Tom Fischer’s Tavern

Even blind, you can tell
What kind of a bar you’re in
By listening to the canned tunes.

Sinatra’s “Summer Wind,”
Cash’s “Ring of Fire,”
The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,”
Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,”
Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,”
Then, most unexpectedly,
Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,”
Which I’ve never heard in any tavern.

Arlo’s rambling confuses the barkeep,
An Italian-looking woman, maybe 32,
“What the hell is this?” “Arlo Guthrie,”
I pipe up. “ It’s Woody Guthrie’s son,”
But she has never heard of Woody, so
I try, “Do you listen to Bob Dylan?”
No, she says, so that’s that, but at least
Now you know where you are, a trough
For middle-aged white guys. It’s afternoon
And we’re in Westmont, New Jersey.

Some bars are black and white, but more
Are almost exclusively black or white, and
Seldom will you see an Asian guy, like me,
Save in California or Hawaii. In Philly’s
Chinatown, there is no neighborhood bar.
In beer commercials, though, everyone
Drinks, laughs, flirts and celebrates together.

Here, they’ve been talking about food,
As in fried chicken, pig’s feet, beans and rice,
And grandma’s killer egg and potato salad,
But now the chatter turns to water parks,
So a 55-ish gent tells the smiling barkeep,
“I can sit on one of those tubes all day long.
It’s most relaxing, and you don’t have to get
Out of the water unless you have to poop.”
“To do what?” She asks, looking alarmed.
“To poop. Ahhh, it is relaxing to soak
Your butts and privates in that water.
It’s only, like, four feet deep, you know,
So if you’re fat, like me, your bottom scrapes
The bottom, as you glide along, in that water.”

Shaving hell, we too will frolick until
We turn to some bottom material.
Like sediment or memory, we’ll blur
To our true shape, leaving nothing,
Not even an icky smell, in Westmont.
Outside, flags everywhere and a sergeant
Named Rambo, I kid you not. Here, I’m safe
And whisky comforted. That’s fair enough.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.