The Bar I Loved Best When I Lived in Reno

Photo by Jared Burris on Unsplash

Mama Bear’s. Great name for a bar. Belongs to the owner’s dog. The owner this woman Deb, she’s real nice.

From my house, I walk across the alley, through the gas-station parking lot, and across the street to drink beer and watch football. The first thing I see when I walk in is a watermelon, cut up and arranged on a table with plates and forks. It’s looking a little worse for wear. Who wants watermelon when there is thunder and lightning outside, when the leaves are rattling in the gutters and spiraling upward on the gusts?

I have a beer or two and Mark, my boss, comes in, wet from the initial burst of rain. He has a couple beers and a couple shots of what he calls the brown stuff before he has to go. I always wish he could stay longer, and today is no exception.

A few beers later an old dude named Mel, a regular, walks in. He’s made tacos for the whole bar, and we all watch as he sets it up: chopped lettuce and tomatoes on trays, meat and beans in crock pots, sour cream, hot sauce. Have at it, he says, and the game is ignored. We fall silent, assembling and eating the impromptu feast. Nothing is heard except the crunching of corn shells, and no words are passed except compliments and thank-yous given to Mel as we stop by his bar stool on the way back to our own from the table where the fixin’s are set up next to the watermelon.

The game goes on, the beers keep coming. Some guy is letting me in on the science that underpinned his incredible, prize-winning success at popping balloons with darts at Deb’s birthday party last night. At the mention of her name, I look down the bar to where Deb is giving Mel shit for a rotten oyster he cracked open in the bar the other day. Mel, backpedaling, is holding forth on the virtues of oysters and half shells, and Deb’s hammering him over and over again with the word nasty. The cigarette in her mouth shakes in time with the head nods that accentuate the stream of nasty, nasty, nasty,and the smoke trails upward in lazy, jagged drifts. Deb’s older than I am by a fair bit, but there is a hint of devilment in her face that I like, and my mind drifts back to watching football a couple Sundays ago when she was sitting at the bar, off-duty, drinking and smoking and cussing with two of her friends, talking about dudes with their shirts off, and damnit I wouldn’t mind in the least rolling around in the sack with a salty old broad like Deb.

That’s it, that’s the secret, the guy finishes, and I’ve missed it. I’ll go to my grave not knowing the secret to popping balloons with darts.

No kidding.

Nope. It helped that everybody else was smashed from eating that vodka-soaked watermelon that’s still sitting over there.

Of course. What was I thinking, it was fruit salad?

I consider grabbing a slice or two, but it’s a good time to go home: I am out of money and I’ve had enough. I thank everybody I can and walk out, surprised to find the western fringe of Reno sparkling: the streets washed clean, the rain clouds disappearing into the desert air, the sun shining off the west-facing sides of the casino towers, the lights on the buildings just a bit brighter than the sky behind.

© Copyright 2020 by Jim Latham
In memory of Mark G. I wish he would have stayed longer.