The Washington: A Storied Bar

New Jersey


By James Ryan

"So you don't think Star Trek is science fiction, huh?" said the first one, who had been sitting directly to my right.

"Nope," said the second guy sitting next to the first, who like the first was in a t-shirt and jeans. In between them was a copy of the latest Dungeons & Dragons book and a small pile of dice spilling out of a velvet bag that in its past life had held a Chivas bottle.

"Are you kidding?" said the third, to the second's right in the same outfit, drinking a bottled beer like the other two. "Why's that not science fiction?"

"It's how you define a genre," said the second. "Remember, the operative word for the category is 'science,' which was never their strong suit on the program."

Nataly was actually behind the bar herself that night, and she got another round of bottles for them. Cheap domestic, I couldn't help noticing. As much as I couldn't help noticing that Nataly likes to see my glass get as dry as a temperance revival meeting before she'd see me refilled.

"But everyone thinks of it as science fiction," said the first.

The second, whose badge of office I only now noticed, a button that read, Because I'm the DM, that's why!, replied "But every genre has rules that define it."

"Maybe your rules," said the third, "might make Star Trek something other than sci-fi, but c'mon, man."

"You bring up a good point there," said the second, "about genre rules. Because there's a lot of wiggle room in them. You could have the genre mean a totally different thing to one person over another, and so for some of us sci-fi might include, oh… the Smurfs."

"Oh Christ." The first one drew out his disgust over every syllable.

"But without rules, then there's nothing to the categories," said the third. "Let's take your games, for example. If what you're saying is true, then what you run could be either fantasy or horror."

"Oh no," said the second, "mine are strictly fantasy."

"So what makes it fantasy and not horror?"

"Now there, that's a hard rule. In both fantasy and horror, you have strong fantastic elements. It's the level of counter-measures you can use that makes the difference."

"Huh?" asked the first.

"You guys as players, if a slothering creepy comes up to you, you can use your magic shields and wands to blow it into tiny pieces of crap. That's what makes it fantasy. And if you didn't have your weapons and wards, it'd be horror."

"No, no," said the third, "wait a minute. Are you saying it's entirely up to the protagonists if what you run into is a fantasy or a horror encounter?"

"So what's your rule?" asked the second.

"Wouldn't it make more sense, say, if what said fantastic creature did to you made it horror or fantasy?"

The second one's eyes started to widen. "Oh, yeah," he said, the wash of epiphany in his voice. "Yeah, that does make sense."

"How?" asked the first.

"I get it," said the second. "Just because something is fantastic, it's how it reacts to you, yeah. I like that better."

"But the slothering creepy is still going to eat you every chance it gets," said the first.

"But not everything that's fantastic wants to eat you. Like, say, elves."

"Elves are a good choice, yeah," said the third. "In fact, I was just thinking about elves when I thought of it."

"But aren't elves always the good guys?" asked the first.

"Not all elves are the same," said the second. "They're kind of like humans, they can be both good and bad."

"And so it's up to the elves to make the story horror or fantasy," said the third.

I was thinking Nataly might have joined up with the evil side when she got another round of bottles for them and passed me by without looking, but the refill of my pint showed up with a behind-the-back pass from her over the counter.

The first one seemed a few leagues behind the others after he took a drink from his bottle and asked, "So wait, if the elves just show up and say hi, that's fantasy, right?"

"Yep," said the second.

"And if they attack you, it's horror?"

"Could be," said the third.

"And if you sleep with an elf?"

"Fantasy," the second and third said in unison with big grins.

"But if the elf rapes you, that's horror?"

"Uh, yeah," said the third, slightly disgusted at the image.

"And if the elves are invading you, that's horror, but if you invade them it's fantasy, right?"

"Yeah, that's right," said the second.

"So what happens..." I said, before this drivel started to drive me mad, "... what would you call it, when the elves invite you to come to visit them, but the minute you get there they don't remember the invitation? And then when they do find you a room for the night, it's right next to a banshee who snores? And when you get up for breakfast, there's a phouka who's nibbling everyone's toes in order to get table scraps, but if you give it a well-deserved kick it runs for friends? And if the friend is a stinking cwn annwn who happens to look like a chihuahua and because it's too fucking cute is in more pretty laps than you're going to get near, you really start to hate him, huh? And you do actually find the grotto of the lamignac everyone says you have to see, but the only bathing beauty who's willing to stay above the water line's a leanan sidhe who you don't recognize as such until you've sung out enough old drinking songs and composed a few on the spot to fill a Chieftains box set, and by the time you're done with that shit you're too tired for Oberon's Dance and spend half of the next day in the room where the only entertainment's a wandering leprechaun whose one great adventure was getting stuck at Shannon Airport for five hours, and--"

By now the three jokers had found a table in the back corner of the Washington. The third one was writing on paper and rolling dice, the usual coping mechanism gamers employ after nasty encounters.

Nataly came over to me and asked, "So what was the point of telling them about your bad weekend at the Seelie Court, huh?"

"Just testing their theory for them," I reassured Nataly as I took my seat at the bar again.

She looked me straight in the eyes and asked me, "So what would you have called it, fantasy or horror?"

I took a sip of my pint. "Bad judgment."

Copyright 2001, James Ryan

About the Author

James Ryan won the Beatles Embassy Imagination Award: Best Fan Fic for his story "I Read the News Today." Yes, believe it or not, you can still hold a vote with a surprise winner without a media circus ensuing or legions of lawyers running around your capitol.... For his birthday, he has hopes of actually being recognized as a writer; hey, weirder things have happened.... His work has appeared in such places as Dragon magazine, Lacunae, the Urbanite, the New York Times, and some of the better men's room walls across the state of New York. Until he gets the chance to follow the program for disenfranchised neurotic writers, he's doing the regular job and grad school schtick. His wife Susan and son Jamie just nod and smile when he starts to rant, which, all said, makes things that much easier.

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