by Tim Gilmore, 12/21/2016
Between the six lanes of Roosevelt Boulevard and two-laned Old Roosevelt alongside the railroad tracks, with power plant towers abuzz in the cold wet night and no way to walk to this diviest thousand square foot bar that, considering its location on a highway median, might as well be called The DUI—
—the best time of the year.
Since the pool table barely fits between the bar and the opposite wall, Rodney, a little man in faded jean shorts and a Budweiser cap, calls behind him, “Watch out! On your left shoulder!”
And the back of his pool cue is on my left shoulder.
I don’t know / if there’ll be snow / but have a cup of cheer.
It’s Pabst Blue Ribbon long-cans all around. A bleery-eyed red-faced long-haired ginger-bearded Viking, wearing a half-buttoned shirt printed with images of swordfish and sailfish, roars and welcomes newcomers gutturally and belchingly to The Island Bar. His name is Jeff.
Oh by golly have a holly—
Beneath a long mirror in the back, on a table decked with pine cone garlands and a single strand of white Christmas lights stand small cones of Christmas ornaments and a troll-like statuette wearing a football helmet. A wooden sign complains, “So Many Waves So Little Time.”
Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet.
Four or five years ago, early in The Island Bar’s tenure in this strange squat rectangular building beached like a whale in the midst of a highway, not long after Tootie Green’s Bar and Grill left the building, Zelda came into the bar on a whim, the bartender said she had to leave because her babysitter was sick, and patrons helped themselves to free Miller and Budweiser with no employee present. Zelda hung around for a while, even after things became dubious (or “doobie-ous”), but when everyone started comparing knives, she “got paranoid” and left.
Oh by golly—
“You know what you’re called after you’ve been here at least two times?” asks Viking Jeff, then bellows, “An Islander!”
Jeff’s The Mayor of the Island.
He points to the grey crosshatchings of steel girders in the tall power plant towers abuzz with transformers just outside the front door. The tall gates in front of the Jacksonville Electric Authority Substation bear a dozen different warning signs.
Ho ho the mistletoe!
The external walls of The Island are prefab steel panels, the frame is steel, and the bar is zoned “light industrial.”
Jeff says this building was the supercomputerhouse. “Member when a computer was big as that pool table?” he asks. “Well this place is a steel box meant to withstand a hurricane cuz the supercomputers housed up in here controlled the power plant across the street.”
Ho ho the mistletoe hung where you can see!
“And when I start comin’ here,” says Viking Jeff, “my friend who was runnin’ the place starts a Pitcher Club. It’s a dollar-a-month membership or $10 a year. After a while, the bastard raises it to $22. Don’t matter to me either way. I was the first paid-up member. That first year, I drank over 900 pitchers of Bud, or if they were out of Bud it was Yuengling.”
Somebody waits for you.
She was the open door in the plate glass front of the steel trussed supercomputerhouse bar that points toward the power station pulsing like a Bride-of-Frankenstein eagle convulsed with electroshock therapy all damp and exhaling visibly in the cold swamp highway Christmastime night. She was.
Kiss her once for me.
Oh by golly have a holly jolly—