It stinks in here.
I remember Dr. Hibbert’s daughter saying, “Daddy, this place smells like tinkle” in Bart Sells His Soul. I don’t remember that until the second I walk in the door.
It does. This place smells like piss. It smells like a fucking dingy Midwestern American bar. Because that’s what it is. It’s a shoebox of a building set in a shitty neighborhood with garbage on the street. There’s a tangle of telephone poles and wires and streetlights behind it. A vacant lot sits to its left. To its right is what looks like a nail salon.
It’s smaller than I thought it would be, like most famous places are when you see them in real life. It’s only about the size of a middle class garage. There’s a pool table and the old Lovematic machine and a dart board. It’s dark, the only light coming from the Duff lamp over the pool table and a few recessed light fixtures in the ceiling. The windows are frosted with this horrific red and green diamond pattern. There’s booths against the wall to my left beyond the pool table. Bar’s to my right. The floor tiles are grey and sticky. Ceiling is low, tiles are denim blue. There’s splotches on the walls and the ceiling and the floor; water damage and God knows what else. Behind the bar, there’s an old fashioned register under a dirty mirror. Lots of old bottles. None have labels. Bar is shaped like a shallow, square C, made of whatever imitation wood they use around here. I’d never noticed any of this from 20 years of watching the show.
Moe’s right where you’d think he’d be, rag in hand. Grey button up, blue apron. Rail-thin torso and arms. He’s probably in his late 40’s but looks older. He looks like Bill Hader only aged about twenty years and like he had his face repeatedly rammed into a wall. The dude is ugly. Pig nose, caveman’s brow, all the rest of it.
I sit at the end of the bar closest to the door, at the bottom of the C. Moe’s in front of me within seconds.
They say it’s best to stay inconspicuous your first time phasing your childhood vistas like this. You have to keep in mind that, to the characters, it’s Tuesday. If you come in all loud acting like a superfan and crying and trying to hug everyone they’re going to react the same way any normal person would — they’ll be weirded out at best and disturbed enough to call the cops at worst.
I’m still intimidated. There he is. Looking right at me. He’s taller than me, but not by much.
I sit down at one of the stools. The seats are red, and whatever material they’re covered with is cracking and flaking. I wonder how old this place must be.
“Whatchu drinkin’.” Moe asks. Hank Azaria’s voice. Like he gargles gravel every morning.
“Just a Duff. Thanks.”
Moe hands me a dirty-looking frosted mug filled with a bit of the old gold and foam. I try it. It tastes like a thicker-bodied PBR. It’s actually not terrible.
There’s only two other guys here besides me and Moe — the two usually silent barflies. There’s the one with the green hunter’s gap and grey curly hair and thick glasses, and then the tall balding one with the bad combover and the orange jacket. Both of them are looking at me. Young women probably don’t come in here that often, especially alone.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” says the balding one. “You from out of town?”
“Never been there.”
“What you doing in Springfield?” Moe asks. I try not to fangirl out. Moe from The Simpsons just asked me a question.
“I’m just passing through.”
The place goes quiet. I hear a fan running, squeaky. The TV hanging in the corner above me is on but the sound’s off. The place is quiet and way way way more depressing than I ever could’ve imagined. There’s really no difference between this place and any other shithole in the wall you’d find on the blue collar side of any other forgotten American town.
I decide to just go for it. Even Barney’s not here, although given what I’m working with already I’m not sure I want to meet him now, either.
“Do you guys know Homer Simpson?” I ask.
I see Moe perk up at his old friend’s name and my heart skips a beat. Of course he knows him. I’ve seen all their adventures together.
“Yeah,” says the barfly with the glasses. “Homer’s in here all the time.”
“Hang on a second,” says Moe, holding up a hand. He looks at me with suspicion. “Who wants to know?”
His aggression throws me off. I feel scolded. I take another sip of Duff, try to think of something.
“You come in here, we ain’t never seen you before, and the first question out of your mouth is do you know a guy who comes here all the time. It’s just kind of weird, don’t you think?”
“No, no,” I say. “I’m trying to get a job at the plant. I had a job interview today. They told me he’s the safety inspector and he comes here a lot. I thought I’d try to see if could meet him, you know, just see who I might be working with. Pick his brain a little.”
The lie just falls out of my mouth. I can’t believe I made it up so fast.
“I thought you said you was just passin’ through.”
“Well, yeah,” I say. “It’s just an interview. I won’t know if I have the job for a few weeks.”
It seems to work. Moe relaxes a bit. The barflies still side-eye him, but the momentary tension is diffused.
Moe’s kind of a dick in real life,I think to myself.
“Yeah,” he says. “Homer’s in here all the time, like they said. He’s probably not gonna be in here tonight, though. Him and Barney went to — “
Just as he’s saying this the door swings open and there they are. They walk in and the place literally seems to light up. They take seats at the bar and Moe doesn’t even wait to get them each a beer.
“Oh, shit,” says Moe and I realize it’s the first time I’ve heard him use that word. “Look who it is. What the hell happened to the Atoms game?”
“Oh, the tickets Barney won were expired,” says Homer. “Just beer me.”
His voice is exactly like the cartoon’s. He does bear a resemblance to 80’s era Dan Ackroyd with about twenty pounds added. He’s more bald that I pictured him — no half-ring of hair around his ears and the back of his head. It almost looks like his head is shaved.
“Why would anyone put an expiration date on a ticket in the first place?” Barney slurs. “1995 wasn’t that long ago!”
As Moe hooks the two of them up with frosty Duffs, something hits me right away. Despite the fat and the lack of hair, Homer Simpson is… cute. In a dad way. This is going to sound crazy but the person he reminds me of the most is Tony Soprano. Like a cuddly Tony Soprano. I see why Marge has put up with him for so long. I think of all the different women who’ve tried to steal him away from her. It makes sense now. He’s overweight but not obese, and his face isn’t ugly at all. He’s symmetrical. But what really draws me to him is just his aura — I mentioned the place lighting up when he walked in. He has this sort of strange, super-casual, charming, blundering confidence. He owns the room. It’s immediately attractive. You really do just want to snuggle with him.
Barney, who seems like he’s in a bad mood, is the complete opposite. Just as disgusting as he’s depicted, maybe even moreso. He guzzles his first beer down in practically one swallow and lets out that signature belch. I can see drops of beer and saliva fly off his lips and land as far away as the mirror behind the bar. The noise actually rattles the liquor bottles and glassware. He looks like Patton Oswalt’s hideous older brother. His hair is greasy and I can smell his BO from over here.
And to my disgust, he notices me first.
“Hey, who’s the broad?” he asks enthusiastically.
Homer looks over at me and my revulsion dissipates as soon as it flares up. I actually get a little tingly. I smile at him.
“She was askin about you, Homer,” says Moe. “We ain’t got her name yet. Says she interviewed at the plant today.”
Homer is looking at me, beer foam on his upper lip. He wipes it on his sleeve.
“Oh, no kidding. What for?”
“Uh, process engineer,” I say, making shit up. If Homer’s really as incompetent as he’s depicted, he won’t know the difference anyway.
“Uh, what do you mean?”
“Where in the plant would you be working?”
Homer works in Sector 7-G, I remember from all the Burns jokes. I pick a lower number and letter and hope it exists.
“Uh, Sector 6-F.”
“Oh, you’re probably interviewing for Chip Davis’s old job,” says Homer. “Who’d you interview with?”
“Uh, Waylon Smithers.”
“You interviewed with Smithers for an engineering position? I thought he only did administrative stuff.”
“He said they were trying to fill it ASAP. Apparently Chip Davis was, uh, really good, and it’s been open so long they really want to fill it.”
“Yeah, Chip wasgood,” says Homer, takes another swallow of beer.
“I thought you said you wouldn’t know for a couple weeks,” says Moe, still suspicious. I’m getting creepy incel vibes from him, to be honest.
“Well, that’s what Smithers said,” I tell them, and I’m hoping to God that’s all the questions I’ll have to answer for now.
“Smithers is such a weiner,” Homer says. “What did you want to know? I gotta warn ya, I’m terrible at my job.”
“No, no,” I say, and I’m having that odd out-of-body sensation that occurs whenever you talk to someone famous, like it’s not really happening, like they’re not really in front of you. “Nothing technical. I just wondered, uh, you know, if you like working there.”
“Eh,” says Homer. “It’s okay, I guess. I just walked in the day it opened. Hours aren’t bad. Pay’s decent. I can afford a house, and I can feed my family. I don’t carry much debt. Can’t ask for more than that these days. Uh… what did you ask again?”
I see my opening.
“Oh, you have a family?”
“Oh, yeah,” he says. “Wife and three kids.”
He pulls out his wallet and I’m looking at a picture of Marge and the kids. Even Santa’s Little Helper is there.
Marge is almost tragically gorgeous. You can see some flawless, almost Nicole Kidman-esque beauty underneath all the obvious motherhood stress. Her hair really is blue but isn’t as tall as it is in the cartoon, maybe only Amy Winehouse height. Bart and Lisa and Maggie are all even more adorable than I thought they’d be. Just three kids. Their hair is blonde. Blue eyes. They look like they do when they briefly appear photo-realistically in Lady Bouvier’s Lover. Bart really does look like a little shit.
It takes me a second to not get choked up.
I think about how I used to be afraid of Homer as a kid — I’d see him strangling Bart and it would scare me. But as I got older, I started liking him and all his lovable idiocy. Now he’s sitting three seats down from me, leaning over the bar to show me a picture of the family he’s been raising for over 30 years. Not a cartoon, not a cultural icon, just a regular blue collar guy pushing 40 and showing off his kids to some chick in a bar.
“You have a beautiful family,” I tell him.
“Yeah, they’re all right,” says Homer, and the photo slips back into his wallet. “The boy’s a pain in the ass but my 8-year-old is so smart it’s stupid.”
“You must be proud of them.”
“Eh,” grunts Homer. “Sorry I can’t help you with your job interview. I barely know what I’m doing half the time anyway. Can’t tell you how many meltdowns we’ve almost had. I cantell you that the best time to nap is before and after lunch, and also first thing in the morning, and also right before you go home.”
I take my last swig of Duff, the foam sliding down the glass.
“Well, thanks anyway,” I say. I almost reach out and give him a hug, but instead I offer my hand and my name.
“I’m Chelsea, by the way,”
We shake. His grip is meaty but gentle.
“Take care, Chelsea,” he says.
“Thanks,” I say. I’m cutting this off now. This has gone well enough. Don’t want to stick around and screw it up. “I gotta get going, though.”
“So long,” says Homer. He turns back to the other four, and they’re talking about the football game that Homer and Barney aren’t at right now.
No one else says anything to me as I leave.
As the door swings shut, I look back and see Homer’s ass hanging out of his pants and for some fucking reason it makes me like him even more.