Corner bars all over the city open at 7 a.m. Who goes?
“You’re up early!” says a woman wearing a fake bikini-top T-shirt. I learn later that it is “for breast cancer.” I stare at her, searching for something to say, but my brain is moving slowly. “Fuck it,” she says, flashing me a big smile. “Fuck it, is what I say.” We cheers.
It’s 8 a.m. on a Monday in J.R.’s Saloon, on the corner of Norris and Aramingo. It’s the ideal neighborhood bar, with a taxidermied antelope wearing a cowboy hat watching over the pool table. Everyone is singing along to classic rock, and the place is pretty busy.
As one of the marginally employed masses, there are a lot of times I’m jealous of my friends with 9-to-5s. They have regular paychecks, and phone calls to their parents sound a lot less pathetic. But as they wake up bleary-eyed to face yet another case of the Mondays, I figured I’d celebrate my independence with a couple of crack-of-dawn Miller Lites while talking to other victims of the recession.
I convince my friend Dan to be my muscle/wingman so I don’t seem like a weirdo. We meet up a little after 6 a.m.—him fresh from a morning run, me fresh from a doughnut—and head to J.R’s.
What I expected at 7 a.m. was a couple of down-on-their-luck drunks looking to share stories of their glory days, maybe a sad sack or two milling around, eagerly waiting for the gate to open. But Dan and I are clearly the sad sacks: For the first few minutes we’re the only people there. Two men wander in and sit as far away from us as they can. They are not looking to chat, so we watch the morning news and sip our beers.
At 7:30, a pink-shirted, pink-visored woman and a spikey-haired guy friend come in, and they bring the party. The woman greets Ronnie the bartender effusively, then heads to the jukebox to put on “I Feel Free” by Cream. A steady stream of customers starts showing up. “Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!” yells a guy in a Phillies jersey. They’re happy, but a little suspicious of us.
I watch as Ronnie pours a fancy looking shooter at the other end of the bar. “You want to try it?” Ronnie asks me. “It’s only $1.50.” The lady in pink, who’s been ordering them all morning, assures me they taste just like black jelly beans. I hate black jelly beans, but I try the shot anyway, and it’s pretty good. It reminds Dan of cough syrup.
With no ATM around, Dan goes out on a hunt for more cash. Now alone, I try to make conversation. Listening carefully for an in, I eavesdrop on Phillies Jersey Guy, who’s talking about his son. “‘Kids don’t even know what ‘one foot on the ice’ means.” I don’t know what that means, either. I try to ask, but they move on.
A guy named Petey tells me I look bored. “I saw a woman talking to her dead husband. The box of ashes was right there!” he says, pointing to my drink. “‘I got that washin’ machine you wanted,’ she says, ‘and that dryer you wanted,’ and then she says, ‘I got the blow job you wanted, too!’ and she blows the dust all over the place!”
I try to return with a joke, mangling the accented punchline (“ ... but you fuck one goat!”), and Petey is quiet for a second. He gives me a delayed laugh, bums a cigarette and, as he walks out, gets heckled by the other customers. “You’re a smooth one, Petey!”
Laughing along with them, I inwardly bemoan my awkwardness. I head to the bathroom, leaving my cigarettes on the bar. When I return, I think a few are missing. I don’t say anything.
Dan gets back with money. I feel pretty drunk. Too little sleep, too many Miller Lites, not enough breakfast. The patrons trickle out. The breakfast rush, it seems, is over.
We watch Let’s Make A Deal, on which a woman in a banana costume wins a trip to Aruba. It’s a little after 10 a.m. “Let me get a quick shot,” Dan says. I see they have Redbreast, a hard-to-find Irish whiskey that can be found at places like Village Whiskey for $22 a pop. “It’s six bucks a shot,” Ronnie tells us. Dan orders. We quietly finish our drinks and head out into the bright, mid-morning light.
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