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Richard Weems  

After Art 

 

Still, every now and then, you get guys in here asking for Art. I tell them, "No. No Art tonight," because itís the truth, and then these guys usually turn right around and go back the way they came, heads bowed, sometimes, but always shaking, and they leave like theyíre leaving a funeral, real solemn. And they are, really--even the regulars donít come around anymore. 

When we had Art, there was no room here for anything else. If youíre tired of standing around, the rumor went, just pick your feet up. They stood in line out the door, around the parking lot and back. They got food at the Starviní Marvinís down the road and had picnics in the street, they had to wait so long. All just to take hold of the harness strapped to Artís back and have their turn flinging that damn midget as far as they could. We had waitresses too, the biggest waitresses available--six-foot-one the shortest of them. They broke up fights when the bouncers had trouble getting through the crowd, and they had free reign to clock any wise-ass copping a feel. It was easy to scam drinks, then, for then it was too busy for anyone to check up on you: a push here, a slide on the other end. A good bartender could clear a couple bills before he even started emptying his jar. 

Now thereís supposed to be room in back for a kitchen, a deli, maybe, somewhere to make sandwiches, but these new owners donít know a thing about running a place like this. The old guy, Sam, sold out long ago. His wife and two daughters left him soon after Art, like they knew things were only going to pot, and Sam, he cracked--put every bit of his money into land, and bought up a long tract outside Palatka. I heard he tried bringing his wife back by promising to build a house, but thereís no money to build a house. All he has is land, and he likes to sit back and admire the view. I hear heís put up a roof, perched on the ends of two-by-fourís, and there heís got a cot, a 12-gauge with no ammunition, a tool chest, a rocking chair with a cracked runner, his Rottweiller, Kirkegaard (the dog came with that name), matches, lantern, a Coleman cooler and a sink that isnít connected. I hear he spends his days playing fetch with Kirkegaard, and before throwing out that stick, I hear he looks off into the untamed woods that is his land and thinks of when the dance floor was nothing but a sea of heads topped with waitresses like foam riding over wakes, like mermaids, the people brimming and sweating and clenching their fists, all wanting to get their hands on Art, who waited for them in his bright yellow jumpsuit, grinning as if he couldnít wait to be thrown again... 

But you should have seen that little guy fly through the air--turning, I tell you, turning in the air, spinning around like a bagel, like a goddamn egg bagel on the wing. And everyone wanted a piece of him. 


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