DH Singh ~ Crown Royal, 1972

The lights to the Ambassador Bridge turn on and Reggie looks up.

You know, that’s the busiest bridge in North America,” he says.

Really?” I ask.

Yup. It’s owned by some bil­lion­aire. Half of every­thing going in and out of Canada runs across that bridge. Government owns all the bridges except that one.”

He shifts his gaze to a barge slow­ly work­ing its way through the brown water. Reggie and I are the only two peo­ple in his white grav­el park­ing lot, both of us hov­er­ing over the trunk of my Cadillac. Across the street, in the park no one uses, an old home­less guy is lay­ing in the grass mov­ing his arms, try­ing to make snow angels in August.

Reggie turns to me and squints. “How did all this whiskey end up in the back of your car?”

I don’t say any­thing, just hold his gaze.

You try­ing to scam me?”

When you work for a dis­trib­u­tor, some­times there’s extra,” I say.

Reggie makes a cluck­ing sound with his tongue.

I used to think I need­ed to talk more, but my sales were bet­ter the less I said. A small smile helps. Too big a smile makes you seem like you’re lying, or worse, like you want some­thing. But a tight, half-smile with a lit­tle nod makes peo­ple feel like they’re in on some­thing. Everyone wants to be in on some­thing. People smile too much. They think it makes them look nice, but it only makes them look weak.

If there’s any­thing wrong with this stuff, you know what I’ll do to you. Then I’ll buy all my booze from Winston. He’s cheaper.”

I nod.

Reggie pays me the mon­ey in twen­ties and takes his time count­ing the soft bills into my hand. There’s some­thing men­ac­ing about it, like he wants me to know that I may be hold­ing the mon­ey now, but it’s still his. He prob­a­bly thinks the booze is stolen, but it’s just reg­u­lar inven­to­ry I put in my trunk. I fig­ured a guy like Reggie would think liquor sold out of the back of a DeVille was a good deal and want in. I’m behind in my quo­ta this month. If I miss again, they’ll fire me.


My boss Ed taught me the sev­en steps to the sales process when he hired me. He made me write them all down on the back of a Johnnie Walker pro­mo­tion­al cock­tail napkin.

Product Knowledge, Prospecting, The Approach, Needs Assessment, Presentation, The Close, and Follow Up. When you’ve got ’em all mem­o­rized you come find me out on the floor, and I’ll tell you what they mean,” Ed said. He left me alone in his office at the dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ter out­side the city lim­its, repeat­ing the steps out loud like I was say­ing the rosary. Ed’s office had framed cer­tifi­cates all over it: Best Salesman, Great Lakes Liquor Distribution, Metro Detroit, ’59 all the way through ’69. I guess if you’re the best sales­man, you end up here—a cramped office that smells of smoke and Pine-Sol.

Step two, prospect­ing, can seem sim­ple, but it’s pret­ty hard. You have to read peo­ple quick­ly. You need to fig­ure out what they want and know when to dig in. For most bar own­ers like Reggie, it’s about price. They want the best deal. But for oth­ers, it’s about being first with a new prod­uct, before the com­pe­ti­tion has it. Some guys want a younger ver­sion of them­selves to talk to. Most are old men slav­ing away night after night in dark rooms and want word from the outside.

You have to get in there, find out real quick who the buy­er is or they’ll throw you out,” Ed said.


Can’t tell you that. You’ve got to fig­ure it out for your­self. That’s how you’ll know if you’re any good. If you’re going to last.”


Quick. Then you be who­ev­er they want you to be and move on to the next step. Or else.”

Or else what?”

Or else you leave. You got no prospects, you get your ass out of there. There’s always anoth­er bar.”


I set out shots on Reggie’s bar of the new blend­ed whiskey Ed told me to move, lay­ing down some prod­uct knowl­edge about how it’s made, not say­ing too much, when I see Gloria. She’s from down­riv­er in Brownstone like me, and we went to St. Mary’s togeth­er. We didn’t know each oth­er in school, she was a cou­ple of years younger, but I saw her around. The way Gloria looked, it was a won­der she made it out of that school with­out get­ting preg­nant. Reggie said she was his best wait­ress and I believed him. I could tell she knew what was up.

Gloria walks up to the bar, takes a shot out of my hand, and kicks it back. She doesn’t say any­thing, just wipes her mouth with her hand, like she’s dar­ing me to do some­thing, and gives me a lit­tle smile, not too big. That’s how it starts.

She tells me to pick her up after her shift and wait across the street by the park so no one will see us. Around mid­night I pull my car up next to the park, and see that home­less guy that’s always there. He’s dressed in a tat­tered and mud­dy pin­stripe suit, like a busi­ness man caught in a hur­ri­cane. I roll the win­dow down to get some fresh air, but there isn’t any. The air is hot and damp and I start to sweat. The Detroit River runs all the way to the ocean, but we nev­er get any sea air. All I smell is sul­fur and ammo­nia com­ing from the old Fischer Body Plant upriver.

Gloria opens the door to the car and slides into the front seat. I can still pic­ture her in her St. Mary’s uni­form even though the skirts she wears wait­ress­ing are a lot short­er. Neither one of us says any­thing. I can hear a dull boat horn on the riv­er. We stare at each oth­er for a minute, the motor vibrat­ing, the radio and instru­ment pan­el light­ing our faces from below, both of us try­ing to fig­ure out what the oth­er one wants. She turns her head away and tells me about her fiancé Greg. He goes to med school at Wayne State, likes to golf, and pro­posed at a park with his par­ents watch­ing.  She’s doesn’t want any­thing to mess up their relationship.

He’s a good guy,” she says.

I’ll bet.”

No, he is. He’s real­ly nice.”

I don’t say any­thing, but I’m sure she’s right. Greg sounds like a per­fect name for him. He prob­a­bly has no idea who Gloria real­ly is. I’ve seen her at Reggie’s talk­ing to her tables, hus­tling for tips, laugh­ing loud with one, kind of shy with anoth­er, becom­ing who­ev­er they want her to be.

When’s the wedding?”

Spring. Let’s go to your place.”

I put the car in dri­ve. We’ve got until spring. Six months. After that, one of us will move on.


Everyone is out there hus­tling to sur­vive,” Marco says.

He’s pour­ing from a bot­tle labeled Mellow Corn, a brand I’ve nev­er heard of, which means it’s cheap. Marco, my new friend, is one of those old pros who speaks in clich­es and likes to make a show out of com­mis­er­at­ing with his patrons, which means he’s been doing this awhile, which means he can prob­a­bly make pur­chas­es. There’s a sign behind the bar that reads “No Solicitors,” so I know I’ve got to take my time. Nobody likes to be sold. It’s right below a sign that says “Rathskeller Special:  2 drinks for the price of 2 drinks.”

The Rathskeller is dark as mud, there are no win­dows, and I can bare­ly make out the peo­ple sit­ting at the far side of the bar. All that’s vis­i­ble are the glow­ing orange embers of cig­a­rettes, float­ing in the dark. I can’t read Marco’s face clear­ly in this light, but I notice a big gold ring on his fin­ger and think that maybe he wants to com­plain about his wife. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try talk­ing about the Tigers, ask him if he thinks Billy Martin is screw­ing up the team. I don’t even like sports, it’s pure­ly some­thing to talk about when you’ve already talked about the weather.

After this drink, I’ll order some­thing top shelf and see what Marco pulls; then I’ll start plant­i­ng the seeds about our prod­uct and wait for the right moment.

We sell most­ly Canadian Whisky and that means it’s blend­ed, on the light side, and good for mix­ing drinks that bars can charge more for, or at least that’s my pitch. I nev­er have to break out any real fan­cy words for the places I sell to along the riv­er. They only want to know this one’s smooth and mix­es well and this one has some real heat and you can serve it to some­one who’s had a bad day, some­one like me.


The phone rings and I look at the clock. It’s a lit­tle after three a.m. and it’s her.

I got home and my cat was gone. I left one of the win­dows open and she got out.” Gloria says, her voice sound­ing far away.

You couldn’t ask Greg for help?”

He’s out of town.”

Gloria and I start­ed see­ing each oth­er only when Greg was out of town, or was swamped at school, but late­ly we’re togeth­er almost every night.

I dri­ve over and she’s wait­ing on the front steps for me. She slides into the car, still wear­ing clothes from her shift, smelling of smoke and beer.

There was a union meet­ing tonight. Some riv­et­ers spilled a pitch­er of High Life all over me.”

Did he tip well?” I ask.

The team­sters always tip me well.”

We dri­ve around the block a cou­ple times, but I don’t see any cats, only some teenagers sit­ting on a rick­ety porch, laugh­ing and drink­ing beers, some­thing I haven’t seen for a while. After the riots there was a cur­few, and no one was out this late.

We dri­ve past a dog stopped in the mid­dle of the street, its eyes glow­ing white from my headlights.

Drive up to Eastern Market,” she says, “I want to show you something.”

She has me park across the street from one of the pro­duce stalls. Some guys are unload­ing cas­es of what look like beef­steak toma­toes, in front of a giant sil­ver slid­ing door.

What are we doing here?”

Hang on,” she says, tak­ing a drag off my cig­a­rette, for­get­ting to give it back.

After a cou­ple min­utes the huge door rolls open with a loud clack clack clack and a thunk when it hits the top, the sound echo­ing through­out the emp­ty stalls. A mid­dle aged guy, shirt sleeves rolled up, lit­tle clip­board in his hand, walks out and says some­thing to the oth­er guys. Even from this dis­tance, his fore­arms look huge—you can tell he lifts a lot of tomatoes.

That’s my Dad,” Gloria says. “He left us when I was sev­en. I haven’t spo­ken to him since.”

She tells me how she comes up here some­times to watch him, how in the year after he left, her Mom start­ed tak­ing them to Mass every sin­gle day, how they lost their house, how she hasn’t tak­en any­one here before, not even Greg.

The worst part of it is, we have no idea why he left. There was no drink­ing, no oth­er women, none of the nor­mal stuff. Mom thinks he had a ner­vous break­down, but we don’t know.”

Have you ever thought about ask­ing him?”

She doesn’t answer. Just keeps watch­ing him as he starts to move some of the cas­es inside.

Let’s go back to your place,” she says after he goes inside.

I put the car in dri­ve and head south to my apartment.

Do you even have a cat?” I ask.

Do you even care?” she asks.

Not one bit.”

No,” She gig­gles, “I hate cats. Cats are ter­ri­ble pets. You can’t trust them.”


You should buy me a Cadillac every year on your birth­day for what I did for you,” Mom says.

Thanks, Mom,” I say, know­ing it’s what she wants to hear.

She’s talk­ing about the draft and how I got out of it by two days, as though that was some­thing planned, as though I should be grate­ful that she wait­ed forty-eight hours to go into labor. I think about the life she gave me, the cramped apart­ments and the boyfriends who liked to drink until they broke things. The kitchen has pea-green linoleum every­where, and it match­es the fuzzy poly­ester sweater she’s wear­ing. Her hus­band Steve is in the liv­ing room watch­ing some nature show about lions. I can see two female lions eye­ing their prey while the nar­ra­tor calls them “near per­fect preda­tors at the apex of the food chain.”

Barb,” Steve yells, “can you get me anoth­er Stroh’s?”

Steve nev­er turns around or moves, just keeps watch­ing the lions. He won’t come in here or even talk to me. He has­n’t since I hit him with a two-by-four when I was sixteen.

You didn’t even have to go to col­lege to get out of the draft. You didn’t have to escape to Canada.”

That’s right Mom,” I say.

She swirls her tum­bler around while she talks, ice cubes clink­ing, smelling of lime and tonic.

Remember Cheryl’s son? He was one of those hip­pies who left for Canada. Drove right across the bridge one night and nev­er came back. Started a brand-new life. Cheryl says he’s hap­py over there.”

Sounds nice. I’ve nev­er been to Canada.”

You wouldn’t do that. Not my boy. Soon you’ll meet a girl and have a family.”

Barb!” Steve yells again. “Is there any more Stroh’s?”

The clock on the stove shows that it’s eight o’clock. I’ve been here two hours, and I can go.


They don’t want my bar. They want the land it sits on,” Reggie says. “They want to build the biggest sky­scraper in Detroit, hell the whole state. Hotel, offices, restau­rants, the works. I might sell. Their offer was good. If Berry Gordy and Motown can leave, maybe I should too.”

Across the bar, Gloria’s clos­ing out her tick­ets and hav­ing a cig­a­rette. When Reggie goes into the kitchen, I walk over to her. She doesn’t look up, just keeps counting.

Can I bum one?”

She doesn’t answer. I take a Parliament out of the pack any­way and light it with one of those lit­tle red can­dles that dec­o­rate the tables. I inhale and hold the smoke in my lungs for a beat, not sure why, and then exhale long and deep. We sit there smok­ing for a minute before she speaks.

I’m preg­nant.”

I freeze, not sure what to say. Gloria keeps count­ing her mon­ey, say­ing noth­ing more, not look­ing at me. There’s a cou­ple over by the juke­box, play­ing that Chi-Lites song “Oh Girl.”  I hate that song. It’s too slow, and there’s some­thing about the har­mon­i­ca that reminds me of coun­try music, which always reminds me of my step­fa­ther Steve.

It’s yours,” Gloria says.

You sure?”

I can feel my heart beat­ing faster. I don’t mean to sound scared or defen­sive, but I do. If I seem upset, then she’ll get upset, and then there are a mil­lion ways this can go.

I thought maybe Greg and you—”

It’s not his. We haven’t… not yet.”

I look at the juke­box, not want­i­ng her to read my reac­tion, nev­er fig­ur­ing her for the wait­ing-for-mar­riage type. Greg must be a saint. I take a long final drag on my cig­a­rette and put it out in a ceram­ic ash­tray shaped like the Chevy logo.

What do you want to do?” I ask.

I don’t know,” she says, “I real­ly don’t.”


When I tell the sto­ry of what hap­pened, I’m a hero, defend­ing my sin­gle moth­er from her abu­sive boyfriend. But that’s not how it hap­pened. I was home alone sneak­ing sips of vod­ka out of a giant jug of Smirnoff. It was mak­ing me dizzy. I liked the feel­ing. Then Steve came home and start­ed yelling at me. He was drunk. I was drunk. He hadn’t hit her that night, but he beat her plen­ty. He marched up and pushed me hard in the chest, yelling some­thing, I don’t remem­ber what, and then I went out to the ripped-up porch he’d spent six months try­ing to rebuild, picked up a two-by-four, walked back inside, and smashed him in the face. I didn’t even think about it. Hit him as hard as I could. There was an old nail that got stuck in his cheek, and when I pulled it back, he screamed. I could feel some­thing tug­ging against the nail. It had lodged in the meat under his eye, and when he yelled, I got scared and pulled hard and almost ripped his cheek off. It was hang­ing there, like a piece of chick­en that hadn’t been cleaned. There was blood every­where, and he was scream­ing and grab­bing his face. I’d like to say that I felt ter­ri­ble about it. Or that I would have done it dif­fer­ent­ly, but that’s not true. All I want­ed was to get out of that house and away from Mom and away from him. I still can’t believe they got mar­ried after that. I got sent to juvie for the rest of my junior year.

My bunk­mate Carl used to dream about get­ting placed in fos­ter care. He was six feet two, had a hor­ri­ble scar across his fore­head from when his father had thrown him through a win­dow, and all he want­ed was to get placed with some rich fam­i­ly in the sub­urbs. He nev­er shut up about it.

Maybe they’ll have a pool and a dog,” Carl said.

I could tell him to stop talk­ing, but it nev­er did any good.

Maybe the dad would be a lawyer or an archi­tect or something.”

Shut up!” some­one yelled from across the room. Usually, peo­ple let Carl go on and on because of his size and because we were all secret­ly wish­ing the same thing. A bunch of hard­ened crim­i­nals we were. All we want­ed was a house in the sub­urbs and a pup­py. That was the year of the riots, and all I could think of was that juvie was maybe the safest place in all of Detroit.


Gloria comes over to my place. She’s bare­ly said two words to me. We’re in bed lis­ten­ing to Al Green sing about love and hap­pi­ness, total­ly pre­tend­ing she’s not preg­nant with my baby and that we still haven’t talked about what to do. She puts her head on my chest and dan­gles her bare feet over the side with­out say­ing a word, and it feels right some­how, every­thing feels OK. Is this what love is? Ease? Comfort? I start to won­der if maybe we should keep the baby. Maybe we could be good togeth­er. I run through the steps in my head. Where are we? Needs Assessment? The Close? Do the steps even apply here?

Hey,” I say, “how was work?”

Long,” she says. “Reggie, in his infi­nite wis­dom, sched­uled me solo right as the shift change hap­pened, so I was deal­ing with a bunch of drunk welders all night long. One of them was wait­ing for me in the park­ing lot, but that crazy home­less guy from the park showed up out of nowhere and the guy took off.”

I’m going to pick you up next time. You shouldn’t have to deal with that,” I say.

She sits up, a slow, crooked smile build­ing across her face.

Is that because you want to pro­tect your woman?”

I can’t help it, I smile back at her, brush­ing the red hair off her face so I can kiss her. She kiss­es me back. She smells of straw­ber­ries and cigarettes.

Afterward, it’s almost four in the morn­ing, and with­out think­ing, I put my hand on her stomach.

I want to get rid of it,” she says sit­ting up, and my hand falls off her belly.

OK,” I say.

I know we can’t do it here, but I have a friend who did it in Canada. It’s legal there,” she says.

I’ll take you.”

Next week maybe?”

Sure,” I say.

And that’s it. I prob­a­bly won’t ever see her again after we do this.


I’m sup­posed to do a deal with Reggie and then wait for Gloria and we’ll go see the Canadian doc­tor over the bridge in Windsor. The back door of the bar slams open and Reggie and that big bar­tender he hired, the one who got kicked out of the ser­vice, walk across the park­ing lot to my DeVille. I try to for­get about Gloria and the last thing Ed said before I came here.

If I have to let you go, there are oth­er dis­trib­u­tors. You can sell oth­er things. Copiers, what­ev­er. You could get a job for Seagram’s up in Waterloo—they’re always hir­ing good-look­ing kids like you to han­dle their cor­po­rate accounts. Start fresh. I’d vouch for you. It’s a good job. A lot of those bars you han­dle on the water aren’t going to be there in a cou­ple of years. You’ve got to think about the future.”

Ed has nev­er had a prob­lem telling me what to think.

I open the trunk and Reggie looks in. I give him a full smile which is more than I mean to, but there’s some­thing about the way they’re look­ing at me that’s mak­ing me nervous.

Same price?” Reggie asks.

That’s right.”

Reggie says some­thing I can’t hear to the big bar­tender who walks up to me fast, grabs me from behind and pins my arms so I can’t move.

I sold this place two days ago. I’m final­ly mov­ing to Florida to retire, so you lying to me doesn’t real­ly mat­ter much any­more. But it’s the principle.”

I start to protest, but the big guy throws me for­ward. I turn back, and he smash­es his elbow in my face. I hear a crack and feel my nose catch fire, the blood pour­ing out, warm on my face.

You told me it was a good deal, but Winston tells me it’s what every oth­er los­er pays!” Reggie screams.

I’m hold­ing my jack­et against my nose to stop the blood. They turn and walk back across the park­ing lot to the bar, white grav­el crunch­ing beneath their feet. When they’re gone, I dri­ve over to the park across the street to wait for Gloria, get out of the car and take a seat on an old park bench with half its green paint chipped off. That home­less guy who’s always there sits down next to me. He’s miss­ing most of his teeth, and his pin­stripe suit looks dirt­i­er than nor­mal. I get up, walk to my car, grab two bot­tles of whiskey from the trunk, head back to the bench and offer him one. He gives me a huge tooth­less smile. We both take swigs, sit­ting there qui­et­ly, watch­ing boats float down the riv­er, loons fly­ing over­head, cry­ing out to one another.

Gloria was sup­posed to show up two hours ago. The lights to the bridge turn on and I’m start­ing to feel a lit­tle drunk. My tooth­less friend has fin­ished his bot­tle and lies down on the grass to sleep when I see Gloria walk­ing across the lot towards me.

Is that blood?” she asks.

Yeah,” I say.

Are you drunk?”

Getting there.”

She looks at me for a sec­ond as though she’s try­ing to fig­ure out if I’m OK, then she says: “We’re going to keep it.”

I’m not sure why, but I force myself to not react. Seems like a big deci­sion she’s made for us, but I need to hear her out.

OK,” I say.

She shuf­fles back and forth and looks down at her feet. This is not the sto­ry I want to tell my son about how we decid­ed to keep him. Bleeding on a bench, drink­ing whiskey from a bot­tle, about to lose my job, a home­less man passed out next to me. Maybe some­day it’ll be fun­ny, a sto­ry Gloria and I will tell at Thanksgiving to our grandchildren.

Gloria stops me mid-rever­ie. “I told Greg. I told him it was his and he wants to have it, and so do I.”

But I thought you guys hadn’t—.”

We have now,” she says. “We’re mov­ing in togeth­er. Tommy, we can’t see each oth­er any­more, OK?”

Now I look down at my feet, not able to say anything.

I’m a Catholic girl at heart. I love him. I didn’t know what else to do.”

She turns and starts walk­ing across the street. By the time she gets back to Reggie’s she’ll have for­got­ten all about me.

There’s a breeze com­ing off the water from the north. It doesn’t smell like it usu­al­ly does, all that sul­fur and ammo­nia, but maybe that’s because I have a bust­ed nose and am breath­ing through my mouth. I take anoth­er sip of whiskey and think about what’s next. Ed always said to pic­ture the future you want.

I take a case of whiskey out of my trunk and set it next to the home­less guy, curled up like a lit­tle kid, using his ripped suit jack­et as a blan­ket. I can pic­ture the huge smile he’ll have on his face when he wakes up. I get into my car and start to head home, but instead take the exit for the Ambassador Bridge. I’ve nev­er been over the bridge before, nev­er been to Canada, even though it was right there my whole life. The water doesn’t look so brown up here—all I can see are the lights from the bridge, and their reflec­tions in the dark-blue water. On the oth­er side, on the roof of a ware­house, there’s a huge Crown Royal sign I’ve nev­er seen before. The sign is beau­ti­ful, with neon pur­ple script and a yel­low crown shin­ing in the blackness.

At the bot­tom of the bridge is the cus­toms gate. A woman taps on my win­dow to roll it down. She’s about my mom’s age and has a big Mountie hat on her head as though she’s patrolling in the moun­tains on a horse, not guard­ing the bor­der to Detroit.

What’s your busi­ness?” she asks.

I’m head­ing to Seagram’s up in Waterloo. I have some poten­tial work with them.”

That’s great,” she says, “Nice car. Get that nose looked at.”

A sign for Waterloo says it’s 291 km away, how­ev­er far that is. I turn the DeVille onto the 401 free­way and start head­ing east.


DH Singh was born in Texas, raised in Michigan and cur­rent­ly lives in California. He’s been, and some­times still is, a paper­boy, wait­er, cologne sales­man, tele­mar­keter, local news video­g­ra­ph­er, movie trail­er edi­tor, copy­writer, cre­ative direc­tor, exec­u­tive, t‑shirt dis­trib­u­tor, writer, hus­band and father. This is his first major publication.