The Moocher’s

Image: “Nenana Ice Classic Tripod” © jkbrooks85. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Author: Linda Zagorskaya

– “You know this place is haunted, don’t you?” – she said in such a trivial way, stating the most undeniable fact ever – “What’s with this bewildered look on your face? You have internet on this telephone of yours and we have the best signal in town, go on, check it, I’m not making things up! Or just hang around and see for yourself, you have been warned! They are not mean though and love young boys like yourself!”

She uttered her monologue loudly, stretching each word, as if to make sure I understood the meaning of it, and went back to serving other customers. Their numbers were quite scarce, but they seemed to be regulars. An elderly couple was sitting at the bar and chatting with the hostess. They looked like old buddies finding each other after twenty years or perhaps just after a day, it was impossible to tell. 

– “What’s in that big green bottle, honey?  Let me have a try.” – The lady took a sip from the glass, lifted it up to the light and made a disgusted grimace – “This bottle must have been opened since the last flood! There, you have a sealed one just behind, let me have some of that!” – The hostess did not protest; the number of opened bottles did not seem to matter. The customer drank on happily, reminiscing on some crazy parties that used to have in the bar.  

 An old man was sitting on a bar stool, his back crooked, he was almost lying on the bar. He seemed to have grown into the furniture and taken its sinuous forms. In fact, there was not a single straight line in the whole establishment. The back of the bar, full of thick dust-covered bottles had a frontward tilt, threatening to fall to the feet on the barmaid. The main bar was once covered with leather-like material, the shreds of which now provided support for the glasses, avoiding embarrassing accidents on customer’s lap. Across the room there were small tables for two persons each along the wall, defying all laws of gravity, threatening to tilt over to the center of the room. A pool table, once standing in the middle, was pushed to the back, where the floor seemed a bit straighter. The winner of the game was determined by the force that pushed the balls only in one sure direction and not by the player’s skill. It was impossible to stand straight in the middle of the room without the feeling that the walls may close in onto the poor customer, burying him or her alive under the twisted rubble. 

The lady behind the bar did not mind the strange setting and worked the beer taps and the shifting bottles with ease. She was as old as the establishment itself, and just like that of the establishment, it was impossible to determine her age. She wore a oversized sac for a dress that could as well serve as a night gown. Her hair suffered years of peroxide and permanent curling, it had no shape or color. 

– “Ma name’s Connie….” – She said stretching the vowels in a “good ol rural Ameeerican way” . 

I would expect her name to be Barbara or Sheryl or Rosemary, but when she said it was Connie, it became obvious – it could not be anything else. 

– “I am so glad to meet you, Connie.

She disappeared, ignoring what I said, but materialized few minutes later with a couple of colorful pens and post-it pads all bearing an image of a drunken-looking deer, an American flag, and the name – The Moocher’s. 

 

– “I wouldn’t use the bathroom if I were you, young man.” – an old man woke up from his lethargic state after seeing me get up from the stool. – “And whatever you do, don’t change the music!

– “Oh, you stupid old Mac ! You will scare all my customers away! A young man like you is not afraid of ghosts, are you?” – Connie looked straight into my eyes with a crooked smile on her face. I felt that she was the main ghost herself and it was up to her if the the walls kept the whole structure in place or not. 

A bright jukebox proudly stood in the back of the room, a testimony to the good old days when dancing and partying was the daily routine at the Moocher’s. With every step towards the shiny machine I felt an acute risk of the ceiling plunging onto my head, but I could not resist the luring of a splendid instrument. Despite the years of use it was in perfect shape, a time machine waiting to transport an naive user into the days of the Alaskan gold rush. 

– “Choose your tune, young man! And come back for another drink. I have something to show you.” – said Connie and put a huge book on the bar – “And you must buy a ticket!

 

***

The town resembled a huge market square, despite the bitter cold, the wind and the remaining snow from the harsh northern winter. Several dozen people, mostly in groups, occupied all the streets of this 200-soul-strong town. The gold rush days of Alaska were long gone, but the spirit of booty hunters and crazy adventurers is very much alive to this day. 

Huge pickup trucks lined the streets, the engine roar echoed for miles down the Tenana river, startling the virgin silence of the area. There were Alaskan natives who came from the nearby settlements to this tiny connection to the modern world. Rednecks from all over the state came to enjoy their pints and show off their trucks. Few lost tourists were present to witness the history in the making.  

They were all waiting for The Event. Who will win the jackpot? 300’000 US dollars will not make anyone a millionaire, but every year it gives the  bidders hope for a new life or a least an easy retirement. 

The visitors attack The Moocher’s in an adrenaline rush. There is enough booze for everyone. No-one is afraid that the crooked walls may not withstand such flooding of people. These walls have seen all kinds of floods! Everyone will be served, and nobody will be left indifferent by the magic of this haunted place. At the end, it’s in the ghosts’ interest to keep to walls up!

A heavy book is lying on the bar, carrying the weight of a hundred-year long statistics, giving hope to a lucky guesser to get The Date right. More than a date, the hour and even the minute are of utmost importance – the precision will decide if the bounty will be shared among several winners or if one fortunate chap will strike the « gold ». 

The black-and-white tripod is firmly set on the snow-covered river, trapped in the ice from the beginning of winter. The cable is connected to the tower that houses the clock. Few more hours or perhaps days, the mystery will be soon revealed. Meanwhile the guests are entertained by old Connie and perhaps are met by the ghosts that live in the decrepit bar. The phantoms will slam doors and change the music in the jukebox if the tune chosen by a clueless guest was not to their liking. 

 

***

Every year around mid-April, although some years they had to wait until May, people gather in Nenana to witness a natural wonder – breaking of the ice on the Tanana river. 

The tradition to put bets on the breaking of the ice dates back to 1917 and ever since all the bidders and the winners are immortalized in The Book. 

If you ever pass by Nenana, stop and take a break at the Moocher’s. Don’t worry about the walls or the ceiling, the ghosts will make sure nothing falls on your head. Get a drink from Connie and buy that ticket.  You never know where your luck will strike …

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