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There’s a patch of duct tape covering the exposed stuffing of the stained, scarlet pleather booth. A cushion recessed into permanent sag. Every time you come here, you quietly fight over who has to fill that awkward little trench. Usually it’s the first person to break the seal. You walk back from the bathroom and every other spot is taken except for the patch of duct tape, your friends sliding and rearranging to vacate the space with smiles on their faces. So you ease into the divet and sink a head shorter than everybody else.
The place is called McClelland’s, or O’Leary’s, or something like that. It’s one of those lovable dive bars that can’t figure out what it is — a fake Irish pub that serves German beer to a muddy cowboy boots kind of crowd. It’s the last bastion against the unstoppable wave of Applebee’s and Olive Gardens that followed the suburban assholes who flooded in when some software company opened a campus down the road a couple years ago. It’s a living memory of what this town was, and what it always will be.
The bar has been there since before your parents were of drinking age. Your dad and his best friend used to meet up and play pool. One of your mom’s quarters is still stuck in the left slot of the ancient jukebox in the corner. A couple years ago they installed one of those TouchTunes song selector machines, but you’ve never seen anyone even look at it. Every song that fills this place rattles out of the old jukebox with Hank and Jennings, and they sound just fine.
The beers are $2 and the pool is $0.75. There are three tables, and they take up most of the bar. Some of the kids from your high school — the ones that never left — drink here every night after their shifts like shadows in the wallpaper. But when you and your college friends come home — summers, Thanksgivings, and Christmases — the crowd swells up and the bar really feels alive again. You come to get away from your parents, to see the ones who moved far away, to relive old memories and celebrate new ones. You’re all older now, but there’s something about the dim mustiness of this place that feels like no time has passed at all.
You can still remember the late nights, the $1 Jello shots, that time Big Steve put on a coconut bra and Coyote Ugly’d on the bar top. Being out in the parking lot, sitting in Sam’s car long after last call smoking whatever you had and talking about life. If you walk around back, by the dumpster, you can still see all the awkward makeouts, the beginning of the confusing path to adulthood. You’ll never forget that stool on the corner of the bar, where you told your childhood friend that you loved her. Or the one at the other end, where you drank your feelings away when it didn’t work out.
No matter how old you are, no matter how much time goes by, you feel like you can always stumble back here. Like an old flame that never seemed to notice you were there, but didn’t care if you called at 2 in the morning and always opened the door.
Yes, it’s a piece-of-shit dive bar, but it’s your piece-of-shit dive bar. And you know that blue Coors sign will always be on. Glimmering from the highway, calling you home..
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