and, no, the writing here doesn't have to be about peterborough. i just thought i'd include something that has peterborough -- and a peterborough pub -- as a setting in order to kick things off.
and, yes, this is fiction. don't let the character's thoughts be confused with the writer's.
the title of the longer piece is called "You Can Look..."
this segment doesn't have a title, but can easily be labled:
The Only Café is my home away from home. It is my pub of choice. And, as I spend most of my non-home hours in a pub, it is the place where I am most often seen.
I’ve been coming here for, well, let me just see. I started Trent in 1990. We’ve just cracked a new millennium. Shit. It’s almost a decade. It will be in September. I wonder if they’ll get me a cake.
Of course, I’ve taken some time away. I mean, I've traveled. But, when in town, I am here. Always with the same tipple. DAB with lemon.
DAB is an acronym for its full German name. Don’t ask me what it is. Dachmeister something something. I doubt if I’m even close on the first word. If I were learning German, I might be motivated to give a shit. But I’m not learning German. I’m just drinking beer.
The great thing about the Only is that there are electric sockets under each table that line its main wall. They are meant for the small lamps that adorn each table, but they are ideal for laptops. Well, for my laptop anyway. I’ve never seen any other ones here. Actually there are a great many great things about the Only – the outlets being just one. The most plainly obvious is the vibe.
The walls of the Only are covered in photographs and art prints. Completely. They are uncountable. I have tried. Each photograph is framed. They are mostly of 60’s rock stars and celebrities. There are some, a few, of hockey players and politicians and the like. The Beatles are heavily represented. So are the Stones. Of the art prints, Van Gogh seems to dominate. There are maybe 2 square feet combined of blank wall. This is made up only by the smallest of spaces between the frames.
Music is a constant at the Only. A never-ending parade of jazz obscurities, Rolling Stone classics, funk-tinged rock and roll and whatever else the bar staff can come up with. Tom Waits is a regular on the playlist. The only format, it seems, is coolness. They take their music seriously at the Only Café.
The Only, for me, is a perfect pub for sitting alone. The music and voices are so loud that they create a steady roar, at least in the evening. This near white noise is perfect for writing. So few distractions leap out from the constant din. During the day, people are quiet. And so is the music. There are a lot of hung over people at the Only during the day.
In either case, at night or when light, the Only is perfect for a laptop or a newspaper. And, when you have drunk too much, it is equally perfect for people watching.
Some patrons make people watching an obvious pastime. There are a few old drunks that sit in silence and ogle the university girls. There are a few old pervs who check out the boys, vainly holding out hope that one of them will sit down with them, go home with them.
The Only has a reputation, you see, as a gay bar. It’s not. I mean, sure, homosexuality, like almost anything else, is accepted here. But it is more of a freak bar. A bar where anyone who is left of centre can get away with his or her lifestyle. Sure, it has its fair share of fags. I’ve seen two having oral sex behind the pinball machine. But there are even more dykes – for Trent has a healthy dyke population. There are bisexuals galore – because it has become fashionable to sexually appreciate your own sex, both in Peterborough and at Trent. De rigueur, even, to announce your homosexual leanings. Of course, the vast majority of the population is straight – even in Peterborough, even at Trent. And these queers-by-fashion eventually do take to chasing the opposite sex.
I think I’m being a bit rough here. I mean, I met homosexuality in myself at the Only. For a year or so, I had convinced myself that I was gay. I guess it is a growing up thing. A searching for identity thing. I guess that because I’m through with that phase, I find it difficult to accept in others. Immature. Naïve.
Like I’m neither of those things anymore.
Anyways, I don’t make my people watching as obvious as some. Even when I’m too drunk to write – too drunk to squint at my newspaper in the dim-light, smoky air of the Only – I pretend to read. I usually just peek around from time to time to see what is going down.
The Only is long and narrow. The wooden bar – and the not-quite-kitchen cook area behind it – dominates one wall. Tall stools line the bar. Though they are not in the least comfortable, they are perpetually taken. All of the tables, with the exception of two, are pushed against the opposite wall. A narrow aisle for walking, forever cluttered by occupied chairs, runs in between. One table, dubbed the “Centre of the Universe” by my university friends, now long gone, is on a raised dais. It is a full 8 feet above the rest of the room. A second table, one that seats 10 or 12, is at the end of the bar, just a tip of it visible from the main row of seats.
Because of this layout, it is possible to check out about 90 percent of the goings on in the Only – if you don’t include the patio. Often there is much to see.
There are the women – and I won’t dwell too much on this – you’ll already think I’m obsessed. But the Only is a great place for girl watching. A good chunk of the population is university-aged. Young and attractive. I mean, I am too, so I should be able to point that out in others. The women here are fashion-conscious in a mostly liberal, liberated, wanting to make their own statement kind of way. This means that the ones who want to make it known that they are bull-dykes wear jeans, grubby white sleeveless t-shirts and no bras. The neo-hippies wear patched-jeans and billowy shirts – perhaps those flowing hippy skirts. Again, no bras. Isn’t fashion wonderful? The artistic types and punks tend to wear black. It’s hard to tell if they wear bras or not due to the jackets – often leather, always black – that they never take off. Even in the most sweltering of heat.
The boys wear jeans. That is almost universal, though cords are making a comeback. Their t-shirts range from ripped Dead Kennedy’s and Sex Pistols to Che Guevara. Why is it that they worship Che so? Do they actually know his background? Do they actually care? Some still wear grunge plaid. They are a good-looking bunch, these boys. They know they are hot. They know time is still on their side.
The Only is a great place to watch drug deals and arguments, make-out sessions and games of chess. When it really begins to rock – which happens every blue moon – you can watch people try to dance and collide with the tables, the bars, the helpless drinkers who are pinned to their seats by the out-of-nowhere happenings of the event. It is a place to watch people pick up and get dumped. On too many occasions I have seen people crying alone at the bar.
I suppose, back in the day, any people watchers would have watched my university friends and me. We were good looking enough. We did drug deals and argued. The odd time one of us would make out. We sometimes played chess.
Like I said, a good place to watch.
But tonight I’m not hear to people watch. Tonight I’m trying to write. Which leads me to wonder why I’m writing about the Only Café.
I guess it’s because I’m procrastinating. Because I’m not really ready to write about myself tonight – or to write about this character that is me, but not me. I guess there are things that I’m not overly eager to delve into yet. To dredge up.
I mean, sure, there is more to it than that, right? Any fiction needs a believable character, a believable setting. And getting to know the places I go is important to the development of character, of setting, of story. And you’ll need all of that to get the gist of what is going on in this writing.
It’s funny, though. Three pints have gone into me while I have been writing about here. Three pints of DAB with lemon. Combined with the 2 beers I had at home before I left, that makes a few too many to be able to write effectively. Coherently. It might be time to open a Globe and Mail and watch the Only go by for awhile.