Liver Let Die

Trashman misses his brush with God's organ grinder

The Tavern, as it's called, is the only rock 'n' roll bar in town. It's located down the highway, past the car dealership and the strip mall, and sits next to the one shop in town that rents out porn videos. Seasoned Oldsmobiles and Fords clutter the parking lot, and the usual assembly of Harleys lined up near the entrance gives the place the feel of a '70s strip club. Driving an instantly in-vogue Barnaby Jones-era LTD, I pull in and park. After gulping the last of my quart of Bud, I hop out and enter the bar.

Inside The Tavern men are wearing flannel shirts and pot leaf belt buckles, ivory-handled hunting knives and baseball caps. The women are connected by aesthetic themes of bad bleach jobs, skittery eyes and sharp collarbones.

Onstage is a Metallica-heavy cover band from El Paso called Martial Law. The band plays a four-night stand here before heading off for the rest of its Arizona tour, one that includes stops in state hot spots like Bisbee, Globe, Safford, Winkelman, Wickenburg and Show Low. Tonight the band is as I imagine: bad posture, long, thinning hair, mushy torsos and misplaced incentive. Four bored dudes having spent the days since high school getting stoned and working on cars, the nights rehearsing cover songs in storage units decorated with egg cartons, Slayer posters and inverted crosses. They get the chords nearly right but have no impetus to drive them. What Martial Law is great at is bringing to life a bored desperation, the kind of hollowness that captures El Paso at four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon. It could be El Paso, only today it's a small town in Arizona.

I wonder where the joy was in all of this, and what is its purpose? I was suddenly overwhelmed by a strange sadness.

The band plays an "original" song called "Kill-Eyed Joe," which, from what I gather, involves some guy who beats up his girlfriend and winds up in jail. The singer introduces the song by saying it's one where "the bitch has it comin'." Even with such a pronouncement, the placid expressions on the faces in the crowd don't change. Even the women sit unmoved and stoic, dutifully by their men. Whatever anima they might possess is sated by cheap beer. Just one more night in a collection of identical others.

Through the racket and cigarette smoke, I see a guy making his way down the bar, handing a pamphlet to each figure hunched over a glass. He wears a starched stiff white shirt and a tie decorated with little bears. His hair is gel slicked, with the part running straight as a knife edge. Gives him that untrustworthy look of a Bible salesman, the type that used to make door-to-door rounds in the suburbs.

When he gets to me, I break my stare from the dew ring the beer has left on the bar top. It's all the effort I can muster. Booze murk makes the lines of the bar's pallid interior seem like an enjoyable place. The happy, snowy scene of the bar's elaborate 3-D Bud display doesn't seem as far off as you'd expect considering that at this very moment it's a good 110 degrees outside. I was finally and fitfully drunk. Thank God.

Anyway, this guy hands me this flier that reads "Alcohol and the Auto, Who's the Real Killer?" and underneath are a couple of paragraphs too fuzzy to read. Instead, I focus in on Martial Law's horrendous singer and stare at his 75th-generation Eddie Vedder Christ-pose-number-94 and sort of zone out.

I look up at the Bible-salesman type who's now staring down at me. His smile is eerie and his teeth are perfect.

Circling all around his head like halos are neon beer logos. I see him lift his arm. In his hand he wields a giant sickle-size scalpel. With one fell swoop, he swings the thing down, making a swooshing noise. I feel the head of the scalpel cut flesh, just below my rib cage. The warmth of the blood running over my pelvis makes me feel like I just pissed my pants.

Not a moment later, the man has my bloody liver in his hands. He flashes that eerie Bible-salesman smile and just stands there, holding my liver in front of my face. Through a drunken haze, I study it.

My liver is about the size of two and a half man fists and looks pulpy, dark and bloody, sorta like Pignon's "Cockfight" or your neighbor's cat after a losing battle with an SUV tire tread. It looks like that, only worse. Dangling rose-colored tubes move like octopus arms spurting bits of blood.

My liver is in his hands. My liver, my liver, my life. I start to fade and feel myself slipping from the barstool.

Martial Law kicks in with Metallica's "Blackened" and I break from my daydream. The Bible-salesman type is still standing above me staring down, grinning. But my freshly expunged organ isn't bobbling in his hands at all. He isn't even holding a giant scalpel. He's clutching a small stack of anti-alcohol fliers. He shouts, "Are you okay?"

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