January 14, 2014

Excerpt, 'How to Be a Man'

Today, I'm posting an excerpt from my new story collection, How to Be a Man. I could have chosen the title story, which is a quirky, funny second-person story, but I thought I'd showcase this one, which is also one of my favorites.  It's based on my days as a bartender.  Welcome to the Buckhorn Bar!

A Dangerous Shine


hen Shine told people she bartended at the Buckhorn, their eyes widened. “What’s a nice girl like you,” they said, and then their voices trailed off. “I heard somebody got shot,” they said. There was a real bullet hole in the mirror, but it was ancient history—part of the bar’s character, like the heads on the walls and the smell of stale beer. To Shine, it felt safe, like sitting on a gargantuan comfy couch with all your cousins—sunk into the softness, everyone good-naturedly elbowing everyone else.

Not only that. As the bartender, Shine was the center of everything. She entertained the loners, introduced people, facilitated everyone’s good time, and decided who stayed and who went. It was the next best thing to being on TV. Maybe someday she’d walk back through that door and everyone would whisper, “That’s Shine. She used to work here.”

Someday. Shine flipped a beer glass upside down and stuck it onto the brushes in the sink full of hot soapy water. She worked it up and down, rinsed it, then put it on the metal drain board. “Who’s the most famous person who’s come through that door?” she asked Doc, a forever regular who walked like a ship rolling on the high seas. Doc sat with his elbows resting on the edge of the bar, framing his draft of Bud.

“In the old days, this was a tent,” Doc said, “and everybody stopped here because right out there was the railroad depot.” He lifted his right elbow toward the tracks a half a block away. “Before they moved it on down.”

“Even you weren’t alive for that,” One-ball Paul said. Paul stood watching the door, leaning with his back against the bar and his thin elbows hooked over the edge. Everybody knew he was waiting for Serita, only everybody also knew Serita was over at Coppers Corners with Lee Mangus, the UPS guy.

“I don’t know,” Shine said and winked at Doc. “I heard the reason Doc got his nickname was because he doctored up at Crow Agency when Custer had his last stand.” The real reason Doc had his nickname was because he was a medic in Vietnam.

Doc’s eyes squinted a smile. “The most famous person to walk through that door is going to be Shine.”

“Yeah,” Paul said. “She’s going to replace Kathy Lee as America’s top anchor, once she gets that TV degree.”

Shine shook her head. “I’ll be lucky to bring coffee to Geha over at KGWN in Cheyenne.”

Doc shook his head and Paul turned around and looked at Shine. Paul said, “It’s going to be you, Shine. You’re beautiful and smart and … and …” He blushed and glanced at Doc. Doc was nodding his head.

“If Regis hits on you, pressures you, you let me know,” Doc said, his face serious.

“Naw,” Nance said and raised her head off the bar. Nance, who was married to Tommy Jon the trucker, was drunk on Gin Rickeys. “That’s Kelly what’s-her-name. Kathy Lee hasn’t been there for ages.”

“We’ll put your … Seven-Up can? … up there on the Wall of Fame,” Paul said. The Wall of Fame was empty cans and bottles—Coors Light and Mickey’s Big Mouth, McGillicuddy’s and Jack Daniels Green Label—resting on little shelves with names on wooden plaques underneath them. They were tributes to regulars who had died.

As they talked, Shine watched a big man with a face like a boot walk along the sidewalk outside. He walked with his shoulders back but with his head curled forward like he was trying to be bigger and smaller at the same time. The door creaked as he pushed through. He stepped in and shrugged off his coat. The big man had arm muscles that strained the seams of his green long-sleeved t-shirt, and his waste narrowed as it disappeared into a pair of tan Carhart overalls. His face was broad and leathery brown with the prominent jaw that reminded Shine of a cartoon character.


Print and ebook versions are available for purchase at these and other online retailers.
Tomorrow I'll talk about how it was written. Thursday, I’ll talk about how it was published, and Friday I’ll give you a teaser about what’s coming down the pike in the future.

No comments: