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On Pike Street, Pillows, and Being a Boy in Love

The following post first appeared on Facebook and is written by RCN publisher Michael Monks.
 
I wasn't sure what to expect, or maybe I was and only because I was being judgmental, but my first trek into Sue's Place on New Year's Eve was something I am grateful for. I've walked what feels like thousands of miles on Pike Street and have seen the sign, heard the Reba songs pushed to the sidewalk from a CD spinning in the jukebox on the wall, and have been smothered by the cloud of cigarette smoke that leaves the old dive through an open door on warmer days. And while I take a quick glimpse inside just about every time I pass, I have never gone in.
 
That changed on Saturday night when a small group of us walked out of my apartment to ring in 2017 at Hotel Covington and the loose joking about a quick pop-in to Sue's Place prior took more of a "No, really, lets..." tone. OK, we will, for the experience, for the "Covington-cana" of it, and because they are our neighbors, right?
But all I could think was, what would the regulars think of this group of dolled up thirtysomethings strolling in? Would it be like in the movies, and the Reba song would stop suddenly, and all eyes would fall on us, and after an awkward stare-down, I'd manage to mutter something like, oh, I don't know..., "Evening, friends."?
 
When the door opened and we tumbled in, all smiles and tentative cheer, every bar stool was occupied and a few of the tables were, too. The crowd was mostly older than us, by about twenty or more years, and most were smoking and decked out in novelty New Year gear. The conversation in the bar stopped briefly and we slinked towards the bartender as Patsy Cline fell to pieces. An honest-to-God compact disc spun the melancholy classic around the bar and I thought, this place looks so much nicer when you're inside. Exposed brick backed the thrust bar that was surrounded by seated patrons on all three sides. A few high-top tables lined the walls, and an electronic card game sat on a small table near the jukebox that was full of mostly 1990s country music CDs. It was very smoky, but Sue's Place is tucked on a block in downtown Covington that doesn't yet see much of the trends found in an emerging city.
 
"Happy New Year!," someone shouted at us from the bar.
 
We said it back.
 
And then everyone in the bar was saying it.
 
An old Shania Twain song came on and we danced, and then our Fireball shots showed up, because the evening called for it. A short woman brought a box over to us and offered plastic top hats and tiaras that said Happy New Year. I asked her, since I already had a hat on, if I could have a tiara. She put her finger on her trachea tube, squinted at me and rasped, "Those are for the girls."
 
"Come on," I laughed, "it's 2017 now." She took her hand from her throat and bopped my arm softly, winked, and handed me my tiara.
We said goodbye, they said goodbye, we were all old friends by now, and after about seven minutes in the place, we left for the hotel party, amazed at how great people are.
 
And a bed almost changed the entire course of what was clearly meant to be an evening experienced joyously. But again, the kindness found in downtown Covington saved me there, too.
 
It's why I live down here. There's just so much and so many, and it's beautiful and frustrating and funky and ambitious and fatiguing and inspiring.
And John at Klingenberg's Hardware spent about 45 minutes of his New Year's Eve afternoon just to sell me seven dollars worth of screws.
 
"John, I need your help," I said, sweating and waving a handful of disheveled papers with a bunch of mumbo jumbo about bed parts on them. "I ordered a bed from the internet and it arrived early and I was so happy and it looks just like I wanted it to, so I disassembled my old bed and paid a guy sixty bucks to get rid of it because I don't know what happens when a mattress and box spring need to go away, but I went to put the new one together and realized that they didn't send me an assembly kit. No screws!
 
"I contacted them, they apologized and said they'd send me a replacement kit. I said, fine. Meanwhile, I got a new mattress - memory foam, awesome. And I'm sleeping on it directly on the floor, like a 21-year old kid in his first apartment - because I already paid that guy to get rid of my other bed. And it hurts!
 
"So a few days later, the replacement kit comes. And it's wrong! I call them, they apologize, and say they'll send me another one right away. I'm back on the mattress on the floor for another week. The new replacement comes. And it's the exact same wrong kit!
 
"I call again, and this is Thursday, and I'm in a panic now because a few friends decided we'd get together before the hotel and like an idiot I said we could start at my place, but I can't have anybody in my apartment if there's a god-damned mattress on the god-damned floor. I have to get this god-damned bed put together! They said they'd send another kit. They would overnight it. It would ship Friday and arrive on Saturday.
 
"John, it didn't arrive today. I called them and they called FedEx and then told me that FedEx in Erlanger is not delivering until Tuesday but they would take $100 off and if
I had to get the god-damned bed put together today, I could go to the hardware store and get some similar screws.
 
"But look at these god-damned instructions. I don't know what kind of screws these are. Three of them look the same! What can you do?"
 
"Come on," he said, and we went back and started an investigation in the screw section that would lead to me walking two blocks home to get parts of the bed so that we could experiment with all the different screws, and finally I left with a plastic bag full of a bunch of screws and nearly five hours later I had this god-damned bed put together.
 
My guests showed up just as I finished. I looked like hell. But the bed was made and I put out a small spread, and after I pulled myself together and we went to Sue's Place and the hotel and then back to my place, I got to lie in this bed that I made.
 
As I faded, I reflected on how this night represented my year so beautifully: I strive for goals and I am ambitious, but sometimes I'm not prepared for hiccups, and I'm blessed to know people or to meet people and to have family and friends who are willing to help in large and small ways. I work to improve myself and my surroundings, but I'm still a little rough around the edges and probably always will be. And even when it feels like all hope is lost, like I'm alone and carrying too much on my own, I learn that I can take a breath, collect myself, and do it one thing at a time.
 
This year I learned that it's only over if you stop.
 
So, just keep going.
 
In 2017, I'll build on 2016, a year that I am eternally grateful for because it presented me with so many challenges, and then opportunities to slay them. And, yes, sometimes, opportunities to barely get by them. But, just keep going.
 
It's only over if you stop.
 
In this apartment, I surround myself with images of my city because, what can I say, I’m just a boy in love. And I hope that the images of an experience in this city continue to surround my heart and to push me to just keep going.
 
I want to do more shots at Sue's Place and I want to know people. I want to build more things with stuff from Klingenberg's. I want to dress up and hang out downtown and go back to my place and stay up later than I should and wake up in the morning glad that I did, next to a pile of fancy pillows and a New Year tiara on the nightstand.
 
And I want to keep getting better. And I want to do fewer things alone. And I want to go places, and write things, and celebrate everything that is here and possible.
And I want to just keep going.
 
And God as my witness, I will never sleep on a mattress on the floor again.
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News