I checked the address in the text.
I looked at the front of the building.
I looked at the street sign on the corner.
I called mom.
“You sure this is the right address?” I asked.
“That’s what he told me. He said, ‘Have him meet me at my place,’ and gave me the address. Why honey? Is he not there?”
“Geez,” she said. “What doesn’t he do? He’s always investing in different things. Houses, horses… Why? Where are you?”
“I’m—” I paused from disbelief. “I’m at a bar.”
She paused twice as long before exhaling.
“Yeah, that sounds like Larry.”
I hung up and marveled at the grimy storefront. Across the top of the building, the entire left side of a white Cadillac, from bumper to bumper, jutted out. Pink neon lights in flowing, optimistic cursive sang out the bar’s inescapable name, “Cadillac Lounge,” illuminating the age and disrepair of the car. Likely a symbolic display of my uncle’s “great investment.”
The slow, chugging blues riff of “Jesus Just Left Chicago” hit my ears as I walked inside. It was an old, darkened watering hole that aged like a bad tattoo—a wall of bottles, unremarkable art honoring times long-gone, and a line of stools along the bar occupied by the fat asses of a despondent few.
The tall, round bartender shouted, “Kid, I need some ID.” I showed him my new status as a full-fledged adult. His pudgy fingers flipped the card back and forth, reading, looking at me, reading, like math was his enemy.
“21,” I offered. “Two months ago.”
“Drink?” he grunted.
I pointed to one of the taps, and he squinted, unimpressed with my choice. With the care and grace of an exhausted dock worker, he plopped the frothy mug on the counter, missing half of the cocktail napkin.
“Six bucks,” he said, looking over at the barflies to my left.
A high, gravelly voice emerged from behind the bartender from an older man, at least a foot smaller, slender, swifter on foot. He walked around the bartender to stand in front of me as I was pulling out some cash.
“Yes?” I replied.
He smiled back at me.
“You look a lot like your mom. I’m your Uncle Larry.”
He ignored my apparent disbelief.
“Put the cash away. It’s on the house.” Larry turned to the large mound of friendliness next to him and said, “My sister’s kid. My nephew.”
We occupied a booth in the corner and caught up in the form of him talking and me listening while forcing down the beer with not enough hops and the floral essence of dish soap. After 20 minutes of his wild adventures—interrupted three times by a pear-shaped drunk named Morris who kept getting shooed away—Uncle Larry finally got to his sales pitch.
“Come run the bar with me. Your mom says you finished college and have no direction.”
I was amazed she got those two details right.
“I need someone young around here that can help me make this place cooler, better, hipper.”
“Why didn’t you tell her it was a bar?” I asked.
“You know how nervous she gets over stupid shit,” he laughed. “So, I buried the lede.”
“What happened to the apartments?” I asked.
“Plumbing problem. I sold them.”
“And the racehorses?”
“Both of them?”
“I learned a lot from owning those horses,” he said, looking away at nothing in particular.
“A bar isn’t a racehorse,” I said, looking around the room as the bartender yelled at Morris to shut up. “Think Tiny is up for it?”
“We’re peas in a pod, the three of us.”
I looked at him, scrunching my brow like I just sat on something formerly living.
“Yeah, Tiny’s in,” Uncle Larry said with a smile. “We’re three schmucks who got nothing else, right?”
I regretted saying “okay” before I said “okay,” but I said “okay.”