Crack and tweak are all that matter to Kim. Everything else is just part of the plot to procure it. Only through a combined sense of panic and fearlessness does she manage to collect enough cash to kill off another day.
Kim is a self-described prostitute, 39 years old. She's seated on a barstool at Shorty's Bar, waiting for the bartender to get busy. Once his back is turned, Kim hits us up for a smoke and five bucks.
"One thing I don't do, I won't steal and I won't kill for it," she says in a low rasp. "You don't know the power of the pipe. I have eight years on the pipe. Look at the calluses on my hands from the pipe. I wish I'd never tried it."
Outside the bar there are obstacles, she says, and chances are good those who want her dead will nab her -- people she has regretfully wronged over drugs.
"If I don't die before that."
Weightless as a shadow, Kim is easy to overlook, faceless, like she's already dead. In a denim skirt, halter top, filthy white socks and no shoes, her face is scabbed and harsh; her teeth are tawny and broken. Her skin looks secondhand, as though it belonged to a thicker, taller person. Her skin smells like it is digesting itself.
She shows her tattoos. Harley-Davidson logos, one smaller than the other. There are others on her torso, roses. "If I wasn't real, I wouldn't have a Harley on each shoulder."
Sensing the bartender is on to her scam, Kim steps off the stool and breaks into an odd, almost sorrowful dance. She began dancing as a stripper when she was 18.
"I still dance."
She sashays away from the bar to a table on the other side of the room. A minute later she is gone.
"If I were to take a wheelbarrow of cold beer and stand out there on the corner with the crack dealers and sell beer," murmurs Shorty's bartender Ron Walker, "they would have me handcuffed and thrown in jail in 10 minutes."
Dutifully, the snow-haired bartender shuffles off to tend to the bar's few customers and returns to pick up where he left off.
"There was an old man, 80-somethin' years old with his pickup down on Central Avenue, sellin' watermelons with the crack dealers and the hookers on both sides of him. Then police came and escorted him off because he didn't have a license. There, hookers and crack salesmen are still allowed to peddle their wares, they don't have no license. What's wrong with this picture?"
Shorty's Bar, 915 Grand Avenue, has been fostering bacchanalian fortitude for no less than 50 years. The neighborhood itself is on a seeming upswing, becoming a port for aspiring art galleries and small businesses. And the bar -- like the Bikini bar up the street -- has all the old-worldly neighborhood allure that could easily anchor such a renewal.
Figuring prominently in the single-room interior is a graceful mahogany bar and cabinetry with leaded glass doors on either side. The handmade ensemble was styled in Germany in the 1880s. Antiquated beer lamps and signs mix with up-to-date liquor-ad throwaways. A couple of pool tables monopolize much of the floor space.
Most nights, Shorty's is home to regulars, those who live within walking distance and prefer their beer in domestic labels.
A polite and somewhat cynical cutup, Walker has been pouring at Shorty's for a good decade. His sense of civic pride for the bar is understandable. Not because few bars in the city are as uncomplicated as Shorty's, but the street's constant of crack dealing is a tradition he's tired of seeing.
"How long do you think all these crack dealers and shit would last standing down there in Colangelo land? Down there in front of that goddamned baseball park, or America West Arena? I would like to see them stand out front of those places and peddle this crack cocaine and ask everybody that comes out of that place every night, 'Hey, you lookin'? Hey, wha'cha want?' How long would that last?"
He offers a short-term solution of sorts. "You know they [the cops] should devote more time to it instead of the watermelon peddlers or whatever."
Suddenly, the bottom-line-minded bartender ejects a woman for bumming smokes and cash from one of the patrons. She's had warnings, now she's out. "I run a tight ship," Walker says.
A very large, round and pleasant-faced Native American woman comes in at closing time and orders a draft. She looks concerned, then gets up to hide in the rest room. She asks Walker to tell anyone who comes in looking for her that she isn't here.
"What are you running from? A boyfriend, a husband?" he asks.
"No, it's a woman on a bike."
A wobbly woman appears at the door with a bike. Weaving slightly in place, she moves her head slowly, taking in the nearly empty bar. Flustered, she backs out and is gone.
"I mean this stuff isn't Kool-Aid," Walker says of the booze and its social side effects. "This isn't Dairy Queen. And anytime you have someone drinkin' whiskey, you are gonna have an argument or a problem from time to time. But I don't have any more problems along that line than they do at Majerle's, maybe even less."
Walker collects the empty beer bottles from around the bar and drops them in the trash. He returns and concludes, "At places like that [Majerle's], the people are just dressed better when they get in a fight."
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