Hank Kirton

Johnny Cag’s

I could tell you some stories. There was Sad Jean. We called her “Sad” Jean because she always looked so damn sad. Her very molecules moped with misery. She wore such grim tragedy on her rainy countenance that you didn’t know whether to hug her or hit her. She only managed one facial expression, woe. She wore drab brown clothes and had long, stringy oily Manson-girl hair. We often speculated about what accounted for her tragic, weight-weary comportment but our theories all fell flat. They were whack in the final analysis. The only thing that seemed plausible was that she was imprisoned in a miserable marriage.

We called her husband “Weird Beard” because he had a thick bristling beard and acted weird. He’d served in Vietnam and wore sandals with black socks. He would laugh before he said something, like “Hahaha how ya doin’?”. “Hahaha what can I getcha?” We surmised that he’d done a lot of wonderful drugs in his youth. I once ran into him in the woods. “Hahaha,” he said. “How far back do these woods go?”

I told him they went pretty far. He nodded and I walked away, glad that a conversation hadn’t emerged. The scuttlebutt around town was that he suffered from PTSD but nobody called it that yet. Word was if you startled him by yelling “Air raid!” it would induce a terrifying flashback but I never witnessed this behavior and don’t trust the sources.

Weird Beard and Sad Jean worked for Sad Jean’s father at a honkytonk-type bar in our neighborhood called Johnny Cag’s. That’s how we knew them. They all helped tend bar and did kitchen stuff. Local country-western musicians would enliven the joint on the weekends. Cag’s had a pool table and Ms. Pac-Man machine and we, the neighborhood kids, would hang out and order Cokes and French fries and spend a lot of our money, mostly quarters. Usually we got high before we went in. There was no Johnny Cag. We were uncertain as to the origin of the name. The burly, friendly guy who owned it was named Bert. His wife Dot also worked there. She used to write the ever-changing menu on a big whiteboard and we laughed at her crude lettering and many misspellings. Once, around Christmas, my friend Jack and I stole a basket of flowers from a nursery called Bellaire Gardens and presented it to her. She was thrilled. “Bert! Look what the boys brought me!” Johnny Cag’s was a small, family-run business. The kind you’re supposed to like, politically.

The place survived for a couple of years and then closed. Bert went back to work as a driving instructor. I have no idea what happened to the others. They depended on Bert for their livelihoods.

But seeing as how all this took place in the early 80s, they might all be dead.


From: Everything Dissolves

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