Above the cash register at the Skylark hangs a painting many patrons wonder about. In it a boy stares back at us, bug-eyed, with soda cups stuck to his ears. Every bartender makes up their own story about what the picture means and why it hangs there. I don’t even hazard a guess. It’s one of those things which has become a part of my life and I don’t try to explain or question.
On Christmas Day I got to the bar a few hours before opening. It’s eerie to come into a place which you know filled with people when it’s darkened and empty. After turning a few lights on and putting on some music the room became a lot more inviting. The emptiness belied the promise of all the barstools soon to be filled with clusters of friends and strangers. I made coffee, worked on my painting, and got up every few minutes to answer the phone to say that Yes indeed we would be open.
It turned out to be the busiest shift I’d ever worked there. I was still washing glasses an hour after shuttering the doors. I never expected to enjoy working for other people again, but neither of my bar gigs fill me with dread; in fact, I look forward to coming in, though the two places couldn’t be more different.
At Bernice’s my involvement goes beyond serving beers, washing glasses, and taking out the trash. The ongoing project of organizing the garage behind the bar makes being out front with the customers like scaling the tip of an iceberg. When I go in the back and draw it’s a bit like surveying an archaeological dig, picking out familiar forms in a vast field of alien terrain. I take my breaks sitting in a vintage Chicago Park District folding chair. It is but one artifact amid a plethora hitting my eyes any direction I turn. When we’re done cleaning this vast room up, most of what pulls me to it will be gone, so I’ll try to document as much of the process as I can before it’s all over.
Like most people I don’t know what to expect of this new year but I hold little hope that on the societal scale it won’t turn very, very ugly. I read a piece about the artist Raymond Pettibon the other day and he said the one thing he was hopeful about was that the opposition to the powers that be would be fiercer than ever. If a world-class cynic like Pettibon can be optimistic about anything then I suppose I should try to as well. In any case, everyone with a shred of decency has to fight against the flaming bag of piss about to assume control of our country any way they can.