If hell is other people, then purgatory, for better or worse, is the bar they meet in. The entry to the Recovery Room is a thick, metal, windowless door with a large sign on it announcing the drinking age, a sort of purgatorial guideline (under 21 being either too good or too bad). The door is set in a white cinderblock wall in the corner of a strip mall just northwest of Fort Sam Houston (a covered alley leads down to something or nothing I can’t see). Going through the door means entering the dark — very dark — smoky world of the strip-mall bar. It could be any number of places in this light, but my eyes adjust, and its own dingy personality moves in the haze.
The bar, two brackets between which the bartender operates, must be wooden, at least partially, though it is hard to tell. R&B blares from a jukebox that blends into the wall. Across from me, a woman and three young men with close-cropped hair play pool and eat pizza, which the bartender heated up in the microwave. They drink pitchers of beer. It’s early in the day. One of the guys and the girl start fighting, but it has to be better than war.
On the back wall of the bar, past the pool tables, there is a big sign that says “Dental Clinic” — ominous humor. The bartender comes over and takes my drink order (the special is St. Pauli Girl for $2) and I am happy to see the different types of beer displayed in the upright, glass-door refrigerator. I can’t quite make out the beer on tap, but I think it includes Windmer, a White Ale, Bud Light, and the ubiquitous Shiner Bock (are they making a comeback?). Behind me slouch several modern, plastic dart machines (even the lights on these seem dim) and the juke box, which changes over to country music (and though I’m not a country fan, it is rather a relief). Around the corner, a cigarette vending machine looks like it still works, though it’s yellow from age and tobacco smoke. I knock back my beer and glance around one more time, then squint into the blinding light of the overcast day: The strip-mall Americana bar (that limbo) sates a forgotten longing. And anyplace that offers $2 St. Pauli Girl is all right in my estimation. Nothing wrong with a bit of purgatory, as an observer.
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