An erratic stranger disrupts the vibe in a working class bar. A short story.

Jim Esch
8 min readMar 13, 2022

In my imagination, this story plays like a short film. I was trying to portray forgotten rust belt characters who would fit well inside an Edward Hopper or Grant Wood painting. You know, lonesome American types. I wrote the first draft on company time while working a desk job in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, about 24 years ago.

He sat at the end of the bar, his back to the video game machine — sulking eyes averting our glances. He had this annoying, boyish tendency of running fingers through his hair ceaselessly like a pitchfork gouging a hay pile.

His face was greasy, especially around the nose and upper lip. When someone dropped quarters into the jukebox, he turned to see who it was. A vapid dance-pop tune about love oozed out of the machine. He scowled, staring into his beer glass.

None of us regulars thought much of him.

I leaned to my drinking buddy Jack and whispered “he looks like the guy in that painting. That one with the old guy and his wife in front of the barn. What’s the name of it? American something, it’s called.”

“American what?”

“American Something. It’s famous. You’ve seen it before.”

“I have?” Jack wore a Harley Davidson t-shirt emblazoned with an American eagle, its wings outstretched. His arms were crowded with tattoos — Stars and Stripes, a skull and dagger poised above a broken heart. He was no expert on the art world.

Neither was I. I remembered a few pictures from art appreciation class at Delco community, and that was it.

“The guy has a pitchfork. He and his wife are staring at you. They’re not happy.”

“Not getting any from the wife?”

“No doubt.”

Jack shook his head, which was bent over his beer glass.

“Maybe he needs to take the little blue pill, spice his woman up.”

“I swear this dude looks just like that guy, except for the head of hair and he’s thirty years younger and doesn’t wear glasses.”

“Who painted it?”

The bartender Shirley interrupted. “Wood something…” she said.

“Woody Harrelson.”


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