Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Johnny Brenda's still has rusty pipe frame holding a cracked and yellowed glowing plastic sign over the corner entrance out front. Inside the old tin ceiling has been revealed but otherwise it's the same fake paneling, red and white linoleum stripes, and plywood topped bar, scrubbed and rewired for safety. The old neon budwiser sign remains, if somewhat altered. Mostly painted over, it's also scraped free of some of the original black enamel in spots, now reading 'dive" in gently humming ruby red script. "Divey" is a higly desirable aesthetic in the transitional Fish Town neighborhood of Philadelphia. The arriving hipsters want edgy urban grit , the realness of shabby kitsch and unintended irony. They also want to drink something more challenging than "The King of Beers". So do I. That's why we've all gathed here, to enjoy 14 taps of regional craft brews, pabsts blue ribbon (official beer of ironic detatchment) and a reasonably priced tapas menu, grilled in the open kitchen behind the second bar.

I've lately ordered a pork medalions sandwich, with sauted spinach and gruyere on a kaiser, each time I sit at Micah's bar. Just out of school, I'd hired Micah to paint the inside of the tiny rowhouse I'd bought down the street. Thoughtful and meticulous, he'd done a great job for a low hourly rate. He was pleasant company to toil alongside, and played great music on the paint spattered Sony boom box he'd brought along. Though all those hours probably ended up costing as much as a professional, it was worth it. Now that he's here at the back bar pulling the taps, he's just as dilligent at making sure that the pint glass here at my elbow is never empty. I start with several Yards ESA's, segway into Fying fish Extra Special Bitter, and attempt to dilute it all with multiple lime fortified club sodas. Yards Extra Special Ale forms a thick creamy head out of the hand pump, dense like the froth left by a receeding tide. Nearly flat and served close to room temperature, it's compex, bitter and aromatic, lingering long on the palette. Flying Fish is less aggressive, crisper, with a shorter finish; a good choice for weening post-fratboy acquaintances off Coors, Corona, and Miller Light. I 'll sit there quite a while happily sipping, and scratching in my little black Molskine, 'till nature signals a trip back back past the 1970 dinette lamps and fiberglass ham shank to the men's room.

The upper part of the men's room wall is entirely covered with grafitti so dense it forms an overall Silly String like pattern, interrupted ocasionally with band stickers, and cartoonish figures rendered in fat strokes of opaque paint pen. Tonight someone has added a label reading: "Please write the nickname you gave yourself, and which no one calls you, on the surface to which this sticker is attatched. Thank You" Below, the two unmatched urinals are set 5'' apart without intervening partitions on a pale yellow tile wall. The sink to the left is even closer and hung at at waist level. I prefer the look of the older pisser on the right, a curvacious white uterine form, much like an oversized inverted porcelain athletic cup. It's jammed up against the plywood toilet stall at the end of the room, so instead of it, I usually use the uninteresting angular 1980's one to the left, adjacent the sink. Because of the tightness of the room, the pee shy head for the stall in the back, and then hesitate to wash their hands if someone is standing before the urinals. On a busy night, volume dictates closer proximity. Three men will usually be shoulder to shoulder abreast, two cocks spaced 16" on center and the slick soapy wet hands of the guy at the basin even closer than that. Forced into a situation much like the premise of a Falcon Video, they work fiercely at avoiding eye contact. The discomforted make themselves as narrow as posible, hoping not to graze the next guy while performing their uncomfortably collective act. It doesn't bother me a bit. I grew up with two brothers, a shared bedroom and bath. There is nothing that can be secreted, excreted, expelled or emitted from a mans body that I havn't witnessed first hand under the least erotic of circumstances.

I'm delighted when I catch a straight guy checking out my dick. It's always the most homophobic who are the most interested. I love to amplify any erotic overtones. I lean back slightly, one thumb hooked in my button fly and the other in my waistband. Furtive glances quickly avert, eyes snap back to concentration on their own yellow stream. In some other watering holes I frequent, this sort of thing can lead to drinking interrupting behaviors, but I'm not here for such shenanigans. They finish quickly, barely shaking off and moving wide around me to approach the sink. Then, they feint away from washing their hands when they realiz it would bring them even CLOSER to what their eyes had just been considering. I smile while buttoning up, wash my hands with warm water and the pearly pink dispenser soap, and dry them with the folded brown sheets pulled from the rusty galvinized dispenser. Back at my stool Micah has again filled my pint glass the brim. Cheerfully I resume, men shoulder to shoulder again, all of us focused on our beery task.
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