First Person: The Last Voyage of the Lusitania
The first in a series of first-person stories set in or around drinkeries, this essay by author Adam Rothstein takes you on the journey of the thoughts of a lone man at a bar.
A guy comes through the door of the Nite Hawk, and approaches the bar next to me. He’s wearing black jeans, a black hoodie, a metal studded belt, and headphones. Around his neck is an ID badge from one of the railcar companies out by the port. He orders a beer and a shot of well whiskey, tips out the bartenders five bucks a piece, and goes back to the pool tables.
His headphones were playing music already, and he’s jamming away as he takes out his cue stick, screws it together, and drops the balls from the table with a dollar’s worth of quarters. I can respect the solo pool player, just as I respect the solo beer drinker who sits at the bar, watching people. But he’s an odd sort of pool player — just knocking the balls around, not even aiming. In fact, he’s swatting them with the sides of the cue at times, with a percussive intensity, while he jumps and slides around the table as it wasn’t so much a game of pool, but a dance routine.
Behind the dancing pool player, hanging on the long wall that stretches the length of the establishment, is a painting of the Lusitania. I knew that because the painting said so. The ship was, when it was built, the largest in the world, and met an infamous end, sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland in 1915.
The Lusitania was transporting war material from the United States to Britain, but the 1200 passengers and crew who died upon sinking transformed it into a major propaganda item for the Allies facing off against Germany in the First World War. The painting is slightly jarring, placed on a wall packed with senseless liquor paraphernalia. Budweiser clocks, Wild Turkey posters. Next to the painting, which is darkened (from generations of barroom smoke?), hangs a Jack Daniels Nine-Ball Shootout plaque, and then next to that, is a mirror, showing the reflection of a lone beer drinker sitting at the bar: me.
A couple at the pool table one over from the dancer pack up their cue sticks and head for the door, carrying leftovers from an earlier dinner in the restaurant part of the establishment. They pause, and bend close to look at the Lusitania. I wish that I could hear what they said to each other about it.
Over the next hour, the dancing pool player loses the cue ball to the floor at least six times. Thank goodness for the airport-like carpeting covering the entire floor. Finally, he turns to his drinks, as yet untouched, downs them both, and departs.
A couple at the bar just down from me ask for two strong coffees, and their check. The guy drums his hands on the table while he waits. There’s always been something about the combining smells of coffee and liquor that remind me of air travel. I wonder what cross-Atlantic ocean voyages were like, as I finish my beer and head home for the night.
Top photo via Flickr user Thomas Hawk
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