediate need to take another leak. Buzzed, he stood on unsteady legs. Gripping the bar for support, he made his way to the bathroom. It was only his second visit of the night. He usually averaged three beers for every men’s room trip. He positioned himself in front of the ancient urinal. The prior user, or by the color of the water, users, hadn’t bothered flushing. The damn thing probably hadn’t been sanitized in weeks.
Peter steadied himself, struggled with the zipper, looked upward, closed his eyes, and finished urinating. While shaking the last drops out he noticed for the first time the freshly written graffiti above the urinal:
BEFORE WALKING OUT, PUT IT BACK AND ZIP IT
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