The weekend after his 19th birthday, Chris Johnson took an overnight jaunt to Tijuana with a couple of friends . . . as you do. The celebratory rite of passage became enshrouded in tequila fog . . . as it does. His souvenir began to manifest itself a week or so later, when his hitherto unremarkable but functional penis swelled up alarmingly. Discolored, it more closely resembled a good-sized gherkin than a human appendage. He conjured up and half believed a tale about visiting a rundown brothel. There was a girl… Carmen, maybe? The evidence, which consisted only of the hazy memory of two comrades-in-mescal and one very blurry Polaroid, strongly suggested that livestock had been involved. Whatever the origin of the condition, a barrage of antibiotics brought it under control. The member in question returned to its reasonable and ordinary size and hue.
One side effect remained, however: a minor but persistent seepage. Doctors were baffled. After a time, Chris learned to live with it. The volume wasn’t huge; we’re not talking Depends volume. But it was enough. Enough that the legacy of that fateful night in Tijuana, some twenty years ago, was twofold. The first, an inescapable necessity of wearing only the darkest denim pants – Khakis were out of the question. The second: it was then that he became known, inescapably, as Pickle Juice. Pickle Juice Johnson.
Pickle Juice, sometimes just Juice, sometimes just PJ, overcame that obstacle. In spite of his condition, or perhaps because of it, he developed into a charming, calm, sanguine, confident 40 year old. Although a bit hesitant to initiate the pursuit of female companionship, he has not gone entirely without. After bouncing around community college for a few years, the highlights of his career track included selling running shoes, golf clubs and trampolines at Big 5; driving a forklift around Costco moving Himalayan-sized mountains of, say, refried bean cans; and waiting tables, which led to bartending. About five years ago, his hobby as a recreational poker player paid off in the form of an unlikely WSOP circuit ring and enough capital to invest in his own bar, a neighborhood bar – what some might call a dive bar – which he renamed Big Slick.
Big Slick, a bit off the beaten track, attracts just enough regulars and tourists to provide Pickle Juice with a steady if not spectacular income. The advent of Yelp has recently increased his tourist trade among twenty-somethings who think it a hoot to seek out and infiltrate local dive bars wherever they go, each new couple thinking they’re the only ones in the world clever enough to indulge such a madcap hobby. They order drinks like Scooby Snacks, Blowjobs, and anything that should be set on fire, but mostly drink Jameson like it’s Budweiser. Sometimes the regulars find them annoying but for the most part understand that showing these interlopers a good time is good for Pickle Juice. And they all like Pickle Juice.
Tonight, like any other Thursday night in July, finds Pickle Juice behind the bar, prepared to hold court over the usual handful of regulars with a sprinkling of Yelpsters.
First in the door at opening time, 5 o’clock, is Joey, a part-time college student, part-time bartender at Big Slick who often has nothing better to do than hang out where he works. Actually, Joey is not his real name. His real name is Francis. But PJ thinks he’s a dead ringer for Joey Tribbiani, the character from “Friends.” So in the bar, Francis is Joey. To be fair, he decidedly does not look like a Francis.
“Did you hear? About the old lady in Palm Desert?” is Joey’s opener.
“Nope. Killer Bees?” responds Pickle Juice.
“Hell, yeah. Over 1000 stings. When the firefighters got there, they said it looked like she was wearing a bee suit. She ain’t dead though.”
Joey is obsessed with Africanized bees. He can rattle off recorded attacks like some people rattle off baseball records. PJ has indulgently let him put a map of the United States next to the dartboard. The map is marked by pushpins; blue ones for known killer bee hives, green ones for documented attacks, red ones for deaths. Before he sits down to his first Guinness, Joey sticks a green pin in Palm Desert.
“I swear, the day I put a pin north of Ventura, I’m moving to Seattle,” he says between opening sips.
A few regular happy hour transients come and go. But by 6, Loretta is on the scene. Loretta Camacho is a dental hygienist in her early thirties. Dark haired, athletic, perky, she drinks Coors Light and has few if any boundaries when it comes to areas up for discussion. In recent weeks, she has been confiding in both Pickle Juice and Joey the highlights of her struggle with vaginismus. Last week, she had narrated in some detail her failure to consummate her date with a Yelpster she picked up at the bar. “I can’t fuck at all anymore. It hurts too much,” she had complained, then optimistically added, “Doc’ says I should buy a vaginal dilator set. You know what that is? It’s like a set of dildos; they go from little to big. You start small and work your way up, gradually get yourself used to taking full-on cock again. Amazon’s got ’em.”
Tonight, Loretta is giddy. “Guess what I have?” she asks. Before a guess can be hazarded, she answers herself, “If you were going to say ‘a bag full of dicks,’ you’re right!” She opens up her purse and proudly sets five progressively larger dildos, or vaginal dilators to be technically correct, on the bar. Ranging in size from cigarillo to aubergine, they stand like soldiers at attention on the bar. “What do you think?” she says. Joey grabs two of them for inspection, and then begins to fellate the larger one. “Asshole!” Loretta laughs and punches him in the arm.
Somewhere between 7 and 7:30, the featured Yelpsters of the night arrive. Gregory and Jenny are down from Oregon for a long weekend. Gregory’s sporting a waxed handlebar mustache and a rainbow beanie. Jenny’s black bowler hat sits atop her Buddy Holly glasses quite smartly. Without hesitation they sit themselves at the bar; no dive-bar novices here. They order their Jameson or whatever and engage PJ in a discussion of their day. “We went to the aquarium … walked out on the rocks to see otters …,” that kind of stuff. They sincerely enter into honest give-and-take with Loretta about vaginismus and its treatment. Okay, sure they’re kinda douchey, but they’re well-intentioned and pleasant enough conversationalists. They are therefore welcomed into the Big Slick experience.
The last of the regulars to enter, at around 8:30, are Gustav and Gertrude Waakenloob, with their hard-to-pin-down European accents, salt-and-pepper hair, and at all times impeccably erect and confident. They could be in their 50s or their 80s. Gustav has the demeanor and appearance of someone who once sewed twins together at Auschwitz; he periodically flashes a smile as comforting as a shattering windshield. Gertrude looks like she can knit you a comfy sweater after using a riding crop to discipline inmates in the shower. They are a complementary pair. A full year after their initial integration into the usual scenery of Big Slick, the Waakenloobs are by far the most mysterious regulars, still prompting speculative conversations.
“What the hell kind of name is Waakenloob anyway?” Joey had once asked Pickle Juice.
“Dunno, double vowels. Might be Dutch?”
“What’s a Walloon?” Asked PJ.
“Not sure. But it’s a thing right? Walloon? That’s got two o’s in it.”
What is known is that Gustav’s usual is a Bombardier up, and Gertrude’s is a Beautiful on the rocks. A year’s worth of veiled hints seems to indicate that they are retired or semi-retired academics, frequently mentioning lectures attended and given. Occasionally, if one of them comes in alone, they might sit at the bar and chat with PJ. But usually, like tonight, they sit at the table in the corner near one of the few windows, sip their cocktails and play chess or read.
Just before 9 o’clock, a tourist threesome walks in. No hipsters this time but golfers, they are men in their 40s and 50s. Groomed as though by Madame Tussaud’s, the visitors are covered from head to toe in Cobra, Nike and Titleist logos. Not much more needs to be said about them, not even their names. Because, of course, they will be the first to die.
And so, it is around 9:01 pm Pacific Time, with Pickle Juice behind the bar, Loretta and Joey pretending to sword-fight with the two largest dildos, Gregory and Jenny from Oregon already starting their Yelp reviews on their phones, the Waakenloobs nose deep in Sartre and Nabokov, and the golf threesome not much further in than the door that the first sounds of panic start filtering in off the street. The shit had started to go down . . .
© 2014 Whiskey Leavins