Cheese Crackers by John Grochalski

–after scott silsbe

star’s bar was always pitch black
when my grandparents took my brother and i there
it was a place where light tried to escape
when you opened the door
the people were like mole people
holding their eyes and pleading for you
to shut the goddamned door again
there were only faint hints of neon in the place
the jukebox, the poker machine
where my grandma blew tons of cash in quarters
trying to get rich
like she did at home with the calendars full of lottery numbers
i liked the amber light behind the bar
it illuminated all of the bottles in an eerie orange
a macabre showcase
a foreshadowing of things to come
it held a comfort for me at an age
when comfort was rare or hard to find
and whenever i was in a bar as an adult
i always looked for the same illumination
that conversation with the regulars could never give me
we went to the bar with my grandparents
because that was what they did
if my brother and i stayed with them
we never deviated from the events of their day
breakfast, trolling for trash, the bookie, the bar
kid movies and amusement parks
were for the rich and for philistines

i don’t remember much else about star’s
just my grandma plugging quarters into the poker machine
giving my brother and i money
to play oldies on the jukebox
i remember rubber faced men and women at the bar
how they made no sense and still laughed
my grandpap nodding at them, stoic and silent as always
the bartender served us ginger ale
and gave us small packages of cheese crackers
the drafts were served in juice glasses
and sometimes i skimmed the foam off the top of grandma’s
as i took it over to her
where she was at the poker machine
cursing up a storm in the heat of trying to make millions
if it was a good day
we hit the five and dime on butler street
for cheap toys and baseball cards
a bad one, we had another draft
then went home for tea and pork loin
lawrence welk and the sounds of gypsy kids playing
hopscotch or kickball outside in the street
the ones my grandma deemed white trash
certainly not good enough
for regal, worldly children like my brother and i
to play silly games
or try to pal around with.

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John Grochalski is the author of The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press 2008), Glass City (Low Ghost Press, 2010), In The Year of Everything Dying (Camel Saloon, 2012), Starting with the Last Name Grochalski (Coleridge Street Books, 2014), and the novel, The Librarian (Six Gallery Press 2013). Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, in the section that doesn’t have the bike sharing program.

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