James Goggleye is the best wheelchair-bound American Indian pool player alive. He plays every night, drinking whiskey sours the whole time. He gets better with every game, every drink.
"I'm undefeated today," he says at Curly's Bar. "No one can beat me. I beat everybody at Roby's and everybody at Mitch's. I'm 17-0 tonight. I had to come over here to find some competition."
At Curly's, there's no competition either. James wins with ease. He wheels around the table, shakes his opponent's hand graciously, and smiles as if he knows some cosmic secret.
"Go pick some songs on the jukebox," he says, handing over a dollar. "It's too quiet in here. We need music. We need a beat."
All the bar regulars know James, but no one else in town has ever heard of him, unless they read the crime report in the daily newspaper. His one claim to fame: "James E. Goggleye, 52, no current address available. Public consumption, fined $100."
He was caught trying to take his cocktail from Curly's back to Roby's. He would have gotten away with it, but it was snowing out and his wheelchair wasn't handling as smoothly as usual. The cop told him he should get hauled in for driving while intoxicated.
Some people wonder what makes James smile the way he does. His people have had their land and way of life taken away. He has no ability to stand or to walk. He has no freedom to take a drink from one bar to the next. Still, he's almost always smiling, showing off the few decayed teeth he has left.
Behind that wide smile and those twinkling, bloodshot eyes is the knowledge that no one in town can beat him at pool. Maybe they can get good jobs and good dental work, and run and dance and pick up girls, but they'll always lose at pool to a handicapped alcoholic.
James could slide a buck into that juke and push the selection buttons as easily as anyone else in the bar. He's too busy smiling, waiting for his next opponent, ready to make another chump play his music for him.
He doesn't care what songs get picked, or that the sound system is lousy. He doesn't want to hear the words anyway, just the beat. Bang the drums and chalk that stick. Another whiskey sour, please.
Juror comments: Paul Lundgren's story, Beat, was selected by novelist Leif Enger who says, "[He's] a great character, this Goggleye, the kind usually relegated to shiny supporting roles, and yet what an appealing star he makes. I'd read a novel about him if, like the story, it was brave enough to be funny."
About the author: Paul Lundgren is Duluth-based writer whose hobbies include shoveling snow, eating sweets, and pulling wood ticks off his dog. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers over the past 13 years, and his consistently loopy column, "The Next Level," can be found in every fourth issue of Duluth's weekly Transistor and online at PaulLundgren.com.
mnartists.org is a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation
Membership on mnartists.org is FREE. Find step-by-step instructions for how to join and how to use the free resources available on the site. If you need assistance, contact Will Lager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any Minnesota resident is eligible to participate in mnartists.org's mnLIT competitions for poetry and fiction; there are no entry fees, and writers at all levels of skill and experience are welcome to enter work for consideration by a revolving panel of established authors and publishing professionals in mnLIT's blind adjudication process.