Robin Wheeler writes for the blog Poppy Mom. She also has a strange attraction to drinking establishments with jars of pickled -- or possibly fossilized -- eggs. She reports on these dives for Gut Check every Friday.The Cat & Fiddle Tavern
is located in an old house on the edge of Belleville. Trucks fill the unpaved parking lot. I drive a truck, so I felt at home as soon as I pulled in and plopped my feet into a muddy rut.
There's no light in the entryway. Before I could assess the room, a guy at the only occupied table yelled, "Hey Girl! You're looking fine!"
Actually, I looked like a short, tubby, mid-thirties mom in a pilled sweater, sloppy ponytail, and no makeup. Whatever keeps you optimistic, Buddy.
One of Buddy's friends was in his sixties -- or thirties, depending on what medications he's been cooking in his shed. Some of his teeth were gone; the others were clinging to his gums for dear life. "You bringing more girls?"
I said no. He proposed a plan involving me and his male friends. Why didn't such a sex-starved crowd go two miles up the road to Beaver's? Maybe they thought "Cat & Fiddle" was a more clever euphemism.
When they realized I wasn't impressed, they returned to talking amongst themselves. One of them proclaimed, "I can't ride a fucking stick horse without falling off!"
I sat at one end of the bar. At the other end, two older men nodded along to Aerosmith on the jukebox. One of them fidgeted with a quart-sized plastic bag full of pull-tabs. The bartender, a friendly young man with a shaved head, was quick to take my order: a for $1.75. That's no bargain in Belleville, where draft Stag pints for $1 are common; often, you drink from a recycled Ragu jar.
There was one woman sitting at that occupied table. When she came to the bar to buy a round, I said, "Those boys making you buy?"
She glared at me. "They don't make me do nothing." Then she bought me a beer.
The jukebox played the whole time. I checked it out: an Internet jukebox, which I hate. I judge a bar on the music its owner chooses, but all Internet jukeboxes have the same shit.
Even though Tori Amos is available on the Cat & Fiddle's jukebox, I don't think it reveals the locale's character.
"Hey! How long are you gonna stand there?" the woman yelled at me.
"As long as it takes."
I waited a few very long minutes before attempting to slip out the door.
"You're going already? We're just getting started!" the woman called.
First she yells at me for standing at the jukebox, and then she gets sad when I leave? It's like she hates me but wants to be friends. It's every friendship I had in junior high, but with more beer.
I wish I'd popped a fiver in the jukebox and left them with Under the Pink
in its entirety.