"Bob" was down to his last fifty, and he broke it at the Blue Moon Bar. Its name was well-deserved; the facade and window frames were decorated in blue neon, as was the interior of the bar itself. "Bob"was the first and only patron to show up that night.
"What kind of place is this?" he asked, grinning drunkenly at the bartender. "Got any regular lights in here?"
"Nope," deadpanned the bartender. "Just neon. Goes with the song on the box." "Bob" listened closely to the jukebox. Sure enough, it was playing a slow big-band number called "Blue Champagne".
"Blue champagne, eh?" "Bob" looked down at his glass. "Looks like blue Scotch to me. I was over at a fried-chicken place about an hour ago, and they had an orange-and-blue-neon sign. Ever eat orange-and-blue chicken?"
The bartender picked up a broom and set to work at the far end of the room. "Can't say as I have," he said. "Never ate around here. I live upstate."
"What it like up there?"
"Same as it is here, but I know everyone."
"Bob" stood up and left a tip on the bar. "Well, gotta go and find my sample case," he said. "I know I left it in one of these bars...Occupational hazard." He walked to the door.
"What do you sell?" called the bartender after him.
"Bob" laughed. "I forget!"
He walked out into the... the city? No, more like a road town. Yep, there was the road to prove it. And the neon; every building along the highway was encrusted with neon tubing. The weather was growing chilly, and the cold glow of the neon signs made it even chillier. "Bob" wandered off down the sidewalk, glancing at the buildings along the way. The Red Rose Bar and Grill, Konner's Hardware, Free-Way Esso... all closed. "Bob" tried to remember where he had left his case, and what was in it. Had to catch the train, or was it the bus? Did he drive?
Boy, I'm in bad shape.
Not much traffic this time of night. Did he drive? He couldn't remember. "Bob" stopped for a minute, steadying himself against the front of Janor's Pro Shop and staring up at the neon sign. At the top of the sign was an animated figure of a golfer that flicked back and forth with manic determination. Fore. Fore. Fore...
"Bob" woke up and shuffled unsteadily to the curb, trying to flag down an approaching Edsel. The car stopped, and the driver leaned over in his seat.
"Bob" tried to remember what he'd wanted to say. "I need a lift."
"You need some black coffee-- go home and sleep it off!" The man drove off, leaving "Bob" alone under the neon golfer. "Bob shivered, yawned cavernously, and walked back in the direction of the Blue Moon.
It was gone. "Bob" scanned the buildings along the road; no bar, and no patch of blue neon to mark its location. Had he walked that far? He began to consider the possibility that he might have come down with amnesia. My name is "Bob", he thought, and I'm a salesman. I'm on my way to... to... and I sell...
"Bob" sat down on the front steps of the Roadside Tavern. It was closed, although the neon sign in the window read OPEN ALL NITE. He waited for a car to pass. After about fifteen minutes, a police car came along-- but the driver ignored "Bob"'s gestures. "Bob" settled down to what seemed an endless wait whose monotony was unbroken by the three Edsels that passed without noticing him. After a short dose, "Bob" roused himself and took stock of his situation.
I'm lost. I'm cold. My head is killing me. So's my stomach. And I'd better find a bathroom soon. So how come I'm still smiling? "Bob" stood up and continued back the way he had come, passing empty buildings whose sole inhabitants seemed to be more of those animated neon characters. An Italian chef over a pizza joint, a green-and-orange owl over a bar, a red Pegasus over a gas station (closed despite the OPEN 24 HRS sign in the window)....
One of the neon characters, a clown mounted over what looked like a toy store, struck "Bob" as such a dismal sight that he had to smile and shake his head in baffled pity. The clown was waving its automatic arms in a fit of maniacal glee, lying joyfully to anyone who would pay attention. There were no clowns in the darkened cinderblock toy store, and precious little fun either-- not at this hour of the night. "Bob" wondered what kind of world a creature of that sort would inhabit; definitely not a place he'd care to visit.
Hey, an open bar. "Bob" gratefully made his way past the lone bartender and into the men's room. After a short time he emerged and sat down at the bar.
"What a dead town," he said to the bartender. "How do you get out of here?"
The bartender looked up. "Can't leave till morning unless you walk... the next train doesn't come in till 8:15."
"So that's how I got here. I think. What time is it now?"
"It was midnight when I left that other bar!"
"This is the only bar in town, Mac."
"But I thought I passed a whole bunch of them..." "Bob" chuckled nervously and reflexively pulled out his wallet.
"Want a drink?" asked the bartender.
"Huh? Yeah. Scotch. Any brand." The bartender poured his drink, and "Bob" took a sip as he turned to look at the jukebox. It was playing "Blue Champagne". "Bob" sank into another half-doze, staring deeply into the tangled neon tubing of the jukebox. He could also see the glow from the machine's electronic parts further inside. Vacuum tubes and neon tubes--not much difference. Things suddenly shifted, and "Bob" saw the world as it would appear to a tube: stripped down to a single purpose. The flow of energy between anode and cathode... the occasional fluctuation of which would be of no concern to the tube, which would be unaware of the music or light passing through it...
"Are you gonna drink that?"
"Huh?" "Bob" snapped out of it and turned to the bartender, grinning sheepishly. "Did you say something?"
"You almost dropped your glass. You've been staring at the jukebox for twenty minutes."
"What time is it?"
"Already? I have to catch my train!" "Bob" tried to stand up and almost fell over.
"Whoa!" said the bartender. "Take it easy! You want to stay here till you sober up?"
"I'm okay. Gotta catch the bus--where's my case?" "Bob" plunked the last of his money down onto the bar. "Is that enough? Where's my case?"
"You didn't bring one."
"Oh... okay. Thanks." "Bob" stumbled out the door and down the street past the neon signs. He had gone only a few blocks when he forgot where he was going. This has to be a dream! He kicked a building. Ouch--no, it wasn't a dream.
But where am I?
He determined to find out. He would simply continue walking until he came to some place he could identify. He squared his shoulders, gripped his pipe (miraculously still lit) between his confident teeth, and strode off down the street. He had gone about a mile and a half, passing be-neon'd buildings all the way, when he caught sight of a clock in a store window. The time was 12:05.
About two hours later, "Bob" began to sober up. He passed another clock; it was 12:30. "Bob" grinned. The buildings seemed to be thinning out ahead of him. The traffic was increasing as the sky became lighter; "Bob", in growing excitement, continued walking. The sun came up, and "Bob" re-entered the world. He found his sample case (and the extra hundred dollars he had tucked away in it) on a bench in the train station; just in time for the 8:15.
At nine o'clock the proprietor of a nearby men's store discovered that part of his neon display had been removed from the store's facade. As he later described it to the police, it was a figure of a well-dressed man carrying a briefcase and smoking a pipe.
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