The Not-so-Jolly Roger
By Web Ruble
Web writes: "I came home from the army and found that i helping others I could begin to see the light."
As I opened the clattering, loose-paned door and tried to shed water, I saw the lights were subdued, to my left, especially over the bar. A few patronizing denizens were already bending elbows -- adjusting attitudes.
Shuffle boards were in play by two would-be fishermen and their molls, and the juke box was playing Lawrence Welk’s “Calcutta.”
Clarabelle, a habitué, was there in her party dress, as usual, trying to flirt. A few blue-jeaned dudes sat at the bar, ignoring her. Everything looked like it probably should.
All was normal outside. Rain – as always -- was a torrent, coming down in wind-blown sheets and clawing at the neon-signed window. I was just inside the door, dripping and trying to find some drier solace. I had been doing some liquid thinking, “Well, day is done and being as I’m this wet on the outside, I might as well get wet on the inside.”
So, like a barnacled gribble, I had splashed my way down to that booze barn called The Jolly Roger.
Well, you see, the evil one apparently still had me in his grip. Moreover, this non-jolly, depressing alternative was one of the few that existed for a single whippersnapper in 1960 in that Washington coastal mudflat of slough and piling called Raymond.
I was there working for the weekly sheet, selling advertising -- many of the ads were (ugh) going-out--of-business sales. Oh joy. What a future!
Nevertheless, there I was -- just out of the army and pulling down a fair-to-middlin’ wage for doing the almost laughable. I was half way through the University of Oregon journalism school -- in hopes of becoming a newspaper writer -- and now hoping to earn enough money to get back and finish.
So what was I doing far from the madding hip crowd in this cave of artificiality? I don’t know. It just seemed logical. My wife in Eugene was almost spousal history. Besides, I needed a little buzz.
I squished to the bar and found a stool next to a work-shirted guy who looked like a mill hand.
We said our “’lo-buddy” greetings and after a few expletive comments about the forever swampy weather, somehow we got to talking about the life and times of honky-tonk music.
That probably was because the tune on the jukebox changed to Dolly Parton’s rendition of Paul Simon’s Gospel diddy, “On the Wings of a Snow White Dove.”
“Every time I come down here, they’re almost the same tunes.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Depressing isn’t it?”
“Well, uh-huh, but I have finally gotten so I sort of like ‘em.”
“Yeah, I’m being sort of culture converted over time, I guess.”
“Oh yahoo,” he said. “You look like the type who doesn’t belong here. You talk different -- like me.”
“Huh? Well, I seldom really talk to anybody in here unless it’s with that Russian dude from up on the hill. He’s a little dense, but he comes in here once in a while and he does like to talk in the old language.”
“You speak . . uh, Russian?”
“Well yes. In a meager way. I’m not fluent, but try to keep up whenever I can. I was shocked the other evening when I thought I heard that dude say something in Polish or Russian. So I tried a Russian phrase or two. And zingo! We launched into a Muscovite Night. Or was it Kievan heaven? Anyway, it was another siege on the Leningrad of my soul. Gaa.”
“You gotta be kiddn’. In this town? In here? Whaaa . . .how you come to do that?”
“Dunno -- just happened.”
“No. No,” he said. “I don’t mean the conversation. Where did you learn to speak Russian? Are you Russian?”
I said, “No . . . well . . .”
Well . . what? . . .”
“Well, okay. I was a Russian translator in the army. Got overseas in Germany. Didn’t use the language much. However, once in a while, me and Vern -- he was another Russian speaker -- would drive a jeep down to the German-Czech frontier, and talk to Soviet soldiers who were occupying the Czechoslovak border and bored. We’d trade cognac and cigarettes for their vodka.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t know it at the time, but I am partly Russian extracted. However, don’t get me wrong. I was Army trained. Took a test. Which enabled me to take another. And yattita yattita . . . before I knew it I was in language school.. What a deal.”
“Whoaa . . .I never heard anything even close to that in this tangle of the forest. Er . . .with all of that acumen -- I mean I can tell you are really sharp -- how did you get here in Raymond?”
“No money. Had to go to work. Looked for a news job. Saw an advertisement in the Seattle Times. Ended up here selling ads for Gordon Alderman.”
“Wasting your time,” he said. “You’ll languish here.”
“Da, ya ponymayu,” I said, for lack of anything else to say. “I DO intend to leave. Someday. But I don’t know . . .I seem to be a little weighted down with beer.”
The bluesy, Western swing song, “Corrine Corrina” came on the juke box. Donna Mae, the female bar keep, wiped the oak counter on her way down to in front of us, and said, “You boys wanna ‘nother?”
“Why not?” said my new bar buddy.
The froth was served and we both began cracking suds. We talked about Italian opera music, German warbles, and the Spanish-Mexican serenades the Chicanos hear on the radio.
On the German, he said with a shake of his head, “Proud. The Germans are always proud. Mexican music is always cheerful. Russian music is always virile, heavy, or impossibly sad and tragic . . .like struggle of the masses . . .”
“I like Italian the best,” I said. “It seems to have the best balance, and, I don’t know . . .I just like it.”
Periodically Donna Mae would wiggle her bod as she wiped down the oak and inquire, “You guys okay?” Then after assuring her, she’d drift on singing, “Corrine Corrina.”
“A real top music aficionado and intellectual,” I said.
“Yeah,” he agreed.
We both started chuckling..
Then he began to cry.
“Whazza madder?” I said.
“I dunno,” he said. “It’s just that I am enjoying this conversation so much. I’ve been coming in here for months now and never have heard anything close to what we’ve been discussing. I’m afraid you’ll leave and its back to dullsville.”
“Yeah. I gotta go, but I DO come in here every once in a while,” I said. “Maybe more often than that.”
The logger-shirted man began crying again as I excused myself and squeezed off the barstool and headed out the door. Considerably direr, I got water-logged anew as I squished home to the boarding house.
A week or so later, I was back in the Jolly Roger, spotted the same guy, took up stool beside him, and said, “hi.”
He took one look at me and seemed glad but immediately began crying.
“I have to tell you something,” he sobbed. “I’m gay. I hate it. Did I make a pass at you the other night? I hope not. Good gosh, I hope not.”
“No,” I said.
“Good! I’ve tried to change. Really I have. I’ve tried everything. I’ve gone to doctors, ministers, psychiatrists, and just friends. Nothing seemed to work. So two years ago I moved here to this macho town to change my environment, thinking it would help. I thought . . .work at the mill. Might help me change. But no. It didn’t. I’m doomed.”
Then he went into a full-blown cry. “I wanna change so bad. I jus’ don’ know what to do. You are a stranger, but a nice person. Perhaps you could help me. This is a living hell. I’m desperate.”
He cried for 2-3 minutes. I didn’t know what to say.
Finally, I ventured, “Look, perhaps you can’t change. You don’t have to stay here in Raymond, you know. From what you say, it’s obviously not helping. Why don’t you go to a city. .like Portland or Seattle? You’ll fit it better, I’m sure. You’ll feel a lot better about yourself.”
He stopped crying, let out a wet sob, and said, “You really think so? I don’t. That’s why I’m here. I was in Tacoma and felt I needed to do something drastic. That’s why I came here. I gotta find...”
“No. You’re wrong,” I interrupted. “You’ve been this place long enough. Go back. I’m sure you’ll find it better. It’s a waste here. Get in with your own kind. You have a lot to offer.”
After about an hour’s chat, I left. He said, “God bless.”
Two weeks later I found out he had moved to Portland. I never heard from or saw him again.
Because I’m aware that many today suffer in silent desperation, every once in a while I say a prayer for perhaps the world’s most miserable man.
(© 2012 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)