I have noticed that perhaps the places where one can most genuinely interact in a real way with their neighbours around here are: the bar, the market, the sex shop.
They are all places where people are united by their need to satisfy the same thing, and so there is a strange sense of camaraderie and understanding I have not sensed in other places in this town.
I mean, I've been to church, and I enjoy the music and the pep-talks, and people are very friendly in church, but it's not really a place to stick around and chit chat about life and stuff. People in church are busy catering to their souls, re-counting the sins of the week, taking in the spiritual experience, looking around to see who is there and who isn't, judging this week's selection of songs and whether they were sung well. People are not especially looking to talk to a stranger, and besides, the pastor makes sure to extend a warm welcome to visitors, so the congregation is covered. At service, each person is trying to connect to God through the choir or through the pastor, but not necessarily through one another, and each of his/her spiritual needs are strictly individual, leaving no space for much actual person to person interaction other than the friendly hello and brief talk with your fellow church goers after the service, and before you get into your big car and drive away.
I guess if you want more interaction through church you have to go through the whole signing up, paying your offerings and tithes, joining a ministry and meeting up every other afternoon to organise charitable teas and events.
At the neighborhood daiquiri bar however, though everyone's problems and life may be completely different, the needs are the same: booze is booze. Plus booze makes you talk. So you inevitably hear a lot of stories and meet a lot of people when you spend time there. People might be less quick to judge what you're wearing or where you're from, because after a long day, they don't feel like being judged themselves.
Like Lenny, the ex-cop who was abused by his wife and ended up running away from her. Once, when they were living up in Indiana, he woke up to her sitting by the side of the bed holding a knife over him - "I musta had an angel, or heard the Lord, wakin up when I did". Their neighbours always assumed he was the one abusing her during their fights, and called the police on him several times. "I turned myself in, and tried to explain the situation to them, but they told me to get out of the city and never come back again, else they'd lock me up". Lenny has no home, so he spends most of his time in the bar, from morning to evening, sipping on water or pepsi and watching TV. We might as well have dropped from different planets, but he always greets me with a "Hey, lady". Sometimes people will buy him drinks for laughs. One time he was so drunk he fell off the chair laughing. One of the bartenders took him home and let him sleep on his couch. Another time he was making out with a married woman all night. He rarely has money for food but will insist on buying you a burger from next door if you haven't tried one. "It's the best burger you've ever had". Everyone loves Lenny.
Some people feel the need to impart some drunken wisdom to you, like the couple who have been married for 20 years and insisted on the importance of this advice: "When he's tired and doesn't wanna clean the house, or wash the dishes, or cook, you do it. In fact, just do it anyway." "Listen, once a month women go crazy, when that happens you gotta understand that her hormones are taking over and just put up with it, you know what I'm saying, it's the moon turning them all crazy". "Sometimes, you will feel like you wanna put a knife to his throat, but just be nice to him instead". "Find a competitive game you both like, and play it often - we like playin' pool, I let her win sometimes", leaning closer and whispering now, "especially during those days of the month". After giving this last piece advice to Mark, the man turned to me, put his face really close to mine, poked his eyeball with his finger and said proudly: "I got shot in the face, lost my eye. Got a glass one in but you can't really tell it's fake". My brain buzzing with alcohol and in nervous response I threw my head back, my legs jerking up off the bar stool, and gave a hearty laugh.
People's masks come off easier in the bar, but, in the words of one regular: "noone's trippin'". The drunk middle aged white neigbhour might utter to the black bartender, in her southern accent: "Hey Jackson 5, get me another Tropicolada, double shot", to which he might turn to the other laughing black patrons, comically roll his eyes and say "Coming right up, ma'am".
Wednesdays are probably the busiest days for the daiquiri shop. Happy hour is 5-7, and you get two drinks for the price of one, an irresistible offer even for myself. You get to see a lot of your neighbours if you sit at the bar during those hours on a Wednesday. And their lives might surprise you. People living in trailer parks, people who have divorced and re-married several times, or who have many kids with several babies mamas even they've lost count, UPS truck drivers who live their life in traffic day in day out. Some pop in and out, grabbing daiquiris on the go. The other day, one guy popped in to get one for himself, and one for his wife, who was waiting in the car. Two minutes later, he walks back in with her drink in his hand and a terrified look on his face: "My lady say she don't like this flavour, can I switch, man?" The bartender sighs, and for what seems like the thousandth time in his bartending career says "Sorry, man, you popped the cap, I can't give you another drink". Seeing the beads of sweat starting to form on the man's forehead, a woman sitting at the bar, with her seventh Jagermeister shot in front of her, tries to cheer him up: "I'll buy this drink from ya, give this guy another drink on me, Jim".
The neighborhood daiquiri shop feels like a place people go to when they have nowhere else to go, like a community centre, but with bar stools and poker machines. Some of the bartenders hang out there even when they don't have a shift, spending hours playing video games or magic cards with each other. It can get stuffy and asphyxiating, what with the strange urine smell mixed with stale cigarette smoke and the aura of people's stalled lives. It's a place where addictions flourish, daily problems are briefly drowned and the jukebox oscillates between classic rock and southern rap. Here you will find men and women bent over an icy slush of rum and sugar, or sitting at a poker booth blowing the month's paycheck.Their lives sometimes resemble the exterior of the bar itself: a half-lit neon sign with letters missing, and long, dark drapes over the shop windows keeping the sun out and hiding the inside from the world outside. It's always dark inside, even in the middle of the day. A box of a building, enclosing many heartaches.