MAYBE IT WAS THE WAY he asked for the scotch and water that caught the fella’s attention on the other end of the bar. He didn’t drink socially often, preferring the cramped confines of his camper away from the talking heads and judging eyes. He hated the bartenders, these barroom frat boys, his interactions with them always anxiety-ridden and strangely insincere, feeling as though he were seeking approval with every drink he ordered.
White Russians were once his drink of choice. Too many smart ass bartender comments about The Big Lebowski forced him to seek alternative booze. Was it the movie that originally inspired his White Russian fixation? Hell, probably.
And now it was scotch and water. It didn’t even sound very appealing, really. Anything that needed to be diluted that heavily with water would likely give him the head shakes going down. And the last thing he needed was an audience to witness him getting spastic with the liquor.
“Hey you. You’re that fucking clown, ain’tcha?” The guy said.
The tavern’s six patrons went silent. Even Molly Hatchet’s “Flirting with Disaster” on the jukebox eased a couple decibels. Nobody liked being called a clown. Even clowns.
“What clown? I didn’t know the circus was in town,” he muttered bringing the scotch and water to his lips.
He took a cringing gulp and JESUS CHRIST! The liquor scorched down his gullet like a volcano in reverse. His face erupted into a mass of nervous tics and spasms. His head bucked left twice. He coughed “cak cak” wincing with the corn liquor exertion.
The guy at the end of the bar smiled at the amateurish display. “You know what clown. The only clown that’s been around. At that piece of shit carnival on the edge of town. You was in the dunk tank. Milo the cocksucking clown or some shit.”
Melo. Melo the redneck provocateur, shitkicker agitator, carnival casanova and clown-faced prince of sarcasm.
“You got the wrong guy.”
“Bullshit. Not too many people around here skinny enough to look through a keyhole with both eyes.”
“Not me.” Though he was certainly skinny. Almost six foot tall, maybe a hundred and thirty pounds.
“Shit. I recognize your yankee voice. You said I oughta take my wife to the petting zoo. Kids pay upward of two dollars to be able to touch a live elephant.”
Melo chuckled. He couldn’t help himself.
“You think that shit’s funny? Me and the wife getting humiliated in front of the community. In front of the folks from the wife’s church, even. That’s funny? That she’s got a thyroid condition… and a bad back.”
The patrons peered nervously at their beers. The bartender edged closer to the elbow in the bar, whispering neutral words of diffusion.
“No, it’s not funny at all,” Melo the dunk tank clown said. “This clown sounds like a menace.”
“Menace my ass! That clown’s an asshole. He’s lucky he was locked up in that cage all night, then the police escort at the end there. Nobody insinuates my Loretta’s a pachyderm and gets away with it. I oughta stomp a mud hole in your ass just for reminding me of it.”
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