Monday, April 15, 2013

11- The Poor Man's Bar-St Thomas, USVI-1995

Megumi and I had begun, what would turn out to be, a two-year separation. Nineteen years together without a cross word; now over. Sometimes unhappiness can lie unexpressed, just under the surface, chillingly quiet, and then explode with the power to  destroy everything. It was so hard, each looking into the other’s eyes unsure of what we were seeing. We wouldn’t accept the past and couldn’t imagine the future. And life has it's way of moving on whether you're on board or not.
In September 1995
Hurricane Marilyn devastated the US Virgin Islands. Quite by coincidence, and on very short notice, I was offered work through an engineering firm with FEMA documenting the storm damage. The offer, tendered by someone I’d never met or worked with before, was unusual in that I was expected to pay for everything up front, to be reimbursed later. That, and demanding I decide and be ready to go in six hours, would normally have raised a number of red flags, but I jumped at the job  to get as far away as possible. As it turned out I was in the islands for nearly two, soul cleansing, months. Perhaps time to find what I was looking for. During this period I wrote something everyday. A lot of it poetry like this poem written, a few lines at a time, while taking refuge in the best little bar St. Thomas had to offer. The Poor Man’s Bar was like a thousand others in the islands except here they’d give you the bottle
and you poured your own drink.
I stumbled up its stairs the first night, the only place open in the storm-ravaged town of Red Hook. But even as time went on, and conditions improved elsewhere, it was the only place I wanted to be. After a lingering chat with a Rasta Man, down on the beach, I'd sit at the end of the bar and jot down thoughts about the day's doings when inevitably someone nearby would draw me, first, into their voice and, finally, into their story. The revolving cast of characters I encountered there revealed a little more of themselves each day. I guess I came to be included in that cast as well. I certainly opened up to some of them too. Hurricane Maryland left pain in her wake. There was much to mend. It was a healing experience for us all, a strange place at a very strange time. This is the story of "The Poor Man's Bar".

Searching through the freshly shattered pieces of my life
In the wreckage of a Virgin Island hurricane,
I was shooting for the government while working on my head,
Seeking shelter from the damage and the strain.
The storm had passed in Red Hook and it spared this little bar.
It seemed a place where lonely people went to be alone.
I’d stop there nearly every night and watch them from afar.
And when I had a drink, I’d always pour my own.

                            THE POOR MAN’S BAR
Their eyes stare out from sun lined faces, Some with smiles and some without,
That hint of lives in other places. Loved ones left behind no doubt.
The music’s rock. They like it loud. This home away from home
The locals call The Poor Man’s Bar, up here you pour your own.

Her name is little Angie. She’s what some would call petite.
She always takes the same stool, and she drinks her whiskey neat.
She lost her love to the mainland. The hurricane took her car.
She’s biding time with her memories now, here upstairs, at The Poor Man’s Bar.

James, with wooden club in hand, explains the only rule,
“Don’t throw nothing out the windows, Not an ashtray, not a stool.”
He’s not someone to trifle with when he’s not feeling nice.
And he keeps that cudgel limbered up by pounding bags of ice.

A whirling dervish tending bar, Dee turns the music down.
“Listen up,” he tells the crowd, “Let’s all just drink a round,
For Rick who’s gone and won’t be back To pour his own again”.
For he clearly knew when the big wind blew, that he’d lost his closest friend.

Now John by trade’s a watcher, and he usually knows the score.
You’ll notice how he never turns his backside to the door.
He’s in tune with all the tension like a broker on the phone.
And he’s drawn here like a magnet ‘cause he likes to pour his own.

-Rasta Larry-
Now there sits Rasta Larry, just returned from Bomba’s shack,
Tortola’s full moon madness, just a memory flashing back.
His eyes look out forever for some distant island home.
He likes to burn one down on the beach, come up here, and pour his own.

Scotty hangs here often even tending bar some nights.
He drinks his coke with Absolute and smokes Marlboro Lites
That silver coin around his neck? A birthday gift he says.
A marker of another year he’s counting in his head.

Young Tyler’s found another cause and charges in again.
Damn the danger-full ahead. She’s just not one to bend.
Her youthful zest will drive her on and take her memories far.
And years from now they’ll wander back up here, to The Poor Man’s Bar.

There’s a tale in each and everyone who’s here to pour their own,
And given time they’ll tell it, every bit, down to the bone.
But you’ve really got to listen, learn to see ‘em as they are.
‘Cause there’s drama down in Red Hook, here upstairs at The Poor Man’s Bar.

 Like I said the characters were revolving and I revolved as well, out of St. Thomas and on to a string of jobs that kept me working around the Caribbean for several years.
The story has a good ending though. Like two wanderers in a Tolkien tale, Megumi and I stumbled our way together again two years later. Certainly older and probably wiser, we endure as a couple yet today, a testimony to the power and the mystery of love and those with the will, in spite of it all, to somehow hold on to each other, however far apart they drift.

Click link below for video version of The Poor Man's Bar

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