The bar was literally empty when my friend David from Texas walked into Freem's, the one bar in town. It was Saturday night and we figured if there was ever going to be a crowd tonight would be it.
The two guys who had been smoking on the park bench outside came in through the door behind us. One was the owner Joel and the other was a local with his own pool cue. He had been practicing billiards for 16 months. The cue was a gift from his lady friend. He told us about the 6 months he lived in Florida and hated it. He told us about how he had a different lady friend in Texas he refused to move in with because they have rattlesnakes down there. He told us how he's done odd jobs, worked as a garbage man and always ended up back in Maine. He asked David to play pool.
A woman walked in and asked for something fruity. Joel made her a homemade jolly rancher and said the first one was in him. She had been married at 19, divorced at 21 and had a kid. Ashland was her hometown. She tried to live in Portland for a while but she didn't like it. She was wearing too much eyeliner, had gauged ears and a black shirt with gold chains on the shoulder. She reminded me of Averil Levine. "You're not from around here huh? What are you doing in Ashland?"I told her about bushcraft school and riding my bicycle from Boston.
A few other patrons had trickled in. A stoic younger man with a beard had his eye on Averil and a blonde thirty some thing with a blue tank top got a bud light in a bottle set in front of him without even asking. But the crown jewel in this trifecta was an old Mainer who talked with his hands and had a thick, black mustache and a heavy accent.
His name was guy and he was either drunk or had had a stroke or just had the thickest Maine accent I had ever heard. He talked out of the corner of his mouth as if it were full of marbles. I had heard mild Maine accents and I had heard what I thought were incredibly exaggerated imitations of the Northern Maine woodsman dialect but hire was a man in the flesh who was a living breathing caricature of himself. He told us about moose and what they do when they're getting ready to charge. How they paw the ground and snort. He told us that if one was pawing and snorting in front of him, "do you know what I'd do? I'd pump four rounds right into his chest. And did you know what I'd do if he kept coming? I'd give him three more."
Joel's father opened the bar in 1994. At the time it was half the size and next door in the same building was a barber shop. The barber pole from that shop hangs next to the door of the bar. The whole thing burnt down and Joel, who used to work as a welder rebuilt it. The bar is custom wood with a metal inlay, the same as the pool table which miraculously survived the fire. The counter gave out at 16,000 games of pool. Joel estimates that table has brought in over $30,000 worth of quarters over its lifetime.
When he hears I'm from Ohio he tells a story about hunting deer from a standing blind on an abandoned strip mine in Choshocton. He used a deer horn to lure two does and a buck out of the woods. He nabbed the buck and dragged him 2.5 miles out of the woods over the snow with his boot laces tied around the rack. He shows me a light fixture he made out of deer antlers. "See those two dark ones right there and there. I pulled those off another buck I found in Ohio. Sometime I'll have to go back and you and me will go hunting." I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd never been hunting in my life.
I ordered a second Preque Isle Honey Blonde. David was back from winning the longest game of pool ever. His opponent scratched on the 8. Averil and her suitor had taken up residence on the smoking bench outside and Joel had taken out a pink plastic water bottle a quarter full with a mysterious brown liquid.
"You ever heard a duck fart?" He asked. I admitted I hadn't and added in the trivia that rabbits were incapable of farting.
Blue Tank Top said "go look at the sign of this place, you'll see two ducks farting. Joel, where are those tee shirts?"
Joel comes out from the back room with two XXL Freem's bar shirts. Est. 1994 and sure enough there are two ducks facing opposite ways. One shirt was orange and the other was black, I mentioned those were my high school colors and they're also the colors of the Ashland Hornets. I said the orange one would be good for every day and the black one would be better for a date.
"Why wouldn't you want to wear he orange one on a date? You want her to see you doncha?" Asked Blue Tank Top.
Joel poured out four shots in clear plastic cups out of the pink water bottle. "This here is a duck fart. Well, I added raspberry to it so this one's a duck queef," Joel said raising his glass. I've been in this town a week and I'm slowly becoming immune to the level of vulgarity I hear on a regular basis. It tasted like Baileys and raspberry schnapps. Not bad.
The conversation turned to whether people who drive around shooing animals out of their car aka "heater hunters" were brilliant or weak. Joel meanwhile is pouring whiskey, baileys, Kaluah and a slew of other liqueurs into the pink water bottle. He tasted it and made a sour face. "This is why I always end up so drunk," he said adding more whiskey to the concoction. The second shot was much worse than the first.
It was getting late and we still had a drive back to camp. David and I paid our tab, said our goodbyes and headed out. Blue Tank Top asked how long we'd be around and I told him the next few months. "See you around then," he said.
"Yeah, sure," I said, "I'm sure I'll be back."
"Well," he said, driving the fact that this is a one bar town home, "where else you gonna go?"