It’s the twilight hour between lunch and dinner and I’m sitting in a booth at Lenny’s Nosh Bar inhaling a hot meatball sandwich with a Löwenbräu chaser and stewing in a shame of failed expectations that has dogged me from San Antonio, Texas to Eugene, Oregon.
Sighing deeply, I stretch and swing my legs onto the bench of the booth and press my back into the duffle bag propped against the wall, as the sound of a twelve-bar blues tune with a palpitating Hammond B3 organ line spars with my beating heart. It’s Green Onions, the 1962 hit by Booker T. & The MGs, and it’s the second track I selected to welcome me back.
I desperately want to kick off my combat boots and peel off the military issue greens that hang on my body like an old skin to be shed in snake-like fashion; to scrub the sour smell of cigarette smoke, cheap alcohol, and body odor—the proprietary perfume of the Greyhound bus that delivered me home—which clings to me like a desperate barfly. But first, I’ve gotta decompress in familiar surroundings.
I’ve returned to Oregon after being discharged from the United States Air Force on grounds of a difference of opinion regarding my military career path. I should have known the hidden agenda of an idealistic child of flower children would clash with the military motto: “Air Force needs come first.”
My head turns as the bell above the door rings and Lenny Nathan strolls inside, doing a comical double-take when he sees me sitting next to the jukebox. Lenny continues to the counter, but he comes over to me a moment later with another pint—setting it gently on my table—and a joint, which he pulls from the pocket of his apron and sets beside the beer. “I told ya so,” Lenny says, but there’s humor and understanding in his mischievous eyes.
I grin back at him as Ella Fitzgerald starts singing Too Young for the Blues.
~ Lenny’s Nosh Bar (24 August 1985)
Author’s note: Long Live Lenny’s Nosh Bar has a soundtrack in the recreation of a virtual Lenny’s Jukebox. Song links go to Spotify so you can enhance your reading experience and listen to the songs I listened to as you read.
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