Certain places are just made for day-drinking. Typically, they’re seedy little holes in ancient, weather-beaten structures whose insides reek of cigarette smoke, stale beer, and defeat. Windows are minimal, or altogether non-existent, architectural features which allows for the time of day in the outside world to remain ambiguous. Hints of it streak through a glass door in desperate beams of sunlight, only to be swallowed by clouds of blue-gray smoke and absorbed into the atmosphere of said hole. In Cape Coral, Florida, that hole is Rooster’s Lounge.
Rooster’s is a single story building whose cinder block structure has taken beatings from hurricanes, tropical depressions, occasional bullets, and intoxicated drivers slamming their high-mileage, DUI-prone monstrosities into their home away from home as they fail to make the distinction between “Reverse” and “Drive” upon leaving their parking spaces.
It was a Monday afternoon. I was a little more than a couple hours and a few beers into a lunch break in an establishment that did not serve food. My feet were planted in front of the jukebox I leaned on while I searched for the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon buzz.
The song couldn’t be too sad, for there was just too much of the day left to set the tone for full-fledged depression. It also couldn’t be too upbeat; the floor of Rooster’s, littered with dozens of shattered dreams in the form of discarded scratch-off tickets, indicated this was no place for happiness. My browsing slowed when I saw albums filled with the blue-collar righteousness of Springsteen and the optimistic social consciousness of Dylan. These were closer to my taste, but still didn’t speak perfectly to me. I needed music for the lazy, apathetic thirty-something. Sing me the song of my people, jukebox.
“You got any Prine on this thing?” I shouted over my shoulder to the girl behind the bar.
She was the perfect age for day drinking, a tough activity to do with any sort of grace after age 24. She had opted instead to take on the responsibility of having a job enabling those of us with less impulse control despite the fact we had passed that benchmark age of acceptable irresponsibility more than a decade ago.
“What’s a Prine?” she asked, answering my question with a question, never looking up from her phone.
I sighed heavily and shed a tear for the millennials. Fuck it, Allman Brothers it is.
I spent the next few minutes selecting songs, punching numbers on the keypad, and draining my mug of beer. As the sound of a Hammond organ and bottleneck slide guitar filled the room I took a few uneven steps toward the bar, set my mug upon the warped wood surface, and slid it toward the rail.
For a brief moment, sunlight flooded the room. It drowned out any existing light, which up to that point, had consisted only of neon beer signs, a flickering fluorescent above the pool table, and a couple strands of white Christmas lights strung lazily around the bar. The bombardment of Vitamin-D signaled that someone had entered the bar from the outside world we were all desperately trying to forget existed.
As the sunspots began to vanish, I realized that whoever had just come in had sat down beside me despite a dozen other empty stools populating the bar. A familiar voice ordered a beer and my slow-to-focus eyes saw that the person with the least regard to my personal space was the one who understood my need for it more than anyone. The newcomer was me.
He was aged, slightly leaner, and free of the goatee I wore on my chin, opting for a stand-alone silver mustache instead. He wore dark glasses and had a smooth bald head, free of gray stubble. A stranger might have likened him to an emaciated D.B. Cooper, but despite these few slight shifts in features, there was no mistaking my own face.
My refilled mug returned to me at the same time a beer was set down in front of him. We reached for them simultaneously, which is when I noticed the biggest difference between him and I. Instead of arms, my doppelganger had scrawny tentacles coming out of his shirtsleeves. They were bluish-green with an off-white underside, filled with dozens of tiny suction disks. The familiar stranger sipped his beer, unafraid of anyone noticing and remarking on his strange limbs. He seemed to understand that the few sad patrons scattered around the barroom were so wrapped up in their own drinking, slot machine gambling, and bullshit story telling that they would likely never even notice anyone else’s deformities or freak show tendencies.“Hello, Phil,” he said, turning to me. “Yes, I am.”
“Yes you are what?” I asked.
“You,” he said.
“I wasn’t asking.”
“But you were thinking it.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
For some reason, I felt compelled to play it cool and pretend that seeing a copy of myself with tentacles was not blowing my mind blown. Play it cool, Phil. Act like, you know, this kind of thing happens to you all the time.
“You were. I know you were, and I know because I distinctly remember having the thought. I am you,” said the stranger who apparently wasn’t a stranger. “I’m you from the future.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but stopped myself. I turned my attention to my beer and he did the same. We drank in tense silence for a few minutes, letting our brief exchange hang in the air like a fart in an elevator.
“You’re me,” I said, once I’d downed my beer.
The flood of alcohol was working to kill enough brain cells to slow my mind’s spinning to a manageable rate.
“Yes,” he responded.
“From the future.”
“And you remember this?”
“Yes. I remember this conversation, how it affects you, and what happens next… and no, I can’t tell you.”
I took a moment to digest this, causing an awkward pause in the conversation that coincided with an awkward pause in the music as the jukebox switched to the next song I’d paid for. The seconds void of music felt awkward and I struggled for a joke to fill the silence.
“Can I call you Phuture Phil?”
I laughed at the joke far more than it deserved before realizing that it only made sense on paper and in my brain.
“That’s very clever,” he said.
I asked him if he remembered making that joke now that I’d said it out loud. He told me that he did and that he remembered regretting it almost immediately. I stared at the bar vacantly. Yeah…
Future Me drained his mug and set it on the bar. I pushed mine forward and motioned to the millennial barkeep for a refill.
“Does your dad want one too?” she asked. I stifled a laugh and told her yes, but Future Me quickly amended his order to a boilermaker before crossing his tentacles and pouting. Only after drinks were set in front of us and she had walked away did he speak again.
“I’m not that old,” he said.
“Let it go, man,” I told him. “She’s young as hell. Anyone over thirty looks old as dirt to her.”
“Let it go? You are telling me to let it go? When’s the last time you let anything go?”
“I’m gonna guess it’s the last time you let something go too,” I responded. Clearly my propensity for holding grudges would get no less powerful as I aged.
“Five years,” he said after a minute.
“Five years, what?”
“I’m only five years older than you. I’m from five years in the future,” he said, clearly irritated.
“Are you serious? You look so much older!”
He turned to me angrily and raised his voice: “Well it’s your fault! It’s the middle of a Monday and you’re in a bar! Did you expect to do that and age gracefully?”
“You know,” I said, “you’re in a bar in the middle of the day too.” He did look older than five years my senior, and yes, it was likely my fault, but it was his fault too… right?
Future Me sat and sulked for a few minutes before picking up his shot of whiskey with a tiny sucker at the end of his right tentacle. It was almost as though it had been grown specifically for the purpose of lifting a shot glass off a bar. He held it over his mug of beer and the glass dropped into the mug, sloshing beer and foam over the rim. He picked up the concoction and poured it into his head with one giant gulp before slamming the empty mug on the bar, rattling the empty shot glass still inside it. Yes. It was definitely also his fault.
“Funny you should mention my tentacles,” he said, shifting the conversation by responding to a question I hadn’t yet asked.
“You know,” I said, “if you’re going to carry on an entire conversation by yourself based on memories, you’re going to end up with a memory of how much we believe ourselves to be an insufferable asshole.”
“Those wheels were set in motion long ago,” he said, laughing.
Future Me pulled a pipe from his pocket and bit down on the stem. Somehow, he manipulated a wooden match with the end of his right tentacle enough to strike a flame, which he touched to the open bowl. He puffed out strong, sweet smelling smoke as the flame danced and cast an eerie glow on his wrinkled face.
“You know,” he said, “I brought this tobacco with me from the future.”
“Is that right?”
“It is,” he continued. He leaned back against the bar and looked at his pipe with his head cocked slightly to the left. I immediately recognized the posture as my “holding court”
pose, but it seemed strange and portentous seeing it from another angle. I am such an asshole.
Future Me continued: “I’m smoking tobacco that hasn’t even been planted yet. I’m burning it and smoke is filling this room and when the door to this abysmal place opens, it will escape into the atmosphere and add to the overall makeup of air throughout the world, which will ultimately play into the conditions of the soil that this very tobacco is planted and grown in. Those conditions will change the final makeup of the tobacco plant ever so slightly. It will then be harvested, processed, packaged, sold, sent back in time, and smoked, thus continuing an endless cycle of modified tobacco meeting and affecting its future self.”
“So,” I began, deciphering the metaphor after a long moment of letting his bizarre statement sink into my head, “I’m the tobacco plant, and you’re the smoke, and we’re endlessly cycling and affecting each other in a weird paradox, which causes the smoke to… grow… octopus arms?”
Future Me stared for a long second before saying, “Good Lord, I’m an idiot. I was just commenting on something cool that I realized. There’s no metaphor here, man. It’s just something cool, that’s all. I’m not here for the purpose of growing squid arms via paradox.”
“I said ‘octopus arms’,” I corrected.
“I came back,” he continued, the pitch and volume of his voice rising, “to tell my past self to stop making deals with that guy who lives in his car behind the Bingo Hall.”
“But that guy has the best weed,” I defended.
“Not that guy, and not that Bingo Hall,” he shot back. “I’m talking about the wizard who lives in his car behind the condemned Bingo Hall. That guy who makes Faustian bargains with everyone. The reason you are missing fingers.”
“Oh that guy,” I said. I’m just missing the one finger. “Why?”
“Are you serious?” he asked. “Look at me. I’ve got tentacles; for the sake of the gods, Phil, tentacles. Quit dealing with that crazy old man or else he’s gonna put a curse on you that will make us calamari hybrids for life. Get it?”
A ray of sun shone through the haze of beer and jukebox standards that clouded my head.
“Yeah, I got it,” I nodded slowly, connecting the dots between the warnings and tentacles and the strange dudes who lived in their cars behind Bingo Halls. “So I can still buy weed from that other guy who lives in his car?”
“Yes,” he said, “though I think you should do it less frequently. While I’m at it, I guess I should advise you to stop spending your days in this bar too. Seriously, look at what it does to us.”
I will if you will.
“I heard that,” he said. A tentacle went into his pocket and came out rolled around a wad of bills. He began counting them out and told me he’d leave enough for a couple more beers if I wanted, which he knew I did. I insisted that I had it covered and he told me that it didn’t matter because my money was his money.
“It’s like having a joint checking account with myself,” he said.
“No,” he said, without looking up from his money counting, “I don’t have any weed from the future.”
Future Me dropped a stack of bills on the bar, told me he’d see me later, and walked out the door, once again flooding the room, and my brain, with an intense reminder of the outside world and the realization that I would continue to be a condescending asshole in the future.
The last of my prepaid jukebox songs finished playing and the machine fell silent. The remaining patrons of the bar filled the auditory void with bullshit stories and pick-up lines delivered by, and to, the tragically sad and lonely. I drank the remainder of my beer in one swift chug and left the empty mug on top of the bills on the bar. I stood and addressed the young lady behind the bar.
“This more than covers the tab. Take the remainder and buy yourself a John Prine album. I recommend Sweet Revenge, Bruised Orange, or possibly The Singing Mailman Delivers if you dig live stuff.”
I turned on my sneaker’s heel and strolled out into the sunny outside world, confident that, on occasion, even condescending assholes could change someone’s future for the better.