I looked at my watch, it was nearly 2:00 am. The bar would remain open for another hour and a half. The place was packed as was always the case for a Friday night. The bar was located near a large university in a city well known for it’s long association with the country music industry. This created quite a mix of different lifestyles for the patrons, ranging from college co-eds to music legends to the stragglers just prayin’ for a break. The kind of break the scraggly hair, unshaven for about a week, fat man sitting at the end of the bar had experienced. The fat man had written a song three minutes and thirty two seconds long, it had shot to number one, held that position for several weeks, and eventually had a movie produced from it. His financial life was changed forever. That fact alone explained the two big busted, leggy blondes, each wearing a dress that would barely cover a six year old, perched on each side of him. The kind that are attracted to the money, either for as long as it holds out or until new money comes along.
My friend Mikey and I weren’t interested in the rest of bar goers who were packed into the room like sardines, and smelling nearly as bad by this time of night. Our eyes were riveted on the flashing blue and red lights across the street. Mikey’s plan was unfolding perfectly, so far. The way he had it worked out his pager (before cell phones dominated the earth) should go off any moment now. Then he would get up and exit the bar area by the door going into the kitchen. He would step over, around, and in between couples in various stages of sexual acts until he reached the sound proof office of the owner of the bar, where he would be let in by one of the numerous bigger than life, bodyguards who toted large caliber firearms and did an excellent job of keeping the peace when a female co-ed found herself more enamored by the rock n’ roll skinny, lead guitar player in a touring band than the physics major that had brought her to the bar with the idea of having her consume just the right amount of alcohol in hopes of whisking her back to his dorm room for some personal excitement before she or he passed out.
Mikey would use the office phone to return the call. Probably speaking to someone at dispatch who would deliver the crushing news that his store had just been robbed of all the gold jewelry. He would then wait about 20 minutes before slipping out the back door to his waiting car. He would then drive around a couple of blocks, checking for anyone tailing him, before pulling up behind the squad car we were now watching. Mikey would then go into the throes of a business owner who could not believe his misfortune. Who could do such a thing? Especially after all his hard work. What kind of people are they? What is this world coming to? If Mikey was anything he was a great actor worthy of a Grammy award and all its accolades.
For a moment the scene faded back and my thoughts went ahead. What kind of life was this? Why aren’t there any old drug dealers? Would the women filling this room with perfume and sexual heat eventually becoming moms driving Toyota mini-vans around, filled with children, from school to soccer practice? Would they tell their husbands about the nights they went slumming with drummer of a punk rock band? Would the boys/men eventually sit on the boards of industry and make decisions about the direction of our economy? Would they be willing to marry women from this room or would they decide on someone who wasn’t so tainted, someone with not so much baggage? What would they tell their children about drugs, indiscriminate sexual coupling, and waking up in the the bushes by the business next door? Who would pull out of this morass and who wouldn’t? Who would die from an overdose, or alcohol poisoning? Who in this room would be forever damaged goods because of a relationship that went dreadfully wrong?
The pager went off…and Mikey went into Act II of the evening.
More than 30 year later:
I never knew what happened to the woman I was with that night. The truth is, while I can recall the color of her hair and her long legs, I don’t remember anything else. Her name, the shape of her face, the sound of her voice all have been lost to the passage of many years.
Mikey on the other hand is a different story. He continued in the drug trade for several years and was eventually arrested after selling several ounces of cocaine to undercover DEA agents on multiple occasions. He posted bond, was released from jail and hired a defense attorney well versed in the ins and outs of plea bargaining drug charges. However, the mood of the country was beginning to change. The wild and loose era was becoming the straight and conservative era. Citizens were demanding steeper penalties for those who dealt death to their children. Mikey was looking at a couple of decades in a federal penitentiary. One morning he disappeared. They found his car along the interstate with the keys still in it. He has never been seen or heard from since. Seven years later his wife had him legally declared dead and collected one million dollars from his life insurance company. After twenty plus years she has never remarried and continues to live in the same home.
It took several years, but the questions I had that night sitting in the bar watching life pass me by, began to bear fruit. I stumbled from a shower one morning in a hotel room in downtown Columbia, Missouri with an entirely different approach to life. What exactly happened from the time I opened the shower door and stepped in until I sprawled on the bed bawling my eyes out some time later remains a mystery to me. I call it God’s grace.
All I know is those few minutes have altered my life forever.
It is not easy to write about the past. Like all of you, my past contains moments of intense pain. But I don’t write to relive the pain, or the excitement, or the so-called glory. I write to cast a light into the darkness. The light of hope. The light that says anyone can change. No one is beyond hope. It can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. I know…I’m living proof.