Unpublished, 1998

The Main Street Hotel was swank back in the railroad days, but was now a collection of small rooms rented weekly by old men, most of them alcoholics.

In room 226, Charles, on the morning of his 82nd birthday, woke at 6:00 and put on his suit, the old tweed number complemented by bowtie and top hat, all brown with mustard-colored dress shirt. After using the restroom down the hall, he descended to the dining counter in the basement of Nielsen’s department store, where he breakfasted on bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee.

Afterwards, he rode the escalator back up to the street and smoked an unfiltered Camel cigarette, then proceeded up Chestnut Street to the library, where he looked at the newspapers and, every half-hour, went outside and smoked in front of the main entrance. At 11:00, he crossed the street to the Barrel Barn convenience store and bought a bottle of Ocean Spray prune juice and a pack of Camels, then headed back down to Main Street. At 11:15, he arrived in the town square next to Key Bank and sat on one of the benches feeding the pigeons with the crusts he’d cut off his toast at Nielsen’s, watching them bob and peck while he drank his juice and smoked his Camels. At 11:55, he proceeded to the Red Sail Tavern, where Kenny, the first-shift bartender, was unlocking the door.

“Hey, Charles,” he said. “How you doing today?”

“Not as good as when I left here yesterday, so let’s get inside and start working on it.”

Before anything else, Kenny poured Charles’ beer and whiskey shot, then, every hour on the hour, poured his refills. He kept a tab, but only charged him one beer and one shot per day.

At night, the Red Sail was a college bar, but, in the dusty afternoon sunlight, it was Charles and a couple of others like him. Conversation was slow at first, but picked up as the afternoon rolled by. Every half-hour, he went outside and smoked a Camel. At ten to each hour, he visited the restroom.

He stayed until Kenny’s shift ended at 7:00. In the summer, it was nice to leave the dinge of the bar and emerge into the pleasant evening sunlight and be ready to sleep by the time he got back up to his room. He liked winter too, when it got dark early and the old-style streetlamps lit Main Street, and his room at the hotel would be warm from the radiator. He fell asleep fast, but, in the deep of night, became restless for 6:00 to come so he could get out of bed and begin the long march back towards the brightness of noon. ▪