America Is a Dive Bar
About 40 years ago, in my mid-20s, I was in a bar in Missouri.
It was not a nice bar. It was not in a nice neighborhood. Many of the people who went there were not nice people, and they did un-nice things to each other out in the gravel parking lot, things that were violent or sexual or both.
You sat at the bar or at a table or in one of the booths, and a five-piece band struggled through the entire Waylon Jennings songbook, and sometimes people fell down on the dance floor.
I was in there with a girl named Colleen, a name everyone I knew pronounced as Co-leen, and we were in one of the red fake leather booths, and we were both pretty interested in each other.
I didn't see him when he arrived, but a drunk man walked in the front door looking for his wife because he thought she was there with another man.
She was, too. Probably half the people in there were with someone who was wedding-ringed to someone else. Even Co-leen had a boyfriend.
The fellow looking for his wife spotted her on the dance floor with her clever seducer, dancing so close their sweat was mixing, and he took a revolver from the waistband of his bootcut jeans and fired two shots in their general geographical direction. He missed with both shots. In fact, he missed everyone in the bar, though he did manage to splinter a neon sign on the back wall that read "King of Beers." Two guys with plaster dust on their boots got a hold of him before he could get off a third shot, and they got the gun out of his hand, too. That was when I learned that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is two construction workers who are too drunk to be scared.
By the time I was in my mid-30s, I had enough money in my retirement account that I didn't want to die, and I started going to nicer places, places where they stopped serving you liquor if you began to look even a little confused.
I was proud of myself. There's nothing like that first step into the middle class to make a man feel very satisfied with himself.
Now, of course, the whole country is a dive bar, and I can get shot at anywhere.
Church? Somebody will put one in you. School? Bang bang. Fourth of July parade? There's a guy on a rooftop looking at you through a lens, and he doesn't want to take your picture.
My parents were conventional lower-middle-class people. They didn't go to "those kinds of places" because those places were "trouble," and the people who hung out in them were "bums." My parents did go to church. They sent me to school. They took me to parades and the mall and the movies. Nice places. They weren't the kind of people who took chances.
In the last couple of months, I've attended the local Gay Pride event and my city's celebration of Juneteenth. Given how much all of us hate each other, and how heavily armed we are, both of those events are easily as dangerous as that dive bar where I saw a man shoot at his wife and her boyfriend.
My bar story is a good story. If I tell it right, I can make people laugh at my youthful stupidity and at the violent, drunken sleaziness of that long-ago redneck bar. The people who laugh hardest are the ones who have never been in that kind of place.
I matured. America didn't. I'm not sure why. I thought I'd left that bar in my past, but I didn't. I live there now.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion, and read features by Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Devil's Elbow: Dancing in the Ashes of America." It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle, and iBooks.