Robin's Hood

It's Saturday at 2 p.m. I'm hung over from a mammoth drinking session in Apache Junction, but I woke up early this morning and started driving. I'm on a mission.

See, I found this industrial ladder on Craigslist, but scribbled the address and now I'm lost in north Phoenix. How long have I been in this car? Are those my hands on the wheel? I finally give up and decide to get my ass home.

So I'm heading north on Cave Creek Road and passing new strip mall after new development, but I can see the freeway up ahead and I'm glad to be getting the hell out of this dull sprawl to head back downtown. I'm exhausted and aiming the rig between the lines when I practically lock 'em up at the sight of a tattered sign — "Larry's Cocktails" — with a faded red arrow.

I pull in and imagine this place 40 years ago . . . no other buildings in sight, a horse tied up outside, music filtering through the rising dust under the horses' shod hooves. How did Larry's not get bulldozed over long ago?

I walk through the cracked front door and feel the damp air of the evaporative cooling system flow over me like a spirit, and I feel as though I'm already drunk. God knows everyone else here is.

No guest pig for this outing — sometimes the best binges happen on a whim, and I'm ready to drink my way out of this headache and into the night. A quick survey of the bar and I feel right at home because most of the folks here are solo and, like me, lost. We're all looking for a savior this first hot Saturday of the year, and so we bow to the vivacious, busty blond bartender, Robin, whose voice bellows from her pulpit. Lord knows she has our attention. She's our cult leader, our Jim Jones (I'm silently hoping she'll hand me a paper cup from which to sup).

We are a ragged dozen men and one woman bellied up to the altar. At first, I think the men are here for the cleavage, but judging by how hard Robin is working, it's obvious they're here for a higher purpose — booze. I immediately feel at home, and certainly not because of the wooden lacquered Western photos of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and some other dusty guy — Tom Mix? It's also not because of the five TVs (I don't even have cable at home), though I could be a basketball fan and yell "cocksucker" every two minutes like the guy to my right, or I could watch drag racing or NASCAR . . . Hmmm, decisions. I spend most of my time watching bourbon and cleavage.

I smile. No bullshit in this place. Drink or be called a pussy — I practically get kicked out for ordering fruit in my bourbon. God, if Robin would only kick my ass. I think that if I push just a little more she'll be over that counter with a pool stick to my face and I'll be KO'd and bleeding on the floor, her cleavage towering over me (let a pig have his fantasy). Needless to say, I really like this bartender, even though the sign above the register says "Bartender today: MIKE."

My bourbon press is $2.50 and small pitchers are $3. Several patrons are drinking straight from the pitcher and a couple of men have even brought their own beer cozies from home. Pure class up in this joint.

As far as snacks go, there are machines for salty nuts everywhere and a whole rack of chips. I mow through some corn chips and decide to pass on the assortment of beef jerky sticks. "Got any pickled eggs or sausage?" I ask Robin, but she just sneers and replies, "We want to keep 'em out of the bathroom and out here drinking." I laugh but am sad. Pickled eggs would've been a huge plus.

As for entertainment, Larry's has one jukebox — all country bullshit — one pool table, a shuffleboard game, and a mechanical claw machine filled with stuffed animals (those things make my loins tingle). Larry's is a classic dive, hallways to the bathrooms lined with hand-cut shitty photo collages from the 1970s filled with ugly drunk people (at least some things don't change).

My highlight of the afternoon is when the guy next to me tells me a story about getting his motor home stuck in a tree. I have one more drink and as the last bills in this cash-only place fly off my stack, I witness a weathered, old cowboy win a big, pink teddy bear, which he proudly and gently situates in front of him at the bar. Everyone sees this and pretends they don't, but it's clear we all want that bear — this hardened desperate place is suddenly filled with some glimmer of hope, some symbol of innocence, some pink bear longing. I wish I had more cash, but I need to get out while I still can.

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