Lodged between a restaurant and a dive bar in the “no zoning laws” Houston Heights there is much activity that can easily annoy or test your level of acceptance of the situation. There is also the option to find a bit of humor among the madness and include it in a newspaper column. Today, in my offbeat sense of frivolity, I choose the latter.
The bar next door has an open outdoor area that hosts bands who play live, loud, and, for the most part, mediocre music. Four or five nights each week the barrage is one of off-tempo drumming, amateur vocals, and repetitive country and western almost recognizable tunes.
At least five nights of the week there is a mystery woman who I have never seen, but I am too frequently made aware of her presence. Above the loud music, there is a louder, raucous, shouted high pitched hyena-style laughter that compels me to put a pillow over my face and scream, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” (Often accompanied by expletives that I will spare you.)
Over the weeks, months, and years the faceless, nameless woman has become a character in an uncompleted play in my head. Like Dr. Frankenstein I have brought the creature to life, assembling her trait by trait in fits of desperation and creative insanity. I call her Meghan because her shrill, obnoxious and eardrum-piercing witches’ cackle reminds me of a talk show host who recently departed The View (as the crowd went wild with delight!)
My monster is short, a little weight-challenged and dressed with too much saggy skin exposed. Her once-blonde hair is now a sampling of a dozen shades of self-applied Clairol tints. Layers of overly applied mascara and lipstick cannot disguise the years of hard-drinking. Oh, Meghan loves to drink, especially on someone else’s tab. I’m betting she drinks Lite beer and the occasional shot of anything offered.
Meghan is tolerated by the men and sneered at by the women. So regular is her attendance that the bartenders know her to drink before she orders and notice the rare night when her “perch” is empty or when a visiting patron takes it unaware. She is the life of a party that has ended long ago. She dances alone to a song that once made her happy, but now destroys her overly applied mascara. She closes the bar (hopefully in an Uber) and sleeps it off to drink another day.
I like Meghan. I know Meghan. I spent years in nightclubs serving many Meghans. I am more empathetic for this nameless, faceless person than I should allow myself. My creation could as easily be a Norm from the comedy series Cheers. He was also a nightly fixture in the bar, but not loud and brash — just a big teddy bear, harmless and comical.
However, I’ve cast Meghan in a tragedy, one where she longs for attention. She thrives on it. It has become harder and harder to be noticed for her pleasant looks and perky personality. So, she drinks and turns up the volume resembling a flock of screeching birds that arrive a few at a time until their noise is unbearable. She remembers when she was a nice-looking enough, high-spirited girl who loved a good time. Slowly the good times faded and a pattern developed. Night after night she now applies more and more makeup, like speckle to cover the age lines and history. Carefully she selects an outfit that’s a bit out of style and a lot too tight and heads out for another unremarkable night.
For a moment I am sad for her. I hope she has friends and family who check on her. When I no longer hear that piercing voice and forced laughter, I will be like the bartender noticing her absence.
I will conjure up an end for my tragedy on a hopeful note: The bar is festive, full of lots of happy souls drinking and laughing. The door swings open and Meghan stands, posing just long enough for the crowd to notice. In unison, they all shout, “Meghan!” She smiles and for a moment the years wash away; she is young and vibrant and happy for another night of happiness.
But that’s just my opinion.