It's 2 am and the inside of my skull has turned into a dark gloomy saloon, a seedy establishment I like to think of as The House Of Despair Bar & Grill. Except there is no grill. Nobody actually eats at the House of Despair.
It's sort of like, oh, remember the Losers Bar In Naked Gun 2.5: The Smell of Fear? Where the walls were covered with pictures of the Titanic, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Ford Edsel, and Michael Dukakis? Like that.
My friend Don and I once had this brilliant idea of putting together a club act called Unhappy Hour. We were going to sing all the most tragic depressing honky-tonk hits circa 1945-1965: Patsy Cline, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Harlan Howard, George Jones. Lots and lots of vintage George Jones. And instead of two drinks for the price of one, it would be one drink for the price of two. Like that.
So that's the scene inside my head at 2 am. And I am the bartender. I unlock the doors, turn on the neon open sign, and wait for my first customer to arrive.
As I lie in the dark waiting, the ancient floor furnace kicks on, knocking, creaking and clanging like an old jalopy trying to sputter its way up Old Priest's Grade. This means the temperature in my bedroom has dropped down below 50 degrees. And right on cue, the door swings open and in walks Worry!
Actually, it's the Worry Brothers, all three of them: Astronomical Heating Bills Worry, Exploding Toxic Floor Furnaces Worry, and Frozen Corpse Discovered Next March Worry. The Worry boys sit down and order a round of really bad cheap scotch.
As I stand behind the bar polishing shot glasses on my exceedingly unsanitary apron, I hear a barred hoot howl carrying on the back yard. I've seen this guy before, and he's big. Big enough to feed on full-grown rabbits. Certainly big enough to swoop down and snatch a helpless little four-pound dog in his talons. Lo and behold, the door swings open and hey now! In strolls my old buddy, Fear Of Large Predatory Birds Carrying Tiny Dogs Away.
Tiny dogs shivering over decrepit explosive floor furnace.
Pretty soon the place is packed. I look around and see lots of familiar faces: there's IRS Audit Consternation, and Termite Trepidation; I see Impending Relationship Doom Foreboding flirting with Dental Disaster Anxiety, while Debtors Prison Panic picks out her favorite suicide tunes on the juke box. That old bastard Flat Tire On A Dark Deserted Road Phobia huddles down at the end of the bar, sipping his Virgin Mary, teetering on the verge of falling off the wagon as usual. Yep, it's 2 a.m. at the House of Despair and the gang's all here.
Except...somebody important is missing. There's a vacant stool, a prominent one right in the middle of the bar, the traditional seat of honor. I have to scratch my cold bare scalp and think for a moment before I realize who didn't show up tonight.
And then I remember: it's my lifelong soul mate, Terror Of Getting Cancer. Irony of ironies, now that I actually have cancer, he has abandoned me. Apparently I have one less thing to fear.
But don't worry, that barstool won't be empty for long. I suspect in a few more months his big burly Stalky-Stalkerton cousin, Paralyzing Dread Of Recurrence, will saunter in, plop himself down, and refuse to budge for the rest of my natural life. And I'll never be alone again.
Bottoms up, boys! The next round's on me.