After Dick’s Four Heart Attacks It Was Still Cigs, Salted Beer, And Friends

Virginia, Minnesota
July, ‘80

After climbing the three or four steps up to the screen door that opened into what the sign said was a bar, I saw two men and three ladies, all old people sitting at, yes, it was a bar. I knew of neighborhood bars, but this was more like a hallway bar. I made a head turning entrance and, as I walked past the ladies and sat down on a bar stool between the two men, the bartender put his huge hands on the bar and said, “What’ll it be?” I said, “How about a Papst.” He said, “No Pabst,” so I asked, “What’s on tap?” “Miller,” he replied, “This bar only serves Miller.” “Okay,” I said, “give me one of those.”

I got the message; if you wanted a beer in this bar it had to be Miller. Four unoccupied stools remained at the bar, and there was a man and woman sitting in one of the three booths situated on the adjacent wall. The best part of the place was that if you happened to fall off your bar stool, for whatever reason, you would probably end up in one of the unoccupied booths; I mean the place was that narrow, that small.

By the end of my second draft, things relaxed a bit. The large chap behind the bar even asked me if I was new in town. When I told him about my trip, everybody got real friendly. I became just one of them after that—a good feeling. The guy sitting to my left even moved over a stool, and proceeded to fill me in on the history of the place. According to him, the place was Dick’s hobby. Dick was the bartender. In fact, everybody in the place lived close enough to the sign in the window to see when he was open. “That’s why we’re here,” Harry said, “we saw the light, and lucky for us too, because it’s the cheapest beer in town. When Dick turned on the light, it meant that he and his wife were fighting, or that he was lonely and just wanted some company.” Harry was right about the beer–thirty-five cent drafts were cheap.

Before I left the bar, I bought Dick a beer. “I’ve had four heart attacks within the last year,” he said. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, though. His huge mid ‘50’s frame looked healthy, except maybe for the telltale sadness in his eyes. You couldn’t even tell that he was working. He had a beer in hand the whole time. “The doctors told me to quite drinking, smoking and eating salt, but here I am enjoying this cigarette and beer, with my friends,” he said, as he salted down the head of his just poured beer. “So what do I care if I don’t make it through the night. At least I’ll go happy.” Harry later informed me that Dick took seriously the part about drinking with friends. According to Harry, if Dick didn’t like you, he cut you off, and getting cut off at Dick’s meant stay away. “You’re lucky,” Harry said. “He likes you.” Yes, I was lucky, and Dick was a likable guy. It was a pleasure to meet him. Getting drunk with him was a bonus.

It was midnight when Harry and I staggered down the steps of the hallway bar. Harry invited me to spend the night at his place and I happily accepted. In the morning, after eating breakfast (Harry lived alone), I left to go to Western auto where I had my bearings greased on both bike wheels. I needed new cones on my front wheel, but nobody had any, so I just had to hope the new bearings and grease would get me back home.

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About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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4 Responses to After Dick’s Four Heart Attacks It Was Still Cigs, Salted Beer, And Friends

  1. Sounds like a great night.

  2. Smaaak says:

    That’s what I love best. For a brief moment in time, one becomes ‘one of them’ in whatever context.

    • bwinwnbwi says:

      Physically, that’s true; I was within physical reach of every person in that bar and, on a more personal level, I was communicating with the people closest to me. But, what for me was more important (hence more memorable) was that I shared with the bartender, Dick, the experience of mortality. Dick was staring straight into the abyss as we shared a beer together and I was extremely lucky to be there with him and appreciate that yes, everyone of us are no different in that regard–in that regard we all die–and every time I looked in Dick’s eyes I was encouraged to appreciated that fact! Thanks so much for your comment–we are all one of them. Take care.

  3. bwinwnbwi says:

    In my first blog post I wrote: “I will blog/write about some of the significant emotional events that propelled me down life’s highway; I think (hope) these recollections (memories plucked from my old journals) will be entertaining (sharing them is my entertainment).” The above post/event goes straight to the heart of the matter–the shared communion/fellowship of the “human experience.”

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