Muleskinner’s Blues

“Come on, Jimmy! What the hell!” The banging sounded like it was coming through the door now.

Jimmy Piersall looked into the mirror and wiped his mouth. If there was one thing he was sure of, it’s that buffalo wings taste a helluva lot better going down than coming up. Not a lesson you’d think a person would really have to learn, but Jimmy could be a little thick sometimes. He’d even admit as much himself. Why else would he even be here?

Duggins had been a much different place back in high school. The kind of place where road workers and tree toppers stopped off on their way home to wife and kids, while retirees and the unemployed came to open and stayed to close. A place where everybody knows your name — if your name is Buddy or Mack. Otherwise, no one knew nothing about nothing and that’s how they liked it. Jimmy started coming around his junior year, when his brother’s friend, Doug, got the daytime bartender gig. Doug would serve him free cokes down at the end of the bar and lend him a quarter for the video poker machine in return for help cleaning up after lunch. Not that there was much to do. Doug was just lazy and stubborn. Pretty much like everyone else in town.

Some of the old folks took a shine to Jimmy, always jokingly grilling him about which of their granddaughters he was going to ask to the prom and why wasn’t he out practicing with the baseball team or something instead of hanging around a dive bar on a sunny afternoon. He just shrugged them off and got them talking about the war or working at the plant or whatever he guessed they felt like talking about that day. And that’s how the days went — until he met the girl at the bakery next door and then they went very differently.

And now Jimmy was back in town and Duggins wasn’t Duggins anymore. The girl at the bakery wasn’t a girl and the cokes weren’t free. For that matter, they weren’t even Coke anymore. Jimmy Piersall was pretty good evidence of how far you could go on grit and dumb determination, but even mules come back to the stables eventually.

Jimmy slurped up a handful of water from the tap and spat it into the sink. He ran his hands through his hair and eyed himself in the mirror.

“Hold your horses, will ya! I’m coming!”

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