FORBIDDEN PLACES – An American Story

Everywhere, all over the world there are places that locals would recommend you to avoid. This is especially true in the U.S. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when our Norfolk host Ron Wray gave us a warning about a particular building with the inscription “Goodfellas Bar”. This was addressed to the Slovenian writer Andrej Blatnik and myself:

“Fellows, do you see that building? So, make sure you don’t go there. You’re likely get into big trouble.”

Well, we had no intention to visit any of the bars in Norfolk, and as newcomers it wasn’t likely that we could find this particular bar even if we wanted to. We had driven from the suburb where our host lived, a quiet residential neighborhood, heading for the university campus. Thanks to Ron’s invitation, as a director of International Writers Centre of Old Dominion University, we had that evening a reading of our work to the literary community there. The reading went smoothly followed by informal party held in our honor with many charming conversations and numerous drinks. The party was at the university’s bungalow on campus where Andrej was staying. I was a guest at Ron’s house. Time flew and all the guests, Ron included, left. It was the wee small hours of the morning but I wanted one more drink for the road. People say that ’100 times nothing can kill an elephant.’ That drink was the 101st nothing I had that night. Soon I realized that I am in trouble. I had to say goodbye as quickly as I could and try to get back to my bed at Ron’s.

Zakázané miesta, USA, ilustr. Vanek
Zakázané miesta, USA, ilustr. Vanek

I got in the car and set out for Ron’s. It wasn’t very far, only a few streets away, and I’m quite confident about my orientation skills in exploring new cities. So, I was absolutely sure that everything was going to be fine.

It did not. I turned, from memory, up the first street and the second. On the third turn I realized I was lost. I turned back and retraced my path, street by street. Without doubt, I was now lost – but not entirely. Along the dark, in labyrinth of empty streets I was able to find one point of orientation – a blaze of lights from the single-story building marked “Goodfellas Bar”. The very same bar that Ron had warned us about so carefully.

No matter which way I turned, the maze of streets led me back to this place, as if attracted by a magnet. Every time I tried a new route, I found myself returning to the same neon sign. It was the only place showing life. As far as the eye could see there were not a single human being, not even another car, nobody who could give me directions. It was as if the whole quarter had expired in the night, no lights on at any of the houses around. It was the hour of the ghosts and my confusion was magical.

The only solid point in whole space seems to be hidden inside the “Goodfellas Bar”. Finally I stopped in front of it, proving that you can’t avoid your destiny. Either I would sleep in the car in this ominous district or I had to go into the bar. In second option I had at least chance to end my life with full consciousness. So, I turned off the engine, locked the car and stepped out to enter this ugly building from which bellowing loud voices and noises were coming.

I felt nervous twitches and tics on my face, and the worst thing was not being able to do anything about them. The only positive fact I observed now was that my tipsy mood vanished and left me terribly sober. When I entered suspicious bar a shock awaited me. The bellowing noise was only from a jukebox and the gambling machines. Otherwise, the place was half-empty. A few ’good guys’ were busy gambling and didn’t pay me any attention. The bartender, a big black guy with a congenial expression on his face, twitched his eyebrows when he heard what I was looking for. But after I had told him my whole story he nodded his head, came out from behind the bar, led me out of the building, and showed me the right way. I jumped in the car and after a few streets I was safe in my bed.

And why I am telling you this story? Well, I think that some stories are worth telling even when nothing happens in them…


From a book (see in E-book form here) by Gustáv Murín: Svet je malý/The World is Small – collection of travel stories in bilingual Slovak–English edition, SPN Publ., 2012.

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